Hi Lucy, what can you tell me about Stopgap Dance Company?Stopgap Dance Company makes evocative dance productions with exceptional disabled and non-disabled artists. We nurture and work with expressive artists who have strong personalities and stories to tell. When they get together to devise original works, the outcome has a real emotional punch, which pushes you to look at the world in a different way.
A sense of pioneering spirit and collaboration are really important in our company and we are constantly making discoveries about what kind of productions disabled and non-disabled artists can make. Some of our dancers have been working with each other for over a decade and have huge experience in integrated dance. We recently stepped away from being a repertoire company so that we can really look at our own choreographic practice in detail and make our distinct artistic voice heard.
What are the implications of integrated dance and how do you approach it as artistic director?
Integrated dance for us is about discovering new and unusual dance vocabularies. We use our different physicalities, experiences and learning styles to find innovative and alternative ways of expression and movement. We often convey this by saying: “difference is our means and our method.”
The process of innovation sometimes reveals interesting social dynamics within the team, and I try to find ways to knit these into the production. Now that we are making our own work, we can use our creation process to reconstruct some established ideas about integrated dance – our new work Artificial Things is full of new and unusual dance sequences that came from looking at things in more detail.
I think we have gone a little bit further in questioning the usual shapes and accepted rules of dance. By taking full control of the creative process, a much deeper exploration was possible. I’m fortunate to have a collective of dancers who are inquisitive.
Does this kind of integrated work present any challenges?
We need longer creation periods than most other companies because we are working with diverse bodies and varying paces of learning. Thediversity does make creation of new material more complicated. Even when we find new ideas, it takes longer to find consistency with a diverse cast because there are so many performance variables for wheelchair or learning disabled dancers, but experience has taught us that the material eventually will tighten with practice.
It’s often hard for new company dancers to adjust to our tempo, so we seek out those who could get used to it. But this slower pace and mishaps are not all negative; it can encourage a supportive environment, which helps to develop a great team spirit. The dancers realise they need each other to do what they do, and their co-dependence is very much reflected in our work.
Dance is often seen as a very image and body-led artform – how much is integrated dance challenging that?
Dancers like Dave Toole, who had a starring role in the London 2012 Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony, had a huge impact in changing traditional ideas about who can dance. London 2012 raised so much awareness of inclusive and integrated performance. It was quite emotional seeing so many great disabled and non-disabled performers putting on such an amazing spectacle.
Where we need to make better progress is how we involve learning disabled artists and recognise the contribution they can make. Chris Pavia, who has been working with Stopgap for 15 years, devised one of my central characters in Artificial Things through a direct dialogue with me. His raw imagination and the ability to be “in the moment” is fascinating and I hope that his performance will change perceptions about learning disabled artists.
What makes for a good artistic director in dance?
For me it’s about the big and small. You have to come up with the big vision, but you also have to be on hand with the small ideas that can solve the everyday challenges. I’ve always admired artistic directors who are speaking at a conference one minute but are happy to make tea for their colleagues the next. It’s healthy to see things from different perspectives and be adaptive to situations. As artistic director, I practice making myself big when I need to be heard, and small when I need to quietly observe.
Without what could you not do your job?
A tea break with my dancers. That’s where I get some of my best ideas.