Photographer: Marcello PozzettiThe spring term has ended and it's time for assessments. Yesterday I was busy auditioning the candidates for the September intake. I dont teach the audition class, I just observe how the would be students cope, together with another colleague. The audition is always far too long, I always know within the first 10 minutes who is right for the course and who is not, but the audition goes on for one and a half hour. Towards the end they have to improvise giving their improvisation a structure. The ones who do not rehash obvious moves learnt in technique class have a better chance of getting in. The best contemporary dancers learn a lot of technique and then spend most of their time forgetting about it and cultivating a softness and a pedestrian approach to movement which can be very deceiving. There was a girl like that in the audition class and surprise surprise she had already auditioned for a top conservatoire so we knew that we would probably lose her to it. The worst contemporary dancers have acquired the mannerism of 'modern dancers' but they are actually not so strong, technically. When improvising they will fall back on cliched movements. We take some of them and they spend the next three years unlearning what they learnt so badly.
Photographer: Eoghan Brennan
I am absolutely terrified. I have not done a solo performance in a long time. Yes, I did one for Sophie Hunter's video recently but it was no big deal, I just went there, danced and left within an hour. I had tremendous freedom and all I had to do was listen to her song and then move. But the May assessment is an exam! And the list of criteria for the assessment runs into two pages. I have to do an embodied improvisation of three minutes duration - exactly three. It has to be an improvised piece, not a choreographed one, but it must have a structure i.e a beginning, a middle and a clear end. I can use music and props but I have to make sure it all fits. There has to be a theme and since this is part of DMP training there has to be a strong emotion that initiates the process. There has to be a connection to work done in class and a clear relationship with the audience while performing - the audience will be my classmates who will then give their views (peer assessment). Finally, we are being encouraged to think about presentation i.e. costume and hairstyle. The tutor looked at me when asking whether we want to be seen tucking our hair behind our ears while performing - I do it all the time in class, I always forget to tie my hair.
Photographer: Marcello PozzettiI have been agonising over these criteria since the paper was passed round. Finding the right music is a real ordeal. If a piece is choreographed timing is no problem, everything is set in advance, but if it is improvised and it has to be of a certain duration then the music will help with timing it, ensuring that a structure is maintained. But my preference is to go for something like Steve Reich's Drumming to work against (I would not want the movements to follow that rhythm, only to counter or refer to it, see how Sankai Juku work with rhythm) and that means I need to memorise some of the transitions and three minutes is a very short time indeed, in which such transitions will be barely noticeable.
I was given the criteria on tuesday and have been thinking about my piece since then. While assessing students I could not help thinking that I would be soon in their position. The criteria go as far as stipulating "a range of movements in different levels" which means there will have to be a couple of jumps, quick movements, and extended ones. All this is making the improvisational aspect a little contrived.
Meanwhile, for your delectation, below is a clip from one of Steve Reich's performances of Drumming - it's what made me fall in love with percussion.
(All photos modelled by Alex B)