Doing what you love

Director’s Update from Briar Adams

Estimated Read Time: 8 Minutes

Take up space. Stretch. Move your body. “God gives you one gift: You get to be born,” the choreographer Twyla Tharp said. “Thereafter, you’ve got to take care of it yourself.”

Twyla Tharp interviewed by Gia Kourlas for the New York Times

Have you heard anyone say something like this to you? “You’ll have to stop being so physical now you’re older.” … or this? “It’s too gruelling and full on, older dancers don’t want to put their bodies through that any more.”

What is the purpose of dance training? Is it to mould young people into cogs to fit into an existing industrial machine that produces entertainment products that were invented decades ago? Or is it to equip people with skills to be healthy, fit, have fun, be part of a community, and to contribute to the creative conversation about the experiences they have throughout their lives… to reflect and share how these interplay with our wider society and culture, as it is, and as we wish it to be?

Twyla Tharp’s recent book release and interviews strongly promotes staying as active as possible for as long as possible

Many people think that having a dance job means you are “doing what you love”. Like any job, there are many aspects of dance work that are boring, painful, frustrating, threatening or challenging to one’s own values and beliefs. As with any job where you have to fit in with the norms and existing structures created by others, you learn that not everyone has the same experiences and background that you have to be able to understand your experiences.

When I tell people I’m a dancer, they project their ideals of what a “dancer” is supposed to be onto me. I often have conversations where people say, “It must be so amazing to do what you love as a job. That must make it worth the hardship and sacrifice.” People who are not dancers look at me and tell me “you’re so fit, you must have such a healthy diet/lifestyle”. I feel bad for telling them, no, I’m just like you: I eat junk, don’t sleep well, and struggle to make time for everything I need to get done. My relationships suffer because of my work and how important it is to me.

Those people who see me as a “dancer” are seeing something in me that reflects how they want to be themselves, or how they want the world to be. They look to me to tell them how to eat, exercise, take care of themselves, even use me as an example of where and how to live or how to introduce more creativity into their lives. Those people are inspired by my work and tell me they appreciate my leadership. However, in the mainstream dance industry, I often do not fit the “ideal” dancer casting: because of my age, body type and size, whether I am affected by physical or mental disabilities, or when an existing role has been designed or created for someone else’s characteristics that I do not match. I often struggle with the concept that because I am a certain age or don’t fit a particular physical ideal, that it means I cannot be a “good” dancer… especially when some people tell me they love watching me perform and feel inspired by my work.

Our society struggles with negative stereotypes and beliefs about bodies, ageing, status and success. I believe dancers have a role as leaders in the cultural conversation about what it means to be healthy and to “do what you love”. In the past, dance education was influenced by preparing young dancers to enter the profession and to be able to reproduce the great works of the classical repertoire, which were created under social conditions very different to those of the present day. I believe dance education needs to always be updating and improving on the new discoveries afforded by science and social research, and ensure that we are practicing dance in a way that best represents our highest values.

Is the value of elitist competition in conflict with the values of positivity and inclusivity? Can we still be “good” dancers after 35? Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal, and dancers like Mara Galeazzi and Alessandra Ferri are role models, but we need more of them. Our stories need to be told throughout our lives, and the ageism and sexism behind the pressure towards invisibility of older women on stage and screen – and in the director’s chair – needs to end.

More dancers, and those involved in the dance industry, should consider, and exercise positive leadership on, the issue of ageism: what would have been different about our training, the choices we’ve made in our careers, or the roles we’ve felt pressured to perform, if we were not worried about how getting older meant it would be “too late”? What if older and younger dancers were not in competition with each other, because our entertainment culture contained roles appropriate for performers of any age? How would the availability of positive older role models on stage and screen influence what people in our wider society believe about whether age is a barrier to success or status, or a limitation to what is possible in their own lives?

Recently I was discussing with my students the influence of great women like Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham and Pina Bausch on my work. Women who worked in a contemporary style created their own artistic and ideological ecosystem in which to nurture alternative feminist values and break free from the restraint they felt was being imposed upon them by the conservative world of classical ballet. Today, the worlds of contemporary dance and ballet are converging again. Contemporary dance exhibits some of the same body elitism that ballet has always done, but ballet is also absorbing ideas from contemporary dance and other styles, and ballet companies now produce work that is very contemporary in style.

Can attitudes to body conformity and the ideal body for dance change as well? We have movements across advertising and media to see more representation of population diversity in terms of gender, race and disability. How do these social debates affect people who want to dance? Do we still compare and contrast ourselves to the ideal and find ourselves falling short (a negative thinking style we may have learned from the teaching attitudes of the past) or do we explore and celebrate what makes us different, or what makes us capable of achieving exciting or rapturously entertaining results that are uniquely ours and which connect with people like us?

In my teaching practice I often encounter dilemmas where there seems to be a conflict between striving to be “good”, and encouraging students to tackle difficult material and to take on challenges. Students want to know how to do it “right” and sometimes striving to get it “right” adds extra tension and anxiety into the body. To the outsider observer, a dance student may not look experienced enough to be “good” or may not fit that observer’s preconceived ideal of what kind of body is a “good” dancing body. This is one of the challenges that inspires me creatively, to investigate how people learn and absorb information physically, and to draw on all the styles and techniques in dance that I have experienced through my varied career, to try to communicate with students and help them explore and create from a positive place within themselves.

One of the conflicts I notice is that between “pushing yourself” to do your best and constantly strive for maximum physical effort, and “knowing your limits” and gauging what is the healthiest type and amount of training to do, or whether physically challenging choreographic material is safe to perform and engaging for the audience. Sometimes it is easy to change uncomfortable choreography slightly to make it safer, without losing the communicative effect from the audience’s point of view. Do audiences need to see physically gruelling dance choreography in order to enjoy the performance? Does knowing that the dancer is in pain or physically stressed increase their appreciation of the art? Do dancers enjoy putting themselves to the test with physically challenging work? How healthy are the dancer’s inner ideals and the expectations placed upon them about the mental and physical grit and determination required to do what they do?

Is there a level of training and physical exertion and expression that is optimal for making both dancers and audiences “love” what they are doing: creating and appreciating dance and the stories told by the body?

The process of developing HackBallet’s new work DeToxic will explore some of the issues related to how we do what we love whilst also doing what others want to see – or don’t want to see – and thinking creatively about how we might resolve these conflicts.

As part of the research and development of DeToxic we are interested to hear your stories and ideas about these themes. Please comment below or get in touch to share your experiences and find out more about the DeToxic project.

HackBallet XMÆSS | Scratch Platform Open Call

Open Call for dancers and musicians for Professional Development Opportunity

Deadline: 9th December 2019

HackBallet’s XMÆSS scratch platform for new and experimental work is coming up on 20th December 2019 at the Margaret Shepherd Studio Theatre in Hoxton on the campus of New City College.

As part of HackBallet’s 2020 DeToxic project, the company would like to offer a professional development and performance opportunity for experienced dancers, dance students, and musicians, of all genders, who have an interest in improvisation.

Dancers

Advanced ballet and contemporary dancers and dance students with an interest in improvisation are invited to participate in the following as part of the XMÆSS lineup:

  • Mirror in the Sahara – A Cunningham/Cage/Reich influenced contemporary ballet work to music composed and performed by Daniel Hewson
  • Mixed Movement inspired Improv Jam to an improvised score from the musicians.

Musicians

Musicians and composers (artists who identify as female are especially encouraged to apply) are invited to participate in the following:

  • Mixed Movement inspired Improv Jam
  • Submit new or existing short compositions (up to 5minutes in length) that would be suitable for creation of a contemporary ballet solo or duet which will be presented as a work in progress

In the Mixed Movement inspired Improv Jam, dancers will improvise short (1-2 minute) solos exploring their personal performance style to an improvised score from the musicians. Following this the dancers may participate in a group jam which may include duet or contact material which gives dancers the opportunity to explore the connections between themselves and other movers in the space, in the style of a durational performance.

Participation for dancers and musicians is FREE.

There will be a Rehearsal/Jam on Wednesday 18th December at Studio Wayne Mcgregor from 6pm – 10pm accompanied live by Daniel Hewson (please still apply if you are unable to make this date but would like to take part in the event)

How to apply:

Dancers should email an expression of interest to events@hackballet.com

Deadline: 9th December 2019

About 2020 DeToxic

DeToxic explores ways that dance and music can encourage individual expression, self selection and positive wellbeing by giving dancers opportunities for choice, learning, ownership and freedom within a structured performance framework. HackBallet welcomes greater adoption of contemporary dance principles – including anatomically sound movement practice, fusion training techniques and freedom from restrictive gender norms – by people who identify as ballet dancers.

Also coming up: Contemporary Ballet workshop

HackBallet director Briar Adams will be leading a workshop at The Place on Sunday 8th December for interested dancers, Click here to find out more and book your place via eventbrite

HackBallet is supported by Studio Wayne Mcgregor’s #freespace programme

DeToxic

Hack Ballet’s next platform for contemporary ballet in London will muse on the theme of DeToxic… creating the world we need to live in… and detoxing the harmful values and attitudes that have limited our potential in the past.

Join us for a thought provoking evening of new choreography at 7.30pm on Friday 20th December 2019 at SPACeHoxton.

Mirage: The Philosophy of Apples … workshops for young people

Physical theatre practitioner Steven Zilinskas, and choreographer Briar Adams, are teaming up to present Mirage: The Philosophy of Apples, a workshop series for young people.

Does an apple a day keep the doctor away? Would Isaac Newton still have discovered gravity, if he had been wearing a hat? What if he had sat under that apple tree in May, instead of September… and had been hit in the head by a spring blossom, and not a falling autumn apple!

Are you a good apple… or a bad one?!

We are looking for groups of young people (aged 10+) who would like to come bobbing for apples with Steven and Briar, to help us find the the funniest and most absurd aspects of trying to fit all the apples into the fruit salad of life.

These workshops engage young people in the use of creative techniques from physical theatre, script writing and comedy, to investigate themes like: individual identity and group cohesion; responsibility and predetermination; inspiration and being self-motivated… to help them figure out when to fit in, and when stand up for yourself, all inspired by Newton’s apple tree and the physics of fate.
If you are interested in finding out more, or to request an education pack, contact Steven on s.zilinskas@hackballet.com

https://www.stevenzilinskas.com/workshops

Free performance event tomorrow

Dancers in London: Would you like to join us for a free invite-only dance and performance event tomorrow at the @waynemcgregor studios in Stratford’s @hereeast?
4pm Improv Jam lead by @briar.adams
7.30pm Immersive performance created and curated by students from @unioftheartslondon @csm_news
You **must** be on the guestlist to attend. PM or email events@hackballet.com by midnight tonight if interested. Places are strictly limited so make sure you receive a reply before travelling.

Dancers in London: Would you like to join us for a free invite-only dance and performance event tomorrow at the @waynemcgregor studios in Stratford’s @hereeast?
4pm Improv Jam lead by @briar.adams
7.30pm Immersive performance created and curated by students from @unioftheartslondon @csm_news
You **must** be on the guestlist to attend. PM or email events@hackballet.com by midnight tonight if interested. Places are strictly limited so make sure you receive a reply before travelling.

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Thankyou HackBallet tribe!

Thankyou for being part of the @hackballet @spacehoxton #tribe 😍

We love having fun getting #creative and #exploring #contemporaryballet #choreography
and #improvisation 🌈

Join us at SPACe for new #beginnersballet courses starting this week 😃💃💪💞 Follow featured dance artists @briar.adams @bleuphoenix88 @joshua_royal @attila_andrasi_works_ @kindylynne @mari.edmond @ashleighwilsondances @zuzatehanu for more upcoming #ballet #dance #fitness and #performance experiences in #london and #international 🗺🌐🌅🌇🌌

Thankyou for being part of the @hackballet @spacehoxton #tribe 😍

We love having fun getting #creative and #exploring #contemporaryballet #choreography
and #improvisation 🌈

Join us at SPACe for new #beginnersballet courses starting this week 😃💃💪💞 Follow featured dance artists @briar.adams @bleuphoenix88 @joshua_royal @attila_andrasi_works_ @kindylynne @mari.edmond @ashleighwilsondances @zuzatehanu for more upcoming #ballet #dance #fitness and #performance experiences in #london and #international 🗺🌐🌅🌇🌌

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Dance improves social cohesion

Dance improves social cohesion
.
Research from @guidoorgs @matthias_sperling @goldsmithsuol @ucl @oxford_uni @stedmundhall #neuroscience #research #dancescience #dance #dancers #dancerslife #choreography #performance #science #social #cohesion #psychology #synchronicity #positivevibes #cognitive #neuropsychology
https://philpapers.org/rec/ZIMTCO-18

Dance improves social cohesion
.
Research from @guidoorgs @matthias_sperling @goldsmithsuol @ucl @oxford_uni @stedmundhall #neuroscience #research #dancescience #dance #dancers #dancerslife #choreography #performance #science #social #cohesion #psychology #synchronicity #positivevibes #cognitive #neuropsychology
https://philpapers.org/rec/ZIMTCO-18

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Well done team @hackballet #elicitations @greensidevenues

15 shows, 3 casts, 2 photo shoots and sold out shows! Well done team @hackballet
#ballet#company#elicitations#hackballet#jadestudio#royalterrace#greenside#edinburghfringe#shows#performance#photography#Repost @hulyalevent1 @bleuphoenix88 @lance_collins25 @briar.adams @mari.edmond @katy_mcmillan @hackballet @greensidevenues

15 shows, 3 casts, 2 photo shoots and sold out shows! Well done team @hackballet 
#ballet#company#elicitations#hackballet#jadestudio#royalterrace#greenside#edinburghfringe#shows#performance#photography#Repost @hulyalevent1 @bleuphoenix88 @lance_collins25 @briar.adams @mari.edmond @katy_mcmillan @hackballet @greensidevenues

15 shows, 3 casts, 2 photo shoots and sold out shows! Well done team @hackballet
#ballet#company#elicitations#hackballet#jadestudio#royalterrace#greenside#edinburghfringe#shows#performance#photography#Repost @hulyalevent1 @bleuphoenix88 @lance_collins25 @briar.adams @mari.edmond @katy_mcmillan @hackballet @greensidevenues

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Director’s Update – July 2018

Dear friends and supporters,

So far, 2018 has been an eventful year for us! I’d love to take the time to update you on our plans and what’s happening right now!

First of all… We are taking a big step #INTOTHEUNKNOWN and going to Edinburgh this August! Hack Ballet will present 15 performances of Elicitations, a triple bill comprising To the Edge, Argil and Grace, at Greenside’s Jade Studio from Aug 3rd – 11th and 13th – 18th. We are also partnering with @TheatreBench and our sister company @LesOdalisques to produce Full Throttle, a fun and frivolous frolic behind-the-scenes look at a ballet company with a difference, which is on at Underbelly Cowgate from 14th – 19th August.

We would love you to get involved in helping take the company ON TOUR so we are taking requests right now for rewards you might like to see us offer if you become a contributor to our tour fund! We are taking a creative approach to fundraising to ensure that you, our community, feel you are being represented, and are getting amazing value from being part of our creative community. We in the Hack Ballet world come from far and wide, and sometimes feel a little disconnected from each other and what’s happening all around us, and that is what our team want to work hard to change. The power of live dance is that… it’s live… IRL! That connection is what draws us toGet in touchgether across borders, cities and skins to create powerful artistic lives which reach deeply into our authentic selves. Dance crosses the boundaries that sometimes separate us from each other, and from what we truly want and need to become.

On a personal note from me: On 11th May I experienced a very frightening change in my health. I have had low back pain for many years, a common condition which affects me and many others. However, what was, until then, a chronic niggle that I managed with regular exercise, suddenly deteriorated, and I lost sensation in part of one leg. On 12th June this worsened again and I underwent emergency surgery on 15th June.

For the last couple of weeks I have been recovering at home and using my broad knowledge of strength and conditioning, ballet, pilates, gymnastics and sports therapy to manage my rehabilitation programme. I would like to thank those of you who have reached out to let me know you are thinking of me during this challenging time. I really appreciated your thoughts! I am vlogging about my recovery on my YouTube channel and on Instagram, so please go there if you are curious to watch the progress of my beloved gastrconemius as she fights for her right to party on the back of my leg!

 

One thing that has really helped me has been my commitment to growing Hack Ballet and to creating more spaces for creative, inclusive dance practice both in London and further afield. I’ve been buoyed up by an “ability not disability” attitude which has helped me maintain a positive trajectory with my care plan and rehab. I’d love to hear from you: have you been through a traumatic health emergency at some point in your history? What helped you stay positive and work through the inevitable setbacks, disappointments and uncertainty you faced? Further, do you know anyone who has experienced a serious back injury and undergone surgical intervention? I’m keen to hear about others’ experiences with the health care system in order to inform my advocacy for a better approach to preventative intervention and the availability of support services to patients undergoing life changing health events.

Friday class is back on for the next THREE weeks (6th, 13th, 20th July) and from September we will be offering a yearly membership with access to all of our classes and workshops! Get in touch if you want to find out more about our London classes. We are booking workshops associated with the Elicitations tour.

Thanks so much for your love and support and we look forward to seeing you at a class or performance very soon!

 

Much love,

Briar Adams

Artistic Director, Hack Ballet