Mindful of the gap
Fiona Ross, Head of Education at Rambert Dance Company explains how the Company is ideally placed to provide direction to aspiring young dancers and UK training establishments about the skills required to be a top-class performer. September, 2003
Company dancer Glenn Wilkinson teaching repertoire on the Summer School. Photo Nicki Sianni
Rambert has clear expectations of the dancers it employs, demanding strong performers who excel in both contemporary and classical styles. In order to ensure that tomorrow’s dancers are equipped with the right technical skills and attitude to become professional performers, Rambert tries to articulate these expectations to dance training establishments wherever possible and also provides three discrete opportunities for aspiring young dancers to work closely with the Company: The Summer School, The Masterclass programme and the Apprentice Dancers Scheme.
Set up in 1985, the Summer School is an annual week-long course designed for students aged 17+, dancers and teachers to hone their dance technique, learn repertory and work on choreographic projects. Held at Rambert Studios, the Summer School has a capacity for 45 participants, split into intermediate and advanced levels. The course includes a range of activity sessions including a ‘meet the dancers’ session, music and rhythm workshops, teaching workshops and relaxation sessions. The course culminates in a sharing on the final afternoon in a sharing to an audience of friends and family where repertoire extracts and choreography projects are performed. The course has a friendly but hardworking atmosphere and provides a great opportunity for participants to meet peers from a range of backgrounds and training colleges, as well as spending time with Company members.
Repertoire workshop during a Summer School Photo: Tony Nandi
The Masterclass Programme initiated by Associate Artistic Director Steven Brett in 2000, takes the Summer School aims one step further, targeting those closest to reaching the goal of becoming dancers – final year students from the UK’s top dance schools. The Masterclass Programme consists of six consecutive Saturdays at Rambert Studios, working with a team of artistic staff on technique and repertory sessions and leads towards a performance for friends and tutors on stage at Sadler’s Wells. The programme aims to bridge the gap between the two worlds of the dance school and professional company, by giving an insight into the working life of a Rambert dancer. One immediate benefit of running the Masterclass Programme is the development and strengthening of relations with participating dance schools, which in turn means that the Company can keep its finger on the pulse in terms of standards of current training. Whilst the Programme wasn’t set up to seek comparisons in standards between the schools, it is important for both the students and their teachers to gain a perspective of where their talents lie in relation to their peers. As one participant from The Masterclass programme 2003 states “It is easy to get very narrowminded when you have spent three years in the same class, same people and same uniform. It can get very restrictive and you can get shy about trying new things in your dancing. I found myself more comfortable and also daring in my dancing with new people.” One of the most striking aspects for many of the students was the realisation that they have a long way to go!
The initiative most closely aligned to the Company’s day-to-day working is the Apprentice Dancers Scheme. This scheme was created with the discrete aim of offering contracts to talented dancers who are technically strong but lack professional performing experience. Rambert has a minimum of one apprentice at any time. Current apprentice dancers include Senior Apprentice Gemma Wilkinson who joined in 2002, Thomasin Gülgeç who joined in February this year and Clemmie Sveaas who joins in August 2003.
Rambert Dance Company recognises that for even the most talented young dancer, it can be a long and testing route to the top. By offering a range of activities to encourage promising young performers to engage with the Company, challenging themselves with Rambert repertory and seeing the work of practising professionals at first hand, it is hoped that the striking gap between student and professional can be narrowed.
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