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Animated Edition - Spring 2003
History of learning
Charlotte Vincent plots a personal journey and route map
When I was five I went to Katina Miller's School of Dance to learn tap, modern and ballet. Thirteen years later, having been very sporty at school, I trained in English Literature and Drama at Sheffield University. On graduating I set up a Community Theatre Company with four friends called Cut Back Theatre. Our work took original, devised productions and drama workshops into new territories, exposed me to different sectors of the community and taught me many things that have stayed with me over the years: how to deal with difficult groups; how to be ambitious whilst remaining realistic about and committed to your aims; how to be true to your own sense of integrity.

I displaced myself from Yorkshire in 1991 by taking a job as a Community Drama Worker in Blyth, Northumberland. Nobody told me before I moved there that it had been voted the worst town in England the year before. In Blyth, I worked with long term unemployed groups (ex-miners and fishing industry workers), people with disabilities and people with mental illness, in community and hospital settings. I also learnt trapeze, contact improvisation and started to dance at Dance City, Newcastle, and trained over spare weekends in physical theatre and contemporary dance.

By 1993, and after a short spell working with Volcano Theatre in Swansea, I wanted to move back to Yorkshire to produce my own work. So I moved back to Sheffield to work with a newly formed dance company, run by two acrobats, called Side By Side and joined the then Yorkshire based co-operative of dancers Dance Republic who made work with Gregory Nash and Sue Maclennan. I ended up doing a lot of planning and administration for both companies and by 1994 thought it would make more sense to start my own. So Vincent Dance Theatre emerged and I created an hour long , intense duet called INTERCOURSE with Harry Theaker. Seen and supported by Simon Dove (the then Director of Yorkshire Dance, Leeds), the duet went on to tour locally and the rest, as they say, is history (and sheer bloody mindedness).

With gathering commission support from venues across the UK, and funding from Yorkshire and Humberside Arts the company grew and toured and finally gathered Arts Council support in 1998.

Yorkshire Dance has played a critical role in my development as an artist and Vincent Dance Theatre's development as a company. Initially support consisted of dedicated support from the Projects Manager, admin time, financial management, marketing support and, perhaps most importantly, rehearsal space in a fully equipped studio.

Over the next five years, as the company gathered support, the relationship loosened to become more about provision of rehearsal space, administrative guidance, and a two way relationship between myself and the Director using each other as a mutual support system and as sounding boards. Today, eight years on, this relationship with Yorkshire Dance continues as VDT works towards becoming a full time company in funding terms, to match our current (and extensive) production, touring and community-based output and activity.

I have travelled a convoluted path to becoming a choreographer, which has some benefits and some downsides. The benefits are mostly to do with having a multi-faceted and diverse approach to making things and teaching things, an open mind; an interest in things other than dance can lead to a fresher approach and a willingness to jam things together that may not at first seem to fit.

A training that has encompassed film, theatre, dance, text and design means I do not feel tied to dance conventions, perhaps as someone who has been through dance school may. Different influences feed the work. I feel able to take risks. I do not wish to be pigeon holed.

I want to find a path that suits me, and my ideas and lead my valued collaborators on a path of discovery with me. Nothing is a given.

The downside is that I struggle to feel like a 'proper' choreographer in a world where the first thing you get asked is 'Where did you train?'. It takes time to answer this coherently, to feel confident in your choice to become an artist. It also takes so much longer this way to feel, that you are taken seriously in a world that favours 'ballet boys' and recognised pathways. There is no fast track if your career develops in this fashion - it takes a degree of self-will and patience with the sometimes slow pace of progression.

Some advice for aspiring choreographers
This is my perspective. This is what I have learnt.

  • to be a choreographer, you really have to want to make and craft things, not be in love with the idea of being someone that does that

  • let go of ideas of glamour and fame and recognition - they are all meaningless and led only by the ego

  • being an artist is about following your internal drive to make things

  • think about the art and what it is that you want to make

  • it's hard work. You have to be committed in your pursuit of your art. You will get knocked back again and again

  • you have to be patient - it can take at least five years to get significant funding, even with much support from venues and regional funding bodies

  • running a dance company (not just being a choreographer) takes it out of you - are you prepared to work very long hours? Are you prepared for the buck to stop with you? Can you handle the pressure?

  • you have to prove yourself over and over again. You are only as good as your last piece

  • you have to face rejection and people saying no to you. Can you handle that?

  • you have to diversify - become an administrator, financial manager, marketeer, designer, line manager, performer as well as director/choreographer. Do you really want that?

  • your work becomes your life pretty quickly. You are often displaced- on tour, abroad, or even just in your head - do you want that level of divorce from friends, family, lovers, normality?

  • you need to be adaptable. Do you want to keep learning?

  • you need to have the capacity to design projects that feed you somehow, ones which take risks artistically, financially and organisationally, because this is the landscape we work in. There is no security. Whether it is £5,000 as a sole trader (my first project budget) or £250,000 (Vincent Dance Theatre's current turnover), with the security of a General Manager and a Board of Directors I never stop worrying about funding and money issues

  • you need to be good at thinking and planning ahead. As an artist/maker you need to able to be in the moment, but as an Artistic Director you are planning years ahead. Do you want to know your movements three years ahead of now?

  • you need to be multi-skilled and able to multi-task

  • you need to be able to understand the context you are working in

  • most importantly: you need to have a concept.

Attitude, investigation and partnership
Writing from the perspective as a maker of my own work, as a choreographer and as an artistic director of a limited company/registered charity I think there are three key areas of thought, sense and action that have helped me to progress in the capacity of all three roles: Attitude, Investigation and Partnership.

Attitude

  • accepting - of others, of setbacks, of your own goals and ambitions

  • open and enquiring

  • imaginative - it's incredible how many aspiring dancers and choreographers are not

  • flexible

  • determined - to follow things through; to make a mark

  • singular in your desire to make work

  • co-operative - with funders, managers, agencies, colleagues

  • persistent - with yourself

  • committed

  • doubtful - acknowledge that doubt is a true creative force

  • disciplined - with the artistic process, with yourself and others' time.

Investigate:

  • yourself

  • the work

  • your colleagues

  • opportunities - make them, see them, work them, get better at identifying them.

Partnership
Crucial to any development is the notion that you cannot do it alone. Find allies in funders, other artists, managers, designers, technicians, performers but don't expect any support until you have earned it through the your attitude and investigation. People will only join you with a sense of commitment if you are clear about what you are doing and have a concept of what you are trying to achieve.

See other artists' work
You are working in a context - local, regional, national and international - and it helps your own process to try to understand the context in which you are working. Expose yourself to theatre, dance, film, live music, opera, live art, both in the mainstream and the experimental arenas. No woman is an island! Try not to be precious or limited - 'Throw away your baby'. Be expansive and then apply the skills of distillation by crafting new work - your own work. Understand that it may take time to find the right collaborators, the right style, the right form to make the kind of work you would like to make, and that each new project is an opportunity to explore ideas rather than prove how much you already know. Don't be a fake. Be self-critical. Be prepared to fail and learn from your failures. Be honest with yourself and those around you. Go with your first idea - it is usually closest to what you are searching for. Hike the horizontal between community practice (from which you can learn so much) and professional work ('high art'), and ask yourself difficult questions, as Jonathan Burrows has, like: 'Who am I when I dance?'

Transcribed and adapted from a discussion at Yorkshire Dance, Summer 2002. Charlotte Vincent is a dance maker, choreographer and artistic director of Vincent Dance Theatre.

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Animated: Spring 2003