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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Sometimes unspoken
Animated, Spring 2001. 'There are no secrets to what we do. There is no mystery, but from time to time there is magic. We have a goal in mind - to challenge and elevate - it is what gives a project momentum. Our collective years of experience help create an environment based on trust, respect, support and a lot of laughter. Sometimes Unspoken ultimately offered the young people involved a great deal of self-empowerment - a sense of achievement, the satisfaction of having been through and contributed to a whole process. It was a mini cycle of creativity. A mini cycle of life.'(1) Mark Murphy, artistic director, V-T0L. Lucy Moelwyn-Hughes looks back at V-TOL's ground-breaking summer intensive
Never keen on what he calls the 'hit-and-run workshop' Mark Murphy has always placed young people at the heart of V-TOL's activities. Two dancers train and rehearse as full-time company members, and tour an education programme in tandem with the productions, offering a real opportunity to 'get under V-TOL's skin'.

Young people regularly linger after a workshop and seek our advice about their future in 'the real world', as they often put it. Whether to train or not? Where to go to for advice on colleges and courses? Wondering if there is any possibility of undertaking some work experience, maybe even an unpaid placement? The questions are unceasing. A picture of the reality facing young people both before and after their training began to form. We talked often as a company about the possibility of offering such individuals an opportunity to plug into our resources, which would focus in depth on our devising process enabling them to develop, rehearse, refine and perform material over a longer period. A project, which would be more concentrated and which differed from our previous site-specific initiatives with A Level and GCSE students. But the question was how?

We struck on a summer residency - something which had not previously been possible due to the back-to-back nature of creating and touring work - a cross arts project with an experienced team comprising director Christine Devaney (2), designer Miranda Melville, composer and musician Barry Ganberg and company education team Lisa Spackman and myself. All that remained to be found was a venue. Brendan Keaney, director, Greenwich Dance Agency (gDA) stepped into the breach - offering a number of separate spaces which would allow the musicians to rehearse individually, and for full rehearsals in the main Borough Hall.

'From our initial conversation I knew that this was the kind of project that gDA should be supporting - this was not simply about offering young people the opportunity to participate in workshops and classes. V-TOL would be providing a chance to reach inside the creative process and experience the intensity of energy that is required to make a new dance work. Of course there are summer schools and classes targeted at people of this age, however the commitment of the company to collaborate between music and dance, and the culminating performance at the South Bank, would ensure that the participants were given a real sense of what working in a performing company was about. I felt certain that it would have genuine long-term benefits and the potential to have a profound effect on some of the young people involved.' (3)

As the dialogue continued, gDA's commitment to the initiative grew enabling Surrey University placement, Kat Bridge, to act as co-ordinator assisting us to plan and realise the project whilst providing a valuable training opportunity for her. It also gave us an 'in house', contact to liaise with during the planning process and the rehearsal period.

We were committed to attracting a broad spectrum of young dancers and musicians from communities across the UK and so ensured that the budget allowed us to offer several bursaries. Greenwich Millennium Office also supplied two additional bursaries for locally based young people. What we could not have anticipated was the enormity of interest - over 200 applications within a matter of weeks - we were genuinely surprised. Obviously, we had tapped into a rich source of enthusiasm and hunger to learn - a gap in the market even. But it was imperative that this residency should offer young people a concentrated experience of the highest quality and so we were only able to offer 32 places.

The young people themselves were to be central to the creative process, which would not only provide them with a focus, but would offer them a profile as young performers too. The project was to culminate in performances on the ballroom floor at Royal Festival Hall, and formed an integral part of V-TOL's Day of Dance-Cinema at Blazing 2000. By making the work site-specific, it provided us as an artistic team with a clear 'way in' as regards concept, and initial starting points. The ballroom is a vast, open, noisy, inhabited space overlooked by the bars and eateries that surround it. Sometimes Unspoken was a direct response to this - dwelling on the things that are not public, that we keep hidden ... the things that are not said, that we do not ever say ... that we do not need to say.

The processes we employed aimed to allow the young performers room to explore their own creative potential, drawing movement and music composition from within, giving what developed an emotional truth. We asked everyone involved to explore through writing, personal experiences - painful or positive - in order to provide some relevance to the work we were creating together. Each day began with a company warm up - there was no discrimination between dancers and musicians - and would often end with everyone back together in one room sharing their thoughts, questions, ideas, material that had evolved. This provided a disparate group of strangers with a safe working atmosphere within which they felt able to take physical and emotional risks. Give a person ownership of what they are creating, and it becomes something that they are willing to invest in. Shaun, one of the young dancers captured the ethos: 'It was great to be able to have a personal input into the piece, it made everyone feel that they were responsible for its success.'(4)

As a creative team we made a positive decision to echo the creative processes that we as professional artists embark on when making work, but without actually relying on any formula. We avoided 'setting the movement' until the last moment, allowing it to grow alongside the music rather than tailoring it to fit.

For those more comfortable with having movement set on them it was an unnerving experience but it undoubtedly reaped great benefits. Mark also popped into rehearsals, acting as a sounding board, offering valuable feedback and reinforcing the importance of the young peoples' contribution to the work and the company initiative.

We chose individuals who were at varying stages of their training or who were embarking on their careers. Given the diverse range of abilities, experience and artforms, we envisaged the possibility of self-selecting divisions within the group. From the outset we made it clear that it was our absolute intention to avoid divisions, and asked everybody to embrace this ethos with a view to learn from one another. They all took this to heart: 'It was really refreshing to work in an uncompetitive and accepting atmosphere', (5) observed Paloma. We were also clear about what it was that each individual brought to the residency and the importance of the processes, overt and discreet, contained within it. Furthermore, the creation of Sometimes Unspoken was viewed, as with all projects, as an extension of V-TOL's 'choreo-chronicle' of works, and so contained the same rigorous production values. A sentiment echoed by Mark: 'Our education work feels like an extension of V-TOL, that these people, for this period of time, are a part of the company.'(6)

Our work has always been about risk taking, and this was precisely what we were asking the group to do with us. The self-imposed deadline for creating a piece seemed unrealistic at times -on paper we had only nine days at gDA for creation and rehearsal, and a further two days 'fine-tuning' on site. 'There was no time to build up preconceptions, security blankets or to intellectualise - it was straight in! The result was the creation of material that was human, honest, dynamic and accessible'(7) as Ruth, one of the musicians put it. Sometimes Unspoken was a measure of the utter commitment and hours of hard work that each of these individuals contributed.

The intensity and speed at which the project occurred left little time for planning long-term strategies. Yet no matter how positive and enriching an experience it was, it is in danger of becoming just another 'hit and run' unless we can devise a way forward from it for these young artists. Therefore, everyone involved contributed to a detailed evaluatory process with a view to it informing future practice, and this included the opinions, responses and feelings of the young people themselves. One thing it has highlighted for us is the need and desire to be able to offer this kind of training opportunity more regularly, and identify ways of providing 'ongoing support' for young artists wherever they are in their training or career. Our feeling is that this is the beginning of their relationship with V-TOL, that we have opened the door for them in terms of advice, information, and resources ..., as is the case with many of our large projects, so that we can begin to build a support mechanism of sorts. It is a small start, but it seems to be valued and what many of them require from us. And in the words of one of the dancers, Neil, whom we had originally met at a workshop the previous year 'I feel that I have learned an enormous amount ... it was fantastic ... so much more than a project. Nice one, V-TOL.'(8)

With thanks to Brendan Keaney, Helen Smart, Kate Marsh, Kat Bridge, David Ball, Joni Howard, Rachel Harris, Bill Deverson and David Goldsworthy.

1. & 6. Murphy, Mark, artistic director, V-TOL Dance Company, London, 2001
2. Christine Devaney is associate director, V-TOL Dance Company
3. Keaney, Brendan, director, Greenwich Dance Agency (gDA), London, 2001
4. Shaun, London, 2000
5. Paloma, London, 2000
7. Ruth, London, 2000
8. Neil, London, 2000.

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001