Lilian Baylis Studio

A Fairy Tale for The Greatest Dancer

Step Change Studios returns to the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells to present Fairy Tales: a ballroom-inspired show which brings together 20 disabled and non-disabled artists from the UK to present original dance. New to this year’s cast is Andrew Self. Passionate about ballroom dance, Andrew came to public attention on BBC’s The Greatest Dancer. Andrew tells us about preparing for his Sadler’s Wells debut and shares his passion for dance.

Hi Andrew, could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a 22 year-old student at The Orpheus Centre, which is a specialist college for young disabled adults with a passion for the performing arts. My love of ballroom dance began when I was 11 years old and I started watching the TV show Strictly Come Dancing. I thought it was brilliant and would copy all the moves from the telly.

Tell us about your dance experience.

I absolutely love dancing, especially performing. I dance wherever I can find the opportunity. I learn different styles of dance but mainly focus on ballroom and contemporary. Dancing makes me feel happy, fit and free. I have Down’s Syndrome but I like to call it Dance Syndrome. It can mean that I sometimes find things a bit tricky to learn and have to work harder but it doesn’t stop me doing anything. I have found that the best teachers are people who support me to learn by taking things slowly, being patient, giving me visual prompts such as using video to help me learn, and making sure I’ve understood what I have to do. Most importantly, I love to be challenged.

Andrew Self. Image: Sophie Mayanne

You auditioned for Fairy Tales – what was that like?

I was really looking forward to auditioning for Fairy Tales. I wanted to do something different and the opportunity sounded exciting. I was delighted to show Rashmi, the Producer of Fairy Tales, my moves. We danced some waltz and cha-cha together and then I was invited to show other dance styles, so I demonstrated some foxtrot and a paso doble. When Rashmi told me I was going to be in the show I was very excited – it was Fairytaletastic!

How are rehearsals for Fairy Tales going?

I couldn’t wait to start rehearsals. I am learning a duet and will be dancing with a professional ballroom dancer Clair to the song Someone to Watch Over Me. For me, the story is about an angel looking after me. Sometimes we dance the same moves apart and sometimes we dance together. I adore the music because it reminded me of my Nan. It makes me feel peaceful and emotional and a little bit thoughtful.

Andrew Self. Image: David White

My rehearsals have been going well and I am really enjoying preparing the piece. Clair is the best dance partner. The choreography is challenging and I am finding the turns quite tricky but I improve in every session. I practice with videos taken during the rehearsals. Rashmi also sends me written tips of things to practice and think about in between. I am feeling very excited about the show and can’t wait to get on stage with a live audience! My Orpheus dance teacher is coming to see me and is looking forward to seeing how I do with my ballroom holds and steps.

What advice would you give to disabled people looking to start dancing?

My advice for people with disabilities that want to dance but might be nervous or think it is not for them is to just go for it, have fun and be resilient. It’s amazing what can happen when you follow your passions. My absolute dream would be to dance on Strictly Come Dancing but the fairy tale for me is to keep dancing.

Image: David White

Step Change Studios present Fairy Tales in the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells on 27 June. Tickets are available now priced at £17 and concessions at £8.50, by calling the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

Jefta van Dinther: “It was a very beautiful but estranging experience, seeing my living body”

Choreographer and dancer Jefta van Dinther is known for creating striking sensorial illusions. Ahead of the UK premiere of his new work, Dark Field Analysis, we caught up with Jefta in Gothenburg to find out more about the creation of this intimate and voyeuristic piece.

What inspired you to create Dark Field Analysis?
There were two main starting points. One was the title of the piece which is a term I borrowed from a method within alternative medicine. It’s a way of taking a blood sample – a drop of blood from your ear – and placing it under a special microscope to invert the structures and colours, which means you can see the blood living as you watch it. I had this analysis, and for me it was a very beautiful and profound but also an estranging experience of looking in to myself and seeing my living body. I had a very existential experience, and I became interested in how you could be so distant to yourself at the same time as looking at yourself. The term, dark field analysis, struck me as something very beautiful and poetic, a mix between something scientific and something very philosophical.

This starting point came with another: at that moment in my life I was having a lot of strong encounters, meeting people for the first time, and I had very powerful exchanges with people through words. I became interested in the materiality of the spoken word and how there was a feeling of profundity in that exchange. This inspired me to make a piece that had spoken word between two people as the main motor.

How did you use this scientific approach to influence your creative work?
In the end there’s very little science left. The performance is an experiential journey of perceptions and colours, but also of stories, a kind of staging of two people whose relationship you don’t really understand. The piece starts as a kind of anatomical theatre, a laboratory space, as an aesthetic expression of this science, but slowly things start to dissolve. The audience is sitting on four sides of the stage looking on to the performance area, and something that starts off as shared ends up becoming something that is yours, as one dives into a black hole with very low levels of light illuminating the bodies. It’s almost like a dream; a distorted inner landscape. I think the piece enables a journey from this public, scientific, open space where everything is presented, to something much more mysterious, poetic and internal.

Dark Field Analysis centres on an intimate exchange between two men, beautifully performed by Juan Pablo Cámara and Roger Sala Reyner. What inspired you to focus on a duet relationship? How collaborative has the making process been?
When I first asked them to join the process, I asked if they were willing to sit on the carpet naked and talk for one hour surrounded by the audience. This point of departure had to do with my personal story of meeting and falling in love with a new person, and the kind of conversational mode that takes place in the early stages of a relationship when you’re diving in to each other, through which you also dive in to yourself – there’s a kind of re-configuration of who you are through somebody else. Those conversations often take place when you’re in bed, in the park, or on the carpet of your home. It’s accompanied with that unassuming, lazy space.

My work in general is very collaborative, but in this case the performance unfolded specifically in relation to the performers. The qualities they have became very directive. I think it has to do with their use of voices, which are very present in the piece. The voice is an extension of the body and it carries a lot of personality. They are also naked throughout the performance which is a very personal exposure of who you are.

Can you tell us about your use of text, which plays an important role in this work?
In the end, the piece became much more of a complex assemblage between music, light, voice, body, choreography and material than I had thought. But from the very beginning I approached it as a textual and sonic piece. I was really interested in the idea of conversation.

We didn’t know how to stage this conversation. I had the blue carpet and the audience on four sides in mind, but I didn’t know what the performers were going to do, or if they were even going to move. So we spent the first five weeks just generating texts and dialogue that we would record, transcribe, repeat and it was only when we actually put ourselves on that carpet that these bodies started to move. The text gave rise to a way of becoming. We ended up working around the idea of what it is to be a human body, through a juxtaposition of the human in relation to other forms of life. We’re exploring an animal quality, but also a synthetic or cyborgian quality, something that is not sentient.

What would you like audiences to take away from this work?
What I understand when I hear people share their experience of this performance is that it can enable a kind of journey in to yourself – in a similar way to how I dived into myself through that microscope, you can dive in to certain areas of yourself that are not so clear and that you don’t visit very often. To areas that you don’t necessarily know how to label. It stirs something in you and creates an intensity, even becomes emotional. What I would love is for people to allow themselves to be in this state without having to do something with it or without having to name it – maybe not even make sense of it through talking. It’s not about grasping, it’s about being.

Dark Field Analysis comes to the Lilian Baylis Studio on 12–14 Sep. Tickets are £17. To book, call the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

Pepa Ubera and Josefina Camus discuss their production Ellipsis Land

London-based dancers and choreographers Pepa Ubera (a current participant in Sadler’s Wells Summer University programme) and Josefina Camus will team up to present their show Ellipsis Land at the Lilian Baylis Studio in November. We spoke to them about how the piece explores the body’s relationship with technology, and the transformative journey it has taken them on.

What inspired you to create Ellipsis Land?

Josefina Camus: The relationship between the body and technology, the real architecture and the “digital architecture”, the connections we create interacting with the different screens we use in our daily life. Those ideas mobilised our interrogations about how we pay attention to the architecture of the space and the body.

Pepa Ubera: A few years ago when we started using so much technology, I was wondering how the body will behave now that we have this ongoing relationship with the virtual world. I had a desire to look at our experience of the real world now we are confronted so often with the flatness of the screen (phone, computers). If the self was living through this flatness how was the body behaving and how was the nervous system then connecting with the technological world, creating all these invisible architectures .

Can you tell us a bit about the piece, what does it feel like to perform?

J.C: Performing Ellipsis Land makes me travel to different states, in that it concerns the organisation of the body in the space. I experience the dimensions and volume of the body, in that way my body becomes a sculpture, with different planes, angles and dimensions to be perceived.

The other important element of performing this piece is the different energies we explore. We wanted to highlight the body as container of energy, which sends and receives energy.

P.U: It feels like a transformative journey. We have been studying the body almost in a geometrical way. Looking at how it is to occupy a flat space and slowly start using more volume until we are able to energise the self as a container of energy that can connect with the audience and the architecture of the room where things take place.

How has the piece changed since its inception?

J.C: Ellipsis Land is a continuous performance project that started in 2014. It has been shown throughout its different stages of development. The first version was performed at Limen Festival, TripSpace Projects in collaboration with the Hayward Gallery, London, in October 2014. In 2016 it was shown at the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells. The latest version was shown in March at BMW TATE Live Exhibition: TEN DAYS SIX NIGHTS, at Tate Modern, London.

Each performance is unique as it evolves from the last one through on-going research. This new version of Ellipsis Land is is an evolution of our concepts, choreographic material, sound and visual ideas.

One important aspect of this piece is the relationship with the architecture. So, specially the last part of the piece is an exploration of the architecture of the place where we are performing, in the Tate. We used the morphology of the tanks, at the Lilian Baylis Studio we explore the details of this theatre highlighting their particularity.

The piece features a score by Simone Salvatici, can you tell us a bit the creative process of working together?

J.C: Working with Simone added a very important aspect of the piece, the sound and the vibration that surround us are fundamental to it.

With Simone we share ideas and concepts that we can then use as choreographic tools. In this sense we share concepts and we use them differently: Simone in the creation of sound, and for us, the creation of movements.

This piece highlights the auditory perception, we can say that Ellipsis Land is a dance performance, a concert and a visual exhibition at the same time. We combine different medias to create an experience that involves the different senses.

P.U: The first time Simone came into the process we were a month away from the performance. Back then we did not have the time we would have liked to collaborate. That was in 2016 and since then the three of us have been working in two different processes. But earlier this year for the performance at Tate Modern and the last month again for the premiere of the full length performance, we have had time together to collaborate and discuss the concept and the processes each of us experience. Now it feels like a collaboration between artists from different fields, which is what we were looking for in this piece.

What’s next for you?

J.C: We will show Ellipsis Land in different venues, and we are planning a tour for South America for next year.  We want to begin a new collaborative project as well.

Ellipsis Land, by Pepa Ubera and Josefina Camus, will be performed 2-4 November at the Lilian Baylis Studio. You can book tickets here