AEP Conversations' in Hertfordshire

AEP Conversations' in Hertfordshire

Today was the first of our AEP, Artists’ Conversations tour dates, and our first collaboration is with BEEE Creative, Dance Re:Ignite programme in Hertfordshire

Artists’ Conversations are bespoke to the group, and are initiated by a dialogue around the core themes of the AEP - Artistry, Roles, Resilience and People.

AEP Artists' Conversations on tour

This year the AEP is growing, seeing regional collaborations developing with DanceEast and Yorkshire Dance, and new connections with Pavilion Dance South West, and BEEE Creative Dance Re:Ignite Programme in Hertfordshire.

Around the country the AEP is brining you Artists’ Conversations - a chance to engage with like minded artists, interrogate your values and beliefs, establish peer mentoring and support systems, and talk about the things on your mind that are challenging you in your work / life balance.

Join the Conversation!

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The AEP is an innovation in leadership and a radical new model for the the provision of artists development. It is a facilitated, democratic, process and not a directive experience. It is a brave statement made by a group of independent artists expressing their need for change; the outcome and the start of that change is the AEP...
— Danielle Teale, Artistic Initiator

Future Leadership

The AEP as a democratic leadership model for the future…

I believe a key component of strong leadership is a focus on a humanness, a sense that good leadership comes from a desire to relate to and connect with people on a human level… I have invested my human nature into the AEP, and that leaves me vulnerable. But that vulnerability and an acknowledgement of the power of vulnerability is part of the process that has led me to this programme… This I believe is the power of independent artists. Their ability to adapt, be vulnerable, change minds and turn sharp corners quickly, makes them a powerful leading force.

The AEP is an innovation in leadership and a radical new model for the the provision of artists development. It is a facilitated, democratic, process and not a directive experience. It is a brave statement made by a group of independent artists expressing their need for change; the outcome and the start of that change is the AEP...

The evolution of the AEP…

Two years ago, when I began the process of developing this programme, I was discontented with what I saw available to me in professional development, and I was noticing a growing tendency or expectation that artists ‘augment’ their practice with CPD that dealt with specificity… a “dance for” model of learning. These models had been deeply honed by other artists and the CPD offered gave an insight into one practice from one artist only.

What I struggled with most was that this model of CPD leadership was so removed from the foundations of my own democratic leadership approach, and one which I believed to be at the centre of community engaged practice. It has a ‘learn from the expert’ style, which is something I don’t believe in as fundamentally I don’t believe we are ever experts in a transient art form which is embodied socially, culturally and politically.

I wanted to understand what impact this notion of ‘expert’ might be having on the shape of artists practice and how ‘evidence’ was impacting artists sense of self-significance. Enhancing the value of the self can enable you to enhance your understanding of the value of others. It is my absolute belief that our practice and artistry can be exponentially improved through a deepened self-respect and confidence, and the AEP seeks to offer this for dance artists.

So I undertook considerable research and development which involved observing practice across a wide range of settings. What I saw very quickly was a divide between classes, led by teachers, observing a model of practice learned from ‘experts’; versus exploratory creative practice led by artists, with curiosity and interest in the dancers in front of them.

What I deduced from this was that the quality of engagement was so much higher for the dancers involved in the exploratory and artistic practice. It enabled them to be heard, have agency, be accountable and equal co-creators of their own experience. Fundamental values behind my own practice and the notion of what I understand community dance to be (for more information on this research please get in touch).

So in my next phase of R&D, I set about talking to a cross section of independent artists whose practice I felt really did sit in that artistic, co-creative place; to find out what their values were, what their inspiration was, why they felt there might be this divide in practice, and what they felt needed to be done to address it. I called this Artists’ Conversations, and this strand has been fundamental to the development of the AEP.

Core themes / values emerged from these artists conversations, and they formed the backbone of the AEP development process. I was saddened to hear that levels of resilience were low, artists felt a lack of value placed on their contribution to the dance ecology, they felt the pressure of the multitude of roles they had to embody and that their curiosity for and about people / humanity, was compromised – there were many who felt close to burn-out. These dance artists are changemakers; leaders of the future, but they did not feel heard and they did not feel that there were any support systems in place for them. They felt they had fallen into a gap in provision.

Most notably, there was nowhere obvious where these artists could see their own values reflected back at them. This felt isolating. The values that I feel are essential to my work are mirrored by the other artists that I work with, but artists I spoke to were sadly seeing less and less of these values in the organisations that they worked for.

So ultimately, the AEP came about in order to provide a democratic space to champion artists skills and support their development; independently. I brought artists together who aligned with the values of practice that I saw in my research, and who I felt could offer me and each other, something that existing artists development was not offering.

The AEP is a support system that exists without organisational bias and can support ultimately from a values system that mirrors the creative practice of the artists involved – supportiveness, equality, democracy, voice, curiosity, attention, empathy. It might seem radical to suggest that an independent group of artists can offer more for one another than industry leading bodies, but that radical stand is empowering and provocative, and this is exactly what a democratic, community practice is all about – pushing buttons which make us think differently about what is available to us, and scratching on the surface to make change… The AEP artists are all change-makers and I felt I could make a brave step knowing that I had a community of artists backing this programme and that ultimately it would lead me to be able to support others.

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What will you get from the AEP…

The AEP isn’t a model with an evidence base, and it doesn’t offer a take home structure to be replicated. But it does have a unique template – I like to think of it as a score which remains fluid and ensures that everyone in the process is heard, and held. The AEP is a team approach – the team all understand the collective goal to support one another towards an empowered change. The model acknowledges the importance of:

  • Active Listening (really listening!)

  • Engaging people (being heard and considered; contributing to self-worth)

  • Empowering and activating (feeling you are supported inspired action)

  • Purpose (understanding your worth and what you are meant to do)

 

The AEP is a Skills Exchange programme – that doesn’t mean we swap ideas and take them away – the AEP is not right for you if you are looking for someone to offer you specific tasks, or lesson plans to replicate. Instead the premise of this programme is that we reflect in artists development, the same values and processes that we as artists use in our own leadership practice. In our facilitation practice we are activists, breaking down hierarchy, making space for voices to emerge and potential to unfold. In CPD this should also be the case. A traditional model of one voice leadership works no better in CPD than it does in community dance practice. That’s not to say that a directive approach isn’t useful in certain phases of life and career. But for those artists at the ‘mid-career’ level, this approach is not satisfying our professional development.

AEP founded on values of humanity and artistry – all the artists involved came from a socially engaged, community practice, and thus the conversations and foundations of the programme emerge from a fascination with people, curiosity, desire to interrogate, perseverance of spirit and dedication to improvement. And from this we could see that by working together, a better self could emerge for the benefit of our work. And that a better work meant a more engaging artistic process for the dancers we work with.

What I’m conscious of is that it could sound like a collective back patting, but in fact it is hard, it is interrogatory, the AEP involves vulnerability, conflict, questioning, answering, being without answers, running at issues head first and knowing that in this vulnerability was a powerful force and a truth that we were able to wear as an amour and support ourselves to make change, for ourselves, for our dancers, for our audiences…

To take part in the AEP process is to reach out for a change…and find what you want next.

 

And if you do join in, you are guaranteed the following:

  • A carefully crafted experience which supports you to feel you can learn and contribute in equal measure

  • We will all dance together

  • We will all stimulate discussion

  • You will be encouraged to remain forward focused

  • You will take away a sense of acceptance

  • You will be seen and heard

  • You will experience a generous spirit of investigation; this is a sharing process, not a battle ground

  • You will feel rejuvenated; an oxygenation of your practice

  • You will be stimulated artistically

  • You will feel a surge of confidence, resilience and trust in yourself

  • You will take away a support network which is powerful and can be your catalyst for great change

 

If this sounds like it’s for you: Join in..! 

Announcing the first AEP professional development course

The Artists’ Exchange Programme (AEP) initiated by Danielle Teale Dance, announces the first two-day AEP professional skills course offered to students from University of Roehampton.

The AEP is an example of innovative, artist-led leadership; a CPD initiative focused on artistry and high quality choreographic practice in community dance. The programme offers a range of opportunities from Artists' Skills Exchange for mid-career Artists , to bespoke Masterclasses or Professional Development courses suitable for a range of participants.

The AEP interrogates practice which falls within the intersection between professional, choreographic and community dance and asks questions of these labels, giving us the chance to exchange ideas, reflect and analyse our practice for the future benefit of the participants we work with.

One of the most enriching experiences I have had as an artist. I have never before been in a CPD environment where there has been so much depth and intricacy in our explorations
— Rachel Fullegar, AEP Skills Exchange, participating artist Dec 2017

The upcoming two-day artistic development course is aimed at early career students of University of Roehampton, and will be led by Danielle Teale with excellent guest artist contributors from across the UK. The course is suitable for those looking for guidance and inspiration for their career development, and to build a network of support.

The two-day course will take place at University of Roehampton, 6-7 June.

Go to the join in page for more information or contact Danielle Teale.

Finding your axis

Skills Exchange Day 4

Strength, belief, being good enough

Laura Street

Laura has trained at The Northern School of Contemporary Dance, The Cunningham Studios, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Perri Dance Center and Alvin Aliley Studios in New York. She has performed with a wide range of companies and projects, most notably with Travelling Light Theatre Company and Oily Cart Theatre Company. She is Artistic Director of about NOWish who make immersive movement and sound experiences for young children and their accompanying adults. She is a passionate educator and leads workshops and classes in a number of different settings and recently gained her Early Years Teacher Status. Laura recently became an Associate Artist of Theatre Bristol and became involved in the Skills Exchange through her relationship with Theatre Bristol as an integral contributor and regional representative for the south west in the development of the Artists' Exchange Programme.

On day 4 of the skills exchange, Laura was moved to share her experiences and strategies for managing self care, resilience building, and knowing when you are enough. In an industry in which we set up environments and strategies to support others, Laura talked about how we can find mechanisms to support ourselves and be honest about how we are coping. In her own words she shares her reflections following on from the Skills Exchange week, and some of the practices that support her in her personal and professional work, following struggles with self worth, confidence and emotional value.

There's a sensation that has always been hanging over my shoulder throughout my life, the feeling of someone’s strong, forceful hand about to steer me out of the room I so desperately wanted to be in saying, "you’re not supposed to be here, you’re not enough".

I’m sure it’s a feeling many other artists feel, so I’m here to confess in the hope it will connect with someone who also feels they’re too about to be asked to leave. The AEP Skills Exchange week generated so much light, inspiration, creativity and hope, but all the while I feel the darkness heavy with me. It’s like I had been sent to represent the dark side of living creatively for others, as dance artists so often do.

I am a highly sensitive being and carry a lot of darkness in my soul at all times, it stays with me at my side, sometimes quiet, sometimes screaming and sometimes smothering. Towards the end of the week I put forward my confession to the group. I told them of dark periods, of the abusive relationships, the breakdowns and the messiness. Not to wallow in it, but to share, in case there was someone in the room who carried the same darkness with them, or someone knew someone else who did. I have always been open about the mess that is my brain, from making a point of turning up at events with mascara down my face from the tears of despair, to being honest with the dancers who performed my work with beauty and dedication, that I will always be eternally grateful for. For my brain and work is absolute, there’s no halfway space, it’s in or out and for many years there was no safety net. So I confessed to the AEP group in the hope it might help/inspire/connect, and to talk about the construction of the safety net that was so desperately needed.

I used the image of the axis and the orbit to explain what I meant:

Understanding your orbit

Creative processes are the orbit; commonly, immersive, all consuming and driven by passion. We often live on very little during these periods but the love for the work or the participants that inspire us, and it can be a very precarious way to live. These orbits can spin us into a world where were can’t see out, like spinning for your life in the playground, no longer being able to make out the familiar outline of the school building, and often, unfortunately, the only way is down to make it stop. I had fallen out of a daze too many times, causing some serious damage along the way. Damage which has stayed with me and now needed constant maintenance. So I set about constructing myself an axis that would keep me from spinning too far from my own
natural gravitational pull.

Constructing your axis

Each one of us is brilliantly different, but the world of social media can mean that the lines between ourselves and others can get blurred and you can get lost in others’ identities and needs. I needed to know myself to know what sent me spinning out into deep space, and thus what my axis needed to be constructed of to keep me locked into a healthy orbit. It’s often a rocky road to find what you need to be your axis, with bits of you often flying off at precarious angles and sometimes clouting loved ones in the face as you go. It’s not fun, and it's not healthy to glamorise the suffering artist, as many still do in a, in my opinion, highly irresponsible way; but to acknowledge the dark side of the person who can bring so much light and love to the world. As a wise friend once told me, all the emotions are valid, and I believe as artists we can represent the spectrum for people.

Creating a safe space

A key skill that we discovered we all do during the AEP Skills Exchange week is to create a caring and safe creative environment for people to engage with dance and their own creativity.

But how do we do that? What do we put in place to create this ‘home’ for them and ourselves? Do we think to create it for ourselves?

I shared the practice I had learnt on my massage and bodywork course, a practice that has helped me construct my own axis, when I had existed as only a small pool on the floor.

  • Opening the space, creating an environment where people can feel at home and welcomed, and you as a practitioner feel safe and secure to work
  • Greeting the participant where they are at that day and at that time, taking time to make a one to one connection so you can hope to understand where they are at
  • Working in a way that protects and cares, but allows you all to really explore and be safe to take risks. This bit takes some real consideration and acknowledgement of individual contexts
  • Closing the space. Bringing down the energy to be able to wrap yourselves up in it and prepare yourself for the next part of your day which will inevitably arrive
  • Taking time to reflect on what happened, how you feel, and recognising that some of your feelings may not in fact be yours. You may be taking other people's ‘stuff’ away with you, so making sure you’re are free to carry forward only what it yours
  • Cleansing. Finding a way to step out from one space and into another without taking baggage with you - a simple act of changing clothes can make all the difference

Axis’ are not permanent structures; what ‘held’ you at one point may no longer be the best thing at another point. To make sure yours is made of the right stuff I suggest two key things that I took away from the AEP week in December;

listen...

really listen...

and stay fluid

(Words by Laura Street)

text, words and understanding

Skills Exchange Day 4

Using text choreographically

Today we played with a few ways in to using text in performance and as part of a creative process. In her own words, Katie Green shared a few of the reasons why she chooses to use text in her work:

  • Point of access: for me, text is one of the tools I use to offer the audience an access point in to the world of the work. As I now mainly work out of theatres in museums, galleries and heritage sites, the audience who see my work often happen upon it by accident, and may have less experience of watching dance (particularly contemporary dance). I hope that using text helps give new dance audiences confidence in their own understanding/interpretation of what they are seeing because, like a recognisable physical gesture, words are something with which they may be able to connect more immediately.
  • Orientation: I use text as part of the ‘orientation process’ for the audience at the beginning of my work; as a way of setting up the performance as an invitation; putting people at ease; giving them just enough information so that they begin to understand what might be expected of them, and then we can work from there - this doesn’t mean we can’t surprise them, but there’s a basic level of understanding, an agreement. Often in the work I make now, the performers talk before they start moving.
  • Poetry and impressionism: I sometimes use text poetically or impressionistically to contribute to building an atmosphere. To give one example, in each section of my work for caves and underground spaces, Beneath Our Feet, we have tried to replicate something about the quality of the section in the way the text is constructed/delivered. So in the ‘disappearing’ section, the text appears to disappear, and is carried away into the sound score, then when it comes back again it is amplified so that it sounds distorted and it’s still not clear where it’s coming from. Or in the section about the movement of water through rock, it extends into long lines of sung text, overlapped and layered between recorded and live sound.
  • Character: I use text as part of developing a sense of character. Because of the contexts in which I work, and the kind of promenade performance I often create (which can be like a danced version of a museum tour), the text I often use can be informative, giving a little historical information upon which we then build imaginatively

I also often use text as stimulus but then don’t use it in the final performance - it has to contribute something to the performance, or why use it?

In terms of approaches to using text, I find it most effective where text is an active partner in the creative process, i.e. we begin by exploring words and fragments composed by our writer-collaborator, poet Anna Selby, that are not in their finished state, and through the devising process we allow the writing to find its final form.

Anna is brilliant because she is so open to the process of us developing her text through physical exploration, and I am fortunate to also work with performers who are happy to/skilled at contributing to the ongoing process of reworking a piece of text.

Before Anna starts writing, I put together a brief that will include:

  • Aims for the writing - why am I using text in this piece?
  • Key themes
  • Source material I’ve identified responding to those themes - can be related pieces of text, but also music, images etc - we have a shared Google Doc to which we both add. This helps us develop a sense of the tone of the writing we are going for in the final piece
  • An idea of overall structure

Anna will then get busy writing away, and as she sends work through, I will work with the performers and dramaturg Tom Cornford to identify the crucial parts of the text to take forward, and feeding back to Anna as the shape of the writing develops. This process of selecting and refining is very important; wherever we use text it has to contribute something to the story-telling, something that we couldn’t achieve through movement alone.

Some of the questions that arose out of/things that we noticed during this session of the AEP Skills Exchange included:

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  • The time it can take to integrate text into the choreographic process; it can be a lengthy process
  • What comes first? Text or movement? Is it best when they can be created simultaneously? In performance, there is a real impact if the movement and text have been developed simultaneously, as this brings an authenticity both to the content and the delivery.
  • Text can be used impressionistically (e.g. through repetition of words and phrases) as well as literally
  • Consider the purpose of the text, and use certain kinds of text for particular kinds of movement
  • Think about the delivery of the text – the tone is really important
  • Dance as a “humanising texture” – it makes the audience aware that the dancers are real people and helps to break down the potential barrier between performer and audience