Artists

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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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

 

Joy, play, creativity in the everyday

Skills Exchange Day 3

All the right questions

Tim Casson

The session that Tim Casson led on day 3 of the AEP Skills Exchange focussed on how he engages people with the joy of dance by asking the ‘right questions’. In a joint discussion with Tom Hobden, we considered the different ways we ask questions of our dancers - to develop empathy, to make connections, to find shared interests and to demystify the world of creativity, to enable people in the community to access dance. In his own words, Tim reflects in his blog post below on some of the questions he asks himself and the groups he works with, and offers a few thoughts on his practice as a community artist.

 

The Session

We began by playing two of my favourite games, both stolen and adapted from theatre; Soundball and the Monster Game.

Questions arising from these games included:

  • If this is a game, is it still dance?
  • What is the minimum number of words I can use to teach these games?
  • Can the games be taught only via the body?
  • How observant can we be of others?
  • How much do we commit to the ideas that are proposed?
  • Will we accept what is proposed by others?
  • Are we having fun yet?
  • How can we play this game ‘better’?
  • How silly can we be?
  • Where are our boundaries?
  • Do we feel safe enough to be silly?
  • How can we feel safe enough to be silly?
  • Should we laugh in a warm up?
  • Should we laugh this much in a warm up?
  • Are we dancing yet?

 

Playing monsters! Photo by Rachel Cherry

Playing monsters! Photo by Rachel Cherry

 

We then went on to do a rather expedited version of ‘The Dance WE Made’, my flagship project that invites (often untrained) participants to choreograph on professional dancers, with no experience required.

This began with some training around methods of ‘translation’, as TDWM uses a fundamental principle of ‘conversation into choreography’ to create new movement as quickly and simply as possible - a process we call ‘collection’.

The movements created are then compiled by the performer, and subsequently directed by the participant, crucially putting them in control of the material - we call this the ‘edit’.

The new dance is then performed, usually in the space in which it has been created, and it’s also often recorded and placed online for anyone to see.

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Some of the questions I ask around this process are:

  • What questions can I ask that are Choreographically useful?
  • What questions provide responses that offer a variety of interpretations?
  • What questions would avoid negative associations, and aren’t too emotionally loaded?
  • What questions can I ask that ensure the participant doesn’t have to think too much?
  • How can I get the participant to trust me very quickly?
  • How can I acknowledge the weirdness, so that we can just get on with making dances?
  • What does it mean if someone turns me down - do they hate dance/me/themselves?
  • How can I work in a way that expands the participant’s view of what dance can be?
  • How can I make this process simple?
  • How can I make this process speedy?
  • How can I process that much information?
  • How can I make a dance about that?
  • How can we talk about dance without using jargon?
  • Will this experience change how they see themselves/dance/me?
  • And how would I ever know?

 

My Practice

A lot of my work as a community artist, uses participants (often members of a local community) as the primary source of inspiration; bringing to life their thoughts, ideas, experiences and stories.

On reflection, I think I began working in this way because of a combination of my own fear that I had nothing to say, and being inspired by having worked in various community settings and witnessing the untapped creativity that all humans seem to possess - no matter how many times people protested and told me that they’re “not creative”.

My perception of a lot of community engaged practice that uses the participants’ stories and experiences as source material, is that it is often ‘issue based’ and defaults to a certain heaviness. It’s not difficult to see why; we live in a world of darkness, struggle, and challenge, so these are possibly easier for us to access - particularly when working with participant groups who have been brought together because of their specific challenges.

I suppose, my response to this perceived heaviness was to make sure that my personal practice would be focussed on finding the joy, and ‘The Dance WE Made’ is an example of this.

In creating the project, the first question I asked myself was; ‘I know that dance is joyful, but if the concept of ‘dance’ feels too intimidating for the participant, then what is their ‘way in’?’

At first glance TDWM may seem superficial; we pose everyday questions through 5 minute small-talk filled interactions about breakfast, journeys, birthdays etc.

These topics are chosen for very specific reasons: they are not difficult to form an opinion about, responses can be found within recent memory, and we (mostly) avoid unlocking any sort of emotional angst (In 6 years I’ve not had anyone tell me about a traumatic breakfast they had…). Fundamentally, they provide us with a simple and universal ‘way in’ for the participant; all they need to do is have a chat and the dance will happen.

The second question I asked was one of balance, “Does it always have to be all about the participant? As artists, could we use this to challenge and develop our craft and creativity?

Yes, TDWM is about engaging participants with dance, and ensuring their experience is positive - it’s as much about advocacy as engagement. But it’s also about developing and acknowledging our artistry and choreographic skill.

Whether in a workshop setting, or in public with people on the street, we never know how someone will respond to the questions we ask; so the challenge for artists within TDWM is how we take these ordinary conversations, and make them extraordinary by ‘translating’ them into movement.

In my opinion, dancers are amazingly skilled super-beings! So this process isn’t just about making a dance. TDWM presents the virtuosity of creativity as the performance itself, by channelling the creativity that is within us all - and having the performers push that further, in collaboration with the participant and in real time.

Then it becomes about joy - we see the participants enjoyment in co-creating, seeing their ideas brought to life, and the pride of watching their ideas performed by a highly skilled professional dancer, who has in-turn been creatively challenged.

It’s as much about artist as it is about participant - and I hope this squashes a preconception about community engaged practice. Community work, doesn’t only have to be about the community and their experience, there’s a great deal in it for the artists too. Working with communities is artistic, creative, surprising, human and challenging.

And one of the challenges that I love, is working out the right questions to get engage people with dance in creative, joyful and meaningful ways.

Empathy, awareness, human experience

Skills Exchange Day 3

20 Questions

Tom Hobden

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Tom Hobden is a choreographer, teacher, dance education consultant, mentor and co-artistic director of UNIT which he co-founded in 2014 with film director Kate Flurrie. The company produces three strands of work including touring productions and projects involving participatory casts, stand alone films presented in film festivals across Europe and creative learning projects and consultancy for young dancers, graduates, and dance organisations. Tom is regarded as a leader in community dance practice and most known for his intergenerational performances and long-standing work with boys in dance. Tom was an Associate Artist of DanceEast from 2014-17.  

 

 

Tom Hobden led the Skills Exchange artists through a creative process to highlight the principles behind his practice and what led him to the development of his current work '20 Questions'. 20 Questions is an intergenerational piece developed with local people with varying experience of dance. Every performer in the show goes on a process with Tom and co-director Kate Flurrie; learning who they are, who they were and who they might like to be; finding the answers to these big questions through movement. 

 

The workshop led by Tom began with an improvisation which opened us up to our internal and external perception and awareness - first taking in the room and everything in your immediate environment; then bringing attention to yourself, your feelings, how you travel, your state of alertness. Lasty we directed our attention to each other - to really see each other, look in each others eyes and connect. The workshop is designed to draw your attention to the choices you make when moving, give you the autonomy to make better choices or different choices, to break rules, find new possibilities and shift your habits.

The whole process for the improvisation is to learn about others, build empathy physically and emotionally. How do they move? What moves them to move? I observe where confidence comes in movement choices and try to enhance this. I challenge habits and encourage them to freely move. I let myself go as a teacher to set the example and enjoy the sensation of moving to show the joy in moving to others. The process takes as long as they feel comfortable in letting themselves go and to start to introduce play and joy.
— Tom Hobden

20 questions process: 

Tom then led us through the choreographic process of his piece 20 Questions.

  • In partners ask one question ‘ how would your friends describe you?’ 
  • One partner will listen; we build a strong human connection through the sharing of relatable experience
  • One partner listens for clues that will help them to make a a short movement solo. They listen for character, movement in their lives, clues that might help build a movement task
  • It is the responsibility of both partners to make the movement, but it must capture something of the person. I ask the partner to consider if they were making a dance portrait what elements must be included (would it be fast, slow, gestural, large movement)
  • Once the movement has been made it is the responsibility of both to move as freely/expressively as they can. The observer is looking for the person to be themselves. The solo should be totally fresh, playful and always with room to change. The pair can work together to made adaptations which enable more of the person to show through
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The process evolved from my desire to work with anybody. I always wanted to capture something beautiful in every person. The process is purposefully quick to try and let people be themselves without too much rehearsal. I fundamentally believe that all movement created is beautiful and that anything created is valid as long as the individual feels it truly expresses them.
— Tom Hobden

Questions and considerations arising from this exploration included:

  • Drawing from real human experience. How does this process stay motivational and positive for the participant? How does the artist protect his or herself from the intensity of the emotional sharing?
  • Asking questions. Choreographic process applied to the questions to ensure they are layered effectively and ordered in such a way that supports the dancer.
  • Using gesture to represent feelings and experiences. Mime to abstraction. Turning the ordinary into the extraordinary.
  • Building empathy and supportiveness quickly for people involves being wholehearted and vulnerable yourself. Your ability to be responsive involves resilience.

Ensemble and Collectivity

Skills Exchange Day 3

Group, individual, autonomy and leadership

On Skills Exchange Day 3, Hannah and Danielle collaborated to deliver a workshop exploring their joint interest of collectivity and ensemble from very different perspectives. 

Hannah shared her thoughts on the ensemble as a uniting concept in which dancers communicate through shared action. Questions and thoughts arising from Hannah's workshop included:

  • The concept of knowing your role within a group and feeling a sense of achievement from the defined boundaries that are established
  • The rhythmic nature of moving as a tribe and how this unites us in our breath and action. The power of the collective
  • The natural hierarchy of our senses - exploring how we tune in to each other through sight and sound and then finding ways to tune in without using our primary - exploring ways to tune in to one another through style of movement, touch
  • How do we make decisions as a collective without a leader? What influences us? What makes us move? What makes us stop? How can we make the boundaries between us clearer in order to be a truly non hierarchic collective? (links to the notion of our role as an artist and ways to blur the lines between artist and dancer in order to break down the structures of power - see the role of the artist)
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Hannah's workshop tasks highlighted these concepts and left us questioning: 

  • How aware are we of the space? Of each other? Of our options?
  • When we facilitate ‘ensemble working’, how are decisions made? Who’s voice is heard? What are our frustrations with the process? What limits us?

These concepts encouraged us to question how we give autonomy to participants working as a collective when there is one overall leader; which leads us to the theme of my recent research Collectivity and Intimacy.

In my workshop I shared the working processed behind my research with people with Parkinson's. The Collectivity and Intimacy project was developed out of a curiosity for the teaching method of collectivity which is used in dance for Parkinson's to make best use of mirror neurons and external cueing, which is a highly researched and a proven tool for supporting people with Parkinson's to move with more fluidity and intention.

My research interrogates this teaching practice and questions whether it can be considered inclusive, as it is led by external direction (either visual, auditory, verbal or tactile) by the artist. In the process of researching I have worked with dancers with Parkinson's to experiment with handing over the autonomy to the dancers and how we go about this. I am interested in how we could embed tools for internal cueing within our artistic teaching practice. Some of the tools I experimented with included somatic, mind-body imagery; guided visual imagery; breath; interpretation of words. All of these stimuli were used to encourage freedom of interpretation in the body.

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The discussion occurring from this session included

  • Blurring lines between artistic practice and therapy - how do we ensure that we are providing an artistic experience which is inspired by ideas and concepts, rather than developing content which is responsive to need and disability
  • What is the value of dance designed FOR..? Is this a different form of inclusive dance, made accessible to a particular demographic due to highly streamlined and meticulously constructed methodology, rather than due to its open access and inclusive approach to all people?
  • How are we inclusive when working with collective or Ensemble style approaches to dance
  • How do we find a balance between directive approaches to delivery versus democratic leadership in artistic and teaching practice? Where do we place the most value?
  • There is a power in collective initiation of movement, change or action
  • There is a power in self determined initiation of movement, change or action
  • Refreshing and updating our approaches to these two contrasting states can enable participants to continue to experience the power of both

the listening approach

Skills Exchange Day 1

Identity and relationality

Katie Green

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Katie Green formed company 'Made by Katie Green' in 2006 and has a breadth of experience creating large-scale commissions for particular communities and specific sites, and delivering participation projects for children and young people. Since 2013 her work has focused on creating choreography in museums and heritage sites. She has created new work for the British Museum, Ipswich Museum and most recently a promenade work entitled Choreographing the Collection for the bicentenary of Dulwich Picture Gallery 2017. She is currently working with Kents Cavern in Torquay to develop a new promenade work for caves and underground sites called Beneath Our Feet.

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Today Katie offered a short practical session through which she shared her thoughts and enabled us to explore a ‘listening approach’ to directing. In her own words she shares the thoughts behind her practice practice:

 

By ‘listening approach’, I mean that I wanted to reflect on the ways in which I had, over time, integrated my experience working with a mentor and being a mentor myself into my experience directing groups of people (including both professionals and non-professionals) in a choreographic context. For me this means facilitating a working environment or ‘holding a space’ in which other people feel free to create their best work, rather than one that is explicitly about me and my process; the idea being that if I can guide people to create something that is as much from them as from me, it will have more integrity, it will say what it is intended to say more deeply or fully because it is not only about me and my agenda; it is about people more universally, and about what it means to be human.

This was the thing that I found most challenging when I started working professionally - finding the way in which I wanted to lead a group of people in order to get the best out of them and therefore to create the best work. Over time, I have become most aware of the deliberate choices I make about managing a rehearsal or workshop in the way I want to, when I have been in contexts that are at odds with my way of working.

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My ‘listening approach’ to directing

Although not an exhaustive list, in no particular order, and in no way intended to represent the only or ‘right’ way of leading a group creative process, here are a few of the things I have noticed about my decision-making process when directing a group:

  • every decision is deliberate, no matter how seemingly insignificant, but it is important that it doesn’t feel deliberate (or academic perhaps) to the participants

  • I am not in my own work; I feel that in order to ‘listen’ and respond to what is happening I need to have distance from the physical experience of being in the work

  • Everything I do is geared towards allowing people to feel free to create their best work, and I think seeming to diminish my role in the process (whilst actually being very in control of the process!) is an important part of that

  • I am super-prepared when I start rehearsals (e.g. collecting words, images, music references, videos), so that I can ideally allow what the dancers are doing to call to mind related ideas from my pool of research rather than always having to react to completely new information; it also means I can be more adaptable to the working process, because if something isn’t working, we can try something else

  • The majority of my preparation centres around thinking how to set up creative tasks, how to build things up in stages or layers and how much information to give and when

  • One of the challenging things I find in a creative process is knowing when to allow the exploration to meander, and when it needs to be more focussed, or to lead to something becoming ‘set’. If I really think about it, I’m pretty much always trying to achieve something quite focussed (which is why I use time limitations in my creative process a lot of the time, so I don’t allow things to run on for an excessively long period of time), but there are certainly times when I allow participants to understand the time limitation, and times when I keep it to myself (including if what we’re doing takes us in an unexpected direction). It is essential to me that there is a period of research and development at the beginning of a new project, a time for play, when I can be less clear about what the final outcome will be

  • I talk to the dancers with whom I’m collaborating throughout the process - asking for feedback, asking about how it feels to be in the piece from inside - everyone’s contribution is equally valued

  • The relationships and small gestures established outside the studio are as important as the way we interact within the studio - small touches like providing tea and biscuits, writing thank you notes, handing over responsibilities for warm up (or sometimes taking the responsibility for this myself when it seems necessary), game-playing are a really important part of my choice-making process about my choreography, as important as the creative content

  • I always develop material in collaboration with dancers in response to creative tasks, I never teach my own material (in both my professional and my commissioned work, which has sometimes involved non-dancers and has therefore been quite challenging to stand by at times!)

  • I acknowledge that the movement material belongs to the dancers, including in programme notes (so I most often credit myself as the ‘Director’ of a project now, with responsibility for the choreography ‘in collaboration’ with all of the dancers, making it clear that they ‘own’ it; if there have been earlier stages of research and development, I also acknowledge the input of dancers who took part in the R&D, but weren’t then able to participate in the final project). I believe that by owning the material, the dancers will embody it more fully. This doesn’t mean that for a specific purpose, I won’t ask dancers to share their material with each other, but they do that, not me.

  • Knowing when to speak and when to stay quiet - there will be times when I intervene in a rehearsal, and times when I specifically don’t - knowing when to do what can be very tricky! Sometimes solving ‘problems’ in a rehearsal has to come from the dancers themselves, from inside the process, and what I would suggest to solve a problem (particularly with contact material for example) could actually make the situation worse. Sometimes however I need to intervene in order for the work to progress (e.g. during later parts of the process, or to push people in a new direction, which perhaps differs from their natural instinct)

  • I share certain information about the broader project (e.g. structuring of material, transitions, other production elements) with the dancers only at certain times - choosing when to let people know things. Often the people with whom I’m working will ask to know about the next stage of the process, and I will always just try to be open about why I’m holding something back (e.g. being honest if I think the structure of something might change). When the structure of something starts to become a little clearer, I then start to share information about this in quite a detailed way (using rolls of paper or post-it notes for example, and/or asking dancers to keep their own notebook with key information).

  • Having said this, I think it’s important to acknowledge the uncertainty of the process, and for me to own the things that don’t go so well, because they will usually be because I’ve made a choice that isn’t working. I’m very open about the workings of the situation at times, and I think this is to acknowledge with my dancers that it’s all in hand, that I do know what I’m doing! (or at least I’m doing something for a specific purpose). If we try something in rehearsal and I can’t see the way forward from there I’ll acknowledge that and either take it away overnight, for a couple of days, or we might discuss it as a group

  • Where it is possible within my budget for a project I will, acknowledging that different people have different skill sets, invite various practitioners in to a studio to work on specific elements of the process e.g. a designer, writer, composer, a dramaturg, a rehearsal director

  • I very often use music (or take away music) in order to shift the atmosphere, dynamic of a particular task.

(Words by Katie Green)

Where it started...

As I excitedly prepare for the first day of the AEP Skills Exchange beginning tomorrow, I thought I would kick off by sharing the journey that I have been which led me to develop this programme.

Starting with my practice as a community dance artist and continuing with my academic research in community practice, I've always been interested in how we discover and foster equality and co-ownership in dance settings. Through an inquiry drawing on evidence from multiple community dance contexts from integrated projects to older people dancing, to youth dance and dance in hospitals, I summarised that it is in an artistic setting rather than a pedagogic one; in a relationship of artists and dancers, rather than participants and teachers; that co-ownership of dancing experience is possible.

However, this theory was only the start of my continued interest in co-ownership as I finished my MA but continually found myself considering the notion of artists and dancers, and how it is that some dance artists situate themselves in the role of artist, and others find it difficult to envisage themselves with that title. If so many dance artists working in community dance have not had the opportunity to position themselves in their own minds as artists, and instead are working with pedagogic frameworks and principles but without a creative vision or message, the experience for the dancers they work with is less likely to reach a place of equality and co-ownership, which are concepts at the heart of community dance.

And so, the Artists' Exchange Programme began informally with Artists' Conversations. I spoke one-to-one with a handful of dance artists whose practice sits in the valley between two mountains - community and choreography. Two things that are indistinguishable in my opinion, but which seem to be becoming further and further removed. These artists believe that their work emerges from a close connection with the community dancers they engage with, but firmly delivers an artistic vision or intention that is their own. I was keen to discover what the artists shared, what they had in common - whether it be their values, practices or challenges - and what I found was that it was all three. These artists had a common belief in people, play, joy and communication; they had all considered the multi-faceted roles they hold as directors, choreographers, mentors and teachers; they were all feeling the challenge of building resilience, expressing their value as individuals, and positioning their work in an industry with existing hierarchic structures that they all aspire to break down...

What I began to understand was that the things that all these artists shared were vital to the success of their work. Their ability to create true co-ownership and foster equality in their work, stemmed from their artistic vision, their ability to communicate it, and their belief that all people could access it. The AEP Skills' Exchange this week brings together artists with this vision, experience and with something to say, so that they can share in the values, beliefs and ambitions of one another, and understand the power of the collective when you have a message to deliver. As part of the week's exploration, they will contribute to a body of knowledge that Danielle Teale Dance will take forward to develop the AEP Professional Development workshops, enabling further community dance artists to access peer learning and tailored support to develop their artistic practice. This further development of the AEP workshops is supported by Yorkshire Dance, DanceEast and Theatre Bristol, in order to bring tailored professional development to regional artists.

Please follow the content on the Artists' Conversations Blog to find out what we are sharing, discussing and exploring throughout this week.

Announcing the first AEP Skills Exchange artists

From top left:
Tom Hobden, Sarah Lewis, Lizz Fort, Katie Green
Laura Street, Kimberley Harvey, Hannah Robertshaw, Tim Casson
Clare Reynolds, Beth Peters, Rachel Fullegar, Jo Rhodes