National Dance Company Wales has launched its first Laboratori, a two-week experimental initiative to develop new ideas without the pressure of a performance commission. World-class choreographers Lea Anderson and Éric Minh Cuong Castaing came to Cardiff to mentor a select group of dancers from the Welsh company alongside independent dance artists, providing stimulus for new ideas to germinate and space for those dance artists to try out new things. Laboratori complements the existing artist residency programme, which also took place recently and is at the forefront of the company’s developmental work.
Delivered in partnership with Cardiff’s Groundwork Pro, the collective of independent dance artists, Laboratori is also part of the company’s national commitment to sharing ideas and learning with the sector as well as bringing international expertise to Wales.
Selected by NDCWales Artistic Director Fearghus Ó Conchúir, both the Laboratori mentors are experts in their fields. Lea Anderson, founder of iconic dance groups The Cholmondeleys and The Featherstonehaughs, holds a wealth of experience of crafting quirky and visually delightful dance and versatility of making work to suit a variety of settings. Éric Minh Cuong Castaing, Artistic Director of Shonen and associate artist with Ballet National de Marseille, brings knowledge from the forefront of making dance incorporating new technologies and a diversity of performers.
The seven choreographers chosen to participate in the Laboratori were Nikita Goile, Eddie Ladd, Deborah Light, Ed Myhill, Jack Philp, Tim Volleman and Gundija Zandersona, and alongside them, a diverse group of dancers also contributed generously to the process.
Participating choreographer Gundija Zandersona said about Laboratori: “it was exciting to try new approaches, challenge myself and work out of my comfort zone, without the pressure of producing a ‘specific’ outcome.”
Asked what the impact of the Laboratori was, Fearghus Ó Conchúir explained: “It’s difficult to know what the influence of the Laboratori weeks has been since we were making an investment for the future - only time will tell. But there was certainly value in bringing different people together - independent dance artists, the Company’s dancers, young dancers from Wales and international guests working together with different experience and backgrounds in the same room, gave new perspectives and creativity.”
Throughout June, NDCWales’ annual Residency programme also took place, providing Wales-based dance artists space, time and coaching with NDCWales’s Artistic Director Fearghus to develop their own creative projects.
The company is dedicated to supporting dance artists develop their talent, celebrating dance in Wales. It does this by offering the physical space of the studio, time and expertise, to support artists as they research new choreographic ideas, develop new collaborations or advance work that they may already have started.
The three artists selected this year were Shakeera Ahmun, Zosia Jo and Jack Philp.
Zosia Jo has used the residency to build on her ongoing research that combines anatomy and fantasy to transcend gender identity and reframe feminine sexuality. Known for its feminist themes and use of voice and spoken work, Zosia’s work is rooted in a desire for connectivity and communication through movement, improvisation and performance
Jack Philp has collaborated with Cardiff University School of Biosciences, and composer R. Seliog of Turnstyle Music to explore what happens when optical microscopy meets movement. During the residency, they developed this concept into work-in-progress Opto Nano, with the aim of translating scientific research around multi-photon imagining into innovative dance choreography.
Dance and visual artist Shakeera Ahmun used the time focus on solo working, branching out of her usual collaborative process. Her inspiration comes from her upbringing in Cardiff’s multicultural Butetown community, and she combines movement with visual art to develop ideas around identity and community bonds. Shakeera hopes to move forward with the concept and create a large-scale project to be shared with the different communities within Cardiff and beyond.
All three dancers have developed ideas that were just seeds of imagination, and plan on progressing the work beyond the Residency programme. NDCWales looks forward to seeing where those ideas go and where they meet audiences in the future.
Reflecting on the experience, Jack Philp says “Having a supportive space to grow the first stages of a new creative idea was a real attraction in applying for the residency. The Dance House is a really inspiring place to work, the support from the team at NDC Wales, in addition to the coaching available as a part of the opportunity, was truly an exciting prospect to learn from.”