Harriet Quinn reflects on her work experience placement with ACE

Harriet Quinn is a choreography student currently studying a BA Honours in Choreography and Cultural Entrepreneurship at Dartington College of Arts.  She has been on a work experience placement with ACE over the first week of June and has very kindly written some words about what she’s learnt during her time here:

My week with ACE dance and music

Over the past week I have had the chance to gain an insight into the day to day running of professional, touring dance company ACE Dance and Music.  Having previously taken classes/workshops in African dance styles and studied Kathak (South Asian) Dance, I have a keen interested in this mix of genres, between Contemporary dance and more traditional Ethnic styles. It is this mix in styles that I plan to research, analyze and explore further within my studies; this is why I contacted ACE and was keen to get involved with what they do.

The atmosphere from day one was warm, welcoming yet incredibly sharp and organized; within this family-like company everyone has a clear role, every role is fulfilled with a lot of knowledge, experience and confidence. On Monday I was welcomed by Nicky Getgood (Administrator) and introduced to the company’s work, background and timetable. I was then introduced to Ian Parmel (Musical Director) and Gail Parmel (Artistic Director) whom both have such a presence, welcoming everyone with huge grins and a genuine personal interest. I went on to watch ACE’s most recent touring piece SKIN (2007).  Having seen film clips previously, I was keen to see the full two parts to the show.  After writing a short review I headed into the studio to join the dancers.

I spent the first few days in the studio with Choreographer Opiyo Okach alongside dancers that had connections with ACE, whom were very comfortable with one another and greeted me with smiles all round! Opiyo lead us in an exploration within several improvisational and composition techniques, alongside a number of traditional African forms. We played on relationships formed within improvised movement and how we directly affect each other’s movement quality and dynamic. It was interesting for me to see a different perspective upon Improvisation, both taught and performed, giving me an insight into how a choreographer such as Opiyo work, and create.

Later in the week we went to see Opiyo perform at the Dancexchange in Birmingham. The production was split into two parts No Man’s Gone Now and Border Border Express his performance was supported by beautifully apt music, along with well timed lighting.  All of these aspects supported what was a well presented opening to the Bass Festival. Opiyo’s body is so fluid; his effortless transitions between changes in levels, dynamics, and mix of both gestural and spatial movements were performed so naturally with such grace.

As I was keen to get a grasp on all aspects of how the company is run and who runs it, I spent some time in the office with Megan Nelsey (Project Manager) and Emma Jane Benning (Education Manager). Both have a key role to play within ACE’s day-to-day running, particularly at this busy point during the year, with the up and coming ‘Switch’ tour.  For me it was interesting to develop further my knowledge of the business and production side to this company, as this is an area I am get interested in. I had the opportunity to shadow both roles, and was able to feed off what they do, developing an extended understanding of how a tour comes together, who they communicate with, where they plan to take the production and why they do it!

The last three days of my placement were hectic to say the least.  ACE were holding a 3-day audition for the company’s next production ‘Switch’, for which rehearsals were to start in two weeks! All of the dancers were extremely strong and very individual.  After conversations with Gail, I was interested to find out how she makes such a hard choice and what she was looking for in her dancers. Gail explained how she found it very difficult to make the discussion but knew what she wanted: dancers with drive, passion and focus as well as a balance between technically strong yet fluid and malleable bodies. The other clear impression I got from Gail was that the dancers’ personalities, along with the rapport they build up with others, was a strong influence on her decision. It made me aware of something I have taken for granted in the past – how choreographers make this decision and all of the elements that have to be taken in to account, such as how dancers look together, if they can practically live together and whether they are right for the specific project.

I went on to join in a workshop/audition, learning ACE repertoire from the previous production SKIN in a class taught by Gail. The style was beautiful to both dance and watch.  For me it was also fascinating to see the Gail’s passion for her work in practice. Straight away you could see the mix between African (spine isolation and grounded stance) with Contemporary (gestures and jumps) dance styles and I was keen to observe how such a mix of dancers would adapt. Throughout the rest of the week I observed and filmed the audition/workshop with Choreographer Douglas Thorpe.  Douglas is a very experienced dancer – his strength, stamina, and power both on stage and within the studio is intimidating, yet his humble nature keeps dancers relaxed and focused. The dancers responded well to his style of both technique and choreography and I was able to gain a new perspective by taking a step back and observing how professional dancers work with each other and with a choreographer.

This week has flown by! It has clearly been a tense week for all involved within the company and I am very grateful to have been given this opportunity particularly. It has been a great experience for me, as I am aware physically and psychologically I do not have the specific qualities of a dance performer. What I do know is that I have is a love for dance, a passion to create and motivation to work with other likeminded people. This week has given me opportunity to explore other career pathways within the dance world.  It has opened up my eyes to possibilities in the dance industry, relationships and dynamics between people in dance companies and job prospects within the dance community. I have learnt skills and facts such as how funding works, who the important contacts are and how to create a contract.  I have had the opportunity to explore a lot that I am interested in, encouraging me to push for success in whatever I do.  Most of all I have been welcomed into the very happily run community that ACE has here.

I will look forward to seeing the up and coming production ‘Switch’.  It will be interesting for me to see an end product as I have seen the very beginning.  I hope to keep in touch with the company, following their success for many years to come.

Harriet Quinn