Springboard 2019 saw children and young people aged 8 to 24 explore and share responses to the materiality, physicality and concepts of the work of acclaimed contemporary sculptors through dance. More than 60 participants from five different dance groups, schools and colleges created contemporary dance performances together with and led by Dance undergraduate students from Arts University Bournemouth. Inspirational research visits to Roche Court Sculpture Park near Salisbury formed the basis for experimental dance workshops with participating groups, culminating in a celebratory performance day at Pavilion Dance South West in April before a packed audience.
At Roche Court Educational Trust (RCET) our aim is to build confidence and skills through engagement with modern and contemporary art. We do this through discursive, multisensory and interactive workshops and tours of the Sculpture Park and galleries at the New Art Centre where we are based. Looking, Thinking and Speaking is our mantra, but we welcome the opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration, provocations and explorations that encourage us all to see and experience the art, the place and the world we live in through other lenses. Such opportunities create an environment where curiosity and diverse responses can be communicated in alternative ways, such as through dance.
The partnership with Arts University Bournemouth (AUB) Dance developed out of an earlier project between RCET and Pavilion Dance South West. The partnership has grown to support creative responses and experiences of professional practice for undergraduate students, whilst also reaching out to local school and college pupils who may not otherwise have access to such opportunities. Since 2018, first and third-year AUB Dance students have participated in the Springboard project, with research at the New Art Centre as a key element. This is embedded within the BA (Hons) Dance degree course as an assessed unit for each year group.
Using the sculptures at the New Art Centre as an influence, the project is designed to further students’ understanding of how the world around them can be interpreted and developed into movement. Tutors from the Dance degree course visited the Sculpture Park at the New Art Centre during the 2018 Autumn Term to select three sculptures and plan the research workshops in collaboration with the RCET team. In January, the Dance students visited the New Art Centre for in-depth research, exploring the parallel vocabularies of dance and sculpture, informed by the first-hand experience of sculptures by Will Nash, Laura Ford and Fernando Casasempere.
This research workshop day encouraged the students to immerse themselves in the materiality, processes and concepts of the selected artists, to be aware of their first responses to the artworks, the curation and the place. Following an interactive, discursive encounter with each of the sculptures, the first-year students focussed on developing group choreographic responses. The third-year students reflected on the delivery methods of the RCET team and, with the support of the RCET team and the AUB Dance tutors, developed ideas for leading workshops with local school pupils from Bournemouth and Poole College, Bourne Academy, Talbot Primary School and First Position School of Dance. All of these activities then culminated in an event held at Pavilion Dance South West where first and third-year AUB dance students along with pupils from participating local schools performed their choreographed dances.
In addition to the choreographed performances, developed by first-year students and the outreach work undertaken by third-year students, students also had responsibility for organising the final celebratory performance at Pavilion Dance South West.
Speaking about the performance event, third-year dance students Fiona Griffin and Holly Burridge said:
This has been an excellent opportunity for us to take the lead in planning an event that we hope will inspire students who do not have the opportunities to explore art and dance in their everyday lives.
This year, for the first time, the project involved third-year students creating an exhibition that led the audience into the performance space, contextualising each dance piece in relation to the three sculptures that had informed them. The exhibition consisted of text panels with information about each of the sculptures, photographs of the sculptures at the New Art Centre and a description of how this had inspired each response. I was delighted to observe how families engaged with this exhibition, taking time to learn more about what they were going to see, leading to a buzz of discussion in the auditorium before the show and especially during the intervals when audience members were discussing and debating the concepts and deeper meanings that underpinned each of the professionally presented dance works. Such abstract contemporary dance could leave an audience, largely unfamiliar with such things, feeling alienated. However, the attractive and engaging exhibition that most had experienced on the way in clearly made a huge difference. There was a marked difference in engagement and debate amongst the audience in comparison to the previous year.
The third-year students who led this project and performance benefitted from an inclusive and supportive creative and educational team due, in no small part, to the clear communication and openness between key individuals in the partner organisations. This is a collaborative project that benefits from incremental, and sometimes monumental, development and change over several years with all partners hopefully benefitting from the mutual support and learning. This year the Dance tutors, who are also professional dancers, visited the Sculpture Park independently on three occasions to research and develop their own choreographic responses to the place and the sculptures towards performance pieces, offering professional development in their own practice.
This year we also noted engagement from the artists whose work was the stimulus for the project through social media platforms and look forward to developing this interaction between the artists and the students next year.
RCET is a small arts education charity but we are fortunate to have many wonderful partners locally and nationally who support and inspire us. From our base at the New Art Centre, we collaborate across disciplines with a number of educational institutions and other organisation, including: University of Winchester Dance degree course; Theology, Imagination and Culture courses at Sarum College; School of Communication at the Royal College of Art; architectural practices in London and the British Council in both Germany and Italy. Through ARTiculation, our national public speaking initiative for young people, we are fortunate to work with galleries, museums, schools and universities around the country. It keeps us on our toes, constantly questioning the way that we see and do things.
The research workshop dates for Springboard 2020 are in the diary and we are very much looking forward to continuing to grow this fantastic project!