As Rambert puts the final touches to its exciting new project, Ballet Position talks to the three masterminds behind Rambert2
The words “Rambert” and ”pioneering” have a habit of going together. Rambert is the UK’s oldest dance company, having given its first performances in 1926.
Now Rambert is about to unveil another first: Rambert2, the first junior company attached to a UK repertoire company. And as if that wasn’t enough, this will the be first junior company anywhere to have an MA in Professional Dance Performance as an integral part of its programme.
Rambert2 will bring together 10 young dancers from around the world for one year, during which they will tour extensively, engage with schoolchildren and work towards their post-graduate degree.
The idea for a kind of transition stage between school and a fully professional dancer’s life had been in the air for a while; but shaping it into Rambert2 was the work of three people: Amanda Britton, Principal and Artistic Director of Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance; Helen Shute, Rambert Chief Executive/Executive Producer; and Mark Baldwin, Artistic Director of Rambert and Rambert2.
In her office on the first floor of the bustling Rambert School, sited in an old vicarage in the leafy outskirts of London, Amanda Britton professes herself “excited” at the new project and “confident” in its success.
“Mark Baldwin and I, we danced together in Rambert for many years, (…) so we know each other well, we work together very well and for a number of years we’ve been working on (…) projects to bring Rambert and Rambert School closer together.
“He does take graduates from the school from time to time, and so he understands the leap they need to make to get from third year to Rambert company.”
That “leap” is more than just one of technical proficiency. All three masterminds of Rambert2 stressed the importance of thinking dancers, who are, in the words of Mark Baldwin, “mentally agile”:
“In my day we flounced in, put our hands on our hips and said, ‘what’s this all about, then?’ and then did it. Now they really are co-creators (…) Now the choreographers explain a lot more what they need, what they want.
“It’s a different kind of task when you’re a co-creator (…) you’re involved in the concepts, in the musical concepts, how the score looks on the page, how it sounds,(…) how the choreographer wants you to tell a story or grapple with abstract ideas, (…) those things are very mixed today, so it’s a bit more complex.”
Rambert2 – the Academic Component
The MA in Professional Dance Performance will be validated by Kent University; Amanda Britton wrote it.
“On paper there are five modules: three of them, including one very big chunky one in terms of its credits, are studio-based, performance-based, and two are theory-based. And there’s a dissertation module at the end. That can also be part-theory, part-practice.”
When not on tour, Rambert2 will share Rambert’s swanky premises on London’s south bank with its airy, state-of-the-art studios.
Rambert2 – The Financing
Rambert2 dancers will each be paid a bursary of £15,000, which is the net equivalent of the London Living Wage; the MA itself should set them back £3,000, but Rambert will absorb half of that, and Helen Shute says it may be possible to provide further support in cases of special need.
Organising finance for the project fell to Helen Shute, as Rambert Chief Executive. She calculated the box office potential and then approached the Linbury Trust, already one of Rambert’s financial backers. Once the Trust’s interest had been piqued, ‘it was a very easy decision for our board to move some of the Arts Council core funding into the project.”
The Arts Council grant involves a requirement for touring and outreach programmes. Rambert2 will tour the UK extensively, reaching, Helen Shute calculates, “25,000 more people every year” than Rambert currently does.
“They can tour where we can’t go because we’re too big,” says Mark Baldwin – Rambert comprises 20 dancers.
“They can do church halls, they can do school halls. My background is street theatre – I always think we should get out there in the street as well, in plimsoles or trainers, and so they’ll be able to do that.”
That’s because, Mark Baldwin notes, Rambert2 won’t need all the high-tech props that the public expect of an established company like Rambert.
“We have loads of lights, we are the full experience; [Rambert2] will add to the experience, spread the word and open up the boundaries: it’ll stop the boundaries limiting what the company can and can’t do.”
Rambert2 – The Schools Programme
A key component of the work of Rambert2 will be in schools with children aged primarily 14, 15, 16-years-old. Not only will the young dancers be teaching exam-based workshops, but they will regularly perform Kamuyot, a work created by the Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin specifically for non-theatre spaces and teenage audiences.
Rambert2 will start work in July 2018 and launch at Sadler’s Wells in the Autumn with a programme of works by three carefully picked – and very diverse – choreographers: Spaniard Rafael Bonachela, Israeli Sharon Eyal, and former Alvin Ailey dancer Benoit-Swan Pouffer.
Rambert2 – Building on Rambert’s Diversity
Diversity is one of Mark Baldwin’s pet subjects. He is proud of Rambert’s inclusion of 41% black, Asian and minority ethnic dancers – “I think it should be more! “ – and says those choreographers answer all of Rambert2’s key requirements.
“[Benoit-Swan Pouffer] is a black guy from Alvin Ailey who brings his embodied knowledge from his time with Alvin Ailey, and his background as a French black man to the table.
“Sharon Eyal worked in [Israel’s] Batsheva [Ensemble] with Ohad Naharin for all those years; her embodied knowledge is really what we’re talking about, the knowledge that the dancers are aware of from being students onwards.”
At the moment Rambert are being “inundated” with applications from all over the world: auditions will take place in February 2018. Naturally, Amanda Britton has high hopes for students from her own school, but she stresses,
“it’s going to be very international, it’s a completely open process. Many of our students want to audition, so I’m hoping some of them will get through, but we’ll have to see what the standard is.”
For now Rambert is assured of financing for three years. There’s an awareness that the current format is a pilot and subject to change; but Britton, Shute and Baldwin all feel the potential for success is there.
As Helen Shute puts it, “I think we’ve certainly laid the ground for something that has a huge future.”
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by Teresa Guerreiro
For more information see www.rambert.org.uk