Rosie Kay Residency: Breaking Boundaries & Forging Friendships

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When I arrived to Cardinal Wiseman Catholic School to observe an after school dance session provided by Rosie Kay Dance Company in partnership with Warwick Arts Centre, I was led through the school grounds, past their school farm (yes, they have a farm…with some very sweet piglets!) and into their main hall where I found Dance Artist, Becca Thomas, running the students through their paces. Jumping, twirling and leaping through the air, these students are obviously dedicated to getting the moves right and with each 8 count, their performance strengthens to create a dynamic atmosphere fuelled by collaborative and respectful relationships.

This routine will be performed as a Curtain Raiser before the final performance of Rosie Kay’s MK ULTRA at Warwick Arts Centre. MK ULTRA is a high energy supercharged mash-up of thrilling dance, music and imagery inspired by the bizarre realm of pop culture mind control conspiracies, specifically the CIA brainwashing programme developed by the US Military, code name: MK ULTRA, and the student routine has been designed to perfectly reflect the themes threaded through the professional piece. In a recent interview with Warwick Arts Centre, Rosie told us that while developing MK Ultra, she ‘worked with 14-25 year olds across the East and West Midlands and discovered they knew all about this stuff – the pop stars, the brainwashing and all the illuminati signs in the pop videos. They even had a good grasp of explaining to me why perhaps these pop stars were being used to spread these messages’ so it’s not surprising that these students are responding so well to the subject matter. Playing with ideas of celebrity, fame, attraction, and friendship, this workshop series speaks directly to the students involved. This is their everyday, it’s their own social media obsessed world and in this dance piece they get to explore it from the inside out.

When describing some of her rehearsal processes, Rosie Kay mentioned that ‘in a lot of my work, I do character development with the cast, to help them make choices on stage, and to really embody their roles in a deep and thoughtful way’, and this shows in these students. This is the third of several sessions and Becca has clearly been using Rosie’s character development technique to help the students find their feet in this piece. We regularly see teenagers struggle to commit to performance because it’s a difficult age to be able to present yourself to an audience and let your mind be free from criticism. But Becca has helped these students to find a way to push past these self-conscious barriers and throw themselves into the moves with a passion that flows from one dancer to the next like an electrical current making its way around the group. It certainly helps that they’re already a talented bunch with a passion for dance but there’s also a lovely feeling of trust and respect from the students towards Becca that’s creating a synergy between student and professional that can only ever result in a powerful piece of dance.

Cardinal Wiseman have been participants and supporters of Warwick Arts Centre’s Boys Dancing project in the past, which means that we already know what their boys can do on the dancefloor. And this time, with girls in the mix too, Kirsti Greenway (Cardinal Wiseman teacher) remarked that the thing she finds most exciting is that the group is made up of both boys and girls from different years; Year 7s are dancing with Year 10s and at first glance there seems to be nothing special about this, but when you consider the boundaries between genders, year groups and classes in schools, it becomes a significant observation. They’d never socialise together in normal life but when you see the Year 10 boys lifting the Year 7 girl and then collaboratively working on ways to make the lift better, you start to get a feel for why workshops like this are so important. Tomorrow, these students will walk through the school corridor and acknowledge each other in front of their friends and suddenly there’s a new sense of community in the school in which students recognise the value of peer to peer support. Ultimately, this is the reason that arts subjects like drama and dance are vital to human development; they give people a common ground, forge friendships and encourage respect that transcends the rehearsal room, leaving a lasting impact on relationships, communication and self-esteem.

When asked about how accessible projects like this are to her school, Kirsti said, ‘We can’t afford to pay for text books at the moment so there’s definitely no money for workshops like this and without help from arts organisations to subsidise them, they just will not happen.’ It’s clear that many teachers are frustrated by the lack of opportunity made available to their students because of financial restraints and without the perseverance and passion of teachers like Kirsti, who at times find themselves having to delve into their own pockets to ensure that their students have access to quality experiences, there could be a huge percentage of the next generation who have had little to no contact with the arts in any capacity outside of the classroom. A sad prospect when we know that projects in which young people are given the chance to engage with professional dancers or actors and professional venues are integral to raising aspirations and showing just how viable a career in the arts can be. As Kirsti pointed out ‘working with a professional dancer proves to them that if they have passion for the arts and work hard to achieve their goals, they can work in the industry too.’ And what an incredible piece of knowledge that is to pass on.

These workshops culminate on Friday 12th May at 19:30 at Warwick Arts Centre where you can see the students perform their routine on the main theatre stage in full make-up and costume (fabulous gold leggings ahoy!) and if the lovely sparkle in their eyes when they talk about stepping on stage is anything to go by, you’re in for a treat. They will arrive on Friday afternoon where they will be welcomed as members of Rosie Kay Dance Company and treated as future professional dancers. They will be shown to the dressing rooms and then move quickly into a class with the MK ULTRA company. Directly after this they go into a technical rehearsal, then a dress rehearsal and finally take a quick dinner break before going back in to the theatre to warm up and take to the stage to perform. Phew, what a day! It’s going to be hard but it’s an incredible taster of how a professional company work every day. As Rosie Kay says, ‘if you really truly love it, it drives you and it’s your passion, you will succeed no matter what. It’s a very tough profession – physically, emotionally, financially, but it’s the most rewarding life,’’ and if these students survive this experience unscathed and with a continued passion for dance, then there’s a very good chance that this is the career for them!

Why not get in touch to find out more about the Creative Learning Department and the work we do in schools and the wider community?