Finally I have found some time to complete my round up of 2023 in part 2, nearly a month later and a month completed of 2024. But I suppose it is better late than never.
The rest of August was a busy month for me, whilst most people were enjoying their summer holiday, even though the weather didn't feel like summer at all, this month featured quite a bit of studio time, but also meetings to talk about potential exciting plans for the future, including whether they may be the potential for me to create my own work with the support of some very exciting people and companies. Whilst these conversations were just at their very, very early stages hopefully these conversations may continue to develop and grow in the coming years and months, fingers crossed!
After having the opportunity to be part of National Youth Ballet's All In, project back in December 2022, it was an amazing opportunity for me to be a small part of the project now just under a year later, seeing how much the ideas and project had grown after hearing about the initial plans a year ago.
For my participation in the project I was delivering choreography based on The Dance of the Knights from the ballet Romeo and Juliet to dancers who were part of this inclusive project celebrating dancers of all different abilities, which would culminate in a sharing of a their adaptation of the Shakespearian story at the end of the week in Brighton.
It was such a great experience for me especially to create some movement to such a powerful and dramatic piece of music, most commonly associated as the theme tune to BBC's The Apprentice. I think one of my hopes had always secretly been to either create or perform something to this fabulous piece of music by Prokofiev so that was a huge tick for me and the fact that I would be delivering this workshop to dancers of all differing abilities was an even bigger tick and dream for me.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to be get down to Brighton, where the course was being held, but through the power of zoom I was able to join these dancers in this very exciting project. I have to say that these dancers coped extremely well with me delivering choreography to them even though I wasn't there in person, and there were also some technical challenges, the work that the dancers produced during this workshop was just brilliant and although I wouldn't be there for the performance, I just knew that as the week would go on and everything would come together and the performances from each dancer would reach another level.
I think that the dance industry needs more opportunities like this for dancers of all different abilities to have the opportunity to perform and develop their skills. I really struggled to find an opportunity like this for me when I came back to dance as a wheelchair user, so hopefully if this project develops, which I hope and believe it will then, challenges like I faced will be eliminated altogether and that to me would be incredibly exciting.
Later on in the month, I was also incredibly excited to see that The Royal Opera House stream were launching a new series of spotlight films on the principal dancers from the company. The first of these films featured none other than Alexander Campbell who I had been able to have the very fortunate opportunity of working closely with on The Sleepwalker. An opportunity that I will always be so grateful for as it really did unlock confidence in my abilities and who I am as dancer.
I really enjoyed hearing about Alexander's journey into classical ballet and how his professional career which had first begun at Birmingham Royal Ballet (where I had first encountered him as a young child performing in Sylvia) then transitioned into him eventually becoming a Principal Dancer at The Royal Ballet. I was also extremely grateful to have a small cameo in this film about Alex via the power of rehearsal footage from The Sleepwalker. It was a nice and permanent memento of our time working together, which as I have said is something that I will always remember and be grateful for.
At the beginning of September I returned to working with Birmingham Ballet Company, on their brand new production of Aladdin and the Lamp, I was playing the role of the Sultan, who in the story is Jasmine's father, who Aladdin seeks approval from to marry Jasmine. In the weeks since I had been at the casting and creation days with BBCo there had been many developments with the work with the dancers had been creating for this performance. It was so brilliant to see so many talented young dancers perform on the stage and all of them truly have the brilliant chance of shining. I feel very lucky to have performed alongside these talented young performers and I really do hope that our paths cross again in the future.
The performance itself was a very fun experience for me. I relish every chance I have to perform on stage, and if you have read part 1 of this blog post you will understand why. It was also a fantastic opportunity to perform with live musicians, something that I hadn't done for quite a few years. One of the things I love about performing is when everything comes together, the choreography, the music and the costumes. You are able to get lost in that moment and almost forget the technique of what you are doing as the job you have is to tell the story to the very best of your ability. Hopefully I was able to do that. Overall it was a very joyous experience, there were stresses along the way such as adding an extra section of choreography for my character and Maddie the young dancer I was mainly performing, with a slight improvisation during our first show. But I can't really complain as it was an opportunity to perform alongside some extremely talented young dancers and hopefully inspire them to discover what is possible within their own future careers and journeys. It is an experience that I certainly won't forget and I also learnt so much from it too.
After my performances with BBCo, I then had a day to return home and have a rest before getting ready to return to The Sleepwalker rehearsals at The Royal Opera House in preparation for the performance of this piece at Greenwich and Docklands International Festival, that following weekend. I am so grateful to both GDIF and The Royal Ballet for being so supportive in making these performances happen especially as having just missed the opportunity to perform this piece last year due to the sudden and sad passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
It felt wonderful to return to the Opera House. There are few places that you can feel the magic of the place pouring out but I think you can definitely feel this when you enter the Opera House and I was so glad to be back!
It felt extremely natural falling back into rehearsals, with Kristen, Alexander, Isabel, and the wonderful producer looking after this project Hannah Mayhew. After having a year away from this piece it was an interesting experience to look at it with a fresh pair of eyes and to also develop my interpretation further. I think sometimes as an artist you can go through things in your personal life outside of the studio. These feelings that you experience are ones that you can then infuse into your performance and hopefully enhance your interpretation too. I felt that I was able to this and I almost felt like a coiled spring or champagne ready to fizz in this piece, especially having waited a year to perform this longer version of the piece to an audience.
I have to say that the few days I spent at the Opera House rehearsing were great. It was just so nice to be back in that environment again and to move past studios where some extremely talented dancers were putting everything into their rehearsals. When I had my challenges ten years ago I never thought I would say it felt good to be back in the dance environment but at this point in time even though the dance industry as a whole can sometimes be an extremely challenging place, working in a place that knew me and were also open to exploring the possibilities of my abilities, that truly was a fantastic feeling and something that I definitely wanted more of.
The performances of The Sleepwalker at GDIF took place on what had been one of the hottest days of the year. It was amazing to perform the piece in an outside environment even though due to the hot sun I could feel the sweat dripping down my face. The heat must have gotten to me a little bit as I almost forgot where I was during on the four performances that I did alongside Isabel Lubach, however the fantastic score by Sophie Cotton always brought me back down to earth with its dramatic flair.
I was so grateful that quite a few members of the artistic team at The Royal Opera House including Emma Southworth (Creative Producer at the Royal Ballet) and Kevin O'Hare (Director of the Company), made the special trip to come and support the performances. It was also so lovely that Liam Boswell (First Artist of the Royal Ballet Company), also came to support the show.
It is always super enjoyable to collaborate with these different people at the Opera House and it may seem greedy, but I think it is important to recognise when you are on to a good thing, so of course I hoped that there would definitely be further ways that we could develop to enable further collaborations together.
The rest of September was a relatively quiet month for me. Time to rest and recuperate after quite a busy time during the summer months, and also time to reflect on my achievements. I used to struggle to reflect on my achievements, but I realise that this something that I need to continue to do. It is important to see how far you have come to be able to see how much further you want to go.
I also was part of a webinar with BBOdance about some very important conversations about hopefully continuing to develop inclusive pathways within syllabus work and other opportunities. So long may these conversations and ideas continue to develop.
In October after having to keep Empower in Motion under wraps, I was finally able to share that I would be part of this amazing event next February, not just as performer, but as an ambassador for this very special event that would celebrating and raising funds for the brilliant charity Children Today which would be celebrating its 30th birthday in 2024.
I wasn't able to quite say what I would be performing just yet as whilst I had an idea that I would be performing The Sleepwalker again, it wasn't quite all signed off just yet. I would also hopefully be performing another piece too but again at that stage I didn't quite know what that would be or look like. But it was incredibly exciting to see this event finally be announced and also see the preliminary names from the dance world that would be part of this huge dance event, bringing together big names from the classical ballet world alongside dancers and companies who had a specific interest in inclusion.
In October I was also very lucky to return to the studio for the start of a Research and Development project with Humans Move, which would be looking at developing ideas to eventually make an inclusive accessible family dance show bringing together the two cultures of Wales and Ethiopia.
The project would be taking place at Theatre Frycheiniog, in Brecon. I had been to this theatre a couple of years ago and so I was excited to return to this venue and take class and dance/move on stage for three days and then a further five days the following month.
At the end of the month, after nearly four years away (as during my final year of study I had been working as an apprentice with Ballet Wales, so I did most of my studies remotely), I returned to UCEN Manchester, also known to me as The Arden School of Theatre. I was returning this time, not as a student, but as a guest speaker for the 2023 graduation ceremony, even though my actual graduation ceremony had only happened a year earlier due to the delays provided by the pandemic.
In the months and weeks leading up to the ceremony I had spent much of my time writing my speech and I wanted to create and share something that would inspire the students going on their new journeys to never give up even when things can sometimes get really challenging. I felt to do this it was important to share some of my personal journey as I wanted let the graduates know that I understood how they might be feeling as they begin this new journey.
It was so nice that when I had completed my speech at both ceremonies that the reaction from students and also some of my old tutors was incredibly positive. During my time at the Arden I don't think I fully appreciated all that I learnt and the journey that I began when I started studying there. It wasn't until I had some time and space to breathe that I realised how formative my three years there were. The staff on the Dance Course took a chance on a dancer who was rediscovering his love for dance even though he wasn't quite sure whether he still belonged in this world. But the course and staff gave me so many opportunities to show that I did hopefully belong in the dance world, and whilst there were some challenges along the way, I wouldn't change a single thing and I look back on my time at the Arden with a sense of gratitude. I hope that even though I am no longer a student at the university there will be further opportunities for us to work together and for our paths to cross.
The following month I returned to Brecon to continue to work on the Research and Development with Humans Move for a longer period. It was nice to be able to return to the same project and work with some of the same people and also some new people too.
It was new experience for me working props such as a puppet, especially navigating now I could move my wheelchair whilst holding something. The week culminated in a sharing of the work we had done to try and gain some feedback from audiences to help garner more information about future developments of this work. It was nice to perform on the stage at Brecon again.
I think the highlight of my week was working with Uma from WISP Dance, who had worked with previously and her talented dancers. The dancers who Uma work with have a range of different accessible needs, but the talent and joy for dancing and moving these amazing dancers have for the art form is truly inspiring. I have always said that dance can touch the lives of anybody, my hope is that in the professional dance industry we can continue to have representation of dancers with differing abilities and inspire those audiences who are able to recognise themselves in the dancers performing on stage, proving that dance can touch everyone.
The rest of November was spent taking in part of meetings regarding work plans for 2024. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to have important conversations with different organisations who are open to me as a disabled artist and hopefully looking at ways to push forward with that representation and discover ways of working together.
I was so lucky to have the opportunity to return to The Royal Opera House to speak with members of the artistic team at The Royal Ballet, to discuss important subjects and potential opportunities, one if which turned into the Festival of New Choreography which I will part of in February. These conversations were incredibly exciting and I hope I can continue to develop ideas for the future with the team at the ROH, especially as I feel incredibly comfortable and enjoy every chance I have had to collaborate with them.
So fingers crossed there is much more to come!
I think something I have learnt in 2023 that I want to take forward into 2024 is that determination to believe that there is always a way to make things happen. The only person is holding you back from achieving is you. I would also say that don't be afraid to ask questions. Remember you don't get anything you don't ask for. I always seem to be sending emails to organisations that I am keen to continue developing working relationships with or further collaborations. Sometimes these emails can prove very fruitful, so don't be afraid to be pro-active in making things happen. This is something I am absolutely going to continue to take forward with me into 2024.
Hopefully 2024 is shaping up to be an exciting year for me filled with dance, new collaborations and appreciating time with family.
Until next time......