Image: Friern Barnet School in Uncharted for Dance Journeys 2019 © Laurent Liotardo

Earlier this month, our large-scale engagement project Dance Journeys, now in its sixth year, came together in a culminating performance with an audience of over 1,000.

ENBYouthCo in Uncharted for Dance Journeys 2019 © Laurent Liotardo

The programme consisted of ENBYouthCo’s new work We Are Here choreographed by Jo Meredith, a performance of Rosamunde by English National Ballet School, and English National Ballet dancers performing Stina Quagebeur’s touching duet Vera.

The finale of the evening was the new work Uncharted, performed by 70 young people from London secondary schools Copthall and Friern Barnet and ENBYouthCo, and set to a score recorded by 70 young musicians from Royal College of Music Junior Department.

Engagement Producer Hannah Dye caught up with Uncharted’s Artistic Co-Directors Malgorzata (Gosia) Dzierzon and Renaud Wiser to find out more about their ambitious vision for the work and the creative process:

How did you get involved with Dance Journeys?

We discovered Dance Journeys through working for English National Ballet’s Engagement Department as Associate Artists, both teaching contemporary adult classes and leading a number of creative workshops with ENBYouthCo.

Last summer we were invited to write a proposal for Dance Journeys 2019 to be showcased at Sadler’s Wells in the middle of English National Ballet’s performances of She Persisted. With this triple bill in mind, we wanted to create a performance that celebrated female agility, strength and imagination. The inspiration behind our work, Uncharted, was female explorers: unstoppable sailors, courageous mountaineers, tenacious astronauts and imaginative writers.

Copthall School in Uncharted for Dance Journeys 2019 © Laurent Liotardo

What was the process like?

We worked with a large creative team at English National Ballet, and it was important that the vision was shared before we got into the studio in January. The piece was formed in collaboration with ENB Associate Artists and choreographers Katie Cambridge, Aaron Vickers and Hubert Essakow who worked directly with their assigned school groups weekly. We also worked with ENBYouthCo, altogether over a 12 week rehearsal period.

Our creative team included composer Alexandra Vrebalov, costume designer Louie Whitemore, lighting designer Zeynep Kepekli, film maker Laurent Liotardo – working closely with ENB Engagement Producer Hannah Dye.

We created a detailed brief and music timeline for each school group, which was rehearsed with a designated choreographer. They each chose one area of exploration, researching female adventurers as a starting point. The Dance Journeys 2019 cast came together for three Sundays at different stages throughout the rehearsal process. We wanted the production to be, and to look like, one company on stage, which required close cooperation with choreographers and a lot of concentration from the dancers during those shared rehearsal days!

We interviewed the dancers, asking what they think is left for humanity to discover, why it is important to explore, and if they see themselves as explorers and if so, what the challenges are on the personal and global level. These interviews were weaved into Aleksandra’s score, adding a narrative layer and ensuring the voices of these young people were heard.

Uncharted for Dance Journeys 2019 © Laurent Liotardo

Were there any challenges that you needed to overcome during this project?

The scale and artistic ambition of the project required detailed planning, yet as is the nature of creation, there was a need for flexibility and ability to respond to “the room”. We felt that the team managed that really well.

Collaboration was a key element to curating Uncharted to ensure a cohesive work. As choreographers, we both work collaboratively across disciplines on our own projects and with New Movement Collective, where we share our practice with eight other dance artists, so our collaboration with the Uncharted creative team, school teachers and young people was essential.

We had high ambitions for the choreography and production values of Uncharted, which brought 70 dancers to the Sadler’s Wells stage as well as 70 young musicians from Royal College of Music during an intensive recording session. Working at this scale within a relatively short period of time requires dedication, resilience and ability to problem solve.

Uncharted for Dance Journeys 2019 © Laurent Liotardo

What were the highlights?

So many!

During the process it was seeing how the young dancers, with such different levels of movement experience, tackled the creative tasks. We saw individuals overcome insecurities, find new ways to express themselves, and support each other.

Whilst we enjoyed the process, seeing the dancers perform at Sadler’s Wells was really emotional. They owned the movement, embodied the music and approached the performance with so much commitment. They found a shared sense of space and energy and the stage was entirely theirs. They created such a rich tapestry of textures, layers and emotions in this piece, of which we are immensely proud.

Find out more about Dance Journeys.

Dance Journeys is generously supported by John Lyon’s Charity.