by Susan Cunningham
I first interviewed Errol White in 2009. He had just landed in Edinburgh and was about to take off with his newly founded company. IAM was their debut piece and arrived into the Traverse Theatre in 2009 with the weight of a company that was here to stay.
It is a visceral piece with breathtaking yet truthful energy. The dancers emotionally transparent, drawing us in as if we were watching our own bodies in space. At that time, he was asking through the work, "how do you maintain your identity when you are in a larger setting of a group dynamic?" Not only a comment on the work, applying to dancers in company but a wider existential question.
Questions that arise to inform performance, feed through the veins of the company into the way the co-directors motivate themselves and continue to inspire and impart their knowledge on others.
5 years on and I witness first hand in the rehearsal studio Davina and Errol staying true to the ethos, teaching and developing choreography for the much anticipated return of IAM. They are exacting with their teaching of moves, whilst encouraging dancers to reach inside themselves to find their own authenticity within the work.
I asked Davina, how do you combine individuation with ensuring that dancers maintain technique. "It's a good question!" She replies with a laugh, but replies that despite time restraints class involves body awareness, improvisation, listening and playing, these things are just as important as technique. I witness all aspects of this in a short time with them in the studio. Their experience and motivation is infectious and seems as crucial as building strength, core and alignment.
Part of the company's ethos is not just to work with dancers on shape and form but to train them in a nurturing environment that promotes full body communication. Davina said to me that coming back to the studio is like coming home. I saw them as heads of an artistic household which encourages creativity as well as longevity: raising dancers to their full potential, whilst ensuring care and attention that can prevent depletion by demands of repertoire.
It was fascinating then to watch the rehearsals: consecutive leaps, changing directions, carving, sweeping turns, expansive rises and breathtaking falls that are the signature of White's choreography seem so demanding; surely there is a danger of burn out. However, the work is an insight into many realms of a dancing body. It displays the powerful breakthrough point when the body and mind enters exhaustion and emotional transformation can occur.
Bodies in Space
Errol White Company (EWC) have made it their aim to produce artists not just bodies in space, the launch of their Evolve programme sees that dream one step closer. 5 years ago Errol said "In an ideal world there should be fellowship funding" but went on to say "but I'm a studio person not a politician". When the company gained charitable status 2 years ago allowed them to make a small step towards that ideal. In addition, recent news of an award by Creative Scotland to fund a full dance apprenticeship shows how studio people can make changes.
In a relatively short time, the company have established themselves as progressive educators across the contemporary dance sector. Their personable and skilled mentoring is an adhesive support for professional dancers, particularly in Scotland. Their Emerge programme aims to provide continued personal and dance community development across the UK.
Another exciting aspect of the re -working of IAM, in addition to the anticipation of knowing new work is emerging, is the space in between: the realm of communication between themselves and their audience. What better way to witness the power and intensity of EWC dancers than close up? Watching enrapturing movement in an intimate venue allows us to feel like we are all in the front row.
We are reeled in, hearing the breath of the dancer, seeing muscles exert, feeling the shared somatic elation of lifts or the breathless empathy of exhaustion. The tour takes place in venues that allow this unique communication exchange. The first date is in the Studio Theatre at the back of the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, an impressive new rehearsal and performance space where artists can train and practice staging in the actual size of the venue.
As the EWC continue to evolve it is refreshing to see a company follow through on their initial word. Beginnings that come from an honest, open and deeply insightful place can only produce authenticity, as Errol said "it must and should, all stem from the work" and there the cycle goes on.
The company perform next on Wednesday 2nd April 2014 at Sunart Centre (Strontian) and then on Saturday 5th April 2014, Cove Burgh Hall (Rosneath Peninsula)
'IAM' Interview from 2012 on Article19