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The Portfolio Collection

photo of two stopgap dancers

Photograph of Dan Watson and Laura Jones. Photograph by Nick Robertson

StopGAP Dance Company are undertaking a UK tour between now and the end of May 2008. Colin Hambrook asked Artistic Director, Vicki Balaam to tell us about their latest dance performance which has been mesmerising audiences the length and breadth of the country.

When I last interviewed StopGAP at the end of 2004 Chris Pavia was keen to develop skills as a choreographer. I was interested to see that Chris and Lucy have a joint piece in the new collection and asked creative director Vicki Balaam how that came about?

As the dancers have worked together for so long, a distinctive 'internal voice' has developed and is becoming more and more important. There are two main reasons. Firstly, and most practically, the dancers have an intense knowledge and understanding of what they can expect of each other, which usually takes an external choreographer weeks and a lot of daring to uncover. The second reason reveals the culture within the company. The dancers aren’t seen as expendable commodities to be used and cast aside at the end of a short contract. The current team have been together for 6 years now. The dancers are what makes StopGAP StopGAP, and as such are nurtured as artists.

The more we have worked with external choreographers, the more we have developed an awareness of how to push and challenge our boundaries - leading to exhilarating results. These experiences have enabled us to value our internal voice and to make the teams’ experience ever more sophisticated. I see it as my job to ensure that each internal choreographic voice grows in an appropriate environment and each work is presented in a safe setting. As each of the dancers has approached their 26th birthday so they have entered The Place’s choreographic platform, Resolution! Laura is due to enter this year.

Dan and Lucy have both had experience of internal and external commissions, so were commissioned to create a section for the Portfolio Collection. I asked Lucy and Chris to create a duet together in response to a section of music that had been composed for the Portfolio Collection. The result was a tender and warm duet. An extract of this piece has been included in The Portfolio Collection, and even more excitingly, Lucy worked with Richard Bennett to develop the choreography and it is now a mesmerizing Dance for Camera work.

Now that Chris has been successful with his Resolution! creation, his next step is to see how he copes with creating work on other people. We just have to find time in our ferocious touring schedule!

How does Stopgap choose the choregraphers and dancers it works with?

I select the choreographers we invite to work with us in consultation with the dancers and Denise, our Executive Producer. We start by being clear about what kind of piece we want made, what kind of flavour it should have, and how each of the dancers will develop from the process. The idea behind the Portfolio Collection was that we would show a more grown up StopGAP, that would enable the dancers to explore strong characters, pure movement, emotional and passionate story lines. We wanted to create works that would engage audiences intellectually and works that were visceral; that would evoke an instinctive rather than a considered response.

The choreographers always have to be artists we respect, and who can move the dancers to the next stage of their artistic development. We wanted choreographers from a broad spectrum of experience. So, we chose well established choreographers like Rob Tannion and Nathalie Pernette; experienced practitioners like Thomas Mettler; as well as choreographers who are becoming established like Hofesh Shechter; or are emerging artists like Gary Clarke; plus our internal voices from Dan Watson and Lucy Bennett. The main priority when choosing choreographers is to look for people who are willing to work in collaboration with the dancers. They have to be willing to embark on a risky adventure with us, rather than create a work that serves their ego.

When pitching the idea of working with us we tell choreographers that StopGAP will provide the opportunity to push their choreographic crafting to their limits. As a company, we have the same issues as a non-integrated dance company. It is simply that the implications and consequences hit us harder and faster. StopGAP cannot settle for poor crafting because it is a lot more obvious and almost impossible to hide when the choreography is weak.

With the Portfolio Collection, we have been able to take greater risks than if we were only commissioning a standard double bill. We offer our choreographers support if anyone within the team feels they are not being challenged to their full potential. They do understand the ethos of the company before they start. We look for people who are naturally curious about what can be achieved... However a certain amount of naive discovery can uncover the most spectacular results.

Of old I know that audiences can expect a range of emotion in StopGAP's work. What are the central themes within the Portfolio Collection?

The Portfolio Collection is the ultimate StopGAP collection. It gives an insight into where the dancers are at this moment in their lives. People growing into their adulthood; the blossoming confidence that comes from that maturity; the willingness to take risks and ask provocative questions; the strength to share those moments of doubt and uncertainty; and the exhilaration of breaking out of those boxes that peoples’ preconceptions try to package each one of us neatly into.

The Collection has the StopGAP ingredients of phenomenal, technically brilliant dancing, delivered by real people on stage, sometimes playing characters, but also sometimes revealing their innermost deepest darkest secrets. There are moments of horror, moments of great comedy, moments of heart ripping pain and moments of beautiful tenderness. Our intention is to take our audiences through a range of emotions, so you feel you have been on the most amazing and satisfying rollercoaster ride.

How has the new work been received so far?

Incredibly well. This is our first ever National UK tour so we were very nervous. In order to prepare we performed some of the sections during our European tour in Autumn 2007. We performed to sold out dance houses and regularly received standing ovations. When we premiered the full Collection at The Point, Eastleigh, in November 2007, we had no idea how it was going to be received. We were thrilled when the phenomena of standing ovations continued!

Now that we have settled into the rhythm of our UK tour I have been really pleased with the warmth of each audiences response. Generally the response has been that we give them a strong mixture of good art, thrilling energy, engaging stories and interactions between the dancers; plus that magical thing that’s unexplainable but sends audiences out of the theatre with a different perception than when they entered that night. We can’t ask for more than that ... until we start working on the next project that is!

Go to to find out more about the company.

Tour dates

27th March 2008 - 7:45pm
The Hawth Studio
Crawley, West Sussex
Tel: 01293 553 636

3rd April 2008- 7.30pm
The Albany
Deptford, London
Tel: 020 8692 4446

8th April 2008 - 8:00pm
Robin Howard Theatre @ The Place
Tel: 020 7121 1100

9th April 2008 - 8:00pm
Robin Howard Theatre @ The Place
Tel: 020 7121 1100

15th April 2008 - 8:00pm
The Old Town Hall
Hemel Hempstead, Herts
Tel: 01442 228 091

13th May 2008 - 6.00pm
An except of Portfolio as part of Caravan
Brighton, East Sussex
Tel: 01273 647100

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