Hello and welcome to the final TL Life: Crosscurrent of the academic year.
This episode is all about the participatory arts and we’ll be meeting BMus4 violinist Matthew Crisp to find out about Trinity Laban’s Learning and Participation department and the benefits it offers students and the local community alike.
But first …
Interview: Charlie Dunne and Lily Horgan (Part One)
WH: Charlie Dunne and Lily Horgan are 2016 Dance graduates who have founded Meta4 Dance, a vibrant dance and physical theatre company. They engage audiences young and old through community outreach work and professional performance. Most recently they have secured a residency in August this year with West Cork Arts Centre in Ireland where they will create a new work, involving the local community, exploring the theme of identity.
Lily and Charlie, thank you very much for joining us on the podcast.
LH & CD: Thank you for having us.
WH: To start off, tell us a bit more about Meta4 Dance.
CD: Meta4 started two years ago from me and Lily both sitting down together and thinking about what we want to do with our artistic practice; what we want to achieve in our careers – in our lifetimes.
Our work is very visceral. We use quite a lot of floor-work; lifts; contact-work. We like to do a variety of things, so we try to include new technologies and we try to reach out to the community. Our work is project-based at the moment.
WH: What are some of the projects you’ve been working on this year?
LH: The main project we’ve been working on this year is Project 21. It’s a community outreach programme for young people with learning difficulties in Shropshire. We’ve actually been working on it since last Autumn. We received Sport England funding and Energise funding which really catapulted our project and started it going.
So what we did was we went to Shropshire for two weeks and taught workshops in lots of different residential homes and special schools. We taught about two hundred young people. And then, the same two weeks, we started a trial club. Every night of that week we had a free class where anybody with learning difficulties could come to our club and see what it was like. And then from that we created our own youth company club which happens every Tuesday night and there’s about ten or twelve young people who come.
The aim of that is to create a piece of work that they then perform and they get paid for it. At the moment, they’re working on that and it’s going really well. Everybody’s really enjoying it and the first performance is going to be in October.
WH: And how are they paid? Is that from your funding?
LH: They get paid for the performances. Anything that the venue gives to us, we give to them. The main aim for Project 21 was to give these young people between the age of 18 – 25 jobs and to be paid for what they’ve done because, at that age, it’s very hard for people with learning difficulties to get a job.
CD: Project 21 originated because my younger brother has Downs Syndrome and he is a young adult now. We wanted to create something that gave value because that was something that we really felt he was lacking. So it’s a real personal project that we’ve set up.
What we wanted to do was use our skills – what we’ve trained to do – to be able to help and change someone’s life. It’s one of the most rewarding things: at the end of the class, them saying, “thank you so much. I always look forward to coming to this class every week.”
LH: And they all say how it’s made a difference to their normal life, as well. They say they’re a lot calmer; less stressed. It makes a difference not just in the dance studio but outside as well, which is really great.
CD: The whole ethos of the Company is that we want to provide the benefits of dance, whether that’s physical health or mental health or an artistic output. You’ve never danced before; you don’t know what contemporary dance is? It’s important to us that we can say, “actually, you can try this.”
Anybody can move, and we’ve proved that by the work that we’ve already done. It’s about making dance accessible.
WH: Why do you think people have the impression that contemporary dance isn’t for them?
LH: Contemporary dance can be quite ‘arty’ and that gives a vibe about the audience that come.
CD: It’s the same as if I went to the garage to get my car fixed and they started telling me all the different things that were wrong with it. I’m not sure I would understand all of it and I would probably shut down from it.
It also depends where you’ve grown up or where the access is. For example, when we go over to Ireland, the contemporary dance scene is quite small so, when you meet people, it’s hard for them to know what you’re even talking about.
WH: Who interests you in the world of dance at the moment?
LH: Well, I’m always on the lookout at Motion House because their physicality and their movement is very similar to what we want to portray in our dance. Looking up to them is something that we always do and we aspire to be like them one day.
CD: I worked with Hit the Ground Running Dance Theatre Company. They’re based in Newcastle. They do a mixture of contemporary dance and physical theatre. The show that I worked on was called Macho, which was dealing with men’s mental health. And there’s quite a lot of spoken word in it as well as elements of breakdance and contemporary dance.
LH: Magpie Dance really interest us. They helped us a lot at the very beginning of Project 21 because they also do a lot of work with learning disabilities, so we went and watched one of their classes. We’re very interested and also keep in contact with Magpie Dance.
WH: You mentioned that you’re going over to Ireland. You’ll be taking up residency at West Cork Arts Centre this August. What do you have planned for the residency?
LH: We have planned another community project looking at the identity of West Cork. The first three days we go, there’s a Midsummer Festival, which is a festival all around the towns in Skibbereen and Schull. So we’re going to be doing pop-up workshops for anybody – it’s going to be free – just to get people moving; get people involved. And then the last seven days, we’re going to have about ten people who are going to be there the whole time – varying ages; varying abilities. I’m going to be dancing and Charlie’s going to be choreographing, and it’s going to be a piece based on everybody’s background; everybody’s identity; how they move because of their background. We’re going to see what can be created from that and have a performance at the end of the week, either site specific or in the Arts Centre itself.
CD: Part of the project that we’re doing in Ireland is setting up for the future. We’re looking at the identity of West Cork in this instance, but the idea is that the project can then go to other places across the world and you’ll have a completely different piece.
We don’t tend to look for work in London, partly because there’s a lot more competition, but also because I think we tend to go to places where the need is greatest. There are so many brilliant people in London already doing great work and we just think that there are other places out there that don’t have that access.
. . . . .
Thank you Charlie and Lily. We’ll be hearing more from them about their time studying at Trinity Laban and their experience post-graduation later in the podcast.
Now, I am delighted to introduce you to Matthew Crisp, a BMus4 violinist on the brink of graduation, and someone who has truly made the most of the opportunities available to Trinity Laban students.
Interview: Matthew Crisp (Part One)
MC: My name is Matthew Crisp and I play the violin. I’m in my final year on the undergraduate degree.
WH: Trinity Laban has two Learning and Participation departments: one for each Faculty – that’s Music and Dance. What are these departments responsible for and who is involved with them?
MC: The Learning and Participation departments make music with people in the community – these are often young people or older people – and also inter-generational projects, bringing young and old together. They work with fantastic practitioners from the world of the participatory arts and they run these projects out in the community with people who might otherwise not have access to it.
The Learning and Participation teams put out a call to the students, when they have a project, to offer them placements with the professional artists.
As an example of the work of the Learning and Participation departments, they will be producing the finale event to Lewisham’s first ever Festival of Creative Aging – it’s called Age Against the Machine – and it’s in the Autumn. The finale will include a new commission of music and dance co-created with six older people’s groups in the Borough.
Another exciting piece of work is a new Lung Health Choir that they’re launching in Lewisham and Greenwich with the NHS Trust and it’s for people with long-term lung conditions. It has recently been shown that singing can have a beneficial impact on the recovery and the quality of life.
It’s staggering that the Learning and Participation department was able to reach 44,711 people in the 2017-18 academic year. They are people who danced, created, performed, watched or participated in community programmes.
WH: Matthew, what made you want to become involved with Learning and Participation?
MC: Well, when I first started at Trinity Laban, I had decided that I was going to make the most of every opportunity that came my way. I received an email about the Learning and Participation projects and I thought, “that looks really interesting. I’ll go and see what’s going on.” That led to a meeting with Lizzie Green who is a member of the L&P team. And she put me into a placement with The Befrienders. They were then actually called the Arts Befriending Club. They are a group of older people who come together on a Tuesday morning and sing together under the leadership of Natasha Lohan. She studied voice here with Linda Hirst.
I was really inspired by what was going on and by the fact that the older people in The Befrienders really consider themselves to be artists. They’re not learners and they’re not participants. They are making the music and making the art and that really struck a chord with me.
Recently The Befrienders came to Trinity Laban to put on a show in the Peacock Room. They actually do this every year and it’s called Spring Forth. It’s a wonderful time to celebrate the coming of Spring and they bring a whole load of songs to sing that the audience joins in with. And there are some surprises throughout the performance as well.
WH: You’ve worked with elderly members of the community. Have you done any work with young people?
MC: Yes. The L&P department does a huge amount of work with young people. As it happens, yesterday I took part in a project in a school in Eltham led by Sarah Freestone who’s a fantastic composer and community musician. She led a class of Year 4 students in composing their own music. They all brought different instruments and she was able to mould their natural musicianship into a structure of music-making.
And I have taken part as a placement student in a project in a school for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I was struck by the willingness of the students to participate in artistic endeavours. I was involved with a small group of them doing music and one moment that sticks out in my mind was when we gave the students, one-by-one, the opportunity to conduct the music with their hands in an expressive way and the rest of the participants were following them musically. It was dramatic to see the light on the eyes of the students when they realised that their hands controlled the sound around them and they were empowered to shape the music by their movement.
WH: That must be a very important moment for them: finding it difficult to express themselves in social situations, to have an art form as way of transcending that barrier.
MC: Yeah, especially as some of the students were non-verbal. There was also a dance practitioner working with us and the other half of the group were working on a dance piece that we joined up with the music to create a perform-able piece that the students then took to the Laban Theatre as part of Live at Trinity Laban. It was a fantastic, inspiring project and one I’ll never forget.
WH: L&P runs CoLab projects each year. What kind of L&P activities have you been involved in for CoLab?
MC: In 2018, I took part in an inter-generational project called Blind Date. This was a project that brought together Trinity Laban students – musicians and dancers – with a group of older people from Trinity Laban’s Inspired Not Tired programme. They had already created a piece inspired by an exhibition at the Tate Modern and we went, on the first day of CoLab, to see this piece up in the new Boiler House building (at Tate Modern). The older people’s group then incorporated us, the students, into their piece. And for the rest of the week, the students were working on a piece that we would then incorporate the older people’s group into.
WH: Hence the title Blind Date.
MC: When we first met with the older people’s group at the Tate Modern, we could feel a bit of tension and we sort of separated into two groups, the younger people and the older people. But by the end of the week, we were just one integrated group and I think this allowed the older people to share their experience and wisdom with us and for us to gift to them a new verve and a new energy. So both groups had this benefit.
WH: How has your involvement with Learning and Participation benefited you?
MC: The early experiences that I had with the L&P department enabled me to confidently apply for the role of Early Years Assistant at Blackheath Conservatoire. When I got the job, I absolutely loved working with babies and toddlers in their music-making and their very first experiences of music. I spent a year as the assistant and then moved up to be a tutor myself.
I really feel L&P has broadened my imagination and taught me about the essence of music-making. The transformation I’ve seen in my own music-making is a result of the interactions I have had with members of the community working in music projects who are less if at all concerned about playing or singing the right notes. They’re concerned about the emotion and the experience behind that music and I feel like I’ve been able to incorporate that into my own playing of the violin.
This has really contributed to the trajectory of my music-making as it has shown me a world of artistry that I would never otherwise have encountered and I’m really excited that my next musical journey will be studying the MA in Community Music at the University of York. It’s thanks to the L&P opportunities that I have had at Trinity Laban that I will be well-placed to learn on this course.
. . . . .
Thank you Matthew. He’ll be back shortly to reveal his plans for the coming year as a recipient of Trinity Laban’s first Innovation Award. Next though, Charlie Dunne and Lily Horgan of Meta4 Dance Company are back to share their thoughts on studying at Trinity Laban and their advice for graduates.
Interview: Charlie Dunne and Lily Horgan (Part Two)
WH: Let’s talk about your time at Trinity Laban. Which parts of the course were most memorable for you?
LH: I think my third year was the most memorable time for me. At Trinity Laban, depending on what class you’re in, you have different teachers. And in third year I was lucky enough to get Fernanda (Lippi) and her style of movement was exactly the same as mine – mainly floor-work, very fast, very intense, but also very fluid and soft. And then it really clicked that that was the movement that I wanted to do as a dancer. She was really helpful and she was really supportive of me progressing in that type of movement.
CD: I felt this throughout all years: the teachers really made it for me. Everybody that taught me had a lot of care. Everything that was said was always for a reason and everybody always had the best intention for you. That stuck with me quite a lot. Even if it was really difficult, when you actually sit back and think about what they said – a month later; a year later – you think about it and you go, “oh yeah. Actually that did make sense. That did help. If you hadn’t pushed me in that particular class then maybe I wouldn’t have got this far.”
It was kind of tough love. It really worked for me.
The other thing that was really important was the freedom; the ability to go and create your own stuff and then have someone who has so many years’ experience to look at it and say, “oh yeah, that’s good, but maybe work on this.” Just having that advice to tap into was really helpful and it taught me a lot about who I was and what I wanted to do; what kind of dance I wanted to create and what possibilities were out there.
LH: We still have a lot of friends from Trinity Laban. Those three years are a great time for everyone to come together and it’s really like you’re part of a family. We’re literally dancing with each other every day; we have lunch with each other; we probably live with each other. Those times are the best times because you’re always together and you’re always having great fun. And it’s easy to take it for granted and to be like, “oh, I’m so tired; oh, I’ve had a rubbish day.” But you’re the fittest you’ll ever be in your life. You’ve got your friends around you all the time. It’s just a great time to remember and have fun.
WH: What would be your one piece of advice for young dancers wanting to start their own companies, as you have.
LH: Oh, I think one of the main things is to be resilient and stay resilient.
CD: It’s going to be hard. There are going to be “no”s. There are going to be bad days when you don’t want to do it any more. But the hard work really does pay off.
LH: You quickly learn that you get a lot of “no”s for the amount of “yes”es that you get. And then adding a business on top of that adds to the amount of “no”s that you get, because you have to apply for funding and everything like that. So I think it’s very important to be resilient and not take it too personally. And you’ve just got to be like, “oh well, it wasn’t our day. Let’s carry on. We’re still young; we’ve still got the ambition and the drive. Let’s just keep going.”
CD: Adding on to that is flexibility – being able to look at something and work out how you can make it work, because there’s quite often a lot of guidelines and things that people are looking for specifically. And it’s really important to stay true to yourself, but also be flexible in the way that you approach things and how you can fit into it.
Hidden Gem Listening Recommendations
WH: Let’s end with a question I ask all the guests on the podcast. Could you give us a Hidden Gem Listening Recommendation?
LH: John Blek is an Irish musician, and one of his songs, The Blackwater, is really good. It’s very calming.
CD: The song I chose is actually a cover. A lot of people know the song Feel Good Inc. by Gorillaz, but I’ve been listening to the cover of it by Seramic a lot recently. It’s quite meaty; electronic. It’s got a bit of an off-beat to it. Yeah, it’s really good.
WH: Charlie and Lily, thank you very much for the taking the time to speak to me today.
LH: Thank you for having us. We’ve had a good time.
CD: Yes, thank you very much.
. . . . .
Finally for this episode of TL Life: Crosscurrent, Matthew Crisp reveals his proposal for Trinity Laban’s first Innovation Award.
Interview: Matthew Crisp (Part Two)
WH: Matthew Crisp, you are receiving a grant and mentoring to help you with a professional development project. First of all, congratulations. Tell us about the project you proposed.
MC: I’ve been working on a project that takes participatory practice into youth orchestras. I remember growing up in a youth orchestra and loving the experience. But the only experience I had was that of orchestral playing and I look back now and wish that I had had the opportunity to engage in a wider field of musical experiences. And that is what I would like to develop.
The first part of the project is to take youth orchestra students on placements in their local community so that they get to see the community music going on around them. Then, the second part of the project is to engage the students themselves in creating participatory experiences for their community, much like the examples of the CoLab projects that I have spoken about already.
WH: Do you know where these events will be happening?
MC: Well, I’ve already worked with a group of young people in Hampshire County Youth Orchestra and I shared with them some of the skills that I’ve learned over my time at Trinity Laban. And they seemed to really enjoy it and get a lot out of the experience, so that was really positive and shows that there is a desire amongst the youth orchestra students to work on this kind of musical experience. So in the future, once I’ve moved to York, I would like to reach out to the youth orchestras in that local area.
My ambition is to produce a body of research and anecdotal evidence that shows that young musicians are capable and have a desire to make music in a participatory way in their community.
WH: And what do you intend to do with this body of evidence?
MC: When a professional orchestra receives their funding, they are obliged to take their music into the community as part of an education and participation department. However, when a youth orchestra is funded, partly because of the limited funds available, they don’t have this obligation.
I would like the evidence that I collect to show that the power of participatory arts can be harnessed in youth orchestras and by young people.
WH: And it’s perhaps important also to instil the idea in young people that what they do shouldn’t happen in isolation and that their artistry can benefit the people in their community.
MC: Yes. I wonder, how would they develop differently as musicians if they had already had an experience of this kind of music-making before they even arrived at a conservatoire?
Hidden Gem Listening Recommendation
WH: One final question for you, Matthew. Could you give us a Hidden Gem Listening Recommendation? This is a piece of music that you love but hardly anyone else has ever heard of.
MC: I came across the music of the Trobairitz when I was listening to BBC Radio 3 in the car and they are a pocket of female troubadours who sprung up in the South of France in the 12th Century. They’re a bit mysterious and little is known as to why and how they appeared – troubadours were usually male. But lots of their poetry and some of their music remains. Their poetry was written in the ancient Southern French language and is fairly brave. There’s lots about sexuality and desire.
You can find out more about them by searching ‘Trobairitz’, spelt ‘T-R-O-B-A-I-R-I-T-Z’, and there’s lots of information online about them. And then find the album by La Nef who have used the Trobairitz poetry in their own folk and medieval fusion.
WH: That’s a really intriguing recommendation. I’m going to be looking that up straight away.
Matthew Crisp, thank you very much for sharing your insight into the Learning and Participation department and thank you very much for your time today.
MC: Thank you very much for having me.
. . . . .
With heavy heart, it’s time for TL Life: Crosscurrent to bid the 2018-19 academic year farewell. Keep an eye out for one last bonus podcast coming scene, a Crosscurrent Spotlight on Tomorrow’s Warriors co-founder and Trinity Laban Honorary Fellow Gary Crosby. I’ve been your host Will Howarth.