New school leader: Uchenna Dance Summer School
Leader of the new schoolWhat do you do when you have an artistic vision but there aren’t enough dancers trained in the various dance styles you draw upon to bring your vision to life? In the case of Vicki Igbokwe, Creative Director and Choreographer of Uchenna Dance, you set up a summer school
Words: Vicki Igbokwe. Editing: Charelle Griffiths
It was April 2010 and I decided to raise the profile of the work I was creating and expand the Uchenna Dance touring company. Over the previous year and a half I had been exploring my vocabulary. I had spent the last two summers in New York and each time I was filled with steps, history and inspiration. I was introduced to house, waacking and vogue, which gave me a whole new vocabulary, technique, culture, music and spiritual vibration to draw from. I returned to the UK and wanted to create a movement style that combined my previous experiences of contemporary and African dance, with those that I had gained in New York.
At the time my company dancers were unaware of house, waacking and vogue, and I was still discovering for myself how these techniques worked individually and together and what would ultimately become my movement vocabulary. As I got to grips with my style it became evident that there was no connection between my warm up and my choreography. It was the dancers in my company (Carla Trim-Vamben, Delene Gordon, Asha Jennings-Grant and Grace Okereke) who made the suggestion of creating my own technique class that could warm them up and train their bodies to execute the type of movement I needed. Over the next few months I focused on creating exercises that fused the different styles. The dancers were integral to the process and their feedback was priceless. During this period I learnt how to break down moves, explain where they originated from, give imagery to help them execute and instil technique points. Through teaching the dancers, the historical knowledge of the styles became cemented in me as well. Going through this process really made me (and the dancers) value the strength in training and it resulted me developing my style, which I call ‘urban contemporary’.
Having developed my confidence in my movement style and choreography I turned my full attention to the expansion of the touring company. I knew I would need new dancers and I considered what the audition process would be like. What type of class would I teach? For how long? What rep should I include? It brought back memories of when I first started with the original company members and although I was more confident in my delivery of vision, style and vibration, I knew it would be challenge for new bodies to understand automatically. I didn't feel that a day’s audition would allow me to find what I was looking for in a dancer and so the idea of a summer school was born.
I would use the summer school as an audition, with the dancers being assessed across the week. This would be beneficial for both myself and the dancers because it would give me the chance to view the dancers across a multitude of styles, but also give the dancers a genuine chance to try and 'get it’. A dancer may not instantly understand or be able to execute what I am requesting but a week gives a dancer the opportunity to develop, as well as allowing me to see their improvement. The summer school allows the dancers the chance to attend a wide range of technique classes as well as giving them the chance to discover themselves in urban contemporary.
The summer school is also open to dancers who are interested in what it has to offer but not in auditioning.
In order for the dancer to understand urban contemporary, Uchenna Dance Summer School teaches the various styles separately, before then bringing them together for rep. The first summer school was last August (2010) and there were classes in urban contemporary, house, waacking, African, Afro-Eclectic, as well as learning Uchenna rep. This year we have expanded the range of classes to include contemporary, ballet and vogue.
Dancers are not only taught the styles physically, but we cover the history, essence and spirits of the styles. The Summer School is a training ground, an educational establishment, where I and selected artists train dancers to become better. The calibre of the artists teaching on the Summer School is extremely high. All have professional experience in the industry and the majority also work within educational settings, from secondary to university level. This creates a real sense of 'training' with participants being taught practically, historically and theoretically. There is also a focus on understanding the demands of training for the professional industry. The Summer School is designed to increasing the versatility of dancers and thus makes them better equipped for the professional industry.
At the moment there are not many schools, vocational colleges or universities that are producing the type of dancer I need to execute my work. Due to the diverse range of styles I draw my inspiration from, they need to have the grace and technical ability of contemporary dance, with the fluidity, strength and power of African Dance, whilst delivering the pulse, energy and dynamics of hip hop/urban styles. Fully rounded dancers are hard to come by and I am sure I am not the only choreographer who feels the variety in current dance training is not enough.
And to the future... the legacy of the Uchenna Dance Summer School is that it is contributing to the dance sector as a whole. It is giving dancers the chance to challenge themselves and their perspective on dance. I hope that all of the participants take something from the experience and it strengthens them for their future career.
Ultimately, Uchenna Dance will one day have its own vocational or degree course as the dance sector is changing. The importance of multi-faceted dancers is increasing and the number of styles a dancer should be able to perform is increasing. Uchenna Dance is prepared to support the demands of the industry and is definitely one of the key players supporting this change.
Uchenna Dance Summer School takes place from 1 - 5 August, in London (www.uchennadance.com)