Written by Eleanor Scicchitano.
Adelaide-based dancer Mieke Kriegesvelt has only just returned from a three month residency in Sweden when we meet. As we talk, she confesses that she has not really even begun to process her experiences. I am not surprised; immersed in a new country, working in a professional company for the first time and surrounded by strangers, a whirlwind experience like this will result in long lasting learning experiences, which may not be understood for weeks, if not months and years.
The ilYoung is a three-month long residency program run by Swedish company ilDance. Each year, The Mill and the Helpmann Academy partner with ilDance to support a recent graduate to take part in the program. ilYoung gives dancers in their final years of tertiary study, the opportunity to be part of a professional environment, and for many it is their first experience working in a dance company. In an earlier conversation with co-founder Israel Aloni he speaks warmly about wanting to give young dancers the chance to work in this way, while they have the support of their school to return to, rather than having an experience and then being turned loose on the world.
For Mieke, this was a time of many firsts and the warmth and excitement that she expresses when she speaks is a testament to the support she received throughout the program. Participants came from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Australia. They lived and worked together, undertaking three two-week residencies in small towns around Sweden, before touring two new works they had developed. The program is run by Aloni, and ilDance co-founder Lee Brummer. Each of the two choreographers approached the creative process in different ways; one taking as their starting point a poem, and the second beginning with the movements themselves. The development process was collaborative. Dancers were not told what to do but worked alongside the choreographers, experiencing each of their unique ways of working and creating new works together.
There were unexpected challenges, alongside the prescribed prescribed program, and these are the learning that seem to have had the most impact. For one work, the dancers were required to make their own costumes. Mieke admits to possessing only rudimentary sewing skills and as such, being required to improvise with tape and staples. Nights finished with the dancers repairing what had fallen apart throughout the performance. Taking on all aspects of the performance, from choreography to costuming, challenged the dancers, but Miekespeaks highly of the process. She believes she is now more aware of the impact of costuming not only on the audience’s interpretation of movements, but also on the way she as a dancer moves, and she has learnt to be more adaptable, and to think on the fly.
Though the importance of residencies to an artists career is understood, perhaps this is the hardest thing to put in to words; what is learnt alongside and out-of-hours of these planned programs is often what last longest. Many of these residencies were undertaken in small, regional towns. Without the distraction of a big city, and its rushing crowds and business, Mieke found that her experience was distilled, allowing her to really focus on her practice and herself. She is thankful for the opportunity to be introspective, a luxury in a modern world of connection and information overload.
This was a similar sense that I got at another event recently, a talk by artists who had recently undertaken international residencies. Each of these experiences were different, and located in unique spaces; one a supported structured residency like Mieke’s with learning and workshops each day, one a completely self directed residency, one with the expectation that work will be created, and others where there was no expectation at all. But in each instance it is what these artists have learnt in between doing what they were doing that seems to have left the biggest impression.
Despite the many differences, each of these residencies had another important piece of learning wrapped up in it: they taught participants about themselves. Mieke talks of being given the chance to really focus on her own practice, and to learn her strengths and weaknesses as a dancer, but also learning about the type of person she is. Other artists talk of learning to understand and embrace loneliness, to become comfortable with being alone, and grow in their understanding of themselves. This time away from home to reflect is a key experience that these artists share, and perhaps the most important and universal.
It is also the bits in between what Mieke is saying that I find most interesting. They were subtle, and I don’t think I really noticed until I was thinking about writing this piece; whenever Mieke spoke of her time working with the dancers and choreographers her tone changed slightly, it got softer, her posture curled in and there was almost always a grin at the end of each anecdote. This was a residency that gave her not only a taste of what working in a professional company can be, but it was also one that was clearly enjoyable.
The ilAward is an international dance partnership with The Helpmann Academy and The Mill (Australia) and ilDance (Sweden). It's a unique, 3-month residency with longtime collaborators IlDance, open to dance graduates from Adelaide College of the Arts and Flinders University. The successful applicant will travel to Sweden to take part in ilDance’s project-based junior company, ilYoung, rehearsing and touring a new work through Europe. The award offers mentorship from ilDance founders Lee Brummer and Israel Aloni, as well as the experience of working in a professional company.
The next dancers to be sent to Sweden are Felicity Boyd and Zoe Franklin Charman. Auditions will be held in November for the 2019 season.