New faces on the residency front

7th November 1997 at 00:00
REDEFINING. Scottish Dance Theatre on tour until November 15.

Scottish Dance Theatre has a new director in Janet Smith, internationally renowned in the contemporary dance scene. Smith is in the process of reconstructing the Dundee-based company - it has a new line-up of dancers and is currently touring with what it calls its "Redefining" programme. At the end of last month, the company undertook its first school residency.

Janet Smith was keen to start with primary-school children. "This age group so readily gets in touch with images - it's easy to take creative dance to them. They give themselves permission to feel things," she says.

Over three days, children from three primary schools in Glasgow's East End took part in the residency, which began with a lecture demonstration based on the company's new two-work repertoire. Segments from Alan Greig's The Director's Cut gave tantalising glimpses of the art of choreography - how the mood can be varied with the speed and direction of the dancers and how hand gestures can be made to mean many different things. From Smith's own work, Chiaroscuro, children learned of the creative possibilities of light and shade. A simple square of light on the stage could be a bottomless chasm, a wet pool or a slimy pit, they suggested.

In the theatre, imaginations worked overtime. Back in school young bodies joined in the hard work. In Golfhill Primary, dancers Errol and Rachel led the pupils through a warm-up at a cracking pace. Breathless and smiling, the children survived a sequence of movements involving multiple shifts in direction and height. They managed not to bump into anyone and finished up facing the right way, thereby learning the importance in dance of concentration.

In groups the pupils tackled their first choreographic task. They had to link four hand gestures from Greig's piece, plus four they made up themselves with a slow and a fast movement, a roll and a hop. The menu was complex, but as natural leaders emerged in each group, form quickly grew out of chaos. "Wait the now," commanded one leader, 10-year-old Ryan McKinley, as he made sure his team members all started on time.

But, as well as strict timing and a coherent flow of movement, the pieces needed shapes other than the ubiquitous circle everyone seemed to want to adhere to in a search for communal comfort. Errol and Rachel helped out with suggestions that varied the floor patterns.

In the space of just half an hour, the results were impressively sophisticated. Two days later a full-blown dance work was ready to be performed to the school.

The pace of creation was tantamount to what Smith described as an "Anneka Rice" job. However, the residency is the last the company will do until next spring. "It's better to progress safely and cautiously," says Smith, who is just beginning the task of building up the reputation of Scottish Dance Theatre.

Smith herself has an impressive track record as a choreographer and teacher who led her own English-based touring company for many years. She gave up her job as a lecturer in dance at University College Bretton Hall to take on the Dundee challenge - one with an uncertain future, as a three-year franchise comes to an end in April.

Explaining the reasons for her "gamble", she says that "academia has helped me rehearse the arguments for dance. But I relish working with dancers in studios - and bringing dance to new audiences."

Scottish Dance Theatre, tel: 01382 223530

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