From Ailey Intensive to Rambert Dance Company by Matthew Rawcliffe

I began The Lowry CAT (Centre for Advanced Training) scheme in 2014 during my last year of high school. Having been involved with many youth theatre and musical companies I had always really enjoyed movement and was keen to pursue this. The CAT scheme offered 12 hours of dance training a week in ballet, contemporary and Pilates – when watching the graduates of the previous year the standard and style of what they did and how they moved felt miles away from anything I could achieve. As a young male, dance can be a very terrifying concept which for a long time felt really alien in my body. Over my three years training with The Lowry CAT, the standard of professional dance companies being brought to the North West fuelled my ambition and passion for dance. In October 2016, this was the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) presented by Dance Consortium. Two months earlier I had begun studying AAADT as part of my A-Levels, and sitting with other dancers who took part in the Dance Consortium & Dance East Ailey Intensive in August 2016 (in collaboration with AAADT and the National CAT scheme), and finally seeing the company in the flesh, was a powerful and emotional experience for me.

Over the year at CAT we are presented with many opportunities, from performances, workshops and photoshoots all within a yearlong choreographic process led by a professional company. The timing of Dance Consortium touring the AAADT could not have been more fitting and the Intensive was the perfect opportunity to transition in to a final year at CAT, a year to finalise and look forward to the next stage in our journey to our respective careers.  Over the course of the Intensive, Ailey’s rehearsal director Matthew Rushing, asked everyday ‘What are your blues?’ for him this emotional connection to the historical context of Ailey’s choreography was much more important than any technical facility or ability during performance. I think Matthew’s approach to sharing the legacy of the company was truly exceptional. On the first day of the Intensive he takes his iPhone around the 45 dancers recording each saying their name and by the second day he has learnt every single one. For me he provides a masterclass in the art of being a dancer, by focusing on the emotional and individual identity of each young person he draws out a much more thoughtful and considered dancer, and this creates a truly special community of dancers pushing themselves and each other in a genuine and heart-warming way.

The Intensive was broken into three components- guided by AAADT’s ethos of celebrating the past, present and future. We looked back to the past through repertoire of the company’s earliest works – ‘Blues Suite’ which was their first work, and ‘Revelations’ which is their most significant, as well as learning movement we watched old footage and reflected on this as a group. We looked at the diversity of the present-day company under the artistic directorship of Robert Battle, learning Rennie Harris’ hip-hop concert dance style and looked to the future in five student choreographies, in which one dancer worked with nine dancers all from different CAT programs and created a short work. I was selected as one of the choreographers and explored the same themes I was using for my audition solo for conservatoire training – expanding this onto many bodies was such a valuable and important experience and the impact this had on the performance of my solo when later used at auditions for 2017 conservatoire intakes was invaluable.

When auditioning it was great to see friends I had made on the Ailey Intensive, although well outside the context of the richness of the heritage of the African American experience, that same sense of spirit was an amazing thing to have within the context of the terrifying and often very isolating audition room.  Although I am undoubtedly not the most flexible, technical or strongest of dancers, it is through artists such as Matthew Rushing, my CAT tutors and opportunities they offer such as access to the Ailey Intensive, that have supported me in finding a growing confidence in the skills I do have to offer – and after the completion of my auditions I was offered a place at Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance which I have been over the moon to accept.

By MR – Summer 2017 Ailey Intensive participants with teacher and Matthew Rushing's assistant Alexandra Johnson - photo Rachel Cherry (web)

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