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Celebrating ten years of mapdance

It is the eclectic fusion of intricate lyrical choreography, fast-paced athleticism, and wry humour which renders performers of mapdance a cut above the rest. 

 

The illustrious company is an amalgamation of master’s students from our University that has, since its inception in 2006, established itself as one of the leading postgraduate dance groups throughout the UK and beyond. Now, after ten years of touring the world, we sit down with its celebrated performers and directors to talk about a decade of dance and its forthcoming anniversary celebrations.

From its outset, a multitude of silhouetted dancers standing firm against a bright backdrop perform in simultaneous gestural sequences, twisting and turning before reforming, echoing the influences of famed compositions fashioned by renowned choreographers. This, the opening of the company’s latest repertoire, is part of a touring evening of works celebrating the ten-year anniversary of mapdance, says Dr Yael Flexer, a previous recipient of the prestigious Jerwood award and current senior lecturer at Chichester. 

“The company developed from a longstanding tradition of study in dance, but has grown considerably in the past ten years,” adds Dr Flexer. “It offers students a chance to develop their practice as performers within an international touring company and engage in cutting-edge research to develop themselves as professional artists.

“The various approaches to dance we teach propel our students onto an incredibly strong position within the industry after graduating. The industry itself has changed beyond recognition since we started in 2006 - this is why it is so important to hold a diverse repertoire, and that is what we can provide.”

The company’s latest performance has been crafted in part by eminent choreographer Richard Alston, as well as other notable performers including Liz Aggiss, Kevin Finnan, and Abi Mortimer, among others. It is part of anniversary celebrations held at the University in March which have been planned by directors Dr Flexer and Detta Howe, herself an experienced artist. 

mapdance – note the lowercase m – prides itself on developing its students, who graduate with a critical understanding of the theoretical approaches of dance. This is achieved through taught performances led by its experienced staff – including Dr Flexer and Ms Howe – and a series of visiting artists, many of whom are industry frontrunners.

There is also another strand to the programme: to develop its students as independent researchers capable of developing their own work within the profession. This falls in line with the University’s larger objective of exploring innovative research to ensure that mapdance remains among the leading voices within the industry.

As such, the company adopts a broad approach to performance-making by welcoming a group of no more than 15 experienced dancers of differing nationalities each year. This, according to the University’s Head of Dance Cathy Childs, is essential to ensure the company brings an invigorating mix, and one which appeals to seasoned dance viewers and new audiences alike.

She adds: “The principle that creative practices can be as rigorous a mode of researching as more conventional methodologies underpins our approach. But we also ensure that our postgraduates gain a foothold from our researchers and industry-leading performers. This gives our students the opportunity to investigate their own practices as performers.”

The most recent venture saw the students collaborate with several notable performers - including contemporary choreographer Richard Alston - for their forthcoming tour to be held at venues across the UK and Europe. The British artisan returned to Chichester late last year to host the dance masterclass more than a decade on from receiving an honorary master’s degree from the University.

Professor Alston is not the only guest star leading on the 2016 repertoire, and other notable visiting lecturers include the popular Liz Aggiss, Kevin Finnan from touring firm Motionhouse, Abi Mortimer, co-founder of southern-based company Lîla Dance, as well as international independent choreographers Israel Aloni and Lee Brummer. mapdance also plans to work with leading choreographer Shobana Jeysingh, whose renowned work created a genre from the classical Indian dance Bharatanatya. A prestigious figure in British and international dance, Dr Jeysingh is also a recipient of an honorary doctorate from Chichester.

“Working intensively with international guest ensures students develop technical and performance skills that deepen their understanding of the creative process,” adds Detta Howe, a director of the postgraduate programme. “Such creative practices generate critical reflections and illuminate more subtle details of their research.”

The senior lecturer is another example of elite academic and professional experience found within the company and is a practitioner of the Feldenkrais technique, which she is passing onto her students. The philosophy has, since its inception as a method of reducing muscular pain, developed into a profound exploration of awareness, efficiency, and presence within performance, which enables its students to understand their own potential.

The research of Ms Howe and the additional University lecturers provide a solid foundation which is welcomed by the postgraduate students, none more so than promising performer Carmine De Amicis, who is now working with famed London-based troupe Tavaziva. The 27-year-old, who graduated from the company late last year, says:

“The opportunity to be part of mapdance has been one of the best experiences of my life, and I will always be grateful to have had the chance to study at Chichester. It made me feel proud of my work, which is still going on.”

A growing reputation for its professional shows and nurturing upcoming talent has ensured that mapdance is a popular booking on the international circuit throughout its touring calendar, from February to May, which this year includes Gibraltar, Sweden, and the Jackson’s Lane theatre in London.

Its director Adrian Berry says: “mapdance is very much one of the leading players in terms of graduate performance of contemporary dance.
It transcends what we may perceive to
be student dance and held its own in terms of disciplined, focussed, and innovative work from a very accomplished young ensemble.”

The mapdance ten-year anniversary celebrations are being held throughout 2016 and will include a unique event at the University on Saturday 12 March, which will see the return of a number of alumni of the company.

To find out more about mapdance, including its upcoming performances, visit www.mapdance.org. Alternatively for more about studying for a postgraduate degree with the company at our University go to www.chi.ac.uk/dance