FREEFALL DANCE COMPANY CELEBRATES ITS FIRST TEN YEARS
Freefall Dance Company, a partnership between Birmingham Royal Ballet and Fox Hollies Performing Arts College, enters its second decade high on the success of the first
In 2012 the company was an integral part of Mencap’s hugely successful Cultural Olympiad project WE DANCE, creating a brand new commission and a short film shown at the 2012 Normal Festival in Prague
Freefall’s forthcoming performances look back at the last ten years and forward to an exciting future
Led by former Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers and staff from Fox Hollies Performing Arts College, Freefall Dance Company was founded in 2002 to provide opportunities for dancers of school-leaving age with severe learning disabilities. Members are invited to join in recognition of their talent, creativity and enthusiasm for dance. This enthusiasm emanates throughout the company’s performances, and was particularly evident this year in Mencap’s Cultural Olympiad project, WE DANCE. Freefall’s forthcoming 10th anniversary performances at Birmingham Hippodrome’s Patrick Centre on Thursday 31 January and Friday 1 February 2013 will premiere a new piece and revisit work from the last decade.
Lee Fisher, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Head of Creative Learning and Artistic Director of Freefall, said: “Everyone involved in Freefall is really proud of what’s been achieved over the last ten years and equally excited about plans for the next decade. The 10th anniversary performance promises to be a great night, reflecting the past as well as future ambitions.”
The first ten years have seen Freefall go from strength to strength, culminating in an exceptionally busy 2012. Partnering Mencap in their Cultural Olympiad/Big Dance project WE DANCE brought the company fresh challenges as trainers, mentors and creative dance practitioners. Freefall was instrumental in facilitating this grass roots dance scheme, which saw hundreds of people with a learning disability take part in dance workshops across the West Midlands. In addition, they created a specially-themed commission, ‘The Clean Sweep’, performed at the WE DANCE festival in July at mac Birmingham. Reflecting the excitement of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the story begins with a humble stadium cleaner starting his daily chores and then transports the audience through a range of archery and swimming events, on to the pentathlon and hammer throwing.
Freefall also made a five minute Dance for Camera film which was shown on the 22 BBC Big Screens throughout the UK during the Paralympics. The film has been submitted to a number of international dance festivals and disability festivals with extremely positive feedback and has already been shown in the 2012 Normal festival in Prague.
Gus Garside, national arts development manager for MENCAP, said “Freefall always astound me in the articulacy of their movement, especially remarkable for a group of individuals who are, in relative terms, verbally less articulate than most. Freefall were central to Mencap’s hugely successful Cultural Olympiad project WE DANCE as trainers and mentors but most importantly as dancers. They worked with us on a Dance for Camera film that, according to BBC estimates, was viewed by 1.5 million people and is scheduled to be shown at dance festivals around the world. And they created the highly entertaining WE DANCE commission ‘The Clean Sweep’ that was enjoyed by theatregoers at our festival and in the centre of Coventry and Birmingham in July and August 2012.”
The success of Freefall Dance Company opens up opportunities for its members to act as role models and inspire other young people. To accommodate demand, Junior Freefall was established as an out-of-hours dance club open to gifted, talented and enthusiastic pupils from Fox Hollies, aged 11-19 years. Current Freefaller Josef Reed was a founding member of Junior Freefall and joined the main company in 2009. His mother, Joanne, says: “Josef has lived and breathed dance for as long as I can remember. Dance has helped Josef with his communication, concentration, movement, muscle tone and posture. When he performs he comes alive. There’s a little spark of joy there… I hope that he’ll always have Freefall.”
After a hectic year, there’s no rest for Freefall whose next performance, ‘Freefall’s 10 and ¾ – Looking back and moving forward’, takes place at the end of January. With a curtain raiser from Junior Freefall, and a showing of the Dance for Camera film, the evening offers another chance to see the popular ‘Seaside Rendezvous’, an abstract piece created in 2011, inspired by Freddie Mercury, the music of Queen, bygone holidays at the coast, and the saucy postcards of Donald McGill. The company will also premiere its latest work, ‘Chairs’, also abstract and incorporating a variety of different dance styles.
The first public performance of ‘Freefall’s 10 and ¾’ takes place on Thursday 31st January 2013 at 7pm, at the Patrick Centre, Birmingham Hippodrome, followed by a matinee performance and PGCE workshop/lecture at 1pm on Friday 1 February 2013. Tickets priced £6 are available from Birmingham Hippodrome box office on 0844 338 5000 or online.
Freefall Dance Company is supported by generous donations from charitable trusts and foundations. Supporters play a vital role in funding the work of Birmingham Royal Ballet, including small and large-scale schools and community programmes, the creation of new classical ballets and dancer welfare, injury prevention and research.
Freefall Dance Company
Freefall Dance Company is an innovative and collaborative initiative between Birmingham Royal Ballet and Fox Hollies Performing Arts College. It comprises Birmingham Royal Ballet staff, freelance artists, senior teachers and teaching assistants and a group of ten highly gifted dancers with severe learning disabilities. It was established in September 2002 and remains a ground-breaking initiative.
Freefall meets weekly for two hours at Birmingham Royal Ballet studios. The sessions are highly structured and are equally divided between formal ballet technique training and choreographic work. Freefall is a fine example of collaborative and distributive leadership. This ensures genuine ownership by the company of all its choreography, and allows the dancers to contribute their own ideas therefore reflecting their unique style and creativity.
Fox Hollies Performing Arts College
Fox Hollies is a local authority maintained special school for pupils aged 11-19 years. All of its pupils experience great difficulty in learning basic skills, and the school works with them and their parents or carers to understand and minimise them. Most things are taught in very small steps that ensure success. The classes are of a size (typically nine pupils based with a teacher and two teaching assistants) that enables the staff to get to know each pupil really well. Each class contains pupils who are usually of the same age, and pupils progress through the school in their year group that includes pupils of a wide range of needs. Fox Hollies aims to offer a personalised curriculum to each of its pupils. It focuses closely on individual education plans that are informed by the pupils themselves and their parents or carers who take part in annual review meetings and transition planning.
Fox Hollies is a specialist college for the Performing Arts and over many years has seen significant benefits from engagement in quality arts education and enrichment activities. Arts education is of significant benefit to pupils of all abilities, providing exciting experiences and a stimulating medium for learning through dance, drama, music and art. The school has seen this produce huge gains in pupils’ confidence, communication and social skills; its success extends and enhances resources and opportunities for all pupils and provides a rich diet of community based and out of hours learning. Performing Arts have enriched the whole curriculum and informed teaching of other subjects with many techniques such as interactive storytelling, role-play and scene setting in widespread use across the school. Through its specialist status Fox Hollies is further developing and consolidating its links with other schools, a range of activities that extend beyond school day and term-time, better resources and staff training in the arts.
We Dance is Mencap’s Cultural Olympiad/Big Dance project, run in partnership with Birmingham Royal Ballet, Freefall Dance Company, mac Birmingham, Fox Hollies Performing Arts College and Midlands Mencap. A dance festival with and for people with learning disabilities, the programme included training for dance teachers, a series of schools and community based workshops, and a two day performance and workshop festival held at mac Birmingham.