What’s it like to take a contemporary class with The Royal Ballet School? An interview with Didy Veldman
Every classically trained dancer needs to have a great comprehension and appreciation of contemporary movement, to understand the importance of being grounded and stable in order to feel release and expansion. It’s an exciting part of our curriculum at The Royal Ballet School, and now of our on-Demand platform.
Under the tutelage of the School’s Contemporary Programme Manager, Didy Veldman, students using our on-Demand platform will gain a strong foundation in contemporary technique with two classes available for ages 14+ and 16+. They can take classes on their own, or as part of an intensive course designed for their age group.
Didy was a professional dancer from 1986 until 2000 with Scapino Ballet in The Netherlands, Geneva Ballet, Alias Company in Switzerland (co-founder) and Rambert Dance Company, as well as an international choreographer since 2000 with 23 years of freelance experience.
She has created over 50 new works for 30 international companies, creating full evening story-telling works with symphony orchestras to smaller works as part of a triple bill. In 2016, she started her own dance company Humanoove based in London.
Didy has been invited to teach and choreograph for many schools including The Royal Ballet School, Prix de Lausanne, Paris Opera School, Jacobs Pillow in the USA, PNSD Rosella Hightower, Cannes, Palucca Hochschule in Germany, English National Ballet School, and Dutch National Ballet School.
We were delighted to welcome her as the School’s Contemporary Programme Manager in 2021.
What made you fall in love with contemporary dance?
The opportunity to work with a variety of choreographers and being able to participate in the creative process. The main thing was that I felt I could have a voice and my participation influenced the new work. Which I found very exciting.
You’ve built a contemporary programme for the students of the School. What are the central tenets, and what do the students love to learn?
We programme a variety of classes with professionals who are still very active in the contemporary field. The students get a real feel for what’s going on and the challenges that are involved in the current contemporary dance world.
Of course, I want the students to enjoy and learn more about movement and their own bodies, plus I want them to be challenged. For them to discover why they like certain styles or a specific teacher. Giving them a variety, I find really exciting. And you can see that they enjoy the challenge of constantly having to be alert to new approaches of movement or improvisation.
Would you say that’s the main thing the students love to learn in contemporary classes? Is it about doing something different?
Not only that, learning something new and different is always exciting don’t you find? It’s also about discovering new styles and working together during contact improvisation plus they have a fantastic musician that plays and improvises with them which is wonderful.
They’re offered freedom within boundaries, so it’s all about exploration. I can see growth and development which is what it is all about for me.
When you are guiding students through the study of contemporary dance, who do you tell them to look for inspiration?
What is so fantastic is that The Royal Ballet is doing a lot of contemporary works, so the students can see programmes with Crystal Pite, or they can see Wayne McGregor’s work, or Mats Ek.
My main aim is to see if I can get people in to come and work with them to teach them and hold workshops. So Wayne McGregor would come in, or dancers from Crystal Pite’s company would come in to work with them so that they have that direct access to material and how these people create.
And, of course, there’s so much more going on in London. There’s so much great work to see. What’s going on at Sadler’s Wells at present? What’s happening at The Place? Can I get people from Rambert Dance company to come over and teach?
The students can be super busy, though, so we’ll also watch videos of NDT II, for instance (a junior company from the Netherlands), where they do a lot of contemporary work, but they’re all trained as classical dancers.
It’s about constantly generating that inspiration and for the students to see what kind of works interest them or how the dancers move their bodies differently while working with all these different choreographers.
You created videos for our Intensive Courses on Demand platform for 14 + and 16 + students. What was that process like teaching to the camera?
I had a bit of experience during the lockdown. What’s interesting is that you want to share so much with the students at home. The difficult part is that you can’t give feedback.
But you try and give as much information as you can, and what’s lovely about these classes is that you can pause, you can rewind, you can look at it again, redo it, and discover other things. You can look at the students behind and figure out how they’re dancing in a slightly different manner because there’s a male and female dancer.
I had fun. There were some interesting challenges; to make sure that you don’t roll onto your microphone; stopping to take your earrings off because they’re clanging too loudly; or that the dancers had forgotten the exercise. We ended up doing it again and again — sometimes because we were laughing.
And what can students who tune into the video on-Demand platform expect from the class? Do they need, for example, to have lots of space at home to do floor work?
Space-wise we’re always adapting things, and I’m constantly giving suggestions. If you don’t have enough space, you can easily change it.