Empowering student voices – Assemblée Internationale 2023
Next week, four of our students and Artistic Director & CEO Christopher Powney will travel to Toronto for Assemblée Internationale 2023. Hosted by Canada’s National Ballet School, AI23 is a festival to empower young artists as leaders and creatives. This student-centred gathering aims to form meaningful connections between pre-professional dancers across the globe
Leading up to the event, there have been a series of online educational panels, keynotes, and discussions in preparation for the week. The festival will feature performances created by both professional and student choreographers, danced by a cast of students from participating schools. To conclude AI23, there will be a debrief establishing a clear call to action for moving into the future.
The focus this year is on anti-Black racism and changes that need to take place in the ballet world. As a School, we recognise it’s essential to evaluate how we can progress and better support equity, diversity and inclusion, so we’re thrilled to be taking part in this important event.
Pre-professional student Caspar Lench is involved in AI23’s student think tank. This diverse international group has been meeting regularly over Zoom to discuss and plan the AI23 event. They have worked together for several months and will be meeting in person next week. Caspar told us about what he’s been working on.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name’s Caspar. I’m in my final year at The Royal Ballet School. I’m half-Egyptian. I’m from Bristol. I like Taylor Swift!
How did you get involved with the AI23 Student Think Tank?
Last summer, (former Pre-professional student now dancing with Scottish Ballet) Ishan Mahabir-Stokes gave a talk to the 1st and 2nd Years about this project that he had been working on for AI23. As he was leaving the School at the end of the year, he wasn’t going to be able to continue working on it because of how busy his schedule would be and because it was a project for students. We discussed what the general idea of AI23 was going to be based on – anti-Black racism. I had an idea about it. At the start of this year, Mr Powney spoke to me and asked if I’d like to be a part of it. I contacted Ishan and he explained in depth what being involved would mean. Speaking with him inspired me to join. I started the think tank and the learning sessions around October and I’ve been doing it since then.
What kind of activities has the group been doing to achieve its goals?
We’ve been meeting every couple of weeks to discuss any general topics on racism and ballet, including the experiences of people in the group. Before I joined the think tank, they decided that they wanted to do some learning sessions to educate everyone who was going to be coming to Canada. We’ve had seven learning sessions since October. We also decided who we wanted to speak to, what outcomes we want, what topics we wanted to be covered, and what we felt was important.
Once the learning sessions started, we had sessions with one of the learning group members – they’re members of staff, but the organisation wanted it to be non-hierarchical. They hosted the sessions with various speakers. After the learning session, we debriefed within the student think tank. We discussed what we thought was interesting, what we learned, and what we are going to take from it, as a way to process our thoughts about what each session had taught us.
In the last few weeks, we’ve been planning how it’s going to work once we are in Canada for the week and what that’s going to look like.
Is there anything that the School has done to prepare you for this unique work?
I did my EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) around discrimination and prejudice. I think that definitely gave me a good basis of knowledge. I feel I learned a lot more about Black artists and choreographers in 2nd Year because of what the curriculum covers. In 1st Year, it’s more about the history of ballet, the Company, and the classical English style, whereas in 2nd Year we got to look more into contemporary; the breadth and scope of contemporary are so much bigger and gives more opportunity to learn about different artists and different realms of dance. The School’s also been great at giving us access to the learning sessions and making time for people to watch and catch up, even if they’re not going to Canada.
What do you hope comes from the work you’ve put in?
I’m hoping that we can – I don’t want to say come up with a plan because that feels quite prescriptive. I don’t think you can come up with a step-by-step plan, but maybe a set of actions.
There are 37 schools that are going to be meeting in Canada, so that’s a lot of people from all over the world.
I think it would help the students to decide how we want to combat anti-Black racism on an individual basis. We learned in one of the sessions about how each person making a conscious effort to fight it has a big reach and effect. It’s the idea that you have your own six-foot bubble and how you have to make sure that in your bubble you’re holding those values strong.
I’m hoping that we can have conversations, learn a lot about people’s experiences from all over the globe and how they differ, and what we can learn – good things and bad.
Has anything surprised you about being part of the think tank?
I’m pretty surprised with how much I feel I’ve got to know the student think tank. Considering I’ve only met people on Zoom, I’m very excited to meet them all in person. I think it’s quite a unique thing to have spent however many hours we’ve spent in conversation with people and you’ve never actually met them. We only know each other through something that’s been set up through our schools but we’ve all become close. I’m so glad to be a part of this particular group. That’s something that surprised me. I didn’t think I would feel so excited to meet them and grateful to have met them virtually.
What are you looking forward to about being in Toronto with your peers?
I’m looking forward to meeting the student think tank.
I’m very excited to get to dance in collaboration. Different people from different schools will all be dancing in the same pieces. I’m doing a piece with some students from the Hamburg School, from National Bay Canada and Canada’s National Ballet School. I’m really looking forward to getting to do that in the studio. We’ve been learning the choreography on Zoom and I’m looking forward to being able to put it together and be there with all those different artists.
I can’t wait to have conversations with everyone and make time for them. I think there’s not always much effort put into that area. I think it’s a great thing that this initiative is happening and we’re pushing to have these conversations. And I’ve never been to Toronto!