Contemporary Dancer Eliot Smith: A Reflective and Forward-Thinking Experimentalist

British born Eliot Smith is a notorious advocate of the artistic mode of contemporary dance. He is a distinguished and progressive artist who continues to remain discernible on both the UK and international dance circuit. 

Eliot is the founding Artistic Director, as well as the backbones of his dance company, Eliot Smith Dance (ESD). Founded in 2012, ESD was primarily set-up on the premise of Eliot wishing to articulate his own voice and “to develop a repertoire in the North East that appealed to rural and not only urban-based audiences” and to “increase a sense of audience engagement in the arts particularly in this region of the country.”

ESD continues today to impart an all-encompassing vision that is rooted and positioned within the creation of unforgettable contemporary dance experiences. It is these encounters that inspire the individual, in turn helping to nurture both internal and external development and growth.

Eliot Smith Dance. “Onward” by Jake Vincent. Dancer: Eliot Smith. Photo by Darren Irwin

Further, it is this notion of expanding and extending ones knowledge, skills and understanding of contemporary dance and movement vocabulary that continues to drive Eliot’s motivation and momentum on both a progressive and experimental journey. 

Eliot’s endeavours are positioned within a contemporary tradition that privilege strength and physical speed, thus engaging with a modernist lexis that comprises of rich, textured and layered narratives.

Eliot has created work (both for himself and for ESD) that has focused on thematic concerns, such as identity and gender, the value of art and objects, the relationship between the human and nature and the courageous and respected labours of the NHS staff, and how their efforts impact on the present-day climate. 

Eliot Smith Dance. “Messiah” by Mark Baldwin OBE. Dancer: Yamit Salazar. Photo by Eliot Smith.

Many gifted choreographers, dancers and students have worked with both Eliot and his company including Rosie Kay, Balbir Singh, Sooraj Subramaniam, Maggie Boogart and Mark Baldwin OBE (to name just a few). And, it is through these encounters with these renowned artists that in turn help to enhance the rich dance syntax that Eliot is constantly evolving within his own postmodern practises and performances. 

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, ESD has continued to place the safety and wellbeing of their audiences and all who work for the company at the heart of such difficult and uncertain times.

As a result, the company has adjusted its series of programmes to allow audiences to observe its performative constructions through the means of virtual and digital media. This is because Eliot mentions that “right from day one of the first lockdown and and throughout the second one, we have wanted to continue to remain proactive during these peculiar and challenging times…and to be honest we’re not doing anything different to what we’ve always done. We’re still undertaking and fulfilling our planned activities for each of the seasons but we’re simply lifting the performances from the stage and placing them online. That’s really the only difference and that’s because at ESD we firmly believe that people still need to access the arts and culture.”

Eliot Smith Dance. “Troy” by Eliot Smith. Dancer: Adam Davies. Photo by Darren Irwin.

Commissioned by ESD, and choreographed by Eliot Smith (as well as funded and supported by Arts Council England), ‘TroY’ is one of three new works that can be seen on your digital screen this December.

With an all-male cast of four dancers and taking its inspiration from the classical Greek narrative – Helen of Troy – this reworking of this ancient story centres on key matters that are of relevance to today’s twenty-first century person. These ideas incorporate thoughts on identity, sex and gender. Eliot explains, “I hope to highlight the fascination with this particular mythology and how we look at Helen, comparing it with our attitude to same-gender relationships today, and showing how people of the same gender may fall in love but society may not readily accept them” for who they are (as mentioned on ESD’s website). “The key then is that TroY exemplifies how crucial the idea of acceptance really is, and with the current pandemic those people for example who are learning to come to terms with their identity are amidst a space of isolation and loneliness, and with this work, I hope to reach out to people and say that ‘you’re not alone’ and to remain strong and proud of yourself.”

The premiere of ‘TroY’, plus to two other works ‘Messiah’ choreographed by Mark Baldwin OBE and ‘Onward’ by Jake Vincent will be showing on Thursday 3 December 2020 at 8pm (GMT).

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Cover photo: Eliot Smith Dance. “TroY” by Eliot Smith. Dancers: Eliot Smith and Yamit Salazar. Photo by Darren Irwin.