National Youth Dance Company’s Hannah Kirkpatrick “I don’t think anything can prepare you for that feeling of 1500 people on their feet cheering for you”

NYDC Experience Workshops 2018

National Youth Dance Company (NYDC), is the country’s flagship organisation for young dancers run by Sadler’s Wells Theatre.

NYDC attracts talented artists, providing unique opportunities for dancers to work with choreographers such as Botis Seva, who is the company’s next Guest Artistic Director.

From May to July, NYDC are running their Experience Workshops across England, where dancers can find out more about the company.

Young dancers can take part in a company class, take part in creative tasks, and learn repertoire from NYDC productions. Participants can also meet the company dancers, ask questions and get advice on dance training and career options.

Experience Workshops are also an important opportunity to be considered for a place in the 2018-19 company, which is open to dancers from all backgrounds and abilities, with experience in any dance style.

Alison Roberts-Tse asked NYDC General Manager Hannah Kirkpatrick about the company and the workshops:

The National Youth Dance Company turns seven this year. Who came up with the concept for the Experience Workshops, and when were they introduced?

We have been running Experience Workshops since the company was first founded in 2012. The initial concept came from Jane Hackett who was Artistic Programmer and Producer of Sadler’s Well’s Creative Learning Department at the time. We felt very strongly that the workshops should be much more than an audition, they should be a chance for as many young dancers as possible to find out about the company, learn some of the repertoire and experience what it is like to be in the company.

Experience Workshops encourage participation from dancers of all backgrounds with experience in any dance style. How do you select dancers to participate?

The workshops are open to any dancer with experience in any dance style.  The only criteria is that participants should be aged 15-18, or up to the age of 24 for deaf and disabled dancers, however sometimes we will try and fit younger dancers into the workshop if we have space- but priority goes to the dancers who are within the right age bracket to join the company. Workshops are first come, first served.

National Youth Dance Company. Photo by Gigi Giannella
National Youth Dance Company. Photo by Gigi Giannella

What type of insight will dancers gain from participating in the Experience Workshops that they may not receive anywhere else?

Firstly they get to meet some of the current company members and find out what life is like in NYDC, then they get to learn some of the repertoire from our company productions. We also always talk to the participants about careers and pathways in dance as at each workshop we have a lead artist plus a guest artist who is usually from the local area. It’s a great opportunity for the dancers to find out about the many varied routes into dance and ask any questions that they might have.

One of the benefits of being in the company is that you meet people from different backgrounds and training routes and I think this is also an important part of the workshops. It’s a chance to meet other people your age who love dance but might have a very different style or experience to you.

In some cases, Experience Workshops can lead to an audition and an invitation to join the 30-strong cast of the National Youth Dance Company. What personal qualities and performance qualities do you seek in each dancer?

This is a hard question. We see so many talented dancers but only have space for 30 which makes it very difficult. I think one of the things that our company dancers have in common is that they are all courageous enough to just step into the space and give something a try. They are inquisitive and open minded enough to just try new things and give every experience their all. We do also look for musicality, coordination, expression and the other skills that are key for a dancer but I think the person is what is really important for us.

National Youth Dance Company. Photo by Gigi Giannella
National Youth Dance Company. Photo by Gigi Giannella

Choreographer Botis Seva will take the reins as the company’s Guest Artistic Director this year. How are choreographers chosen to facilitate the programme?

We put a huge amount of thought into who our Guest Artistic Directors are. They are selected from the Sadler’s Wells Associate Artists and visiting companies. We look for choreographers who have experience of creating work for a large stage like Sadler’s Wells and who have the skills to work with a large group.

Obviously the quality of the end product, the production, is really key but just as important is the process that the choreographers use and their generosity to allow the dancers into their creative process.

We also want to choose choreographers who we feel are making work that will really challenge the company and push the boundaries for youth dance, plus choreographers who are different from the previous year to encourage a diversity of  style in the same was as we do with our company members.

What are the major lessons and and biggest highlights that the 2017 – 2018 cohort has experienced while creating and performing a piece with the National Youth Dance Company?

The obvious highlight was the premiere. I don’t think anything can prepare you for that feeling of the curtain coming down and hearing 1500 people on their feet cheering for you. It was very emotional.

Another highlight was Sharon and her team. Their generosity and care with the dancers has been really wonderful. For all the company Sharon’s movement style was something totally different to anything they had done before so to have this opportunity was fantastic. Sharon’s artists led Gaga class every morning as company class.

This was a real honour as there are a relatively small number of Gaga teachers out there and for the majority of the company it was their first experience of this movement practice.

I think major lessons for the company are taking responsibility for yourself – as NYDC creates a piece in such a short amount of time everyone has to take responsibility for the work and make sure they are fully focused otherwise they will let the rest of the company down.

The dancers also gained an insight into how much hard work and dedication is needed as a professional dancer, they do very long days and there is no time for rest once you are in the studio.

How do the dancers of each National Youth Dance Company cohort interact with and support each other?

It’s very important that the company form a tight bond, but this is quite an easy process when you are living and working together as one group and the process is so intense.

The dancers all come from such different backgrounds and different areas of the company but the one thing that unites them is their love of dance and their commitment to the piece and making it as good as it can possibly be. They live and breathe dance.

It is a very common occurrence to find the dancers using the studios in their breaks to try out new movement, to teach each other different dance styles or just to improvise and dance together. That’s one of my favourite moments.

Experience Workshops are running across England until 8 of July, for more information and booking visit