Rose Alice, Dancer & Choreographer & Creative Director of International Arts Collective

Rose Alice. Photo by by Nik Pate.

Dancer, Choreographer, Creative Director of the International Arts Collective Rose Alice has forged an inspiring dance career spanning classical, commercial projects, film, fashion and more working with renowned artists and brands.

Originally from Australia, Rose Alice received a scholarship to continue her classical training in France, she was also a Prix de Lausanne finalist and finally settled in London and has danced and created work across the world from New York, Hong Kong and Singapore.

We interviewed Rose Alice on our podcast show, which you can listen to here (or on iTunes and all other apps). Below is some highlights of our wonderful chat.

You grew up in Australia, tell me about your dance journey?

I grew up in Australia until I was about 12 or 13 and then I trained in France and Switzerland. Then I worked in Asia for a few years, I was in New York for a while. And then just over four years ago I decided to call London home and I have been here ever since. I’ve had the luxury and the privilege of working with corporate and events companies as well as other choreographers, and collaborations with musicians. I’ve had a very unconventional career, but an incredibly fulfilling one. Personally I feel very fortunate to have had the journey that I have.

You have danced and trained around the world and you’ve worked in many different environments with different choreographers. How has this influenced you as a dancer and as a creator?

I’m very, very, very grateful that I am a classically trained dancer. That’s my first and foremost. However about 9 years ago, I just got to a point where I thought, I wanted to explore a little bit more of my own creation. And I happened to be in Asia at the time, working in Hong Kong and Singapore and China with people that were a little bit more on the commercial side of things, that hadn’t really worked with ballet people before as much. And so, we formed this really interesting kind of dialogue through movement from these two different parts of the industry.

I really feel like from that point I kind of catapulted into growing into the artist that I am now. Which is just an incredibly outside-the-box, classically-trained, contemporary, mover, human being. I feel incredibly empowered I think even if it’s not always seen on a stage or on film, but that I have that creative freedom and I’ve got the foundation of a very strong and very classical technique to give me the freedom to be able to collaborate on stage and film with artists that are in all genres. Which has also obviously led me to be able to start a company that can celebrate the originality of different artists as well within the collaboration.

I think I’ve always been a collaborator at heart with people in general, but in the past few years, it’s become really clear to me that what fuels me is collaborating with musicians and with the dancers that aren’t of my background and people that can do things that I can’t do. I get inspired by things that I haven’t seen or I haven’t done or that I can find some kind of synchronicity with to create something that potentially hasn’t been done before or something that, even if it has been done before, feels original to the people in the room.

Rose Alice. Photo by Sasha Louise
Rose Alice. Photo by Sasha Louise

What inspired you to start creating your own work in the first place?  

Even from a young age I’d get into the studio and improvise until midnight and those kinds of things. And then when I got to London it was a bit of a shift for me as to where I wanted to sit within the industry. And I realised that in a very short time I had some incredible opportunities; people gravitate towards me. That gave me a platform or the opportunity to create on them or to create with them. And from there I almost caught a bug.

I love creating work for myself or work on other people. And that, for me now, I find more fulfilling than just the dancing. If I can choreograph something and perform it, for me it’s a different level of freedom in a way. In saying that I still love to be created on, but it’s just a very different kind of euphoria when you have complete freedom of the whole process.

But I don’t think it was a moment where I actually thought, “Oh, I want to choreograph now.” It was kind of a natural progression, it was very much a natural progression into doing this.

How would you describe your choreography and your work?

I think it is quite extreme, physically. So I’d say that it’s very much New York style contemporary ballet, on a technical level, but with a more human approach, in the sense that I don’t always do a narrative or follow a narrative. I’m very much emotion-led in how I operate as a human and also how I create as well. So I think that it is very physically extreme, but coming from a very raw place.

So it’s somewhere between a narrative and something abstract. I kind of sit in the middle of that. Because it’s not that there isn’t a storyline, but I always want an audience or whoever is watching to take their own version of it. I don’t want to give someone a story. I think it is contemporary ballet physically pushing the limits of the human body, somewhat shocking. But then just being very much fuelled by whatever emotion is key at that point in time, as opposed to having to do lots of steps. I think the steps, again, it’s a progression of whatever that emotional or thought process is.

You’ve chosen to work with interesting artists and DJs, tell me about the musical collabs.

I realised, again, a few years ago that I obviously draw inspiration from dancers, but it was the musicians that were even just the accompanying ballet classes and things like that, that I really felt this really strong connection to. And for me, it’s the most fulfilling thing in the creative process, to actually compose with musicians.

I am very fortunate to work with two incredible pianists, Al Macsween and Meg Morley, who are a bit like me in the training sense. They trained in classical and jazz but they both do world music, they do improvisation, they do all these things. So there’s this freedom, this new found freedom when you get into a studio and have a jam, basically. It’s literally my favourite thing to do, get in the studio with a couple of musicians and just improvise. And they improvise and I improvise. And then we find these common hooks or these things that we can then evolve into something.

And again, all of these people that I work with have just been playing for a ballet class or I’ve seen them at one of their gigs and I’ve gone up and been the crazy person that’s like, “Do you want to make something?” And then from there I’m having some wonderful friendships. There’s this newfound creative connection which takes my work to another level. And I like to think that gives them a bit of freedom as well, to also play around with the different type of [sound]. Not always just only with musicians, that you need to jam with dancers and stuff as well.

So it keeps it interesting and I feel like it makes the work a bit more alive, if that makes sense. There’s a different kind of energy when you have a musician on stage with you, not in an orchestra pit or anything like that, like if they’re literally standing next to you or sat next to you. there is just a different kind of energy to bring, which is really special.

Rose Alice. Photo by by Nik Pate.
Rose Alice. Photo by by Nik Pate.

And these collaborations have led to you working in a number of different mediums doing some really exciting projects. What have been some of the highlights for you so far?  

I’d have to say producing my two shows in London is definitely up there, even though they’re not long projects. That’s been really special. But then also I did a collaboration with Zhang Yimou and CPG Concepts, which was in China last year. I basically danced with 600 kinetic lights with a team called WHITEvoid from Berlin. And this collaboration was me dancing with 600 kinetic lights, basically chasing me around.And with those kind of elements, it’s a completely different thought process.

It’s a completely different in respect and understanding of what other creatives in the tech world also can bring to a piece. And you know, that was quite spectacular, to work alongside the creatives that CPG Concepts. They’re friends of mine, we’ve been working together for years. But then to have a visionary like Zhang Yimou do a theatre show for the first time ever, and to have the privilege of closing his show with this team of kinetic lights, it’s just like one of those things where you have to pinch yourself and go, “Wow! That happened.” Yes, it’s definitely not been boring!

Tell us about your interest in film, dance, tech… 

I think it’s interesting, I’ve had many conversations, I actually did a project for the Victoria and Albert Museum, which was a collaboration with robotics. I sat with the engineers in a factory in Manchester and actually choreographed robots. And then we did 82 shows myself and Merritt Moore, in 10 days within the London Design Festival. And it was really interesting because that process was like, what those robots and those people can do, my mind is just blown. But what’s really interesting is that they still cannot function without some kind of human input. And I like to think that even though these technical aspects and robot or holograms or kinetic lights or even some tech music and everything like that, it still cannot be done without without a human element.

So, trying to play around with utilising both sides to their maximum without letting one overpower the other, I think is any artists now, anyone that’s doing collaborations will understand that’s a massive thing. You don’t want to overpower the phenomenal technology that is in front of you. But at the same time, it wouldn’t be a creation without an original idea from a human being. Even if we can’t do what robots can do, robots wouldn’t exist without humans thinking to make them. I truly believe that it’s going to take stages, arena shows, and all of those kind of things to the next level. But I also love that none of that can happen without some kind of human effort. So that’s a really big thing for me.

Oh, and film, I never planned to work on film. I have been fortunate and blessed enough to have done multiple music videos with a few people when I first moved to London. And from there I managed to develop some really nice relationships with directors, photographers and cinematographers that I was working with. And I then created my first feature film, which I had the whole company in at the beginning of the year. And I’ve done a couple of other projects, which haven’t been released yet, that has been quite breathtaking in every sense. It’s been a big learning curve for me that I actually genuinely love to choreograph for film more than stage.  

Rose Alice. Photo by by Nik Pate.
Rose Alice. Photo by by Nik Pate.

What is the appeal of film versus stage?

Because film is timeless. In a sense it’s more timeless. Also, I get very nervous. Most people wouldn’t say that, but I get so incredibly nervous before I perform that it takes a little bit of the enjoyment out of it. Whereas, if you’re working on film, it’s a constant back and forth between you and the director. There’s multiple takes. You might do the same thing 25 times over 15 hours, but you have this constant creative process, even when it’s finished. And that, for me, is really interesting.

Because most dancers, you rehearse and then you perform and then it’s finished. Whereas with film, it’s kind of ongoing. Even when it’s done, a lot of the time it gets taken to festivals. So there’s still always something around it, which I find is all of the good parts for me.

I like the grit of this industry and the dancers. I would happily be in a studio with some musicians and a couple of dancers for the rest of my life. So for me, film is the closest thing to that. Or working on film is the closest thing to that. And we get to bring things to life, so, very exciting.

How does it change your process as a creator? Do you think it changes your work or your inspiration?

Absolutely. Yeah, I think there needs to be a different approach to whatever the actual physical stuff is. Because you have to make sure that you’re only showing what’s seen. You don’t have the luxury of that on stage, because everything is seen. So I think it takes a lot more time. But it also gives you this really interesting way to be able to show people what’s in your head. You can you can be a little bit more selective as to you know, “Okay, at this point in time I only want to see her right eye.” Whereas on stage, unless you have incredible lighting, you can’t always do that. Whereas with film, if you have a nice relationship with your crew, you can make those things happen. Which can then, I think, really change the end product.

You founded the International Arts Collective in 2015 (previously called the London Contemporary Ballet Theatre), tell me about that..

I just felt at some point in time that I didn’t want to fight not quite fitting in artistically. And I found that I had quite a few like-minded others starting to gravitate towards me, even just to do classes or workshops, or even just to get in the studio and play.

And I thought with the volume of people that I worked with and clients that I had abroad, and thought maybe I can start something and I can shift the way that dancers have freedom, or the way that they’re treated and a lot of things like that, because I’m still in it. I [then] spoke to a couple of my clients overseas and within a week actually, after calling them and- I mean it’s not even a company – they were like, “Coo, can you fly to China with eight girls in a week, for Tiffany and Co.?” And I was like, “Oh, yes. I’ll give you a call.”

What inspired you to found and evolve the International Arts Collective?

It’s been quite a fight for me, because obviously we don’t have any funding or anything like that, apart from the shows we do we for our clients. But when I did Human, my first production in 2016 and then Three in June, that’s completely about the people involved and about sharing what we do with an audience.

I have sacrificed and risked everything personally to make sure that there’s nothing but good energy and good rapport within the team and what’s put out, like all of those things. It’s been a few years, finding the right team and also doing the brand change – because we’re not always in London., we are more collaborative, we’re not just a ballet company, we have musicians, we have videographers. So I think making it broader allows me to fly to New York for a week and do a collaboration with two dancers there, and it falls under that umbrella. It’s those kinds of things – to basically celebrate individual artists as much as possible while having them in a safe environment; and having that freedom to make mistakes and go wrong and have no judgement.

The International Arts Collective website says that its about “the talent and the ability that cannot be defined by a specific country, race or culture”…

It’s about acceptance isn’t it. Forget about the dance industry, just in general. The earth industry, let’s call it that. The industry of earth – humanity. I’m a very small- I’m just a very minute part of it. But if I can generate a positive outlook or an acceptance of another human or the acceptance of an artist that potentially hasn’t got any jobs from auditions because they just don’t quite fit in, it’s those sort of things.

If I can just shift that one small group of people and we end up travelling all over the world and sharing that information or sharing that kindness and compassion and understanding of how incredibly beautiful it is to be so unique, for me, all of the risk and everything is worth it for that ripple effect hopefully happening. Because we’re in a difficult time as humans. And I think as artists we have a responsibility to use our gift to share, even if it is just a glimmer of hope or something like that, with as many people as we can.

How do you balance your role as Creative Director, Choreographer, Dancer and all thes amazing projects and collaborations? 

Honestly, I think and this sounds a bit deep, but I am very, very grateful that I have a purpose in life that isn’t necessarily a person or a place or an object. And so for me, I don’t ever feel like I’m juggling multiple things. I thrive off being busy as long as the projects are filled with the right people and the right the right morals. But this show that I just did in June, everything – to be perfectly honest — honesty is my biggest thing and I’m fiercely loyal and I am fiercely honest. Everything that could have gone wrong two weeks before our show, on the business side, went wrong.

I had the option of “don’t do it” or “stick to your word, to your team and to everyone, and just figure it out.” And I so I obviously chose the latter. And I absorbed so much because of that. But, even if we didn’t have a million people in the audience or all of these things, I haven’t seen one person that came to the show or had seen bits about the show or anything like that that hasn’t been like, “We felt so much, we didn’t know whether to cry.”

All of those things for me, it’s those little things that make it worth it.  If you can leave an imprint on someone, it doesn’t matter how many hours you’ve been awake, it doesn’t matter how many projects you’ve juggled, it doesn’t matter if I’m covering everyone in London’s classes to pay my rent in order to do this.

But it doesn’t matter if your purpose and your vision is clear and it’s coming from a good place. I’m saying this now and I’m still [dealing with] the aftermath of the show, but there is – good is the wrong word – the positive impact that it’s had, as opposed to the negative, there is no comparison. So it’s all worth it.

From an audience’s perspective, dance, it does leave an indelible mark on your soul. When you see something that really resonates with you, you carry it forever. I still can reel off all the pieces that have really touched me. Walking down the street, you think about these all of a sudden and it does move and change you. And to be able to, as you say, have that passion and to be able to have that purpose in your life, thank goodness. Because we want people to be able to make those marks and make those changes and to challenge us, and to make us think about humanity and life and the times in which we live in and to be inspired. And so, yes, please don’t ever stop, despite all the challenges. Obviously, funding in the arts globally is difficult and in the UK it’s so very tight and ever diminishing. And it’s so hard to get funding for independent companies and independent projects. You talked about some of the financial collapses just before your show. That was a huge challenge for you, but it must be quite difficult to keep this going within these tight times.

Thank you I needed to hear that today. I think it is all learning. I think there are two ways that we can go about it. You can keep fighting and keep doing all the applications; and not just with Council funding, like reaching out to private investors and all these kinds of things. But then also there comes a point in time where you have to just create something.

And at the moment, once I’ve fixed and dug out of everything from this past show, there’s nothing that’s going to stop me from continuing to create. And I think until we have a decent backer, it might have to be on a slightly smaller scale. Maybe it’s just a musician and a couple of dancers, and those kind of things, until we can get ahead. But what is a beautiful thing about the arts, no one can stop you from doing it. You can do it anyway. I love to dance in the rain. We don’t need much to be able to do what we do. And I think a lot of people forget that, because it used to happen in the studio, when you go to class to train. No, you should go to class because you love to dance and if you have a [talent] then that’s an incredible gift. If you don’t, you can still do it outside.

There needs to be a bit more perspective and an openness to the way people approach it in order for it to keep going. I’m very, very fortunate to have partnered with Onyx Dance Studios. And I’m coming on board with them very shortly, with the studio as well, to help to build a community within London. Giving artists more space to create. That’s basically what we want to do.

We want to have people feel like they have a home and want to spend the day there, and not just come in and do a class and leave. So, I think I’ve gravitated very much towards Dane Ram, who is the Managing Director of Onyx. And he and I have become very close because we have very similar morals. If there is nothing else out of this stressful time that is meant to happen, this collaboration long term is. We have now two heads, not one, fighting for this.

Rose Alice.
Rose Alice.

And a worthy fight. And I love that – building of a community within London, particularly with independent artists, and bringing people together and providing more space for more independent pieces to be created.

Yeah, absolutely. And also, if any young [readers] are out there, you don’t have to have a reason to dance. You don’t have to train just because you have an audition. You don’t have to wait for an opportunity to come up for you to do your craft. You have to build a community – not network – you want to build relationships with people all over the world so that you can do your art form anywhere with as many people as possible.

If you’re lucky enough to have a full time job in this in this industry, that’s amazing. But even some of my dear friends who have been in ballet companies for the past decade, they still reach out to do creative projects because everyone needs to have as much of an outlet as possible.

I say this to some of my little apprentices, “Don’t wait for someone to give you the green light. Just do it. Don’t think. Just do.” You want to be a pioneer and leave a legacy and do those types of things. No one’s going to hand it to you. You have to be willing to maybe absorb a bit of risk or make some sacrifices, and there is no one or nothing stopping you from creating.

That is fantastic words of advice, I have to say. You sort of preempted one of my questions that I love to ask, which is about your advice.

As I was thinking it I was like actually if I wanted any advice from someone when I was 17 or 18, what it would be. You don’t always have to wait for an audition or audition season to come up to start to build your community, to be creative. Yes, start reaching out now, go to classes and actually speak to people. Those types of things, people remember.

And I know it’s not just me as well, it’s quite a few artistic directors and other creative directors and choreographers that I’ve worked with all over the world, and all of us agree that we would rather work with someone who is a kind and genuine person, where if they know you, you’re already halfway there.

What’s coming up for you and for the International Arts Collective?

So basically from Three we are trying to get it into as many festivals as possible for 2020. We also have a couple of collaborations with some fashion brands which are in the process as well, at the moment. But ultimately, we made good progress and had the whole company in a feature film, which I mentioned before, which is called Love Sarah. It is an absolutely beautiful indie film. And that will be released in January. The rest of the year I think we’re going to be a little bit more quiet, just because it’s going to be a lot of work-in-progress things and obviously just trying to build up for what is coming in 2020.

But in the meantime, I hold workshops for charity twice a year. For me, it’s very much keeping that family unit, but also having the resource, and also having it in the right places. That was a very roundabout vague answer, but everything at the moment is kind of in the process.

If we had spoken a week before my show I wouldn’t have been this calm, but also, I would have been like, “Oh my god! Come to Three.” What that show is, it’s an incredibly powerful piece of work. And that is because I’ve given choreographically, a group of very talented people, a skeleton and an emotion and they’ve run with it. And I want as many people on the planet to see that and feel something is possible. So at the moment, we’re working on having a few different versions of it. So maybe a version that we have one musician and four dancers and then the whole team, so that we can actually take it to as many festivals and places as possible.