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COVID -19 and the Way Forwards

Rosie Lehan- Director of Accredited Training

The BA (Hons) Diverse Dance Styles welcomed its first cohort in September 2018, run by IRIE! dance theatre and validated by University of Roehampton; the course is the first of its kind in Europe to give serious credence to African and Caribbean dance, placing it on a par with contemporary forms. During our second year of operation we also ran an independent third year for students who had previously completed a Foundation degree with the company.

The end of the academic year always provides a time for reflection and in the case of 2019-20 this has probably been one of the most challenging years to look back on ! So taking stock I feel justifiably proud, not only of the uniqueness of the degree but the way in which everyone worked towards a common goal of survival. The past year not only presented the challenges of COVID -19 but the loss of a key staff member, Lincoln Fleary Alert, a Founder member of IRIE! and key member of the BA team, see tribute page for our fond memories.

IRIE! have survived by looking towards the future which involved new digital challenges and a flexible response to the changing circumstances. Closing our doors and moving to online delivery, the staff team and students alike demonstrated resilience and commitment. Live performances were reconfigured for online presentations, including the relocation of a site-specific piece (originally designed to be by the Thames) recreated for multiple living room spaces. The work entitled ‘River’, was directed by guest choreographer Adesola Akinleye. All students have passed through to the next year of study and our 3rd years are to be congratulated on graduating.

However, nothing can take the place of physical live work and so …. we will be opening our doors again in September 2020 to deliver our unique BA. The heart and soul of our work takes place in shared physical spaces and our return will demand a new level of thinking as we learn how to work creatively with COVID restrictions. How will we engage with all the contact work? Which is probably where the digital lessons of COVID will come into their own as we create material, film and edit dancers together, again watch this space!

Through all the uncertainty and challenges of the last few months I am encouraged by the spirit of generosity that has become the backbone of IRIE! The creative practitioners who make up the staff team act as role models, encouraging the next generation to learn and strive to take their place in the industry. The company runs a two -year Artist in Residence scheme to support young artists who with their practice feed into the life of IRIE! by sharing their work. This year we are really excited to welcome Rhys Denis and Waddah Sinada who formed Fubunation in 2017, with the vision of creating more visibility for dancers of colour in contemporary dance. Their unique language combines contact improvisation with influences from Hip Hop and African dance. The duo have been around the building for several months leading classes and becoming familiar with the students. One of their roles will be to create a piece for the third-year students as part of their company repertoire. For a preview of their unique style don’t miss them in our online Making Tracks, professional development masterclass series (Thursday Aug 27).

Performances may have to take place on a digital platform until the Spring at least but that will increase opportunities to reach larger audiences. We already have an exciting venture to look forward to with the choreographer Oniel Pryce a former lecturer, currently on the staff of the School of Dance at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in Jamaica. Third year students will work with Oniel via Zoom.

IRIE! is increasingly becoming a hub for young artists to explore and find their work /creative language from students to professional artists. Part of the uniqueness of the BA, is that students study in a work place with constant contact with visiting artists and participatory work with the local community, while also enjoying the benefits of a University campus through visits to Roehampton. The future looks exciting as IRIE! develop the student body and creatively embrace digital communication. As part of the organisations growth, our plans are to develop the Moonshot Centre, our home since 2007, but that is probably another blog! Suffice to say that despite the challenges I am excited for the future and can’t wait to be in the space exploring work with new and current students.

You can get to know our exceptional staff-team, guest artists, and lecturers, through ‘Making Tracks, our online programme of masterclasses, running until the end of August 28, 2020.

Rosie Lehan

Director of Accredited Training

IRIE! dance theatre

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