My experience at: the Biennale Danza


29 June 2018

The Biennale Danza, nested within the annual Venice Biennale, is one of the world's leading contemporary dance festivals. This year, 15 young dancers between 18-23 were selected to participate in the Biennale College Danza, an intensive three-month programme focused on training and interpretation which culminated with a performance of the 24 Préludes de Chopin by Marie Chouinard and a new creation by Daina Ashbee conceived for the Biennale College on 29 June. LASALLE BA(Hons) Dance graduand Isabel Phua, the only Singaporean dancer selected for this prestigious programme, shares her experience with us.

The Venice Biennale – one of the world's largest Arts events. It was an absolute honour to have had the chance to be in this beautiful city, and an even greater one to be part of this festival. Being one of two Asians and the only Singaporean in the course of the Biennale Danza 2018 was quite nerve-wracking, but it motivated me to make the best out of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

A Day in the Life of a Biennale College Danza Dancer

During my three months in Venice, a typical day would be to get up at 8 AM, leave our lodgings by 9 AM, reach the studio before 9:30 AM and get our bodies warmed up and ready for the day. A rehearsal director from the Marie Chounaird Compagnie would come in to give us a technique class scattered with improvisation systems to aid in understanding the essence of the company repertoire,  24 Préludes de Chopin. Next, we would dive straight into the work, learning and perfecting the repertoire.

We also devoted two hours every day engaging in somatic practice with five masters from five practices; Authentic movement (Judith Koltai), Skinner Releasing Technique (Gaby Agis), Feldenkrais (Any Schulman), Alexander Technique (Tom Koch) and Continuum (Linda). This would continue till the end of the day when Daina Ashbee, the choreographer of the new work we were to engage in, arrived to explore and create with us.

The last three weeks were intense, in preparation for the upcoming performance on 29 June 2018. The greatest difficulty was to switch between the two vastly different styles so quickly and perform them both to the best of our abilities. The final performance was a success, having received positive feedback from the public who came to watch, and everyone truly feeling the synergy in the group of 15 young female dancers.

Biennale Danza

Inspired to Explore New Waters

When I was in Venice, I realised how lucky I was to have received so much varied exposure in the three years at LASALLE. We had many international choreographers and were constantly tuned in to different somatic practices and choreographic approaches. Going to the Biennale with such information under my belt proved to be extremely helpful in understanding how to treat a class to get the most out of it. The Biennale happened at the best possible time, after graduation, serving as a perfect transition out of being an undergraduate. It provided an excellent starting point as a learning and growing artist in Singapore.

The three months inspired me greatly to explore new waters and build even more on the existing ones. It shifted a lot of plans I had for myself. I never had the courage to create work or perform, but having had the space and time to think and the right people to be surrounded by, it pushed me to desire this challenge and to cross the hurdle. In the last week, during the array of international performances, I was particularly stimulated by the works of dance artists Irina Baldini and Deborah Hay as well as by my former lecturer at LASALLE, Susan Sentler, who was present at the Biennale. These inspirations made it seem very possible that I could create a life in the art form of Dance back in Singapore.

I was extremely thankful for Susan, as not only did she encourage me and the students at LASALLE to apply for the Biennale, but also introduced me personally to the amazing choreographers and dancers during the festival week. Without her being there, I would never have had the opportunity to even dream of speaking or being connected with them.

Biennale Danza

A Shared Passion for Dance

Living in Venice felt like a fairytale. To wake up to such beautiful sights and weather everyday was unbelievable. This was the first time I was away from home for an extended period of time on my own and it was quite daunting. I was lucky enough to have friends who were ever so willing to help and share and to make life there as comfortable as possible. 

Besides the work that we were doing in the studio, the international community we had was exciting, inspiring and definitely eye opening. From making pizzas in our apartment to working in the studio, the girls really showed me a different side of life and inspired me every day. It took some time for everyone to open up to each other due to the language barrier and the fact that most of us did not know anyone else in the group. However, as the classes went by and we shared blood, sweat and tears, we became a 15-strong group composed of 15 completely different individuals yet revealing an identical passion. 

To the students who are yet to graduate, or those who have and are still holding back, just go for it, wherever, whenever, whatever. There is much to be gained and so little to lose.

Photos courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia - © A. Avezzù

Updated 25 Feb 2019
Isabel has been selected to be one of seven dancers for the Choreographer Project at Biennale Danza's Biennale College – Dance. She will work for 6 consecutive weeks with three young choreographers to present new work at the 13th International Festival of Contemporary Dance.