Preparing dance students for the global stage


Diploma in Dance student Christina Cai performs enfold x 2 (2019) at the opening of Cross-Pollination: Minimalism/Maximalism in New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) Museum. enfold x 2  is an interdisciplinary collaboration between LASALLE’s School of Fashion, School of Dance & Theatre and FIT.

LASALLE’s dance students are a rare breed of artists that emerge after graduation, ready to carve their own artistic paths. From Biennale Danza (Venice, Italy), MOTUS Danza’s Move Off Festival (Sienna, Italy) to ChampdAction.Lab0 (Antwerp, Belgium), our alumni can be found working globally not just as performers in dance companies, but also independent dance artists and choreographers creating contemporary, interdisciplinary work. 

The fearless and open attitude with which our graduates approach new collaborations, working processes and artistic methodologies is inculcated from a unique syllabus that balances both technical proficiency with collaboration, experimentation and somatic attunement. As lecturer Susan Yeung said, “The students are challenged to explore and experiment with ideas that are not pre-delineated for them. As a result, they are prepared for different types of work both locally and abroad.”

This approach to teaching dance has become especially pertinent in the present where the making of contemporary art now increasingly values collaboration, improvisation and the intersection of disciplines. We take a deep dive into the programme and explore how it sets our dancers apart. 

Extending the classroom to new spaces

While the traditional paradigm of dance spectatorship typically entails dancers performing on a proscenium stage as their audience sit at a remove, our students are challenged to take dance beyond the confines of a stage to galleries, museums, installationsvirtual sites, as well as a variety of outdoor spaces.

WhatsApp-Image-2020-01-19-at-1.55.34-PMDance students performing Blink and It’s Gone outside the Asian Civilisations Museum for Night to Light Festival 2020.

Lecturer Susan Sentler explains that such opportunities afford students the ability to activate new spaces, audiences and knowledge. “While it is challenging for the students, the process of contending with the specificities and predicaments of a site can add depth, transparency and sophistication to their movement language as well as question their relationship to the public. All this expands the students’ learning as a whole. Site specificity changes the way you think of responding and embodying an idea or a concept, as opposed to being in a studio or a more conventional space.” 

Students are frequently given the space to take the lead on such projects. For instance, when staging their own choreographic solos in response to the Minimalism exhibition at the National Gallery Singapore, students were encouraged to take full agency of their personal work. A lecturer serving as outside mentor was at hand to assist, but moreover to aid in the overall curatorial shaping of the five solos presented as a whole in the beautiful landscape of the Padang Atrium. 

ca7b1468-042b-4673-837b-0b604b5cdd9b5 Minimalist Sketches performed in December 2018 at the National Gallery Singapore.

Such empowerment strengthens the dancers’ choreographic mindsets and distinguishes our performing arts graduates from their peers. “We are preparing our students for a future beyond being company dancers and performers. They are equipped to go down the path of an independent dance artist or contribute to a larger global dance ecology,” says Head of School Melissa Quek.

The power of interdisciplinary collaborations

LASALLE’s culture of openness also enables collaborations across programmes and faculties. The Dance programme frequently collaborates with programmes such as BA(Hons) Film for the Dance and Film project, as well as with Diploma in Creative Direction for Fashion on the Origami Project.

Melissa sees dance students as knowledge specialists who “have a more heightened awareness of their own bodies. They take in learning through their bodies, absorbed through the senses before being processed by the brain.” This bodily knowledge in turn expands the boundaries of the collaborators they work with. Starting with an experiential, bodily starting point allows all collaborators, to challenge their default modes of working and open themselves to new ways of making.  

In the dance and film projects, for instance, dancers begin by teaching filmmakers gestures from their own solos. “In illuminating the body and raising the filmmakers’ awareness of their own embodiment, we’ve seen camera movements become more fluid.” Melissa says, “The students re-examine the relationships between movement, camera and image with a different perspective.” The sharing of language and skills slowly begins to morph into a hybrid that allows new dialogues to emerge.

A similar process of give and take is seen in the unique 2019 project Inbetweens, where dancers worked with Diploma in Animation students to generate animated short films. All students began from a bodily start by engaging in the first weeks with experiential anatomy. Each group then created an animation structure with the dancers improvising to it. This was then recorded by the animators and incorporated into the movement and qualities needed for the animated characters. This ‘exchange’ from body to drawing then back to body was reiterated throughout the process. The finished work was then handed back to the dancers to create a dance response or extension, which would be performed live in dialogue with the animation. 

“Interdisciplinary projects change the way our students articulate and approach dance classes” said Susan Sentler. “They are called to rethink how they talk about dance in relation to other artforms, in relation to their own desires and their interest in the moment. It’s a process of negotiation and dialogue.”

Engaging with global practitioners

Even as they refine their choreographic voices, LASALLE’s dance students also have the opportunity to work with a wide array of international and local choreographers throughout their three years of study to be exposed to different kinds of avant garde, contemporary works. 

Susan Yeung believes that this is critical for students to learn to be more versatile in “how they perform and cope with different creative processes.” To date, students have worked with a diverse range of choreographers including Bill T Jones (USA), Annie Vigier and Franck Apertet (collectively known as les gens d’Uterpan) (France), Martin Schick (Switzerland), Theo Clinkard (UK), Rachel Lopez de la Nieta (UK) and Eisa Jocson (Philippines).

By stretching the students to accommodate new ways of working and new ways of conceptualising dance, “LASALLE’s students become more adventurous, because they have really explored a wide range of approaches and are ready to work anywhere in the world,” she said. 

This was evident when LASALLE was one of 12 schools invited to the inaugural edition of Camping Asia, a two-week international performance boot camp where students attended workshops and masterclasses by international practitioners, such as Angela Goh (Australia), Prumsodun Ok (Cambodia), and Mathilde Monnier (France).

WhatsApp-Image-2020-02-11-at-6.15.47-PMLASALLE students teaching an urban dance workshop with personalised movement vocabulary to their peers at Camping Asia 2019.

While it was intimidating to attend and lead workshops alongside older students from famous conservatories, our students held their own. As LASALLE student Tiara Sudewo says candidly, “When speaking to students from P.A.R.T.S (Belgium) and the Lyon National Conservatory of Music and Dance, a lot of them asked me about what we do and learn at LASALLE, because they’ve never heard of us but have been impressed in every workshop.” 

Having chaperoned the students to Camping Asia and observed their growth, Susan Yeung finds herself thinking back to her own dance training at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, “Coming from a conservative background, I was personally quite afraid after graduation. But here at LASALLE, I believe the students are ready for anything.”