DanceEast in Cuban exchange

From previous experience and through the information gained during this initial visit, it was evident that Cuba is today producing some of the world's finest contemporary and ballet dancers. They are not only performing in Cuba, but also dominating the ranks of leading companies around the globe and setting standards of excellence both in terms of teachers and performers. It was perceived that there was however, a lack of exposure to choreographic developments and the work that is produced seemed to be naïve rather than showing off the brilliant technical abilities of the dancers.

In 2007, DanceEast commissioned Rafael Bonachela to travel to Havana to make a work for Danza Contemporanea. Georges Cespedes and Julio Cesar from the company then led a professional development course with 8 dance artists in Suffolk. Further to this, Danza Contemporanea were invited by Sadler's Wells to perform in England in 2008 at London Coliseum in a shared programme with Carlos Acosta, and by DanceEast to perform at Snape Maltings in Suffolk. They were well received by audiences in both venues with standing ovations for the UK premiere of Bonachela's work Demon_crazy.Through a grant from Arts Council England and support from the British Council, I travelled to Havana in October 2007 with Jasmine Wilson, Co-Director of Education for our associate company Wayne McGregor | Random Dance, to explore further the possibility for educational exchange and to investigate Cuban training methods.

In September 2008, DanceEast is launching a Centre for Advanced Training, the DanceEast Academy, funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families. This scheme will teach contemporary technique to children from the age of 11- 18, alongside ballet technique, and in equal measures. The focus of the course will be on producing professional dancers who are able to work at the top of their field, and who have received a long and healthy training, leading to a long and healthy career. This type of training has not existed to date in the UK and therefore the training methods employed in Cuba are of great interest, due to the fact that the contemporary dancers there are trained in this way from a much younger age than is normal in the UK.

DanceEast is keen to develop a unique programme for the DanceEast Academy, which will include working with international partners to create a bespoke training system that takes elements from the best training systems internationally. In light of this, the opportunity for the partnership with Cuba is potentially very rewarding for both parties.

The National School for Dance in Havana teaches Graham technique to young dancers from the age of 11, alongside ballet technique and other supplementary subjects. The DanceEast Academy will work in a similar way in that there will be a balance of contemporary and ballet training. Graham technique is not usually taught in the UK to students from such a young age, therefore this is an excellent opportunity for us to learn from the methods that are employed in Cuba, in order that we are able to draw inspiration from them for our own curriculum.Improvisation and creative sessions in Cuba are led mainly by verbal instructions from the teacher and methods used are not as advanced or varied as those we use in the UK. All schools also teach in the same way as the curriculum is set nationally so there is a limited variety of methods being used by teachers and experienced by students in Cuba. International styles are studied only at the superior level where students experience a wider variety of subjects.

A second visit was planned with the national centre for artistic training, CNEArt, and the National School for Dance to deliver a three strand project. In May 2008, I visited Havana for a second time with support from Arts Council England, East with three colleagues; Godiva Apedo, Lead Tutor for the DanceEast Academy, Jasmine Wilson, Co-Director of Education for Wayne McGregor | Random Dance and Helen Laws, Healthier Dancer Programme Manager for Dance UK. We worked with teachers and health professionals from the National School for Dance and the National Ballet School to discuss healthy dance practice and spent time with teachers exchanging methods of teaching technique and creative and choreographic classes.The visit has been considered as a great success.

The next stage of our relationship with our colleagues in Havana is planned for 2009 where DanceEast will send a choreographer from our associate company, Wayne McGregor | Random Dance, to work with a group of Mid Level students from the National School for Dance. In October 2009, the students will travel to England to perform the piece at the opening of the new DanceHouse on the Ipswich Waterfront, alongside students from the State Ballet School of Berlin and our own English students. We hope people from all over the country will be able to enjoy their performance.

There are so many possibilities open to us for working with the National School for Dance, CNEArt and Danza Contemporanea that it is hard to know where to start. We hope to welcome the company to England again in 2010.