As part of The Vision Project we took time to talk to our wonderful participants. In this series which we have called PEOPLE OF VISION, we explore how they came to join in with The Vision Project and what they have taken away from it.
This time we talk to Sarah Palmer, who has taken part in the community dance event and is a long time dancer.
- How did you find out about The Vision Project and why did you feel you wanted to take part?
I'd heard about Emma's earlier lockdown challenge project, & when she told me about this new idea I just knew I wanted to be part of it (If she'd have me….).
2. Watching the snippet of the performance at the April 2022 show - how did that make you feel?
Again, watching your show in April just made me long to be part of such a joyful dance/performance 'family'. At the moment I'm pretty tied to ballet in Farnham & the very small (& quite elderly - even older than me!) performance group I'm involved with in Ripley. But who knows - maybe I'll be able to join First Dance Studios at some stage....
3. What musical and movement points stand out for you in that performance?
I was particularly interested in the ballet of course, as it's such a hard discipline in which to incorporate people of different standards. But I thought it worked beautifully. Loved the whole show, actually - so varied & exciting, & again the joy & fun you were obviously experiencing, was palpable (though I do realise it's blimmin' hard work!).
4. A little nightingale has told me that you used to dance - what is your dancing background?
Yes, I went to Elmhurst (then in Camberley, now relocated to Birmingham where it is the feed school for Birmingham Royal Ballet). Then I trained with Maria Fay, a bonkers Hungarian dancer/teacher who'd escaped the '56 revolution & fled to Britain. She taught Vaganova technique at Royal Ballet Upper School & also had some private students - like me! It was a wonderful time in my life, with all sorts of quite prominent dancers (esp from Royal Ballet) dropping in for class, also Ravi Shankar, the celebrated Indian sitar player, George Harrison + his entourage, & one unforgettable occasion when the whole of Chelsea football team came in to see what ballet was really like (they clearly thought it was just 'faffing about', but by the end of class they were absolutely knackered & couldn't understand why/how the ballet boys were still pretty hale & hearty, despite double work/lifting us girls around etc etc....
5. What was it like dancing in the 60s and 70s?
Then I went to be an eleve (student member) in John Cranko's Stuttgart ballet for a year or so in '67 I think). We took class with the company (sooooo exciting!) & were also used as extras in various ballet & opera performances. A great learning experience but, looking back, it was also quite an 'unstructured' (!) life, which I think my parents would have been horrified about (they lived abroad so din't really know what was going on!). I dint get a permanent contract with Stuttgart, so I came back to UK & had a couple of seasons as a freelance dancer being a snowflake in Festival Ballet's Nutcracker (now Eng Nat Ballet). Great fun but again, pretty precarious. Dance then was basically either ballet or panto - there were a few musicals, but contemporary dance was in its infancy (jazz too), & 'musical theatre' as a genre hadn't really taken off yet, though there was quite a lot going on on telly. We had no direction or supervision in terms of diet/cross training/physio/or any of the general 'nurturing' enjoyed by today's dancers. We were dance-vagabonds who sort of made our lives up as we went along, an endless round of classes/auditions/starvation (fags & black coffe!), hoping to get a proper company contract....one of my friends (a 6-foot Australian girl) went off to Paris to join the Bluebell troupe. With her head-dress she became about 8-foot tall!. I pottered on for a wee while doing odds & ends of work (educational stuff, eg RB's Ballet for All, going round schools & village halls etc etc, & I also had a part-time job at the Opera House, as a hat-check girl, & selling programmes & ice creams etc - quite tiring, but it meant that I got to see loads of ballet & opera performances for free! To be perfectly honest, I don't think I was ambitious or confident enough to push/promote myself properly as a dancer. I met my husband & sort of fell into marriage (basically cos it seemed an easier option!) & the rest is a history of children/supporting my husband/going to uni as a mature student/teaching/etc etc, but always with lots of dance going on in the background - classes, amateur performances etc etc. I've never really stopped....
6. What is it like to dance?
What is it like to dance? At my age/stage/level of fitness, it can be incredibly frustrating - bits of me hurt, & I can't do stuff that I used to be able to do. Surprise surprise! But the feeling of strength/control/expressiveness/'proper' use of the body/joy of working with beautiful/challenging/difficult movement (& music), not being able to think/worry/concentrate on anything else except what you're trying to do.....when/if it ever works, there's nothing like it. One's always on a high after performance, & usually after a good class, too.
7. How does this contemporary dance differ if at all from ballet and other such performances?
The piece we're doing with Emma differs from ballet mainly in the requirement to turn 'in' rather than 'out'! That's the hardest thing I always find about contemporary work That said, I love the very different dynamic in contemporary dance, & the fact that I'm rather less familiar with it is very interesting, & makes me think more & work harder, whereas with classical technique my body knows more or less what it's doing & there's a tendency to 'slip into the groove'.
8. What would you say to others about dancing workshops?
Dance workshops - hhhmmm. it all depends on who's running it & for whom. Matthew Bourne's New Adventures Co: have an affiliation with Farnham, & pre-lockdown I did 3 or 4 sessions of workshops with them, which were then developed into a performance. Trouble was, they were for 'all-comers', ie people who'd done no dance at all as well as those who had quite a background in dance. So we went VERY SLOWLY, which was fine but got rather frustrating, specially when quite a few people then said they had no interest in performing! It would have been better to sort us out/separate us earlier, & run 2 (if not 3) groups together, but of different standards & for different purposes. So I would say, think about why you're doing it - fun? fitness? creativity? with a view to performance? what level of commitment? etc etc.
9. What have you enjoyed the most from The Vision Project dance?
I think what I've enjoyed most is learning a new piece, seeing how it fits together, thinking about how it's going to be filmed (& what it will look like), but above all, meeting & working with, & making new friends with, such a wonderful bunch of women! As I think we discussed, I so enjoy being part of a group activity, seeing how a project grows & develops, with everyone equally valid & important to the success of the whole thing. It's sooooo exciting & energising! I know that mostly comes from Emma, but then we feed it back to her - a totally symbiotic relationship....
Thank you so much Sarah, such a vivid description of all things dance and how you have been involved in The Vision Project.
Emma and The Vision Project Team