Happy Birthday Project Y

Project Y is the summer intensive training and performance programme from YDance, Scotland’s national youth dance organisation. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, this year’s participants had the chance to work with four different choreographers over a four-week period, creating a programme of new works that will tour to venues across Scotland.

Having created work myself for Project Y in 2013, it was a pleasure to receive an invitation to write about this year’s programme, which premiered last night on the legendary stage of Glasgow’s Tramway theatre.

The evening opened with Matthew Robinson’s Office. Framed by a white square and some functional office furniture, Robinson creates a dark, dystopian environment governed by its own rules. With razor sharp movement and impeccable timing, the choreography slowly reveals the psychological nuances of its inhabitants and the power dynamics within the group. A green light suspended above the stage mysteriously points at the presence of an external, unknown overseer.

Robinson, who has developed his own choreographic voice whilst working with Scottish Dance Theatre for the past seven years, confidently creates a sense of fluidity in the space. Images arise and dissolve seamlessly, each time revealing new nuances about individual characters: Cameron Burr’s quirkiness as he manipulates an old radio, the power and vulnerability of Poppy Sexton, the imposing presence of Jay Yule subtly dominating the group…

Robinson has manged to communicate his attention to detail to the entire cast (23 dancers!), creating an exquisite, yet unsettling work. By the end of it we are left with a feeling of uneasiness, perhaps because the anonymity of these people, their incomprehensible rules, and the presence of an unknown observer are uncomfortably familiar to us…

By contrast, there is a sense of nostalgia and tender naivety in Gavin Cowards The Art of Letting Go, which explores the end of innocence and the art of growing up. A member of balletLORENT since 2001, Coward creates a rich emotional tapestry, where the dancers explore the fears and joys of moving on and letting go through a series of poetic and vivid images.

Influenced by the choreographic practice of Liv Lorent (who has also given her input into this work) Coward demands absolute physical and emotional commitment from the performers. Working from personal memories, he asks them to go beyond form, to delve into their own emotional landscape and dare to share it with the audience. Skipping ropes become visual metaphors for the fears and barriers that we need to overcome as we grow up, whilst playground games become opportunities to rehearse social interactions.

The work is beautifully exuberant and the commitment of the dancers is absolutely compelling. We witness, for instance, Jack Butler’s transformation from a clumsy, fragile creature into a confident young man shifting in and out of the floor with cat-like easiness. Coward gives us a precious glimpse of the dancers’ vulnerability, finding beauty in the honesty of the attempt rather than the perfection of the accomplishment.

The second half of the evening began with Team Solo by Edinburgh-based choreographer Tamsyn Russell. Her all-female cast delivered a powerful, confident and tongue-in-cheek performance, set to a fascinating and carefully researched soundtrack of early hip-hop and world music.

There is an unmistakable sense of clarity in Russell’s choreographic language, combining the purity of geometric formations and repetition with the complexity of rhythmic patterns. But rather than restricting the dancers, Russell uses this precision to empower them to find playfulness and individuality. Unashamed to break the fourth wall, the performers subvert our expectations as they display their strength and vulnerability, shifting from explosive muscularity to irony or tenderness in the blink of an eye.

Russell’s dancers stepped up to the challenge (both technically and performatively), revelling in tightly choreographed unison structures and moments of personal investigation, with Jay Yule, Eleana Charlambous and Clara Cowen leading the group with maturity and boldness.

The evening closed with Anna Kenrick’s Rules, an exploration of the spoken and unspoken principles and instructions that shape our behaviours as individuals and members of society. Using boxes of light to compress and expand the space, Kenrick’s choreography combines the intricacy of everyday gestures with full-bodied, dynamic physicality. Project Y regulars, like Rachel Laird, seemed completely at home with her language, and inhabit the stage with the maturity and ease of a professional.

Kenrick, who is also the Artistic Director of YDance, clearly understands the importance of working collaboratively with the dancers, and offers them a platform to respond creatively to the themes of the work. In fact, none of them leaves the stage for a second in the whole piece: solos, duos and trios are interwoven with group sections, building up to a relentless climax to the sound of an infectious electronic beat.

As the entire company lines up for the final bow, you become aware of the actual size of the group and the ambition of the project. Here, the next generation of dancers in Scotland is being nurtured. Here is where they make their first professional connections. Here is where they grow as performers and people. Here, in front of our very eyes, is where they are becoming the dance artists and citizens of tomorrow. Here’s to the next ten years of Project Y!


Catch Project Y 2016 on tour at:

The Beacon Arts Centre (Greenock), 4th Aug, 7:30pm

The Lemon Tree (Aberdeen), 5th Aug, 7pm

Macrobert Arts Centre, 6th Aug, 7:30pm