Hand Over – From step ball change to a glide

AD Lucy Bennett hands over to Laura Jones, Stopgap’s new Interim Artistic Director

I remember when Stopgap’s founding Artistic Director Vicki Balaam first went on maternity leave in June 2008, I had just been appointed Assistant Artistic Director. There was much change afoot in the company; we were holding auditions, training apprentices and preparing for a 6-week tour of Japan and I was now a part of the team that had to ensure success.

During the handover I would have a recurring dream about a tiny bird that I had to look after. It was so delicate and small I felt clumsy when I tried to handle it. I was petrified I’d drop the bird or worse still - suffocate it. I guess what I was really worried about was taking care of a company that felt like it was someone else’s baby.

As a dance artist you often have very little awareness of the huge amount of work that is done by the back room staff to keep the company moving forward. When I became the Assistant Artistic Director in Stopgap I gained a huge insight into why decisions were made and how to keep your eye on the future. Because I was still touring I also had to keep my hand in on the practical side of the company; leading workshops, youth groups, performing and choreography. Although this was a tough balance at times, it was also instrumental in my development of the company’s vision when I became Artistic Director in 2012.

After four years as Artistic Director I still feel it’s vital that we all spend, as much time in the studio as our schedule allows. For me working hand in hand with the artistic team and still delivering workshops keeps me discovering what our next step will be. All the artists are asked to actively contribute to the direction of the company and therefore they are all happy to speak eloquently about the company and its dreams.

With this in mind Laura is already equipped to take care of Stopgap. She has been with the company since 2001 and she has experienced first hand the highs, lows and literally the blood, sweat and tears that have got Stopgap where we are currently.

Naturally Laura is most at home on the stage or in the studio but recently she has been developing herself as an advocate for dance and disability and who else is better to do this? She has experienced both sides - both as a non-disabled and disabled dancer. She has worked for 15 years with numerous established choreographers and she has been integral in supporting me to develop Stopgap’s methods in inclusive practice and choreography.

Laura is one of the reasons I felt so strongly about acknowledging and pinning down our inclusive practice, as well as one of the reasons that we broke away from the repertoire model and became an inclusive devising company. She was by my side when we made this huge change and took a gamble in 2012.  She has been listening to my ideas about IRIS from when I first joined the company and she is a big cheerleader for Sg2 and developing the next generation of disabled dancers.

Laura of course could not take on this role without having a talented, focussed and inventive team around her. She would not be able to embark on this adventure without Stopgap’s Executive Producer, Sho, and our wonderful creative learning department led by Siobhan Hayes.

Six months will fly by and no doubt Laura will contribute as much as she learns on her latest journey as Stopgap’s Interim Artistic Director. Hopefully Laura’s new appointment will inspire more disabled artists to take the lead in all aspects of the creative industries. I know our disabled artists are now even more fired up to take on responsibility and are certainly not quiet about their aspirations to become leaders.

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