Blending movement, sound, and prominent stage sets, Philippine “Pina” Bausch was a German dancer and choreographer who broke down the traditional boundaries between theatrical forms in the 1980s. It was the freedom of expression and beauty in communication from her performances that lured Syanindita Prameswari into the world of performing arts; that, and her stint at Compagnie Virevolte as a dancer.
“Being involved in Compagnie Virevolte created a lot of opportunities for me to develop my creativity, collaborate and work with many artists. I knew then that I wanted to keep exploring the world of dance. So, I did my research and found the Northern School of Contemporary Dance (NSCD),” Prameswari says.
Prameswari was born in Indonesia and raised in small, mountainous Switzerland. In 2018, she took a leap of faith and left the comfort of home to pursue a BA (Hons) in Dance (Contemporary) in Leeds, the UK city with the richest dance ecology and voted Best UK Student City by The Independent.
Situated in the northern English county of Yorkshire, Leeds is known as the City of Dance — a reputation not lost on Prameswari. “Living in Leeds is very lovely and gratifying because you can find art in every corner of the city. There’s always something captivating to watch and listen to,” she adds.
For American student Gianna Rotkvich, her three years in Leeds thus far have been “a lot of fun.” She values the opportunity to be surrounded by people from all corners of the world. “Everyone has such different stories and experiences and getting insight into that, for me, has been one of the most rewarding things in my time here outside of my education in dance,” says the 20-year-old BA (Hons) in Dance (Contemporary) student.
If dancers are made in Leeds, then it is NSCD that shapes them. NSCD is currently the only institution to offer conservatoire-level professional dance training in England outside of London. It offers courses in contemporary dance at CertHE, undergraduate and postgraduate levels to students from over 25 different countries. It has produced some of the most talented and committed graduates today — a success often credited to its intimate, supportive and creative learning environment.
“The teachers are extremely supportive at NSCD,” says Rotkvich. “I feel comfortable seeking advice and insight from teachers whether it be help in or outside of the studio and I find this to be very comforting. As a student, I definitely feel our teachers care on a multitude of levels from my experience.”
Save for some tweaks to delivery methods, none of this has changed in 2020. Before the pandemic struck, Prameswari usually begins her day early with dance technique classes, and then working on projects until late in the afternoon, for example creating a new work with a choreographer. Then, some “me time” in the evenings, unwinding with a cup of tea to relax before repeating the same the next day.
During lockdown, Prameswari was learning dance alone at home. Challenging, yes — but it came with some perks. “My most memorable classes were the technique classes during lockdown in summer. Despite the frustration of having to learn dance alone at home, I reached milestones I never thought I would have and challenged myself. As I’m interested in teaching dance, online learning gave me an insight into delivering Zoom classes, which was very beneficial despite the current situation,” she says.
Today, her classes continue in person — some in a different format, but always with the same NSCD impact. Her teachers continue to encourage a curious, pioneering, innovative and independent attitude; the curriculum as informed and enhanced by research and development as ever.
“The School has introduced blended teaching, so rehearsals, workshops and dance technique classes are all face-to-face in school, but lectures, meetings and fitness are delivered online. I’m in my third year and we are currently creating Solos while simultaneously doing a Research Project or Teaching Dance (I chose Teaching Dance),” Prameswari shares.
Classes are still 90 minutes long, though cleaned and sanitised between each session. Students are split into smaller “class bubbles.” This means Prameswari could be in for the morning session and finish early in the afternoon, or in for the late afternoon session which will last until the evening. “For example, tomorrow I’ll start at noon with a peer review for Solos with Phil, one of our tutors. Then, I have an hour and a half of contemporary class with guest teacher Ben McEwen. Finally, I get to work independently to create, choreograph and rehearse my solo,” she says.
Returning to the studio to dance with others is “incredible,” says Rotkvich. It inspires and motivates her, pushing her to go beyond her limits. “I think NSCD has been very resilient, meticulous and cautious in their approach towards adapting with the pandemic,” says Rotkvich.
Intensive but fun; exerting but memorable — this is how Prameswari describes her NSCD classes. She says she is now stronger, more in control of her body and more focused mentally — all due to her time here. Her advice for interested applicants? “NSCD gives you so many opportunities to express your creativity, so don’t be shy when it comes to trying things out, just do it!”