It is becoming increasingly more popular for dance studios to create their own student “companies” or agencies for their students to perform professionally, and it is easy to see why!
“They are very important. They set standards. They are a teaching tool to every level we have,” says Charisse Parnell, director of The Dance Collective in Perth, Western Australia.
Here, Dance Informa speaks with Parnell about how a student performance company works within her studio.
Firstly, tell me about your studio.
“The Dance Collective has been operating since 2003, so we have just finished our 14th year. Our motto is ‘Great dancers come from all walks of life. This is where they come together.’ We aim to transform people from all ages and abilities into amazing dancers. We do this through creating a warm, supportive culture within our company. We do minimal competitions and focus more on working together in our class groups to create high level dance pieces for performance.”
What makes your studio different?
“Our choreographers love to tell stories. Our senior pieces in particular can embrace social issues. We then sometimes run fundraising events such as a bake sale, or workshops which support an organisation such as ‘Not-for-Sale’ (supporting victims of human sex-slave trade) and ‘St. Patrick’s Community Support Centre’ for the homeless. This brings awareness of these issues, provides a venue for open discussion and a way we can provide help to people in need. We do this under our branch HOPE (Helping Other People Everywhere).
We also work closely with event management companies, talent agents and other organisations who invite us to perform for openings, launches, corporate events, trade shows, giving our higher trained dancers the platform to dance professionally.”
How do you choose students for these performances?
“All dancers who train with us are considered for professional performance. We select dancers in three ways depending on timing and the type of show/event. First, an in-class audition. Secondly, an open audition, or finally, they are selected by the director/choreographer.
When a gig comes up, we look at every dancer with open eyes, regardless of how long they have been dancing with us. If they are right for the job, have a good attitude and show the right skill level, that’s what we are looking for.”
How do you go about creating opportunities for your students, or do they come to you?
“[They] always come to us. We are very lucky to have been working for years with numerous event management companies and entertainment agencies for years and have developed great working relationships, which means year after year we are returned with work.”
How important are these performance opportunities? What do they provide and teach your students?
“They are very important. They set standards. They are a teaching tool to every level we have. I am always reminding dancers not to cross their arms in class, asking them how would that look if they are on set for a commercial and showed that body language to a director who was trying to work with them. We don’t have exams where they push for high marks or competitions where they strive to win. For our 18yrs + dancer especially, this gives them extra drive and determination in class to work hard, knowing at any time there could be an amazing opportunity around the corner.
We have been lucky enough to work with Guy Sebastian, Jessica Mauboy, The Veronica’s and Tim Campbell over the years providing back-up dancers when they have come to Perth. These experience are limited for dancers on the west coast, and so it’s an exciting time for our dancers when this type of opportunity presents itself!”
What are the biggest gigs you’ve done recently?
“Dancing to ‘Stairway to Heaven’ alongside Perth Symphony Orchestra for the WA West Business Pinnacle Awards just recently was pretty amazing. Performing to a live orchestra really brought out a deeper depth from the dancers. One of the dancers, Rachel, 33, who has been performing for 14 years in corporate gigs, said this was perhaps her most loved performance because of the live music.
We provided back-up dancers for a Malaysian pop star who decided at last minute to chose Perth instead of the Gold Coast as her film location. The entire film company (19 of them) flew in from Queensland, and we were contacted two days beforehand to provide six male dancers. It was also the week leading up to our massive Junior Showcase, and we already had three corporate events that week to rehearse and perform for. Despite being the craziest weeks we ever had, I decided to make it happy. It was an amazing experience with a pair of our twin boys being asked to go on tour with her to Malaysia, Taiwan and China in February! My dancer teacher growing up was Ruth Osborne (now with Quantum Leap in Canberra), who told us never to give up an opportunity if you can help it. I am so glad I didn’t say no to this one!”
What is in store for 2017?
“For 2017, we’ve already been booked to open three huge events, all in March! Including entertaining 2,500 fresh university students at Thrives Leadership Expo at Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre, Reveal of light show for City of Melville’s Merge Festival and a flashmob performance at 1,000 Paper Planes for Brain Cancer Sculpture.”
For more information on The Dance Collective and its student performance company, visit www.thedancecollective.com.au.
By Elle Evangelista of Dance Informa.