Founded in 2013, Melbourne-based Scimm Dance Company has gone from strength to strength in recent years. With the aim of producing thought-provoking and edgy contemporary dance works with its unique fusion of classical and modern styles, Scimm Dance Company has created and produced several full-length productions to sell-out audiences. Now, while Victoria remains on lockdown and the dance industry navigates the crisis, Co-Directors Timothy Barnes and Scott Pokorny are taking time to reflect on their achievements and plan for the future.
“Our vision for Scimm has definitely evolved over the years,” Barnes begins, “but when we first started the company in 2013, Scott and I had both graduated from full-time ballet courses. Scott was at The Australian Ballet School and I trained under Brian Nolan, and we felt there weren’t enough opportunities for classical-based dancers who decide they do not want to pursue a classical company. We realised we have a lot of friends and connections in the more commercial side of the dance world, but yet there was this big disconnect. We wanted to bring classical ballet to the commercial world and bridge the gap between the two to find opportunities for dancers like ourselves.”
“Ballet is a very elite training,” Pokorny agrees. “You have to put so much money and time and your childhood and your teenage years into it, and it is such a shame to watch so many dancers quit. If you don’t have quite the right body for it – because it is so strict as an art form – you end up without anywhere to go. It happened to so many of our friends, and I think it was just something that we wanted to be able to provide for people. We wanted to give more dancers the opportunity to work so they wouldn’t have to feel like they had to quit. Ballet trauma is a real thing.”
Both Barnes and Pokorny have dealt with the intense pressure of the classical world and have focused on fostering a positive environment within the company. “We have a lot of dancers in our company who have gone through some really mentally challenging times,” explains Pokorny, “especially the females. It is so much about your body and what you eat with the traditional ballet aesthetic. We have had a few dancers in the company now that we have really worked through things with, and now they are at a really great point. They are happy and enjoying dancing again, and they’re not worried about that really strict way of looking at themselves.”
This supportive atmosphere means a lot to Scimm’s company members and is a culture Barnes and Pokorny continue to foster. “It has actually been really amazing,” Barnes admits. “We have built a family. We have had so many dancers who have come in feeling a little bit like they are at a crossroads. ‘Is this the end of our career?’, or ‘Where do we go from here?’ Just to get them in the studio twice a week with a collection of different people, and for them to feel like they are a non-dancer but a dancer at the same time, has really made them appreciate it. They come in and they are hooked! We started off with maybe around 10 dancers five or six years ago, whom we would just do projects with. Then, once we started to get a little bit more traction and finances, we started training twice a week and producing shows for them. And now we have got almost 20 company members. They just seem to love it. We have developed an atmosphere where they can come in and feel like they are in a company and training and working toward something without unnecessary pressure.”
“Because we have a mix of commercial-based dancers and really balletically trained dancers, it was challenging putting that together at the start,” adds Pokorny. “But watching what they have learnt from one another has been really great. It has helped our dancers evolve to be versatile, and they understand both sides of the audience. These are two different worlds that do not collide very often, but it has been really rewarding for us because it is something that we always wanted to achieve.”
With the ongoing pandemic affecting everything from the ability to rehearse in person to the availability of theatres, Pokorny and Barnes had to make the decision to postpone their upcoming shows until 2021. “It’s been a bit of a nightmare at times, but we are okay,” says Pokorny. “We have done a lot of planning because we’ve had the time to sit down, hit the pause button a bit and think about what we want to do in the next two years. We are usually so go, go, go all the time, we don’t take the time for ourselves, so it has been really good for us in that way.”
Of course, Scimm is not solely a professional dance company. Its offshoot Platforms Youth Company is a major part of the work Barnes and Pokorny do under Scimm’s umbrella. “We support good training,” Pokorny explains. “We have now had hundreds of kids go through our youth program, and I think because we have both trained in fundamental technique, we support the industry in making sure we offer really good training. We have seen kids come in with amazing training, and they will have longevity in their career. And then we see the other side, where incorrect training and overstretching can really damage a dancer and their body. It is something we are passionate about.”
“We have had so much experience with kids,” Barnes notes. “And with the two of us, we can cover a lot more of what we see as beneficial to kids. We want to make sure kids’ bodies and minds both get nurtured in their dance training, because it is so easy to favour one or the other. With young dancers today, there is this huge craze, started by Dance Moms – which we love, by the way – it has caused a ripple effect for kids that do not necessarily have access to the training they need to mimic that style of dancing. Unfortunately, we see a lot of kids who have overstretched hips and back issues, and teachers need to be aware of how to pull it back to basics. Dance is changing for that generation, and their talent level is massively higher. And while those changes are happening in the industry, the training needs to be adapted to that.”
Each year, Pokorny and Barnes audition a cast of young dancers to work on a show as Platforms Youth Company, teaching them valuable skills in working in a more professional theatre environment. “We work throughout the year on creating a show and on teaching the kids how to look after themselves in a show season,” Barnes says. “We try and mimic a professional show season of five shows, and we work with guest choreographers on the pieces. The standard that we have watched grow over the last five years is incredible – they are all super, super talented. The reason we called it Platforms is because we wanted it to be somewhere between training and a professional dance career. We kind of throw them together and they’re colleagues. It has been great to watch kids whom we see in competition all the time become best friends.”
Both Barnes and Pokorny have big plans for what’s ahead. “We want to work toward getting a new facility,” Pokorny shares. “I think that is the logical next step in our business, so the dancers have somewhere they can come in, that is their own space, where we are not on the time schedules of others. That will help us create more opportunities for shows.”
“I think we are heavily inspired by Sydney Dance Company, ADT and Nederlands Dans Theater,” Barnes adds. “We would really like to have a Melbourne-based full-time company one day. And I would love to have a theatre to go along with that. Big goals!”
“That’s been our dream from the start,” concurs Pokorny. “It has all been a big learning experience for us, which has been great. We have learned so much about ourselves, and we are a team. Working with another person has its perks and its challenges at times but we have managed to become symbiotic with each other. We are really good with our relationship, Tim an I. We feel really strong at the moment.”
Indeed, it is the bond between Pokorny and Barnes that inspired the name ‘Scimm’ – Scott and Tim. “It is so funny because some people don’t have that light bulb moment straight away,” Pokorny laughs. “They will come to us five years later and be like, ‘Wait, is that actually why you’re called Scimm?’”
“It just kind of happened,” recalls Barnes. “I think the very first night that we decided to run a company together, when we were very young – Scott was 19, I was 20 – we had a few wines and we said, ‘Scott, Tim, Scimm. Yeah, that sounds good. Let’s go with that!’ And then we put a little extra ‘M’ on the end for Melbourne – it looked cooler.”
For more information on Scimm Dance Company or Platforms Youth Company, visit www.scimmdance.com.au.
By Deborah Searle and Emily Newton-Smith of Dance Informa.