Making our own work: RAD’s MadeBy

Alice Topp (center). Photo by Kate Longley.
Alice Topp (center). Photo by Kate Longley.

Theatres have been closed, jobs have been lost, and auditions have been hard to come by. In a world where company contracts and performances here and abroad have been unpredictable, it is now apparent more than ever that Australian dancers need to think outside the square and start creating their own opportunities and collaborations.

Last year, the Royal Academy of Dance Australia (RAD) launched a new, innovative initiative in MadeBy – a music composition and choreographic competition in partnership with One Music Australia, giving composers and dancers a space to create their own work and empower them to open their own door to new possibilities.

Alice Topp.
Alice Topp.

MadeBy Mentor and Resident Choreographer at The Australian Ballet, Alice Topp, says, “I think COVID has forced people to be creative and think outside the box of what they can produce. We have had more people going out and creating their own works, and that only adds to the palate and the colours that we have here in Australia. We’ve got such breadth, depth and talent. Previously, a lot of people had to go overseas to get recognised or to get opportunities. I really would love for Australians to be recognised here for their artistic voices. We need to support the Australian creative ecosystem.”

To do so, dancers need opportunities and the support to choreograph and work with other artists, and MadeBy gives them just that.

With an ever-growing focus on choreography, the RAD introduced the Dancers’ Own variation into its Genée International Ballet Competition several years ago, and MadeBy is a further progression on this vein, encouraging RAD members to create their own unique work.

“At the RAD, we’re teaching students a structured vocabulary of dance, but we’re not really teaching them the skills to speak it and to have a conversation in it,” says Nichola Hall, national marketing and communications manager for RAD Australia. “So, by creating opportunities like the Dancers’ Own and MadeBy, we give the students the chance to explore choreography.”

Alice Topp (right) in the studio. Photo by Kate Longley.
Alice Topp (right) in the studio.
Photo by Kate Longley.

Hall adds, “I just really love to see our members reaching inside themselves. I think they’ve got a lot to say, and choreography is a wonderful way for them to express themselves, to find out what’s important to them, and how they want to communicate in the language that they’re learning — the language they love.”

The winning choreographer will have the invaluable opportunity to be mentored by award-winning choreographer Alice Topp. 

“I didn’t have any experience in choreography until I created my first work for The Australian Ballet company in Body Torque”, says Topp. “It wasn’t a muscle that I had ever flexed. I never had the desire to create before that point, but the opportunity presented itself and it was only through the process of getting into the studio, being utterly terrified and thrilled at the same time, and starting that conversation, that I learned that this was the thing I wanted to do with my life.”

Topp’s passion for choreography and vision for new emerging artists is why she jumped at the opportunity to be a part of MadeBy.

“There aren’t many opportunities like these,” she tells Dance Informa. “In ballet training and performing the classics, you have to follow a formula. But with choreography, you’re creating that formula. It’s a whole new world!” 

MadeBy choreographic competition.

She continues, “I’m excited to see people today empowered to create — giving people breath and space to learn how their voice sounds. We have a lot of strong, unique individuals here that are telling relevant stories in different ways. I think if we can continue to nurture, foster and support the next generation here, we will be producing world-class work.”

As a mentor, Topp looks forward to guiding a choreographer in a world she says she “fumbled through” at first. “I’m really looking forward to sharing the journey with someone and being able to be a sounding board — being there to be able to offer any knowledge or insights to help them realise their vision and help give them the tools and skills they need. I also look forward to learning a lot myself in the process. I think it’s a beautiful exchange of energy when you get to walk down that path with someone else.”

And the MadeBy initiative ensures that there is also a rewarding energy exchange between the choreographer and composer. 

“The fantastic thing about MadeBy is it’s not just about dance,” says Hall. “It’s about this collaboration between music and dance. We’re not just uncovering emerging choreographers; we are also uncovering emerging composers! We had about 300 entries into the first stage of MadeBy, which was the composition component, facilitated by One Music and APRA AMCOS. These were all Australian composers, and there was such richness and diversity.”

In fact, so many inspiring, original pieces of music were submitted that the RAD has now shared the shortlist and are introducing the music and composers to their members. 

Emma Greenhill, the winning composer, created an incredibly evocative and timely piece of music called Regrowth, coming from the bushfire crisis, and we can’t wait to see what movement this inspires in the second, choreographic, phase of MadeBy.

“That is something that we all are embracing right now in this current environment. That notion of re-emerging and regrowing,” says Hall.

Alice Topp (right). Photo by Kate Longley.
Alice Topp (right). Photo by Kate Longley.

With MadeBy open to all RAD members, whether a student or a teacher, MadeBy might be just what you need to reignite your creative energy as we re-emerge from a turbulent last 18 months. 

Whether you aspire to be a choreographer or not, the experience alone can be rewarding and enriching, as finding your voice as a dancer is becoming more and more valuable in the industry.

“I’ve experienced in the past 14 years of the ballet company, that progressively a lot of choreographers do expect you to participate — to come up with your own ideas and to begin to give feedback,” Topp explains. “If you’re used to just being mute and not having a voice in the studio, this is difficult. Choreographers do want you to participate and speak up, to have ideas and to come up with phrases.”

So now’s your chance to flex your choreographic muscle. Take one listen to Emma Greenhill’s Regrowth, and you will be instantly inspired. For more information about MadeBy, visit au.royalacademyofdance.org/madeby. Entries for Stage 2, the choreographic competition, close on March 1, 2022. 

By Deborah Searle of Dance Informa.

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