Since the inception of Vertical Shadows in 2009, the Melbourne based company has garnered a reputation for producing quality contemporary dance to sell out audiences. Embracing the theatrical side of dance with unique concepts and musicality, Artistic Director and company founder Stephen Agisilaou filled me on the company’s latest project, The White Prince.
You began dancing quite late in life (17) and have since danced and choreographed your way across the globe. Has there been a particular highlight of your career so far?
The more years go by the more I learn about myself and just how I fit into this industry. Transitioning from choreographing hip-hop to contemporary and now musical theatre, my broad training background is sometimes viewed as a hindrance rather than an attribute to observers. Training in and working with different styles has been a rewarding dance experience and has further enriched my choreographic work. It seems I am subconsciously always looking for something more without even realising or thinking about it. I think the highlight of my career is coming in two months time with The White Prince. I feel there is no greater achievement then watching audiences escape into a world and allowing them to leave the theatre feeling more fulfilled.
The White Prince is your latest project. Can you tell me a little about the production?
This is definitely new ground for me. Particularly in regards to it's structure and theatricality. The White Prince is a dive into the imagination, with visuals not just coming from the movement. It is performed in a space 30m deep by 25m wide and we really wanted to create a vast atmosphere to go with our intimate cast of 5.
I always bring my ideas and movement from a natural place and that usually starts with the music. I have become known for my musical choices and my movement interpretation of sound, and The White Prince is no exception. Vertical Shadows is a project based company, when you see a VS show you are viewing something that has been developed and is ready to be expressed. The two-year journey of this show from concept to stage will be filled with the age I gained producing it, and that is a powerful thing.
In this performance, Vertical Shadows will be working with former principal dancers for the Australian Ballet Damien Welch and Marc Cassidy. How did you manage to get these two icons on board?
We knew we needed mature dancers to counter balance the to young boys in the production. My arts administrator suggested Marc so we just sent him an email and he was interested right away. Once involved we knew we needed a larger force to maintain the momentum and we got in touch with Damian. The opportunity for them to work together on such an intimate project really spoke to them. They were not just looking for a chance to hit the stage once more but instead to do something special and original.
The White Prince will also introduce Riley Fitzgerald and Joshua Hunt to the professional stage – how important is it to you to encourage young talent to pursue their artistic dreams?
One thing I noticed about Riley and Josh is their drive. No one is making the boys work this hard to achieve their goals. The motivation to dance is coming from them. This quality is highly necessary to becoming a dancer. People ask me “why would you choose to use an 11 year old and 14 year old in your show? Kids are so much work”. I don’t choose the show or the cast, the show is created over a lengthy period of and it unconsciously ended up that this show has two extraordinary young boys.
You have also choreographed for the popular dance competition So you think you can dance. Do you believe that the reality TV series is a realistic portrayal of the audition process?
A friend of mine auditioned for this season and when he got kicked off the producers asked him if he would quit dancing now that he didn’t get through. So you think you can dance is a TV show plain and simple. All the dancers who have chosen to compete and get involved with the show deserve our support as they are part of our industry and hard working individuals. When season three aired to low ratings, there were comments about how we need to support the show and rally behind the dance industry. I do not count this show as part of my dance industry, as it is run and produced by television executives. Personally my dance industry is run by artists who work continuously to improve the arts and empower audiences.
What advice would you give to any aspiring dancers hoping to work professionally in the industry?
Understand yourself in regards to what’s being asked of you. We all have qualities and personal things to offer that are just ours that no other dancer has. It’s important to understand these traits and improve on them so we become the best artist we can. Understanding yourself is a key step to understanding how to suceed in other people’s choreography and classes.
The White Prince debuts at The Meat Market 5 Blackwood Street North Melbourne, May 16 – 25 2014, for eight performances only. Tickets now on sale at www.verticalshadows.com