Around a year ago I was given the opportunity to work with Leicester based contemporary dance company Fuelled Dance Theatre as a documentary photographer. This was a big deal for me, as I’d been trying to get into dance photography for some time.
Having spent the last year working on several other dance projects, I was really happy to be asked back to document the latest work Fuelled were undertaking.
I sat down with Artistic Director Scarlett Turner to discuss the company and their upcoming show Re-Fuelled at Attenborough Arts Centre on 6th November. Fuelled were established in 2014 with the aim of developing new work with a contemporary approach, drawing on physical theatre and storytelling practices to create visually striking and thought-provoking pieces.
“I feel like we are addressing different principles of social aspects and political aspects,” she says. “I think that’s kind of what Fuelled is starting to develop into, just challenging and questioning audiences to different subject matters. That’s how I want to build Fuelled.”
FDT has just taken on its first male dancer after starting out as an all-female company, and I ask whether this has affected the dynamics of the group. “I don’t think it’s changed at all,” she answers. “Coming from my background, I don’t see a male/female in me. That’s why I’ve changed that to audition anybody, because I don’t feel that the challenging of genders is needed anymore – I just want you to see what’s being conveyed to you rather than the physical person”.
In terms of the re-launch of Fuelled, Scarlett’s role as Artistic Director has become all encompassing. “Sometimes I’ll be choreographer or have people come in and I’ll be the dancer. In rehearsals I’m mainly the outside eye/choreographer, but if someone else has an idea, we’re quite collaborative.”
“With the new work I’ve gone with task based workshops rather than rehearsals, because rehearsals put too much pressure on and create a certain atmosphere. There is a bit that I’m working on on my own that’s choreographed, which I’ll teach to them. It’s just good to have that mix.”
This person-centric, workshop approach has the potential to be demanding for the company, particularly for the new members. But Scarlett explains how positively they have responded to it. “It’s been really surprising how a lot of them are questioning themselves and I’ve been questioning myself; which I think’s brilliant because that helps the development of the work as you don’t just stick with one idea and go with it. Because we’re all quite new – only me and Louisa have danced together before – it’s also a really good way of getting to know each other on a deeper level.”
Scarlett’s view on the importance of contemporary dance is clear: “I think contemporary dance is starting to slowly progress into trying to say something to people rather than just being an abstract form of movement. A lot of companies are now going, ‘Ok, there’s a meaning here’, kind of like what I want to do with Fuelled.” What has really impressed me with FDT’s work is the subtlety and playfulness with which themes are presented, never patronising the audience but allowing them to take away as much as they want from the work.
This deftness of touch is particularly evident in the second of the two pieces scheduled for the AAC performance, an evolution of the piece ‘Huang Jue Shu’. Originally developed with Chinese Choreographer Rong Tao in a collaboration organised by Charnwood Arts, the piece premiered at a Chinese New Year celebration at Lakeside Arts in Nottingham.
‘Huang Jue Shu’ is themed around nature and the elements utilising extremely slow, controlled movement, in contrast to the more forceful, manipulative movements often seen in FDT’s work. “I thought there would be a difference in the approach and there actually wasn’t, it was very similar to how we work, which was great,” Scarlett says. “The movement was very slow and very spiritual; the spiritual part I didn’t find hard, but the slowness was very hard. With Fuelled we’d never done anything like that before because we’re very physical and we’re moving all the time in pieces.”
In addition to the performances at AAC, they will be hosting two workshops. “The first hour is with Louisa Robey, she will be teaching a part from ‘Huang Jue Shu’, so anybody’s welcome, it’s not just exclusive to dancers or students,” Scarlett says. “The second hour will be with me, it will be an improvised/creative workshop dipping into tasks we’ve done with this work, making a mini performance piece to get a feel of what we do.”
Looking into the future for the company, I asked Scarlett how she hopes to evolve this work and develop FDT. “I really want to develop it for six months to a year and then plan to tour it and get Fuelled Dance Theatre out to the Midlands more, with workshops as well. We need to focus on the education part,” she says. “There aren’t enough opportunities. I remember having to apply for so many just to get some work experience and it would be ridiculous, application after application, so that’s what I want to do with education and I think it would be really beneficial.”
With this commitment to constant evolution and an open and rebellious attitude, FDT are set to lead the way in creating genuinely exciting, challenging and impactful work.
See Re-Fuelled by Fuelled Dance Theatre at Attenborough Arts Centre on 6th November. Tickets here.