Artistic Director Adrienne Hart found her choreographic calling early, creating Neon Dance just one year after finishing training

Empathy by Neon Dance. Photo by Tonje Thilesen

Choreographer and Artistic Director of Neon Dance, Adrienne Hart, places artistic collaboration at the heart of her work. She brings together exciting dance, visual, sound, photographic and other artists to create a unique audience experience.

Adrienne found her choreographic calling early in her dance career, establishing Neon Dance just one year out of vocational training. This early step has set her on a rewarding creative path, with her work and company receiving critical support and rave reviews.

Adrienne is bringing her collaborative approach to her curation of the contemporary dance evening Wild Card at Sadler’s Wells on 22 & 23 March.

Adrienne shares her dance journey, creative approach, joys & challenges of running her own company in our podcast interview, which you can read below or listen here.

Q: When and why did you start dancing?

A: I don’t know if I had a choice, I was 3 when I first started to dance. My mom took me along to a ballet class because I was quite shy as a child and she thought it would help me with my confidence. I never stopped. I found it a brilliant way to express myself and there were some fantastic dance classes around the area I grew up in. I discovered a place called ‘Swindon Dance‘, a mecca for dance and choreography and it really hooked me and I never stopped.

Q: How did you know that contemporary dance was the style for you?

A: It was really quite a coincidence; lots of children start off with a ballet classes – I was one of them – I must have been 9 or 10 years old when I did my first contemporary dance class, and there was something about that way of moving, of being in that space that I really clicked with. Even though I kept up all the different styles of dance – I’ve always been really curious about new styles as they come into fashion – I knew from a young age that contemporary was the route I wanted to take.

Q: Tell us about your training at the London Contemporary Dance School?

A: In a way, it felt like a continuation of what I started at Swindon Dance, where I was able to work with choreographers like Wayne McGregor when I was only 14 years old. Then, when I went on to my degree course at London Contemporary Dance School, it felt like a continuation of that training. But then I became more serious, thinking ‘OK how do I make a career out of this passion?’.

Q: At that time, what was going through your mind in terms of the different paths or the future you wanted for yourself?

A: It was interesting, I think a lot of people presumed I wanted to have a performance career – I was a more technical dancer. But during those 3 years – they go by so quickly when you’re training – I became increasingly interested in choreographing and making work and thinking beyond just myself as an individual dancer. I started thinking about the bigger picture. I would say there was a turning point in my second year when I started selecting courses and started to make work of my own.

Q: What is it about making your own work that has captured your passion, soul and creativity?

A: What really inspired me was this idea of collaborative practice. During my second year we had an opportunity to work with visual artists and to compose with them. This opportunity to be in the room with artists is so interesting, bringing in another disciplines and then seeing what happens when these two worlds collide. That really inspired me and I thought ‘wow, I want to continue doing this, finding ways of bringing artists together to create something that we couldn’t create alone’.

Empathy by Neon Dance. Photo by Tonje Thilesen
Empathy by Neon Dance. Photo by Tonje Thilesen

Q: You went on to become Dream Artist at Pavilion Dance Southwest, tell us about that experience and the importance of the support that you received to enable you to be able to create work and collaborate with others…

A: It was more than an opportunity, it was a real step changer. The way that I run my company Neon Dance until then was really project-based and at that point in time I had the opportunity, alongside support from the Arts Council, to enable me to work with a producer in a longer-term situation, instead of towards one production where all of that momentum is lost. To have a sustained two-year period of Dream Artist associateship enabled me to galvanise more support and to keep making work. It really helped bring me to the place where I am today.

Q: Did this lead to you being selected on to the Sadler’s Wells Summer University programme?  

A: It all came about around the same time. I just started the Dream Artist associateship and then this opportunity came with Sadler’s Wells. It was a wonderful series of steps. There is something about that support, rather then it being a one off commission happening over a series of years – whether with an organisation or funding body – they really invest in you over that time span. It is about the confidence, but also about having that support in place to help you grow as an artist.

Q: When did you decide to form Neon Dance?

A: I was so naive when I think about it! It was only a year after graduating from London Contemporary Dance School that I coined this idea of Neon being this entity in which I could collaborate with others. This was all the way back at the end of 2003. It has only been since 2010 that I started being serious about it, focusing my attention on it as a company.

Q: Why did you name your company ‘Neon Dance’ rather than Adrienne Hart company?

A: I have always had an interest in branding. It is unrelated to dance. But in a way it is not. I wanted it to be a collaboration, I wanted to let go of the ego, and had this idea of different artists coming together and producing something that they couldn’t create alone. I guess by having a name that is separate from me as an individual choreographer, it enabled me to perhaps take a journey and for not every work to be the same – perhaps the choreographic language changes depending on who I am inviting into the room with me. That felt important to me, to separate myself from the name of the company.

Q: How would you describe your choreographic language or how do others describe it?

A: It is difficult to answer. I am aware of the fact that as a choreographer and as a dancer having trained in the UK at a particular dance school, I am going to be coloured and shaped by my training. You will see architectural lines of Cunningham, because I spent a long time doing Cunningham technique, and you will see moments of floor work where you can make historical references. But my language is, I would say, highly technical, there is a layering that goes on that has to do with an emotional intelligence of the performers I work with. And the other element is the collaborative element – right now I am working with an amazing fashion artist who makes these artefacts and that colours and shapes the movement languages that are produced.

Q: You have presented in a variety of spaces, how have these spaces influenced the works that you have created?

A: When you have the opportunity to rehearse in the Opera House, that particular studio setting is going to have an influence absolutely. Then you take a work, sometimes often the same work to very different context (such as Glastonbury) and you have to adapt. It is a different audience. I love that, I love creating work that has that adaptability and the ability to scale up or down and to talk to an audience on their terms. I think about it in the making process, enabling everything not to be too rigid, it has to have a clear structure and everything is set, but also giving agency to the performers, allowing them to make decisions in the moment.

Q: You have worked in places like Russia, Norway, Germany, Kosovo, how were those experiences as a creator and as an artistic director presenting works?

A: I love doing stuff like that, throwing myself in the deep, discovering what it is about me that makes me British or a female choreographer and all of these tags. For example, working in Kosovo, that was a wonderful experience working alongside a brilliant director, seeing how she worked with her actors and how I could get over the language barrier. That was the same in Russia, where I was working with 4 male ballet dancers who didn’t speak English and I worked through a translator – but the body is an amazing thing and it senses so much and we were able to collaborate in the space.

Q: How did the curation of Wild Card at Sadler’s Wells come about?

A: It was initially Eva Martinez (who’s in charge of artistic programming at Sadler’s Wells) who approached me about Wild Card some time ago – we have been talking for a couple of years now about the possibility of doing something, but at the time I had become really interested in doing full-length work. It was only quite recently that I got back in touch and said, ‘ok, I think I have an idea here’. The brilliant thing about Sadler’s Wells is that they are so responsive, so I was able to have only the seed of an idea – which is on the 88th day of the year, every year for the last 3 years there has been international Piano Day. I met up with a collaborator of mine, Nils Frahm, and said I would love to do an event that is about live dance and music coming together around collaborative practice.

Q: What can people expect from your curated Wild Card?  

A: The piano is going to be featured, absolutely, we have a beautiful piano set up in the space [Canadian composer and pianist John Kameel Farah performing]. We have invited visual artist Lily Hunter Green to present work in the foyer space, where you first enter, called ‘Tuning In’. It looks at the declining bee population and how farmers are using tuning forks to pollinate flowers, because the bees and the flowers are out of their sacred bond with one another. It is a beautiful piece of work and it connects with Piano Day.

The audience will have the opportunity to have a sense of behind the scenes of Neon Dance – I have a brilliant photographer Oliver Holmes presenting his behind the scenes photography of us in the studio, and I have a documentary film from Tom Sherman being presented. This is all free for anyone that doesn’t have a ticket, they can come in and see this part of the night.

Once you enter the space, we have two of my own works being presented. One is a production called ‘Empathy’, that has been touring for a while now and that is as the title suggests, all around the subject of empathy, looking at the empathy spectrum. The other production is a brand new work called ‘Mahajanaka’, which is all around collaboration and is about working with artists outside of the UK. I worked with an award-winning dance artist called Pichet Klunchun, who is based in Thailand and in partnership with Sebastian Reynolds. Finally, we have some special guests, we have pionist John Kameel Farah performing, and Maeva Berthelot who is incredible dance artist.

Q: What is your greatest joy in having your own company?

A: It is such a luxury isn’t it, having the opportunity to discover and find things that I find interesting about the world and the human experience, and then bring together teams of artists, both from the UK and abroad, to create something that is beyond me as an individual. You never quite know until you put it in front of a live audience what the reaction will be. I am fascinated by sitting in the back of the audience and reading peoples’ backs, it is also terrifying of course! It is not an easy job to do. But when I have the opportunity, it is such a privilege to be invited to another country or to work with another company. Particularly when it is your own work that is invited, I am never going to be tired of that!

Q: What are some of the challenges as an Artistic Director of your own company?

A: Where to start! It is always a challenge, there is always the issue of funding – I don’t have a problem coming up with the ideas, it is about how you make them happen, how you turn them into works that can tour for a long time. I think it has also been about finding a right team of people to help me do that. It is recognising how much work you can do as an individual and also recognising the times where you just have to say, ‘no, I cannot write another application!’ I am fortunate with the support I have now.

Q: What is your vision for the future of your company?

A: Our plan is to keep doing what we are doing – in the short term I have a premiere of my own work in September in Japan and then we hope to tour that. We have the UK tour in the autumn. It is more of the same I would say!

Q: What advice would you give to other choreographers, and other female choreographers, who may want to follow in your footsteps?

A: It is so hard because every journey is so individual. It is hard to give one piece of advice. I would say, don’t be afraid to ask for things – a lot of the time some of the artists I am working with or have worked with in the past is because I have just asked for it; I haven’t waited for someone to come knocking to my door.

Don’t miss Adrienne Hart’s Neon Dance curated Wild Card evening at Sadler’s Wells on 22 & 23 March.