In 2016, after graduating from Rambert, I was hired by Manchester-based physical theatre company 'Company Chameleon' as an Apprentice Dancer. I was severally inexperienced and the youngest dance the company was working with. During that tour, my first ever, I learnt one of the most fruitful lessons of my professional career.
Kevin, one of the directors of Chameleon and choreographer of ‘Witness’, the centrepiece of our double bill, stood in front and told us:
When I first met Kevin, I knew he was going to hire me. Not because I nailed that audition, or because of my giant ego (which at that time was deflated from three years of schooling). But something about our interaction made me feel so comfortable, so at ease, that I just knew I would be moving to Manchester. Kevin had seen something in me that was worth nurturing, and he trusted me to bring it, to offer it all.
I was sat in a friend's kitchen with the sun pouring in when I found out I’d gotten the job. In fact, I’d gotten two different jobs, Chameleon in Manchester, and Black Box Theatre in Denmark. I was already replying to the email before I realised I ‘should’ think about it. There wasn’t any competition in my mind, I knew where I was going, but I let myself think for a moment, just in case.
That first year with Chameleon taught me a huge amount about the world of a Contemporary Dancer, and the environment Kevin and Team CC created gave me the space I needed to blossom as a student, not just an artist. Working with those people I learnt things no school can ever teach you, things they should never try too. You can’t become a professional until you hit the road with a work to perform and a company to support you.
“For the next few days, this building, this theatre, is your Home. Treat it as such.”
A version of this speech would arise in almost every venue we entered, from Brighton to Manchester to my hometown of Cambridge. Every theatre was our home, every audience, our guests.
In the years since I’ve parted from Chameleon, that message has remained of visceral importance to me. It is a lesson that deeply affects how I interact with my art, and, as I embrace Home as one of my touchstones, how I interact with and understand myself. At home, I sing in the shower and brush my teeth before guests come over. At home, I make sure that things are orderly if not clean and keep the world feeling comfy without losing my erratic state.
I learnt a lot on that first tour, what it means to be ‘professional’, how to survive on the road. I learnt about energy, and trust, and exhaustion, and a whole host of things I cannot put words to. Kevin, especially, taught me that I am greater than what I imagined. He put faith in me, inexperienced as I was, and knew that I would achieve what I thought was impossible.
My time with Chameleon was not perfect. Moving that far away from my long term partner, dancing less than I would have expected, being pushed harder than I was really ready for, these things took a big toll on my mental health, especially during that autumn tour. Some of those rough edges came from my relationship with Kevin, some of them from my own abilities and perception. But so many good things grew from what he taught me, what he saw and valued and nurtured in that young man.
I think now it is time to honour that vision. To embrace the seeds he planted, the ones that have given me fruit since before I knew the taste. The ones that allow me to say, where ever I go:
In 2016, Kevin Edward Turner took a chance on a young man with no experience in this world, now I get to take a chance on him too.
Thanks Kev, your care means a lot to me.
'Flash' excerpt from 'Witness' by Kevin Edward Turner
Video Filmed and Edited by Benny Wynn Williams
Choreography by Kevin Edward Turner
Music 'Flash' by Queen
Danced by Oliver Sale