Art that pushes boundaries

TAKING the untrodden road and challenging the dance creative status quo has paid off richly for a former Rhodes University student. Masters in drama graduate Nicola Elliott has won the Standard Bank Young Artist of the year for dance for her work in theatre which she calls “risky theatre making”.

Elliott, 30, said although she was surprised to receive the award, it serves as an award for the artists who are creating work that is out of the ordinary.

“This is a sort of award that is given for risky theatre making. Yes, I have always harboured a hope that maybe one day I would win it but I didn’t really put it down on the calendar for when and how I would win it.

“This award is really for artists who are sticking their heads out in their respective disciplines.

“If you look at the lineup of the winners you will see that although some of them have international acclaim, most of us are not well known and not a lot of people know about me.

“This award shows that you are pushing the boundaries with your work,” she said.

As a choreographer-director, performer, dance lecturer and facilitator, Elliott is known for her intellectual rigour, wit and irony and her aesthetic favours bold juxtaposition, detailed performance crafting and starkness.

She admits that she is very ambitious in making her visions manifest.

Elliott works in the fields of dance, theatre, dance-theatre, physical theatre and integrated dance and has briefly explored dance film.

Apart from choreography, Elliott has tutored and lectured at Rhodes University drama department and currently works part time at the University of Cape Town School of Dance and the South African College of Music.

She said her time at Rhodes University allowed her to develop a deeper sense of love for the arts and she was allowed to explore her creativity. “My work is untraditional. “I have always been fascinated with movement and when I was growing up, I would put the music on and I would spend hours and hours dancing around.

“I think that for me, dancing is more than just the traditional way – it is an intellectual interest to me. At Rhodes, your passion is really nurtured and you can explore theatre in the way that you want and that is really what spurred me on to go in the way that I did.

“For me, choreography is not just about steps – it is visual and it is physical and it uses aspects like space, time and dance to conceptualise a story.

“The steps in choreography are just the medium to express the concept,” she said.

Elliott’s next visit to the Eastern Cape will be for the Standard Bank Young Artist Award production. “The [award] gives the winners a production on the Main programme at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

“I am well into the conceptual work on it and closer to the festival time I will start work with the performers in the studio to execute my ideas.

“More than that I cannot give away,” she said.

Although she doesn’t come from a family of performers, Elliot’s love for the arts is shared in part with her mother. She said choreography and dance are her passion even if they do not bring her much sustainable income.

“Choreography is a heart project for me in that I put everything into it and it is a powerful and exciting place to be for me.

“I do come from a family of teachers, accountants and recently a doctor but they have always had big respect for the arts. My fondest memories are also of watching my mom perform from backstage – who is a trained opera singer – singing in amateur opera productions,” she said.

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