This summer, our Community and Talent Development team, alongside ZooNation, ran a series of auditions in three of our Hippodrome Education Network Schools to be part of a curtain raiser performance for Message In A Bottle on Friday 24 September.  The team selected a group of 13 young people aged 12-17 to participate in a residency led by Choreographer Robia Milliner. With guidance from industry professional tutors, the company created an original piece of dance theatre, drawing on their own personal experiences and exploring what it means to find light in the darkest of moments.

We spoke with ZooNation Creative Assistant Xsia Blair and Hippodrome Artistic Assistant Arnold Tshibangu to find out more about this special curtain raiser performance.

Tell us a little about yourself and your role in the curtain raiser project?

Arnold: I am an all-round freelance artist, based in Birmingham. I was assigned to be a creative assistant in this project, aiding with the creative aspects of the performance.

Xsia: I am a dancer/ choreographer based in Wolverhampton and work all over the UK. My role within this project is a creative assistant, providing external support within all sessions.

What is your background with the Hippodrome?

Xsia: In 2017 I auditioned to take part in Groove On Down The Road which was brought to Birmingham by Zoonation. This was an amazing opportunity for me as I was able to bring together my outside dance with school.  I have also taken part in the B-SIDE Hip-Hop Festival and I have competed and performed at many competitions including the U DANCE event which is also held at the Hippodrome and in London.

Arnold: In 2016 whilst studying at 6th Form, myself and four other students had an opportunity to perform at a conference held at my school. From that, we were given a variety of opportunities to perform at various dance events including the Hippodrome’s B-SIDE Hip-Hop Festival 2017.

What have been the highlights from this curtain raiser project?

Arnold: It was enjoyable just being able to help the students get out of their comfort zone. Whenever I had the opportunity during warmups, myself and Xsia would incorporate different concepts that were not only relevant to the performance but to their own personal skill set as well. By doing that, it was nice to see them enjoy and gradually become more comfortable when it came to their movements as well as applying everything we taught to the performance. It was somewhat nostalgic delivering the project in my old school too! It was also special to be on the other side as the overseer of the project as I’m used to being the person on the stage.

Xsia: When we first started the project Robia mainly focused on confidence and bonding activities as the dancers were all from different schools, so my main highlight was watching all the dancers become more comfortable with each other, especially from stepping back and watching from a non-dancer ‘outside’ perspective. Every part of this project from leading warm ups to filling in for missing students has been a highlight within itself.

What advice or encouragement would you give a young person interested in dance?  

Xsia: My advice would be to never limit yourself and always push yourself. Your hard work will always be noticed by the right people if you commit. If you’re new to dance I would advise you branch out and try different elements of dance instead of closing yourself off at such an early stage of your plan. Always work hard for what you want.

Arnold: I would say to never give up because in time it will come. Do not be afraid to go into the unknown and allow yourself to take the time to build up yourself.