Dancer and choreographer Gemma Nixon joined Rambert Dance Company in 2006. She is also co-founder of Goddard Nixon and is one of a handful of choreographers in New Movement Collective. She talks to Martha Alexander about auditions, staying healthy and fighting for your right to dance…
Where did you train?
I was fortunate enough to get a job at Scottish Dance Theatre in Dundee, having been at The Arts Educational School in Tring. After that I started at Rambert, where I am now.
How did you get into Rambert?
I started by visiting the company to take classes as and when I could, as I was working with Scottish Dance Theatre. When a contract became available they asked if I would audition. Mark Baldwin, the Artistic Director, taught me a technique class and asked me to show him an extract of something I had previously performed. I then had an interview with him.
How does Rambert find dancers?
They hold auditions once a year.
What does it take to work there?
Dedication, commitment, ambition, confidence.
Are there opportunities to be in shows from the start?
In Rambert you get put on stage pretty quickly, especially if there’s a piece in the rep that the director wants a young dancer for. I think you only learn by doing: by making mistakes onstage because you can only go so far in a studio.
As a dancer, how do you approach the creation of a piece when you’re working with a choreographer?
I try to stay as open as possible and willing to go where the choreographer wants me to go. In some cases, that takes bravery: allowing yourself to go to a vulnerable place. It is important to build trust between the choreographer and dancer to create the right environment to allow this to happen.
How do you make dance emotionally convincing as well as technically excellent?
Often, when we work, we think of particular emotions that we think are going to portray what the choreographer wants to say. It’s not about acting or narrative: I internalise emotion and make it physically manifest.
Is it important to have other projects on the go?
I became interested in choreography and I wanted to see if I could do it, so I set up Goddard Nixon, with Jonathan Goddard. He came from Scottish Dance too and we both use improvisation a lot. It seemed like a natural thing to do. Until one fully commits to being a choreographer by leaving a company, it’s going to be hard to fit everything in.
Do you have any practical tips?
With Goddard Nixon, we video ourselves dancing, watch it back and pick out the good bits and work out why other parts didn’t work.
How do you stay healthy?
To help with my strength and fitness I do yoga and Pilates and sometimes circuit training. I have a very balanced diet and I enjoy all foods. I have learned over the years what my body needs and when, to enable me to do my job the best I can. Having a good meal after a show gives me the energy and focus required for the show the following day.
What advice would you give to people looking for a career in dance?
Be true to what you like – not what you think you should like. You don’t have to join a company. You can create one of your own. Obviously, with the economic climate – it’s getting tougher in terms of getting funding. But if you love dance, fight for it.
Gemma will be part of Rambert’s Season of new choreography at Southbank Centre on 31 May, and then Casting Traces at TestBed1, Battersea, London between 10-13 July. Find out more.
Image credits: Simon Weir, Eric Richmond and Elliott Franks.
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