Alumni spotlight: in conversation with… Steff D’Arcy and Flora GrantWed 27 January 2021
Having trained together on Trinity Laban’s BA (Hons) Contemporary Dance programme, graduating in 2017, both Steff D’Arcy and Flora Grant have forged successful careers in the dance industry working across stage, music video, film and TV.
We caught up with them both to talk about their experiences as freelancers, and their work in screen dance.
Flora, you work as a freelance dance artist across a variety of mediums – what’s the experience been like?
FG: “I’ve been so lucky that my work has been so varied. Though working as a freelancer comes with challenges such as self-motivation, time-management and dealing with instability, it does mean that I’m always learning and doing new things. I get so much energy from working with other creatives. I’m definitely someone who is eager to learn and experience as many varied skills and jobs as possible.”
Steff, you work as both a professional dancer and choreographer, how do you balance these two roles?
SD: “I find the balance between being a dancer and a choreographer comes quite naturally to me. Being a freelancer has taught me to always be fluid and open to different work experiences and opportunities. I started out purely working as a dancer, but I found that the jobs I did often asked for an element of contribution to the work. From this a real passion and confidence sparked to create my own dance work.”
What have been some of your career highlights so far?
FG: “One highlight has been working on Martin Garrix’s music video ‘These Are The Times’ which was shot in Bulgaria. I’m always so grateful to be able to travel for work. I also had the opportunity to do my own stunts, which was an incredible experience. This job will forever be a special one.”
SD: “Dancing in the Vodafone ‘Be Unlimited’ advert, which we shot in Poland over a five-night shoot. It was great being on such a big set with a fabulous group of dancers and getting to travel for work. I’ve also had the pleasure of dancing for Adidas, BBC and Ministry of Sound shoots, all varying greatly in style and approach, which is something I love about the work I do.
“Choreographic highlights include working on the Boots 2019 Christmas advert, numerous music videos such as Flock of Seagulls, Freddie Long, Sinead O’Brien, and creating my own dance film Continue To Burn.”
Since graduating you’ve worked together on various projects including the dance film Continue to Burn which explores female rebellion. Can you share a bit more about the project?
SD: “Continue to Burn is about female rebellion and how we can find subtle ways to protest on issues close to our hearts. In the film, two females struggle against and support one another as they journey through an industrial landscape, set to a composed soundscape of field recordings, synth and female voice. It depicts a dance of strength, vulnerability and ever-changing power dynamics.
It commands the viewer to question their idea of the rebellious female.”
“It’s also about how people who identify as female relate and respond to one another. It questions whether we ever feel fully able to give our support to another womxn. I also wanted to look at historically important female figures to think about ways we can reinforce and empower all womxn through our different modern-day journeys, struggles and triumphs.”
FG: “Steff had been working on the idea for Continue to Burn for a while. Receiving the grant allowed her idea to come to fruition. It was choreographed in five days at the Laban Building – it was nostalgic to be back there with her as its where we trained together – and we shot it in one day. I’m really proud of the work we all did.”
You’ve also worked together for a film adaptation of A Christmas Carol (2020), released last month. What was the project like?
FG: “We rehearsed and shot the film in the summer of 2018. I honestly had the best time. Directed by Jacqui and David Morris and choreographed by Russell Maliphant, the film is a retelling of the original Dickens story, brought to life through the eyes of a little girl. I danced the role of Scrooge’s sister Fan as well as playing ensemble parts.
It was a dream to be able to learn and work with Maliphant, who is such an amazing choreographer and wise teacher.”
SD: “It was a real privilege to work on a feature length dance film with Russell Maliphant. He is such an esteemed choreographer and teacher. I learnt a great deal from him which influences my daily practice. My primary role in the film was Mother Caroline. She represented the very poorest people in London during a time of great depravity. I felt a sense of responsibility to portray the character the very best I could through harnessing both acting and dance skills. Getting to watch myself dance in the cinemas this Christmas was both a proud and surreal experience.”
FG: “It’s so amazing to see how the film has been received and hearing great things from friends and family.”
How does screen dance differ to live performance?
SD: “I feel that screen dance differs from live performance as the camera picks up every single detail of the work; the movement, expression, styling, make up, set and more. It’s like putting a magnifying glass over your work for everyone to see. Elements such as the editing process, angles, lenses and lighting can also drastically change the aesthetics of the footage you get back. Sometimes what you feel like you did on the shoot can look vastly different to the final product.”
FG: “With screen dance and film in general, there’s usually multiple takes which offers the opportunity to go again if you make mistakes, or to try things slightly differently. With live performance you don’t have those multiple chances and so there’s more at stake. There’s something so special about live performance, the ephemerality of it, the fact it unfolds before you and you’re living in the moment. With screen dance its lasting and you have something to watch back on, a permanent record of it.”
What were the most valuable things you both learned from or experienced during your time at Trinity Laban and how have your studies helped impact your careers?
SD: “My studies helped me gain a strong foundation in contemporary dance which I’ve been able to build on as a professional. During my training I learnt both choreographic and improvisational skills, which showed me ways to not only create movement, but also to trust in the process. Through taking part in CoLab [TL’s annual two-week festival of collaboration] I learnt how to collaborate with different artists and people. Collaboration is definitely a vital skill in the professional world. I CoLab’d with people from the Faculty of Music and I believe that’s helped me in my career when I’ve been on set making music videos for different music artists.”
FG: “I worked with so many amazing teachers who impacted and helped me. I think one of the most valuable experiences was Commissioned Works because I got to work with amazing choreographers and rehearse and perform like a professional company. This gave an insight into what performing and working professionally would be like.
“The main thing I’m grateful for is that Trinity Laban’s training is so varied. The diversity of the course was really key for me.
I had the space to evolve as an artist.”
“I don’t feel that Trinity Laban’s training is just about churning out the next best technical dancers. It’s more than that – it’s about making you a dance artist, someone who can engage on so many different creative levels.”
Can you share any advice for students who might be aspiring to a similar career path?
FG: “Be unapologetically you, be genuine, talk to people, try new things, make contacts and friends and reach out and ask questions – we’re all in it together. There isn’t one route or one way in. I didn’t necessarily set my sights of working in screen dance, it sort of happened organically, but something I was always keen to explore. I would recommend staying in the loop with opportunities and auditions through social media and people you know. If you are wanting more exposure, seeking representation from an agency would be a good step. It’s about doing your research and making contact. Be prepared to hear ‘no’ or get no response but be persistent.”
SD: “The dance world can be really tough. It’s full of rejections but building up a thick skin is essential and if you can take every let down as a learning opportunity you’ll grow so much faster. I believe that if you really want this to be your career, you keep working and putting yourself out there then the jobs that are right for you will come.”
Always be open, always be grateful, work hard and aim to build strong, positive working relationships.”
FG: “I know it’s cliched, but time flies by and you have to make the most of everyday. I think by the end of my training I was almost taking it for granted. Having left and having time to reflect I value the access I had to incredible facilities, the freedom that that allowed me to create and rehearse, and how incredible the teachers were. Utilise everything you have there at your fingertips.”
Any future plans you’d like to share with us?
FG: “My film work has been quieter due to the pandemic so I’m seeing what comes up and seizing every opportunity I can. I’m also enjoying the range of jobs and side hustles I’ve got going on, like teaching, photography, modelling and acting. I really miss performing on stage in live works, so we’ll see, who knows what will happen next…”
SD: “The pandemic has been tough on our industry so taking some time to look after my body and mental health has been paramount. I’m happy to say I have a few exciting music videos coming up and I‘m planning to create another dance film expanding and building off Continue to Burn.”
Main image: Steff D’Arcy (left) and Flora Grant (right) in Continue to Burn
Director and Choreographer: Steff D’Arcy @steffdarcydance
Dancers: Steff D’Arcy and Flora Grant @steffdarcydance @floradgrant
Music: Edith Orla @edithorla
Director Of Photography: Adam Singodia @adamsingodia
Producer: Mathilde Stone @hi_mathilde_
Edit: Edie Chaddock
Camera Assist: Lulu Pollice @lucreziapollice
Focus Puller: Davide Scalenghe @davide_scalenghe
Colour: James Demetriou @amusethebutcher
Costume Design: Michael Woods @mlawoods
Hair and Make Up: Ryn Zhan @ryn_zhan
Storyboard Artist: Twocabz @twocabz
Runner: Kerri Bennett @kerribennett_
Funding: Arts Council England @aceagrams
Commissioner: Festival Stoke @festivalstoke
Special Thanks: Trinity Laban @trinitylaban