When speaking to Janet Smith, the former Artistic Director of Scottish Dance Theatre and current principal of Northern School of Contemporary Dance, about Natalie Trewinnard, the dancer she invited into that company’s apprenticeship programme several years ago, she says; “I realised that we had invited in a Tigress on stage and a mouse into the studio”.
On first hearing that it may seem like an odd thing to say but it sums up Natalie’s personal approach to dance perfectly. She is a dancer who diligently studies all that is going on around her in the studio and applies the information gleaned from these observations to hone her own craft. A craft that she has applied to the works of a diverse range dance makers with both Scottish Dance Theatre, the rep company based in Dundee, and now with Ballet Lorent, the North East of England based dance theatre company.
In many ways Natalie’s career path has followed an almost ideal trajectory. Spotted during her final year at London Contemporary Dance School by Janet Smith, performing a self choreographed solo and a duet crafted by James Wilton, she was invited to come and visit Scottish Dance Theatre and apply for the apprentice programme being run by LCDS that placed graduating students with professional dance companies for a year of post-graduate work experience.
For the (at the time) 21 year old dancer this was a dream come true and she promptly left for Dundee to spend a week with the company observing them in pre-production for a new tour and from that moment fell in love with the organisation, the people and the work they were making. After that initial week Ms Trewinnard was determined to secure her place in the company and given her demanding work ethic and considerable skill set, the outcome was a forgone conclusion.
Medals For Romanian National Dance
The path to Scottish Dance Theatre and beyond started, as it does for many dancers, with innumerable classes as a youngster in an eclectic range of dance styles starting with Classical Greek through ISTD Modern all the way to winning a medal in Romanian National Dance, an occurrence, Ms Trewinnard describes as, perfectly “normal”. Participation and training in contemporary dance would come later.
Janet Smith was the Artistic Director of Scottish Dance Theatre when she first saw Natalie performing as a third year student at London Contemporary Dance School
Now the principal of Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds Janet explains why she was drawn to Natalie as a dancer and why she invited her to first become an apprentice at the company then a full time professional dancer.
Initial studies took place with dance teacher Yasmin Taylor at her school of dance in Southhampton with classes becoming regular and organised at the age of seven. The classes and experiences were varied and numerous but for Natalie there was a more fundamental reason for her fascination with the art form. At the time she admits to being very shy; “I wasn’t very good with words” she explains, so dance provided the perfect outlet to “talk without talking”.
Natalie recalled a brief time of about 6 months when she walked away from dance completely at the age of 15. During A-Levels she toyed with the idea of perhaps seeking a career in physiotherapy or another related subject but the pull of dancing was too great and Natalie soon returned to the studio, this time plotting a career in the profession. Although she was perfectly happy with taking classes at the local dance school with Yasmin Taylor, Natalie’s mother encouraged her to audition for the Hampshire Youth Dance Company based at The Point in Eastleigh. Reluctantly she agreed to go along (it was only one day per week), a decision Natalie describes as one of the best she ever made.
HYDC opened the 16 year old dancer’s eyes to a whole new range of teaching and work along with new friends and a more structured training and working environment that involved working with professional dance makers and taking on mini-tours. HYDC also exposed her to the wide world of contemporary dance for the very first time at a point when Natalie’s thoughts were leaning toward musical theatre based on her training up to that point. It was during her time with HYDC that Natalie was selected to take part in the very first Centre for Advanced Training Scheme at ThePlace in London, an achievement that resulted in a years long connection to the venerable dance training institution.
A Brand New CAT
The principal behind the Centre for Advanced Training (CAT) scheme is simple and at the time it had some similarities with HYDC. The aim was to provide young dancers with a more regimented form of regular technique training and performance opportunities alongside working with professional dance makers in the hope they will be better prepared for a future both as a full-time dance student and then a professional dancer. For Natalie Trewinnard this scheme was the perfect next step, pun very much intended.
Along with the advantages of being part of an organised training programme, including contact with teachers like Rambert dancer Jonathan Goddard and Kerry Nicholls the CAT further cemented Natalie’s adoption of contemporary dance crediting the form with “grounding” her as a dancer and exposing her to even more creative diversity within the dance world. The CAT was a place where Natalie felt very much at “home”.
Hedging her bets just a little, Natalie did audition for other dance schools but, given her experience with the inaugural CAT project, ThePlace and LCDS was where she really wanted to be and in 2005 she joined the 1st year at the school. Having dreamed of the day she would take up full time dance training finally, that moment was upon her. She recalls how special it felt to be able to walk into the building, to be a part of what was happening there.
Before taking up her place at LCDS Natalie imagined that the three year programme would “sort her out” physically as a dancer but she soon came to realise that the learning process for a dancer is something that never really ends.
During that first year Natalie realised that it wasn’t going to be all dancing all the time. The sheer scope of the training from anatomy, to music, to history and so on was, perhaps, a little intimidating but, once again, her work ethic kicked in and she set about trying to learn and absorb everything that was thrown at her. Natalie does admit, unusually, to perhaps working a little too hard during her training and not letting herself back off just a little bit more. From signing on for multiple extra classes during lunch times to gym workouts prior to classes and long bike rides into school during her training she may have been a little to hard-core, perhaps too focused on the physical fitness side of things.
Ultimately, Natalie describes her time at LCDS as being both the hardest and the best experience, a constant series of challenges day to day to figure out where you are as a dancer and where you need to go as a dancer, summing up by stating, with a wry laugh, that she “wasn’t going to go without a fight”.
And fight on Natalie did to great success. Having secured the apprenticeship position with Scottish Dance Theatre she moved to Dundee, the company’s home base, in 2007 and the dancer set about, as Janet Smith describes it, finding her voice within the company or, as Janet Smith told us, to add to “..the listening, the imagining and the doing”.
Natalie Trewinnard rehearses 'Snow White' with Ballet Lorent alongside schoolchildren specially selected to take part in the project at Jesmond United Reformed Church in Newcastle upon Tyne | photo by Article19
From Scottish to Newcastle
Apprenticeships at Scottish Dance Theatre do not necessarily mean automatic transition into a full company member. Natalie described reaching the point in the apprenticeship when she had to both perform with the company in London on one day and then audition for a full time job in the very same company the next day. After a wait of a few months she was relieved to be told she had secured that full time position and her fully fledged professional career could begin.
Looking back Natalie sees the work she did with Scottish Dance Theatre as being the very best move she could have made as a dancer giving that the company was rep based and not driven by the work of a single dance maker. Natalie credits the constant challenges brought up by working with very different and very demanding choreographers from Kate Weare to Ben Duke to Ina Christel Johannessen and Jo Stromgren as shaping the kind of dancer she is today noting that she would be a very different kind of performer having emerged after four years from working with just one choreographer with a single vision. It was a journey that took across the UK to to the smallest theatre in the Scottish Highlands all the way to China and India for performances and education work.
It was during these four years with Scottish Dance Theatre that Natalie was exposed to the work of Liv Lorent, the Artistic Director of her current employer Ballet Lorent. In 2013 Natalie made the move from Dundee to the North East of England to take on a very different creative challenge. Initially adopting roles created by other dancers in two of the company’s work, ‘Rapunzel’ and ‘The Night Ball’, she has since moved on to creating roles in two new works; ‘Snow White’* and ‘Love Struck’.
In explaining her reasoning for moving on from Scottish Dance Theatre Natalie says it was very simple. It was time to refocus on new challenges, to refocus on herself as a dancer. Working for Ballet Lorent also meant shifting into a none full-time role in a dance company, a factor some might think would be a step back but not for Natalie. Full time employment and the repertory nature of Scottish Dance Theatre meant the dancers were pulled in a lot of different directions for long periods of time and after four long years it was time to make a change.
Like many professional dancers a little bit of luck here and a fateful decision there plays a small part in shaping the careers they have. The successes and career progression in large part however are a result of Natalie’s, to use her own word, “stubbornness” and determination to achieve the goals she wants to achieve. For her, it’s not about competing with others but competing with herself when tackling new challenges.
At a recent performance of Ballet Lorent’s new outdoor work ‘Love Struck’ it was notable that this particular dancer was incredibly self motivated and driven to rehearse, practice and re-rehearse sections of work over and over again despite the rest of the cast and crew leaving for lunch. It is, perhaps, this attention to detail that sets some dancers apart from others and no matter what opportunities, teachers, choreographers or companies come a dancer’s way the most important factor is the attitude and work ethic of the individual. You get out what you put in and Natalie Trewinnard has put an awful lot in.
*Ballet Lorent will premiere ’Snow White’ in October 2015