What theatre making student Qilin Zhang says about her time with WPD

I came to Britain a year ago to complete a masters in Theatre Making at the University of Kent.

I am a would-be actor from China. In China the type of drama I used to like was that that was grounded in realism and naturalism. These plays would often have fixed sets, dense writing, and straight acting. During my time in the UK, I watched a lot of plays and I found myself falling in love with physical theatre and dance theatre. This style of work was very different from what I had seen before. I used to be a fan of dance, but dance alone could not hold my attention. Looking back at all the physical theatre I’ve seen I would not hesitate to say that Wayne Parsons Dance is my favourite company. At first, I couldn’t identify why, but through Wayne’s generous offer to observe the company at work for three days of their R&D for his new work Out Late, I think I had more or less found the answer.

Wayne Parsons Dance’s works are always well-crafted. With a clear focus on storytelling, they combine visual richness with precise lines of text and an emotive use of the body in motion. If any of these elements were to be missing or not seamlessly integrated, I think the soul of the company will be lost. To use an analogy, if the experience of seeing his plays felt like travelling along a road, each element he uses to tell his stories are a brick that lead his audience down the street. What is so satisfying is the journey is infectious and involving! Wayne’s work is definitely innovative. He’s really good at exploring the combination of dance and drama in new ways. Breaking away from the physical traits of a particular style of dance, his company’s performers use body movements that are both eye-catching and in line with the story. Value is placed on text. Language is brought to life without it feeling overly wordy and it’s used to unconsciously shape the way an audience perceives the characters in his works.

In terms of approach to making, l observed that all involved in the creative process have a macro vision of the work they are making and thus share an understanding of what the work needs to succeed. This collaborative approach means the creation and understanding of the needs of the work are shared by all in the studio. Wayne treats his performers with respect and allows them the space they need to find the characters they play. Professional playwright Ankur Bahl wrote the script, which Wayne, Ankur and the performers discussed and revised in the studio.

The biggest thing I learned when observing was the importance Wayne place’s on content- how he picks each moment both physically and textually for a specific reason within the narrative he is choosing to tell. The other thing that struck me was the attention that is placed on ‘how’ the work is performed and in turn what this says in relations to meaning.

As their fan, I really feel very happy to have had an opportunity to watch them rehearse closely. Whether it is Ankur’s mastery of script writing, Wayne’s rich experience as an art director, or the excellent professional ability and team spirit of the performers, it was well worth me spending time with the company to learn!

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