Jason Beechey is a professional dancer and also rector of the Palucca University of Dance Dresden, a renowned institution for classical and contemporary dance, that exists for more than 90 years. And yet the word artist makes him a bit scared when describing his line of work: “My name is Jason, I was born and my passion is exploring the body in movement with music, the possibilities and to help other people discover their possibilities. Is it artistic? Possibly, but I think it is more for me about the discovery, the journey, the process. It is probably more scientific than artistic.” The scientific voyage is Beechey’s life: “I think I am on a journey, on a process where I started as a trained dancer and then I had moments where I was on stage and then I have moments where I teach, and now moments here in Palucca. What really inspires me is being able to put all the pieces of the puzzle together, that everybody else can find their journey. So for me, of course, there are steps along the way, but it is a full circle.”
Physical ability and curiosity to explore
For Beechey two things need to come together in order to become a professional dancer: Physical ability and curiosity to explore one’s own creativity in order to develop an individual position. “Because our profile is based on ballet, improvisation and contemporary dance, and if you want to give somebody this intense training in those subjects you need a physical suitability, otherwise you get injured. To go on pointe, for the girls, you need a certain amount of flexibility in the foot, in your ankle; otherwise you won’t get on pointe. So there are physical abilities that you look at otherwise you would be leading somebody down to a false path, which would be unfair. But then we spend a lot of time with them when they are very young seeing how curious they are. You cannot teach someone to be creative or to be curious but you have to allow them the space to explore on their own. You can give them ideas “Hey, you have got an amazing musician, and when they play, how do you react? How do you bring that into movement?” All over our studios are windows creating transparency and when there is a winter storm or if it’s bright sunshine outside it affects their movement qualities. You can influence, but I think it’s about sparking people to discover the ideas they have.
In his education approach Beechey is following the path founder Gret Palucca who said almost a century ago “everybody can dance”. For Beechey “everybody has their own dance, you just have to let them develop it. I believe, people have their own rhythm, their own heartbeat, their own brain, their own ideas.”
To allow for those ideas to emerge an environment has to be created, “a controlled and safe environment where people feel and know they are safe enough to take risks. We have small classes. If you would have more people in the room you would hate each other. You have to give an environment where they feel safe to test the balance, the limits, take risks but you know it is not something stupid where they would hurt themselves. It is a fine balance. We encourage, we are trying to enhance improvisation.” As a dancer Beechey does not “believe that when people work under fear you will get the best results out of them. I believe you have to enable people to become aware of who they are. I believe you have to give people chances to take responsibility, to assume for themselves, to be autonomous, because I think you see that [opposite] in fear. The performances that inspire me is when I see dancers on stage who are thinking, they’re aware, they’re on top of it, they are proactive. When you see performances where they are all desperately trying to stay in line and they are like little children or they are immature, I don’t find this inspiring.“
Leadership: The capacity to organize
To enable inspiring performances Beechey is applying a leadership style that does not fit the cliché of strict hierarchy and bad character that many people have in mind when they think about excellence in dance: “If I describe myself as a leader, I am somebody who is very patient, I have got a lot of diplomacy, I have clear ideas but I like to surround myself with a team of really competent people who also share my ideas, goals and vision. Nevertheless, I want to have people who are willing to accept responsibilities, who are willing to stick their neck out, and make suggestions. My leadership scares some people because for some people it is much easier to have a dictator who tells you “shut up, do this, do that”. But I don’t find that brings an inspiring atmosphere, so I have an open door policy. As a leader I try to be as accessible as possible. I try to treat every single person with as much respect as I can. I believe, it was always my dream to lead a school. […] That was always my dream but it wasn’t a leadership position to have the power, it was because I always felt that I had the capacity to organize.”
Unconscious moments and serendipity
For Beechey a safe environment and a supportive leadership style are key components to the creation of inspiring performances but there is two more magic components he is offering during our conversation. Leaving room for the unconscious and space for things to emerge. “I mean I think for me, my best ideas came to me when I was asleep. You wake up in the morning and you are like ‘That’s it! We need to do this, now!’ You are having a shower and a light goes on.” However, this recipe doesn’t work for us always nor does it for Beechey because “If ideas usually come to me, in those unconscious moments, and if I have to spend hours and hours and hours thinking about planning it, it is not going to be one of my best ideas.” But better be prepared for it! Leaving space for things to emerge according to Jason Beechey is not to say there is no path outlined. “You have to have your “fil conducteur” [French expression referring to “central thread”], you have to know where you want to go but if you plan every step of the way it is boring!” So while there is an aspiration there is no detailed plan. Only then new things can emerge. “I think you have to make room that things can actually take flight on their own. That was something that always inspired me. It was actually the challenge of building something from scratch.”
I have never felt like I’ve worked!
Certainly a life dancing “is a lot of hard work, it is a lot of pushing and pushing, and trying, and challenging and re-questioning, but when you are living your passion it is not work, you’re living your passion, so I am really lucky. […] I have never felt like I’ve worked! I am just doing my passion, like I couldn’t imagine living without dance!
The complete interview may be accessed here.
Picture Source: Ida Senna via Palucca University of Dance Dresden