All photos by Johnathan Kim
The presidents of the Dance Student Union and Music Student Union share their experiences producing Ascension 2.0
Ascension is a completely student organized, choreographed, composed, performed, produced, and run live show of contemporary works by students in the School for Contemporary Arts. Over 50 students were involved in putting on the show, which held four performances over three days. 2013 marked the second year for the show and featured seven pieces. The performances are the culmination of multiple months of collaboration between choreographers and composers.
Ascension is co-produced by the Dance Student Union and Music Student Union. The presidents of the two student unions, who were heavily involved in putting on the show and creating performances for it, shared their experiences with FCAT. They all agree that communication was a major challenge throughout the process, and that they all gained great new skills in this area. They also agree that while putting on a student run event involves a lot of work, it is extremely rewarding. They highly recommend finding opportunities to work collaboratively with students from other programs and are excited to see Ascension continue to grow.
Charlotte Newman (C) and Akeisha de Baat (A) are co-presidents of the Dance Student Union. Scott Jeffery (S) is the president of the Music Student Union.
1. Why did you become involved with Ascension?
A: After performing in the original Ascension in 2012, I thought it was such a unique experience I wanted to bring back the opportunity for other students. As Co-President of the Dance Union I had the ability to make it happen.
S: I was involved with the first Ascension in October 2012 as a composer and I saw what a fantastic opportunity it was for contemporary arts students to showcase their work. I wanted to help continue that opportunity the following year.
C: In October 2012 I was part of the very first Ascension as a performer. I was excited to continue my involvement the following year, and help build it into an annual and expected performance organized entirely by students.
2. Describe your role with Ascension. Why did you choose this role?
A: I was a co-producer. I was also the external communicator between the production team, producers, choreographers, and dancers. I was in charge of making sure our team, of over 50 people, were all on the same page. I chose this role as I was not a choreographer or performer and was able to manage the large amount of emails and scheduling. During the actual show I wore many hats. I was managing ticket sales, backstage, and dancers.
S: I was in charge of forming the music ensemble for the show and was the main contact for the composers. Since SFU does not have a music performance program, I had to go outside the school to find the musicians. I was lucky enough to find and hire four fantastic young professionals to form the ensemble. This ensemble has been kept together, which is exciting as it means there is another ensemble for young composers to write for!
I was also a composer for one of the pieces and had the pleasure of working with choreographers Charlotte Newman and Gina Alpen on our piece, pack4.
C: While I performed in Ascension 2012, I was ready to take on a larger role the coming year as many of the key leaders had graduated from Contemporary Arts. I worked with Akeisha and Scott as Producers, because I wanted to help build the performance in to the best event possible and I was excited to help lay the ground work to make such a large student production an annual occurrence. I also participated in Ascension 2013 as a choreographer and performer. As a choreographer it was an amazing chance to work with composers and live musicians – I performed in my own work and that of a peer.
3. What were some of the best lessons/skills you gained from this role?
A: Looking back, I really learnt how important communication is between everyone involved. As a leader I need to be on top of all aspects of the show and make sure if the answer was not known that it was answered as soon as possible. I really enjoyed my role. I got to be a part of everything and learn a little bit from every aspect that goes into creating a high production value show.
S: That it takes a whole heck of a lot of good people to make a show like Ascension run! It was fantastic to see so many SFU students collaborating together to make this show successful – everyone brought something to the table.
It was also fantastic to be able to work and form connections with young musicians from around Vancouver – hopefully these connections will lead to more collaboration with SFU composers!
C: Putting together a show is a collaborative effort, and pretty much impossible without people to lean on and work with! Through both producing, performing and choreographing for Ascension, I realized what a big undertaking putting on a performance – especially one with four shows and involving over 50 students – is! Each person involved was there with a specific reason and skill, and it couldn’t have happened without everyone adding something. I learned how important it is to ask for help from others when needed, trust people’s strengths, and try to share the load! All in all though, at the end of the day being positive that it is all going to work out and not losing one’s head is probably the best way to approach such a project!
4. How was Ascension created? Who came up with it and why?
S: Remy Siu and the Music Student Union first created Ascension in 2012. We are always looking for new ways and opportunities to have student pieces shown, and this was a fantastic way to do it.
A: In 2013 Charlotte and I teamed up with Scott and Jeremy [Music Student Union’s Treasurer] to put together our resources and apply for a grant from the SFSS. Each union successfully applied for a $2000 grant from the SFSS to put towards the production cost.
C: In 2012 the music had been composed first, and choreographers came in and created work for the music. We were excited to continue Ascension the following year, but wanted to make it a truly collaborative show where each artist was building work from the ground up together.
5. What makes Ascension ‘special’ or ‘unique’?
A: Ascension is unique because it is not only student run, but without the assistance of any SFU faculty. The School for the Contemporary Arts donates the usage of the space as part of their Undergraduate Performance Series. The collaboration and professional experience that it provides is unique to Ascension. The collaboration between choreographer and composer is something that is encouraged in the school, but as part of Ascension it is mandatory. Ascension also provides another opportunity for composers to have their work performed by musicians. I also believe that for a student produced and run show that production value is quite high. We couldn’t have done it with out the help of the production students. Their work was amazing.
C: Ascension is quite unique within the School for the Contemporary Arts and Vancouver. Ascension is an entirely student driven, created and performed show (minus the engagement of professional musicians considering that SFU does not have a music performance program). This means we were working with over 50 students, plus an array of SFU and Woodwards Cultural Unit faculty and staff. This is the largest student produced performance within Woodwards, and focuses on interdisciplinary connections across the contemporary arts. Ascension was started to build a platform for collaborative performance between students, including choreographers, dancers, composers, musicians, and technical theatre students. Student choreographers and composers were paired together to develop collaborative work throughout a 4-6 month period before the performance, thus premiering new work entirely outside of the class work.
6. Describe the collaboration aspect of Ascension.
C: Beyond the above, the two unions worked very closely for 8 months leading up to the performance. Together we were able to secure a grant from the SFSS that made the entire performance possible. Scott, Akeisha and I – all presidents of our respective unions - produced the entire show as well, so this meant a lot of very close work throughout each aspect of the process.
7. What were some challenges you faced during the process?
A: I believe the rehearsal schedule was a challenge. As was making sure that musicians were comfortable with each composition. Also, rehearsing each piece with live music is always a challenge. We originally wanted to provide more rehearsal time with dancer/choreographer and musician/composer, but it didn’t work out. I think our musicians and dancers did an amazing job quickly adjusting to how a piece of music sounds and the change in tempo that live performance creates.
C: One of the many challenges was communication! So many people are involved in putting a show - any number of people are connected to music, dance, lights, sound, stage management, physical space, maintenance, tickets, marketing, photos, video, etc. – it felt like we were bound to lose some one along the way! After a few miscommunications at the start, it helped to define exactly who was in charge of talking to whom. That way we weren’t all saying the same thing to one person, but forgetting to mention it to another. Considering that student lead performance is just getting off the ground at Woodwards, communication was bound to be a challenge and will probably continue to be in the near future as people figure out who needs to know what.
8. What advice would you give other students wanting to be involved with Ascension or something similar in the future?
A: Plan early and don’t underestimate anything. If you want to be a choreographer or a composer do it as a directed study. That way you can get credit for all the work that goes into your piece, and also receive guidance for your piece. For anyone that wants to do something similar, I’d say if you have a vision go for it. It may start small, but ideas usually grow and become much more than they intended to be as long as you believe and are invested in the project.
C: Go for it! Being part of a student conceived and performed event is a great experience. Be ready to put in a ton of work, accept that you will probably end up doing a wider range of jobs then you signed up for, and be proud that the final product came entirely from you and your peers!