Life & Culture

Step out of line: Israeli-born choreographer Jasmin Vardimon celebrates 25 years of dance invention

As her dance company celebrates its silver anniversary, the internationally acclaimed artist reflects on the past 25 years and shares her plans for the future


Alice (2022)

Jasmin Vardimon is a busy woman. The internationally acclaimed choreographer and director of the Jasmin Vardimon Company is in the midst of planning a tour, creating new works and overseeing the launch of a new group for young dancers. All this is taking place in the company’s silver anniversary year, celebrating what Vardimon describes as “Twenty-five very successful and productive years”.

Her company is now happily established in its new base at JVHome in Ashford, Kent, built with financial support from Arts Council England and Kent County Council. “It has been amazing,” says Vardimon. “To have this investment in our company is fantastic. Our aim was always to create and share our artistic experience and knowledge, to provoke thoughts and to engage emotionally and intellectually. Sharing this experience, not just with audiences but also with participants and students, allows us to develop more training programmes and engagement with the community in Ashford. JVHome is where we research and create new work, but it is also a place where we encourage and support the education and development of the next generation of artists.”

She says working in Ashford has allowed the company to “take the community of Kent on a journey. They are slowly discovering the place, slowly coming in. We exchange ideas there, develop creative thinking and investigate new collaborations, so it has slowly become a creative hub for artistic research and creative study. We have built relationships with six local schools and other community groups.”

As well as school students coming to see the company perform, they can participate in workshops and teachers also benefit from what is on offer at JVHome. “The building is utilised by different community groups as well. It is very nice to see how we can inspire young and old from different backgrounds. It has become a very fertile ground.”

In 2012, Vardimon was the first artistic director of the National Youth Dance Company and helped create and develop the programme which is still running today. “I realised how much talent young dancers have and sometimes how much they lose through going through vocational training. Sometimes the focus becomes just on technique and they don’t develop their artistry.”

Keen to foster young talent, Vardimon has just launched a new group for dancers aged between 12 and 18. “I thought it would be amazing to have a youth company, so you really enable young talented dancers to develop their expressive tools and have a skill development, not just the technical skill but also the creative skills. We had a lot of young dancers audition for it and they will be meeting every weekend and half term. They will have quite a lot of performance opportunities as well and it really means that we create a pathway of progression from youth into professional training and into the company.

JV2 is the company’s professional training course and has been successfully running for 12 years. Vardimon speaks with obvious pride about its impressive statistics: more than 200 people have graduated from the course, with 87 per cent now working professionally in a creative industry. Most of her company’s current dancers are JV2 graduates, with others finding employment elsewhere.

“They fit into a lot of different companies around the world. It offers something unique, it offers a way of developing performance skills on different levels – mostly emotionally but also conceptually. It’s using your full capacity, not just physically but also vocally and intellectually to communicate to the audience, so it is very much about that, about developing those tools and skills.”

Vardimon’s pieces have always been challenging as well as visually stunning. An associate artist of Sadler’s Wells since 2006, she was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Jubilee Birthday Honours in 2022. (It was presented to her by Princess Anne and they chatted about her early life on a kibbutz in what Vardimon describes as “an interesting little dialogue”.) Her most recent successful works – Alice, Pinocchio and Medusa – have re-told familiar stories through her own unique perspective. “I am interested in telling stories. My last three productions were retelling existing stories. The reason I feel stories always remain in our social consciousness and are retold through the generations is that they carry some social significance in them. The new work I will create for our 25th year will tell a story of our times, of a woman working in the 21st century.

“Dance is my language, my mother tongue. It is a language I feel very fluent in but at times also misunderstood. It has this wonderful ability to communicate in physical, visual but also intellectual and emotional levels, sometimes through the subconscious. In my art in general, I speak as a woman but firstly as an artist, as a creative human being living today in the 21st century.”

Alice – her story looking at the journey of transition from childhood to womanhood – was created when Vardimon was coping with being a mother to her 16-year-old daughter, going through the common traumas of adolescence. Vardimon has plans to take Alice on tour to Israel in May – “hopefully” she adds. Her family live on a kibbutz in central Israel and so she says they are relatively safe but she acknowledges that “it is hard for everyone”.

As well as her company touring four productions this year, Vardimon will also be providing the choreography for Carmen, which will be performed at Glyndebourne this month. There are also plans to take Pinocchio to China and a virtual-reality production of Alice will be touring too in what she describes as “a very productive, very busy year for us”.

The trip to China is long-awaited – the set was already on its way by boat when the original tour had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. It was a devastating blow for the company, but the crisis forced Vardimon to find another outlet for her creativity.

“We had to reimagine what we were going to do. I started to work on Alice and I decided to create a VR version, so if people cannot go to the theatre, to bring the art to them. We had to reinvent and to find solutions, carry on and share our work in different ways. People could use VR headsets and have that VR experience. We gave a lot of free classes and a lot of things online to so our dancers could engage with our communities. It was a strange time and I think the dance industry and theatre industry have suffered a lot for it.”

She is always looking to the future and find new ways to bring her work to new audiences at JVHome, with JV2 performing there twice a year. She sees it as “a place where artists come to develop their training to become well-rounded, versatile performers. If they are interested in the genre of dance theatre, that will be the place to go and train. At the moment we are offering a lot of opportunities for people from Kent and around the world to come and take part, get inspired and develop their training.

“As artistic director of the organisation and choreographer, one of the things most fulfilling for me is to see the growth, to see the development. Seeing the students at the beginning of their training and at the end is always incredible, to see the progression. At the end of the day, our main aim is to have a positive impact on people’s lives. I hope we will continue to do this for the people who come to see our work too.”

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