Beloved Choreographer and Mentor Re-Focuses in 2020
Interview by Chris Duncan
Choreographer Sarah Boulter has earned her celebrated place in the dance industry both here and abroad for her beautiful contemporary dance creations but, like everyone else she found herself in a critical position of self-evaluation when the Covid-19 pandemic hit earlier this year.
At the time she was working with amateur competitor Christian Wilkinson on reality TV show Dancing With The Stars when infection forced production to pull back. Since then, Sarah has focussed on her students at Ev&Bow Full Time Dance Training Centre in Sydney’s south while also appreciating the time-out to concentrate on herself.
Here, Sarah shares some advice on getting through this difficult time as a creative provider.
Q: How are things at Ev&Bow this year?
Luckily Ev&Bow just keeps me busy and stimulated … we’ve got so many students to look after, and I think that’s a really lovely distraction at the moment. Like, finding pathways for them because that’s hard at the moment. I’m sure they must think “What am I studying dance for? There’s nothing to do!” So I try to not let their mindset go down that road, and we’re not going to waste 2021 as well.
You’ve got to start knocking on the doors, thinking that things are going to start opening up. It’s been great looking after our students. We’ve got such a beautiful group this year. I think we’re so lucky with the cards we’ve been dealt with these particular students.
We did lots of fun stuff online … we didn’t do all the thousands of practical classes, we just did a couple of conditioning classes a day. And then, we had some really awesome lectures with my friends overseas online.
Q: What sort of things did you put in place to help you get through the ongoing Covid nightmare?
I have to say in the beginning, as a business owner, when it hit I was like “Oh my god, what does this mean?” I was a bit frantic and stressed. But then, if I’m honest, when I settled with my nerves, I’ve actually enjoyed the challenge of change and reinventing the business.
And even though it was stressful, I realised that change is probably something that I need to look at in my business more often. I was really excited by the opportunities to have these workshops with choreographers from overseas for the students like Stacy Clark from Cirque du Soleil and with the Liverpool Institute of Performing arts in the UK. Having never used Zoom before, there was all this fun back-and-forth. All of a sudden it was a revelation. In particular there was a beautiful West End agent that gave us a great lecture, an insight into that inclusive world, which is great for those wanting to travel to work.
It was stimulating to hear all the lectures first hand. I think that’s what got the students and me through this year so far. Personally, I’ve enjoyed a bit more ‘me’ time. (Laughs)
Q: What have you embraced personally?
I’ve been spending a bit of time on myself, like going to the gym, and taking a class. So it’s been quite positive in a way. I’ve been really enjoying dancing myself, which I think that’s the big turnaround for me personally … that dancing myself, creating what I want to, so even working on a few little projects that I’ve always wanted to play around with without any pressure, I guess. I just have time for that now.
I’m also thankful that Leanne Cherny had some work for us at The Voice. I felt a glimmer of hope of a bit of work when it just felt like you were never going to get that call at the moment. So, I hope this starts to be a bit of more of that. I obviously love Ev&Bow, but for me it’s the double of combining the school with outside choreography that really excites me. The balance of both keeps me going.
Q: Going forward, what are your hopes for 2021?
As much as I don’t want to say it, I think all the overseas ballet and dance retreats and workshops I had booked will be cancelled. As much as I hate to say that to the girls, but yeah … I feel that stuff won’t happen. But that’s okay. I really hope that I’ll get to jump on Dancing With The Stars again. I always enjoy that so much, even though the stars are quite amateur… That’s the aim of the show, they’re just hard workers, generally, because they’re used to working hard for their craft. They’re professional for a reason. I find it really quite satisfying moving them forwards on that show.
I hope Kelley’s (Abbey) got something for me too, she’s had something for me the last few years. I love working for her. She’s someone that I want to be like, because she’s so complimentary, yet can get her point across so well. She always encourages you so much, but can still say, “How about this?” And I find especially for young people … I mean we’ve grown up with some hard taskmasters (laughs) when we were younger … but especially for young people I feel like they really thrive with that sort of leadership from Kelly.
As far as live shows, I think everyone’s a bit scared to take any leaps of faith at the moment. I feel like it’s the first time in my life that I’ve been this low, to be honest. And I keep reminding myself I went back to work when Harry (my son) was 10 days old. So, just enjoy it. (Laughs) I’ve got Ev&Bow and things will happen and unfold. But I think because we push ourselves so hard and have all our life it’s a little bit hard to settle with that thought.
But yeah, a lot of us in this industry are not used to that. We’re just used to being so busy. I feel like it’s a good challenge for me at the moment. And I really hope that things start to open up. I don’t know if travelling is going to be on the cards next year, but hopefully the year after.
Q: Do you have any advice for other teachers right now to navigate this time with how tough it’s been with their businesses?
I feel like the best thing is being creative within your business. Enjoy the change because a lot of successful teachers have had their businesses for 15 years or more, and they need a change. And I feel like we’ve worked really hard to gain these formulas of what we know works. It doesn’t mean that it’s always the only way. And I think it can be really exciting what the change pushes you to create.
For instance, teaming up with the overseas personnel and just looking at your business model. I’ve really enjoyed that sort of change this year. I think that definitely my students enjoy change as well. And even down to the financials in your business, I feel like I’ve really gotten to know my business through Covid.
I feel like we had so many people doing jobs that Lisa (Bowmer, her business partner) and I weren’t all over everything. At the moment we really know our business, which is fantastic. For me it’s just the creativity of change. I even like the challenge of staging a concert. What will it look like? I might be a bit of a weirdo, but I find that a little bit exciting. It’ll be quite different this year, but at least then they get a performance outcome – both live and online.
It’s also great to check in with other teachers you know. That’s been really nice for me since it all started in March. Nicole Wells (DanceForce) rang me straight away so ask how I was going. I found that so nice that we’ve all helped each other, and now with the situation in Melbourne it’s important to check in with those colleagues doing it hard in Melbourne… Being able to share that a little bit, being there for them.
It’s so good to see this collegiate support in Australia, as I feel that has diminished over the years. In the United States I feel it is so different, maybe because there’s so much more work there, and it’s not as competitive. It used to seem so much more competitive in Australia, and we should just help each other in this industry.
But I think there’s room enough for everybody. I always say that to my students. There’s room for all of you if you work hard and you’re so different. Find your own little angle.