Transitions 2018: Q&A with choreographer Hagit Yakira

Ahead of Transitions’ 2018 international tour, we caught up with award-winning Israeli choreographer, Hagit Yakira, who worked with the company on brand new piece ‘The Ar/ct of Moving Forward’. 

H. Y. H.

What have you most enjoyed about working with the Transitions dancers?

The energy, lack of pretentiousness, curiosity, commitment, team work. The company dancers were there for the research – and this is truly magical – especially for the way that I work.

The 2018 company is truly international – do you think this has had an impact on the style of the company and/or the way you worked with them?

It does have an impact, of course! This diversity of people, cultures and educations adds acceptance, dialogues, flexibility. It locates oneself in a broader context and I think it encourages humility, which I find truly important.

In brief, how would you sum up your piece?

It’s about the act of moving forward – literally and poetically.

What was your inspiration behind the work?

My main inspiration was London and the fact that I feel there is an unspoken rule here which is the necessity to move forward. Any hesitation, suspension, pausing is an interference for London’s practicality. London is of course is prototype for something broader – I didn’t want the piece to convey this in a direct or literal way. I wanted to find a poetic, physical and metaphorical way to work with the idea of moving forward, with traveling, with time and with the dancers. I wanted them to be seen as individuals – 14 individuals who form a group.

You utilise improvisation in the piece the work. How have the dancers reacted to this and what do you hope the end result will be?

It wasn’t easy. The way I work with improvisation is very specific, it’s extremely physical and requires the dancers to be fully engaged and all the time. It is a constant battle for the body and the mind but in a good way. It is a constant challenge, but a good and rewarding one. One of the dancers mentioned it was as if he was reborn through the process.

The result of that is an autonomy the dancers will experience every time they will perform on stage. The piece will keep evolving – the details, the precessions, the listening to one another – and much more will become better and better, and this will allow the dancers an amazing sense of progression and self-reflection.

Transitions was the very first student touring company and recently celebrated 35 years. Do you think it has had an impact/what impact do you think it has had on the dance landscape?

I believe that the importance of Transitions Dance Company is that it still exists, still vibrant and alive. It is also a platform in which very talented dancers could and can emerge from; they come out from this year very knowledgeable. It helps them be very well prepared for the professional world – in terms of physicality but also in terms of work ethics and maturity.

You were the very first choreographer to work with the 2017/18 company. What was it like to work with such a fresh company?

It was great! The dancers were open, curious, committed and were fully there, body and mind, every day. They were so receptive of me and my work and the research I had offered them. They were totally in it, with it. It was truly inspiring. There was a real sense of growth in this short (very short) process, individually and as a group.

 

By Robyn Donnelly (Press & PR)

 

Transitions 2018 Tour | 19 February – 24 May

For full tour details and to find out more about Transitions Dance Company, visit www.trinitylaban.ac.uk/transitionsdc

To find out more about studying dance at Trinity Laban, visit our pages.

BANANA CASE AT THE BARBICAN

George Jackson, conductor and previous holder of the Trinity Laban Sir Charles Mackerras Junior Fellowship in Conducting (2015-17), describes what it’s like to get ‘The Call’.

George Jackson portrait B&W © Alexa Wilding

Sunday morning.  It’s 6:30, and for some reason, I am wide awake.

I have just spent a week on tour with the Orchestre de Paris, where I have been Daniel Harding’s assistant: Cologne, Dortmund, Luxembourg, and Brussels.  The week before that, my first Schumann Symphony No.4 with the Transylvanian Philharmonic in Cluj; the week before that, the first leg of the Orchestre de Paris tour, at ‘home’ in Paris, and then in Vienna.

I was grateful for my first full day off in three weeks: Sunday lunch planned with a couple of schoolmates, followed by the new Ricky Gervais show on Netflix.  Bliss!

I manage to doze back off at around 7:30am, but was woken by my phone ringing at 8:21am.  Unusual, I thought, for a Sunday morning…

The previous day, I’d had the pleasure of conducting the premiere of Jasmin Kent Rodgman’s ‘The Letter’ at LSO St Luke’s, as part of the Barbican’s ‘Open Ear’ Festival.  A Jerwood Foundation composer, Jasmin curated an inspiring afternoon featuring performances by the best of London’s spoken word community, culminating in the premiere of her own piece with Salena Godden’s poetry and a quartet of LSO musicians. During the break, I had jokingly quipped to a colleague: ‘Let’s hope Francois-Xavier Roth’s plane takes off tomorrow morning…’.  One of the LSO St. Luke’s plasma screens was advertising Sunday’s Panufnik Composers’ Workshop, where eight brand-new pieces would be publicly workshopped with the orchestra.

As my ringtone echoed into the slumber, I realised how cold it was.  Which means snow.  Which in the UK (and, incidentally, Frankfurt) means travel chaos…

I answered about three octaves lower than usual.  Natalia, the LSO’s artist development associate projects manager, greeted me with her chirpy and friendly tone (she had managed the Jerwood project too).  ‘Morning George!  It’s Natalia at the LSO.  Francois-Xavier’s plane has been temporarily grounded in Frankfurt.  Do you fancy coming in and starting the session this morning?  How far away are you?  Can you get here?’

The slow-motion realisation of what this meant dawned upon me: the chance to spend the morning with one of the world’s finest orchestras, conducting music by the most talented young composers in the UK.  ‘Yes. I’m at home in Hanwell. Can you email me pdfs of the scores? What’s the dress code?’

I scramble around: batons are still in my bag from yesterday; I throw on the only non-creased shirt I can find, some jeans, the nearest shoes.  I make an espresso, but then ignore it, since the adrenaline buzz is already doing the coffee’s work.  An Uber is ordered: ‘Driver completing journey nearby’.  It could take up to 18 minutes…..

I risk it, thinking that if the Uber arrives at 9am, with a 40-minute drive to Old Street, I should have a little bit of time to run through the PDFs at the piano at home, before looking at hard copies in the conductor’s room.

Perfect!

At 8:50am, Uber cancels the order – there are no drivers available.

I call two minicab companies with no luck.  The third one answers and can send a car in 15 minutes.  9:05, so I should get to Old Street at 9:45.  Great.

I attempt to find some last-minute sustenance, and eat all that I can find in the house: a square of Dairy Milk, three Jacobs’ cream crackers and two Trebor mints.  I call Natalia: ‘Please can you leave a banana in the conductor’s room?’  I am incredibly grateful for this later on.

The taxi driver clearly thinks I am mad.  I tell him that it is an emergency, and can he race through London (he agrees, and does a wonderful job).  I spend the next 40 minutes roughly ‘conducting’ my way through the scores, metronome app open in one hand.  Yes, he thinks I am mad.  No time to think about that.

I am now informed that Francois-Xavier’s ETA is 11:15am, which means I will definitely be working on the first two pieces of the day: Grace-Evangeline Mason’s Beneath the Silken Silence and Han Xu’s Buddha Holds the Flower.  I focus on these two, identify a list of questions for each composer, and make sure I can at least work my way through any tempo and metrical changes.  ‘Does “the new minim is the previous crotchet” mean that I should just stay in 2?’  Those sorts of questions.  The things that Simon Rattle likes to call ‘dental hygiene’.

We arrive at the Old Street roundabout.  The friendly driver, for some reason, misses the turn off for St. Luke’s, so we have another go round the roundabout.  Just to keep the adrenaline running.

I race out the car, get to the conductor’s room, and thank Natalia for the banana – which comes in a rather dashing banana-shaped plastic case.  The scores are there, and I race through, underlining, highlighting, making notes.

I have a couple of very welcome visitors to the conductor’s room before we start.  The LSO’s managing director, Kathryn McDowell, says a friendly hello and wishes me luck, and Colin Matthews, who is mentoring the composers, pops in for a quick chat: he gives me a few invaluable bits of advice about the two pieces, and describes how the workshop will run, as a form of public conversation between myself on the podium, principal second violin David Alberman, and the composer in the hot seat.

At 9:59am, the orchestral manager knocks on the door.

Time to go and face the music…

Winner of the 2015 Aspen Conducting Prize, London-born conductor George Jackson will make his Opera Holland Park debut in June conducting a new production of Così Fan Tutte. Other forthcoming highlights include his debut with the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra.

www.georgejackson.net

[First produced on Jessica Duchen’s Classical Music blog. Image credits: Alex Wilding)]

Interview: Tara D’Arquian

Ahead of the world premier of the collaborative performance piece ‘Bad Faith’, we caught up with the work’s co-creator and Trinity Laban alumnus Tara D’Arquian. 

30Jan_Gareth Mitchell & Tara D_Arquian_Orphan Realms_Photo by Joel O_Donoghue(pic2)

Image: Tara D’Arquian (Credit: Joel O’Donoghue)

Your works often explore identity, what can you tell us about your inspiration for creating Bad Faith?

Bad Faith is part of body of work which started with In Situ, part of Compass Commissions, Trinity Laban and Greenwich Dance Partnership. This is the epilogue of Quests which was the second piece of the trilogy and commissioned by Greenwich Dance.

The whole trilogy is an exploration of identity, the conflict of identity to be more accurate.

We, as human beings seem to be constantly striving to define our self while the self is indefinable. Bad Faith focuses on womanhood and conflicts of identity related to being a woman and the social pressures they are confronted to.

As a young woman, I’ve been exposed to the profound psychological and emotional suffering of older women in my life. The feeling of powerlessness which I experienced as a result led me to put it into movement. By doing so, my aim was first to make sense of these distressing states and attempt at creating value from it. Each piece is the result of a long and collective investigation.

Can you tell us about collaborating with poet Jemima Foxtrot during the creative process?

Collaborating with Jemima has been a great joy. Not only is she a brilliant poet, she is generous and authentic both as an artist and as a person.
It is empowering working with all these strong women, both in the creative team and the cast. I suppose it has also nourished me and my work.

All in all, this has been one of the most human and heart-warming creative process I’ve been part of.

What message would you like people to take from the work?

Hope. Always hope. This time it’s about freedom and courage. I’d like for Bad Faith to make people feel free to be what they want to be and to come to realize that the only limits in life are those of our own mind, which are self-delusions.

Your previous works (In Situ and Quests) have been site-sensitive/specific, can audience expect the same of Bad Faith?

No. Bad Faith is conceived for a more traditional stage environment. That being said, my previous site-sensitive explorations are certainly informing my process while making Bad Faith. Consequently, although it is a piece designed for a traditional stage, we encounter the space as site. Our protagonist is an actress.

 

Bad Faith | 14 & 15 MAR 19.30h | Laban Theatre

For more information and to book tickets, visit our what’s on page.

INTERVIEW: JESSE KOVARSKY

In the second of our two interviews with dance alumni who are living and working in New York City, we catch up with Jesse Kovarsky (Study Abroad 2009 and Transitions 2011). Jesse has had a huge variety of performance work both in the UK and America since he graduated, including feature films, opera, immersive theatre and Broadway!

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Jesse you’ve had a fantastic performing career since you left Trinity Laban. Can you talk us through what you’ve done?

After I graduated from Transitions (MA Dance Performance) I wanted to get some experience dancing in Europe before I returned to the US, so I stayed in the UK on a post study visa and was then later sponsored by Punchdrunk Theatre Company. I’d always wanted to work with Punchdrunk as I really admire their work and was lucky enough to get cast in The Drowned Man. It was a really great show to be part of – creative, challenging and fulfilling.

My first job after graduating was in the film Anna Karenina which was a great experience just having left Trinity Laban. I then performed with the English National Opera in The Death of Klinghoffer and Carmen, and then returned to the Laban Theatre with Junk Ensemble which was such a privilege to come back.

When I returned to the US I worked again with Punchdrunk, and I reprised my role in The Death of Klinghoffer at The Metropolitan Opera House. Then in 2016 I was cast as the Fiddler in Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway which was choreographed by Hofesh Shechter. This was a great experience and I loved working with Hofesh.

And what have you been doing more recently?

After Fiddler I performed in Seeing You, which was an immersive theatre show that ran off Broadway. The show was choreographed by Ryan Heffington who has choreographed music videos, for TV and worked with artists like Sia and FKA Twigs.

I’m also currently Associate Choreographer for musical The Band’s Visit which has just transferred to Broadway.

You were an undergraduate student at Skidmore College in New York, how did you then come to study at Trinity Laban?

I started dance at Skidmore College and we studied Laban theory and technique. I really wanted to study abroad for a semester and so went to Trinity Laban on a Study Abroad programme. During that time I saw a dramatic improvement in my technique and was interested in doing more, so I auditioned for Transitions Dance Company and was accepted. I feel very privileged to have received a Leverhulme Arts Scholarship to support my studies.

What was it like coming to Trinity Laban as an international student?

I felt supported. It was great to be around different people from different parts of the world with different perspectives, and we trained and grew together. I loved living in London too, that’s where I formed my identity as a young adult.

How did your time at Trinity Laban prepare you for your career?

Trinity Laban prepared me as a practitioner of dance and as a performer, and it reinforced my sense of critical thinking. Importantly I was allowed to create my identity as a dancer, to find my own voice and form my own style. This has enabled me to know what to say yes and no to, to be able to say what I want and to find my own niche in my career.

 And finally what advice do you have for current students?

Take as many classes as possible and absorb the system you are part of – take advantage of it and suck it dry. You need to be relevant and understand what is going on in dance, what inspires you, who you want to work with, so educate yourself and see everything you can.

And importantly don’t be afraid to make mistakes and fail and find yourself through that.

INTERVIEW: DYLAN CROSSMAN

Whilst in America for the Trinity Laban in New York reception, we caught up with two dance alumni who are living and working in New York City and found out about how they have built their careers there. This week we talk to Dylan Crossman who graduated with BA (Hons) Dance Theatre in 2006. After graduating he joined the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and now has a full and diverse freelance career. 

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Why did you chose to study at Trinity Laban?

I grew up in France and started dancing when I was ten. For two years, I took contemporary and ballet classes at the Conservatoire in Montpelier in addition to attending regular school. In my teens, after a few years’ break from dancing, I was doing improvisation, ballet, jazz, hip hop and contemporary.

I had a Limon teacher who knew about Trinity Laban and so I auditioned there and for the Winnipeg Ballet. I chose Trinity Laban as I decided I wanted to pursue a contemporary dance training rather than ballet and also because I wanted to be based in London.

What was it like coming to Trinity Laban as an International student?

I didn’t feel lonely, I felt welcomed. There were a lot of international students in my year and there was a sense of community in the year group. I had a job in a bar as well and that helped to make friends outside of Trinity Laban. 

Shortly after you graduated, you joined the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Tell us about your journey to America and joining the Company.

In the summer between my second and third year, Julia Gleich, one of my teachers at Trinity Laban recommended that I take part in Burklyn Ballet Theatre, an intensive summer programme In Vermont, USA. Through one of the teachers I met there, I was offered a part in the Nutcracker in Key West and after I graduated I moved to New York. I enrolled on a programme at the Cunningham studio, got a scholarship, and as soon as I began I knew that’s why I started dancing, it made complete sense to my body.

After six months a space opened up for a new understudy so I went to Merce [Cunningham]’s Assistant, Robert Swinston, and said that I was interested. I was told to take company class and that ‘Merce will decide’. I did one class and Merce said yes!

By that stage Merce didn’t go on tour with the company anymore, so when they were away he constructed new work on the understudies and I got to work with him a lot. He was so curious; to him you were like a problem to solve. I was an understudy for two years before being hired into the company and I was in the company for the two year farewell tour. It was an intense and amazing experience.

You now have a very busy career as a performer and choreographer. What are you working on at the moment?

Right now I am performing at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in Brooklyn in a piece called Buffer by visual artist Xavier Cha. As well as dancers there are also actors and an opera singer in the cast. I’m also working on new pieces with Pam Tanowitz and Kimberly Bartosik, both of whom I have worked with before, and am continuing to develop my own work including showing a new piece at the Cunningham centenary celebration. I also teach at Sarah Lawrence College and Purchase College and am choreographing a piece for the students at Purchase which will be performed next spring.

How did your training prepare you for your career?

I was given responsibility for my own training whilst at Trinity Laban. We were exposed to so many things, every kind of dance, analysing dance, music for dance, dance on film, choreography, Labanotation, so I had to choose what to focus on. This planted the seed for life as a freelancer, you have to take responsibility and manage your own work; administration, tax, funding, paying for classes and paying dancers.

And finally what are your top tips for current students?

Be patient and trust people in charge of your training, but break rules because you need to learn to listen to yourself and your instincts also. Challenge yourself as freelancer. And do more cross training and aerobic exercise! You’ll need it as a performer.

 

Alumni spotlight: Aaron Chaplin

We caught up with London-born contemporary dancer Aaron Chaplin, who graduated from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance with BA(hons) first class honours in 2017, to talk about his training and what he’s doing now.

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Aaron, tell us about studying at Trinity Laban

I very much enjoyed my time at Trinity Laban. The building itself is stunning and being in such a purpose built environment with world class teachers and a community of dancers who are talented, creative and unapologetically individual is something that not everybody gets to experience and for that I am thankful.

How has your training prepared you for your career?

My three years at Laban helped sculpt the dancer that I am today. I was able to nurture my interests in choreography taking advantage of the many opportunities that there were to create while also having that chance to work with a plethora of choreographers such as Jessica Wright of Company Wayne McGregor.

Since graduating, you’ve joined Phoenix Dance Theatre, what’s that experience been like?

Being able to finish my three years at Trinity Laban and step straight into my role as an apprentice for Phoenix Dance Theatre was an absolute blessing. The company has a long and vibrant history and to be chosen to a part of that is an honour. Since joining Phoenix I’ve been afforded so many amazing opportunities. Most recently we performed Troy Game (1974) by Robert North at a Gala honouring Nadine Senior [founding principal of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Leeds]. Performing such an iconic piece of work only two months into my apprenticeship was surreal and being able to do it alongside past and present company members was incredibly humbling.

What’s next?

Phoenix Dance is currently working towards the premiere of a new work titled Windrush: Movement of the People. The production celebrates the 70th anniversary of the SS Windrush, a ship that brought the first Caribbean migrants to the United Kingdom after the Second World War, and looks at British Caribbean culture and the rise of a multicultural Britain. It has been incredible to be a part of the work’s creation. It is vibrant and fun, but also packed with information detailing the experiences of those who arrived, both good and bad, which will be an eye opener for some.

We also have tour dates in London at the Peacock Theatre from the 26th – 28th April 2018. I’m very much looking forward to being on the road and performing with the company, taking art to various parts of the country doing what I love.

 

Windrush: Movement of the People premieres at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on the 7th – 10th February 2018 as part of a mixed programme.

Find out more at Phoenix Dance Theatre’s website.

 

 

10 Years On: A Catch Up With Trinity Laban’s First Junior Conducting Fellow

Tom Hammond was the first recipient of the Sir Charles Mackerras Junior Fellowship in Conducting at Trinity Laban Conservatoire (2006-08). Ten years on, Graduate Intern (Press & PR) Robyn met with Tom to hear his thoughts on his training, the music profession, and his career.

tom hammond b&w

Tom is enjoying success as an orchestral conductor, music educator, record producer and festival founder, and yet couldn’t be further from the Lofty Maestro caricature I was anticipating.  As we chat over Styrofoam cups of coffee in the King Charles’ Court café, he explains how, despite his achievements, he doesn’t subscribe to the Cult of Personality that trails certain individuals in the conducting profession. Instead, Tom believes his job is simply to serve the music.

‘It’s a horrible cliché but it’s true!’ he justifies, ‘The greatest conductors are the ones who actually take a step back.’ One such great is, of course, the late Sir Charles Mackerras, who selected Tom for Trinity Laban’s inaugural Junior Fellowship in Conducting. ‘There he was in his eighties,’ Tom recalls with admiration, ‘but still thinking “every single time I come to something I’m going to approach it like it’s the first time and it’s going to be fresh.”’

Tom expresses how much he learned from his fellowship at Trinity Laban, and clearly enjoyed a wonderful relationship with his mentor – he even had the honour of being the first call Mackerras ever made on a mobile phone, an anecdote Tom shares with a fond chuckle – but Tom didn’t always know how prestigious an opportunity working with Mackerras was. ‘To my shame, I didn’t really know that much about him before…I probably would’ve been incredibly nervous if I had known enough about the incredible breadth of his achievements.’

Perhaps this naivety was due to growing up in the midlands in a place where ‘there wasn’t a huge amount of music going on’. But, as the proverbial black sheep in his non-musical family, Tom went on to study trombone at the Royal Academy of Music. He had an interest in the conducting world throughout his playing career, and only in his early thirties did he hear about the Mackerras fellowship and chose to pursue conducting professionally.

Plagued by ‘terrible imposter syndrome’, Tom worried that he didn’t have a good enough ear to be a conductor, so used the fellowship to improve his skills. Simon Young, Trinity Laban’s Head of Performance Studies at the time, helped him ‘uncover something about myself that I thought I was missing. And now I’m doing CD producing which involves listening to tiny inflections of intonation or ensemble.’

I ask how his producing experience compares to conducting. ‘You’ve got this little barrier when you’re conducting – you have to be driving the car not watching the scenery. It’s amazing what you will hear when you don’t have the distraction of waving your arms.’ Another difference is that he’s not fussy about repertoire as a producer, something that he is zealous about as a conductor, ‘I don’t think anyone should conduct a piece of music they’re not personally convinced is amazing.’

 

Tom is clearly bonkers for classical music, his eyes shining with childlike delight as he discusses his work. One project he is particularly proud of is the Hertfordshire Festival of Music that he launched in 2015 with composer James Francis Brown. Tom insists that he wasn’t looking to start a high-level classical music festival, but with its picturesque location, cultural history, and core loyal music audience, Hertford seemed too perfect to resist. Originally just a one-day event, it has expanded into an entire week for 2018 and has been backed by local politicians, authority, and individuals. ‘What we want to grow is a really major addition to the music calendar every year and a place where we can nurture new music, home-grown talent, community events, and feature a living composer every year. We’ve got huge ambitions.’

Given Tom’s disapproval of the “boys club” of the music profession, I noted that it was funny that he was, by his own admission, playing the same game, having called on his professional contacts when putting together the festival programme. When I queried how he got such big names, such as Tasmin Little and Dame Emma Kirkby, involved, he deadpanned: ‘Pay them.’ Modestly he continued, ‘I’m lucky to work with some fantastic people.’ But one doubts it is simply luck. ‘We got to know these artists personally and hopefully they like us and see what our vision is. We also offer them quite a lot of flexibility. Each year we work with that principal artist figure and say “let’s develop a theme together”’.

This same generosity abounds when he speaks of his fellow musicians. In fact he speaks so highly of internationally-renowned pianist Stephen Hough – who will be the Featured Artist and Composer of the 2018 festival, and who Tom has previously worked with performing Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Paganini and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 – he sounds like he’s in the deep throes of a bromance: ‘He’s a lovely guy…he can be incredibly easy-going without losing any of the gravitas… in the performance he will bring something extra which is exciting…and he’s genuine as well…and a dry and infectious sense of humour.’

And Tom talks just as animatedly about his ongoing roles with the Palestine Youth Orchestra, Ingenium Academy, and the Yorkshire Young Sinfonia, sounding almost like a proud dad. It is evident that he relishes working with people, whether it’s seasoned pros or aspiring young musicians, and feels strongly about music education and young musicians’ engagement with classical music, wholeheartedly supporting the ethos of music as a tool to foster human connections.

This seems especially important today when, as Tom puts it, ‘Classical Music word is no longer a pastime in which many participate.’ He points to the sector’s necessary and increasing reliance on private funding, and the financial risks associated with pursuing a career in classical music, as reasons why ‘those without resources are excluded.’

To help counteract this, Tom believes that music professionals ‘need to better understand where their audience comes from and find ever increasing ways to feel linked to those they perform to’. It is something that is already part of the ethos at Trinity Laban, which Tom finds deeply encouraging.

We end our chat feeling like we’ve put the world to rights, and I, with tongue firmly in cheek, enquire what his goals are when he grows up. He offers a candid response, ‘frankly just being able to continue to conduct the repertoire that I love until I fall over, I’d be very pleased.’ Wouldn’t we all.

 

To find out more about what Tom is up to visit: http://www.tom-hammond.org.uk/ and www.hertsmusicfest.org.uk

If you’re interested in studying at Trinity Laban, you can find out more at: https://www.trinitylaban.ac.uk/study

 

Written by Robyn Donnelly, Graduate Intern (Press & PR)