Why did you decide to participate as a visiting artist for Nord Anglia Education schools? What motivated you?
Abby Gerdts: Juilliard contacted me because they know that I'm a teaching artist. I was so excited about it because it's a merging of my two worlds. I really respect and cherish my formal and classical training as a performer and how rich that experience was, but I've done so much work in teaching artistry since I've left Juilliard.
When I was at The Julliard School from 2000-2004 there weren’t a lot of resources available if you wanted to become a teaching artist. If you wanted to teach it had to be at a conservatory, or at university level, and I was interested in working with younger students, particularly vulnerable students.
It's been really exciting for me to watch the collaboration between The Juilliard School and Nord Anglia Education get planted, grow and bloom within the schools. Now when I visit Juilliard and I talk to new graduates or students in the drama division, they're very much attuned to the option and opportunities of being a teaching artist and what that can bring to their lives.
Ingrid Kapteyn: The first time I heard of Juilliard spreading programmes across the globe I was in school at Juilliard, but I didn't know what they were about. I had just heard the programmes were connected to activities happening in China.
Three years later when I knew I was going to China for a job I contacted the career office to ask if there was any way I could be useful to them because I was going to be there. When they told me there were Nord Anglia schools looking for dance artists it was perfect. I was eager because I wanted to burst out of the show bubble I was in from my show in Shanghai. I was really excited to work with kids and do something different than what I was doing every night.
Do you feel our students are more engaged and inspired when interacting with a performing artist?
AG: When I was doing a monologue for an assembly at the Hong Kong school where there were probably several hundred kids, I was supposed to be talking to a king and I imagined the king to be standing at the back of the room. When I was yelling at this invisible guy all of the students (at some point) turned around to look and see if I was talking to someone. That's the power of having a professional artist. We're not amateurs, we can actually get people to believe something that’s actually not there. That's the power of student imaginations as well and I think that's remarkable. When I think back to myself at that age, and how moving it was for me, that made a lot of difference. Just to be in proximity to performing artists and the chance to talk to them or ask questions - it's very important.
When I was young every opportunity I got, every time there was an assembly with a magician or anyone in the performing world, I was mesmerised. In those days it really rocked my world. It was profoundly important for me to see those people and see that there's a person doing what I want to do.
IK: I've never had an experience at a Nord Anglia school where everyone in the room wasn't fully engaged. It's like an equaliser, especially because children have this bright optimism of "anything is possible." They all dive in with equal energy and enthusiasm and it's exciting to witness.
I’ve had teachers warn me saying this group of students may be shy, or this group may be resistant. You never know what you'll find from groups of kids who haven't necessarily ever experienced dance. When we all get into the room together my task is about how can I convey a sense of what being an artist is and what creativity is.
One particularly moving class was in one of the Qatar schools. It was in that school that I found such a high level of exuberance from everyone. Maybe it was because dance wasn't what they expected. There was this high energy bouncing off the walls. They were really engaging with the material.