“At Tallis, everyone dances.”
When Jon Nicholls reached out to me on Facebook to ask if I'd like to contribute to the Tallis Tales, he wrote that he often says this to visitors. This not only brought a smile to my face, but took me very much back to 1993 and the first time I danced at Tallis...
Reading many of these Tales, what truly comes out is the spirit and heart centre of the school, often naming individual teachers who, quite literally, changed lives.
There were many during my time in which I can say truly impacted my life - our year head Tim Joyce, who led with compassion, laughter, music and the best kind of tough love. Our Head Teacher Colin Yardley, who 'quietly' offered a safe space for the LGBTQ+ kids at the school to meet one another under the guidance and supervision of the school counselor (in the 90's, there were still a few dusty and very dangerous Thatcher laws in place, Section 28 being one of them, which 'forbid' the 'promotion of homosexuality' by local authorities). That 'safe space', which we named 'The Library Club', was our saviour. Around 10 of us would meet up once per week, and a bond and support network was created that I'm sure must have saved lives. We remained friends for years (reunion time??).
The teacher which planted the seed for what would end up becoming my career, was Deborah Khan.
‘Boys Dance’, read the flyer for an after-school activity. Ms Khan wanted to remove the stigma surrounding boys who dance. There I found my love of movement and creativity, and I also choreographed my first work here, at the grand old age of 12. In addition to the Boys group, we often had dance for PE (I hope this still continues... it was quite rare back in the day!) and professional companies that were performing locally at Greenwich Dance Agency would be invited to come to Tallis and give workshops. I was so inspired.
Ms Khan was a bit of a rebel pioneer (that's how I remember her!) with her plans for the performing arts at Tallis, and in 1995 she staged a school production of Cabaret. I remember it being so brilliant, with a touch of scandalous excitement! I played a bisexual dancer in the Kit Kat Club. At 13. In the 90's. Brilliant 🙂
I was not the only one that Deb Khan encouraged and saw potential in. That same tiny school production of Cabaret included Dominic Cooper and Sam Spruell, who are both Hollywood stars today.
That same year, she took a few of us to Sadler's Wells Theatre to see the inaugural premiere season of Matthew Bourne's all male Swan Lake. Deb had trained at Laban Centre with Bourne, so she pulled a few strings. This performance changed my life. I never knew you could fly like that. The feelings I had when I left the theatre I shall never forget. I thought to myself, 'That's what I want to do'.
Five years later, in 2000, Matthew Bourne invited me to join the cast of Swan Lake. I was an original cast member his production of The Car Man.
In 2010, I was awarded the Sadler's Wells Global Dance Prize, given to one choreographer per year.
These two moments, and the career I continue to enjoy today, were only possible because of Tallis.
-- Ihsan Rustem