• Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email

Rhiannon Faith is a choreographer who has achieved the rare accolade of being nominated for an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance. Here she reflects on her journey from a working-class family to leader of an NPO.

Foteini Christofilopoulou

As Artistic Director of my own company, Rhiannon Faith Company, I was very honoured – and emotional - to be nominated for an Olivier Award in April for our new touring show Lay Down Your Burdens. It’s the culmination of a journey that started nearly a quarter of a century ago.

1999 – 2008 Early years

After studying at Stafford college, I left the West Midlands for a degree in Performing Arts at De Montfort University. I went on to do an MA in Contemporary Dance Theatre Practice, thinking I’d become an actress. Coming from a working-class family, I worked in a doctor’s surgery and front of house at Milton Keynes Theatre to pay my fees.  

As I made work and experimented, I got more into choreography and direction, putting on The Vagina Monologues each year to raise money for a local women’s refuge. I saw firsthand how art can be useful to local communities. 

2009 – 2011 Setting up the company

After giving up a job lecturing at a college in Essex, I became an independent artist, navigating the industry with no financial security. And that’s the way it continued for a decade.  

It was at this time I set up my company, but I was skint, and I had to sign on. I was scared about making the jump, but I needed to start making work. I also met Maddy Morgan in these early years, who’s now Executive Director of the company. 

We used to hire a venue in East London and gather a load of multi-disciplinary artists to create immersive spaces, with live music and dance and a narrative running through. The bar takings covered the cost of the space.  

It was exciting, artistic and pretty cool. We would take risks and hope for the best. There was a freedom about it all. I wish I could have bottled that feeling.

2012 – 2014 First funding

During this period, we did a small tour ending at Battersea Arts Centre, which was filmed and archived in the British Library. We were building relationships with venues, and we got our first bit of cash—£800 from Pavilion Dance South West and our first Arts Council grant. I remember the relief. 

At this point, I was working as a venue assistant at Chisenhale Dance, where I met artist Bryony Kimmings, who became my mentor and friend. I was also a visiting lecturer in dance at City of Westminster College and getting a few gigs as a choreographer, including Secret Cinema’s The Red Shoes and Grease.

But I was pretty broke all the time and doing the hustle.

2015 – 2016 On the road 

Maddy and I went on the road. Our show Scary Shit hit the Edinburgh Fringe and toured UK studio theatres. We introduced autobiographical dance theatre, got savvy and hired Steve Forster, a PR expert.

We also worked with a psychologist for the first time. This started lifelong therapy interventions in our creative processes. We saw how essential well-being was when working autobiographical, and this feeling has deepened over the years. We now employ a company psychologist to work on all shows.  

We realised audiences were impacted by our work and wanted to share their stories with us, which led us to invite them into future projects.

2017 – 2019 Becoming established

Over time, a lot of what was important to us as a company was revealed. Together with Safer Places, we made a show - Smack That (a conversation) - with women who had experienced domestic abuse in their lives. Alongside it, we offered J9 domestic abuse training to venues, of which 12 venues signed up, including the Barbican. 

Our company psychologist toured with us to support both the company and audiences, and local refuges worked alongside us for immediate signposting and care. It made sense: the art started a conversation, the experience provided care, there was an invitation to activate change, and the aftercare was immediate.  

The work was critically acclaimed and strengthened our pursuit to tackle social injustice. We became a limited company and Arts Council England supported us with bigger funding grants, which helped us to make the work more accessible. 

This is how our relationship with Harlow Playhouse began and would continue as I became an Associate Artist there.

2020 – 2023 Going international

We got the call to tour to Wuhzen in China. It was our first international gig, a ‘pinch me’ moment when our work became a vehicle to learn about the world beyond the UK. 

These years saw us nominated for Best Independent Company at the National Dance Awards and earned commissions in Gdansk, Poland, and with UK dance companies and dance schools. 

Our audiences were growing, and the scale of the work was increasing, bringing new production challenges to navigate.

2023 - 2024 Joining the National Portfolio

The company—now a National Portfolio Organisation—is steered by a board of brilliant women. They work alongside gifted creative and production teams to realise the shows I have imagined. We make accessible work on big stages and hyperlocal ones, taking art to the margins and carrying people’s stories along the journey. 

Where I am in 2024 is everything I ever hoped for. Over the past 24 years of my career, courage and commitment have enabled me to fulfil a dream I had when I was 16. I feel very lucky, happy, and a bit shattered.

It’s been like mountain climbing—when you reach one peak, another appears. Many moments have changed me, particularly interactions with participants and audiences. 

I believe art can change the world. It has a transformative power that allows us to belong for a moment in the same story, the same world. It brings us together; it can heal, make us happy, and reach our hearts. 

Rhiannon Faith is a Choreographer and Artistic Director of Rhiannon Faith Company, based at Harlow Playhouse in Essex.

Link to Author(s):