We’re delighted to announce the nine incredible artists who make up this year’s Vital Spark artist cohort. Eight artists, from across England and Ireland will go on a six-month development journey of masterclasses, coaching, and mentoring in the Artist Relationship Programme, which kicks off in October with a Go and See trip to Baboró International Arts Festival for Children. Alongside this, four artists will explore and develop brand-new ideas for shows for young audiences though the Ideas Fund. All this will culminate in the Vital Spark Symposium – a two-day event in March 2024 in Leicester.
Vital Spark is presented by The Spark Arts for Children and Baboró International Arts Festival for Children, with funding from the Arts Council of Ireland. Baboró is proud to support all eight Relationship Programme participants and Ireland-based Ideas Fund recipient Justyna Cwojdzinska.
Vital Spark Artists 2023/24
This year’s Vital Spark Artists include:
- Debora Naomi Adachi, a Dublin based illustrator, children’s author and art facilitator (Relationship Programme).
- Tanya Akrofi, a Lincoln-based writer and storyteller, heavily influenced by folklore and fairytales. (Relationship Programme & Ideas Fund)
- Sarah Blanc, a London-based dancer, choreographer, movement director and artistic director. (Ideas Fund)
- Justyna Cwojdzinska, a Limerick theatre practitioner, voice-over artist and arts festival founder. (Relationship Programme and Ideas Fund)
- Alexandra Gogan, a Dublin-based writer and co-founder of an independent theatre company. (relationship programme)
- Sarah Kolawole, a Nottingham-based playwright and spoken word artist. (Relationship Programme)
- Lewis Major, a Leicester-based choreographer, artistic director and creative entrepreneur. (Relationship Programme and Ideas Fund)
- HK Ní Shioradáin, a Dublin based composer, poet, lyricist and sound designer. (Relationship Programme)
- Tandeka Williams, a Derby based emerging Creative producer, Youth practitioner and Director of Mashup Derby. (Relationship Programme)
Meet the Artists
Debora Adachi (Relationship Programme)
Debora Adachi is an illustrator, children’s author, and art facilitator with a background in Architecture and Urbanism. She also has experience working in the animation industry as a background artist. She is Brazilian of Japanese heritage and is currently based in Dublin, Ireland.
Debora believes that art can be used as a tool to build connections, fostering a sense of belonging and self-worth. She enjoys creating art for children and exposing them to diverse perspectives, hoping to cultivate empathy towards what is often perceived as "different." With her practice, she aims to reflect the plurality of the world we live in.
Tanya Akrofi (Relationship Programme & Ideas Fund)
Tanya Akrofi is a writer and oral storyteller living in Lincoln. She is heavily inspired by folklore, fairy tales and mythology and how they can shed light on how we live today. To this mix she adds a healthy dollop of her Ghanaian storytelling heritage, stirs in her love for performance, sprinkles a bit of ridiculousness and makes magic. In her workshops, she helps adults and young audiences connect with oral traditions and the power of the spoken and written word. Her recent works include a futuristic retelling of Bluebeard, myth-based monologues about disability, articles in the award-winning children's magazine Aquila and a story for a Lincolnshire audio trail called The Woodhall Witch.
Sarah Blanc (Ideas Fund)
Sarah Blanc is an Irish performer and choreographer based in London. She is Artistic Director of Moxie Brawl- a spicy inclusive dance theatre company who make work that your mum would love. Their award winning performances have been described as ‘gloriously shambolic‘, ‘wholly absorbing’, ‘endearingly witty’ and ‘definitely the most fun you’ll have at a dance show’. Moxie Brawl creates work for the outdoors, indoors and places where dance shouldn’t be.
As a freelance choreographer/movement director she has worked with companies, organisations and artists such as Hackney Showroom, Little Red Kettle, Complicite, Bryony Kimmings, Royal Opera House, Perth Concert Hall and The Place. She is currently working with Dan Daw Creative Projects and Xnthony Ltd.
Justyna Cwojdzinska (Relationship Programme & Ideas Fund)
Justyna Cwojdzińska is a theatre practitioner/voice over and a producer. She studied Theatre at Cultural College in Wrocław and holds an M.A in English Language and Literature from the University of Wrocław. Justyna has been involved in theatre productions since 2000 in Poland and when moved to Ireland she continued her work in the cultural sector, especially with the local communities. She is a founder and artistic director of Polish Arts Festival. Justyna received an Outstanding Pole Award in the Culture Category for the work on the Festival from the Polish Government (Polish Promotional Emblem Foundation TERAZ POLSKA) under the honorary patronage of the President of the Republic of Poland. She’s a 2023 recipient of Arts Council Young People, Children, and Education Bursary Award and currently working on multilingual theatre performances for children. Her bilingual works include: Nameless, Julia and Elemental Tales Part 1 and 2.
Alexandra Gogan (Relationship Programme)
Alexandra Gogan (Relationship Programme) is a Romanian writer based in Dublin, with a background in theatre and the performing arts. Her experience working with young audiences ranges from humble beginnings as “Disney Princess impersonator”, to actor in children’s plays, workshop facilitator, and co-founder of “Bibabo”- an independent theatre company that aimed to produce quality art experiences for children in kindergarten and primary school.
Last year she worked with Super Paua as writer and performer, developing a multilingual audio story that delves into Romani and Romanian heritage, exploring grief, identity and tradition, while celebrating the cultural diversity of Dublin’s public transportation system.
Currently working on “A man, a dog and a goose” - the picture book and “Mister Tonohashi and The Missing Cat”, the first story in “The Thomas Thorne Files” series, investigating escapism after loss, reconnection through fantasy and stretching the wondrous while making the unbelievable sound plausible.
In pursuit of the meaningful, conquering her own dragons, one at a time.
Sarah ‘Rain’ Kolawole (Relationship Programme)
Sarah ‘Rain’ Kolawole is a playwright and spoken word artist from Nottingham. She is currently a New Associate Artist with New Perspectives Theatre and has previously been an Associate Artist at Nottingham Playhouse theatre (2018-2021) and a member of the Soho theatre writer’s lab alumni group. Sarah completed an ACE funded R&D in 2019 developing her play ‘Rootless Island Baby’. As part of this, Sarah founded the ‘Rootz’ theatre group for Care experienced young people at Nottingham Playhouse which continues to run.
Sarah was commissioned by Derby Theatre to co-write the book adaption of Alex Wheatle’s ‘Home Girl’. The book is aimed at young people and following a teenage girl in foster care and was on stage in July 2022.
In 2022, Sarah ventured into the world of print with two monologues published within the ‘Hear me now – Vol 2’. Sarah was also incredibly proud to have a poem published within a collection entitled ‘Ten Poems about Black History’ introduced by Dr Panya Banjoko.
Lewis Major (Relationship Programme & Ideas Fund)
Lewis Major FRSA, is a proud First Nations Australian artist from the Ngarrindjeri and Bungandidj nations, now based in Leicester. A renowned choreographer, artistic director, creative entrepreneur, arts advocate and producer with a background in sheep shearing and foreground in contemporary dance theatre, Lewis has developed a distinctive artistic style that resonates globally and is committed to elevating the voice of underrepresented people in the arts industry.
A founding member of Aakash Odedra Company, Lewis co-choreographed 'Murmur' and 'Little Murmur,' commissioned by Spark Arts with that company while honing his skills over a decade working with luminaries of the contemporary dance world, including Akram Khan, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Russell Maliphant, Hans van den Broeck (Cie Soit/Les Ballets C de la B), Damien Jalet, Hofesh Shechter and Shaun Parker amongst others. His work, characterized by the ethos "local focus, global outlook", has been presented on six continents, including prestigious venues such as Sadler's Wells, The Royal Opera House, Galway International Arts Festival, and the Baryshnikov Art Centre, New York.
Lewis has created 17 different works, both independently and on commission, including notable pieces such as the opera, 'Watershed: The Death of Dr. Duncan,' 'Monolith,' 'Ophelia,' and 'Satori.' His commitment to the East Midlands arts community is evident in his roles as an advocate, producer, programme director, and choreographer.
Lewis has been awarded multiple coveted international choreographic residencies and is the recipient of the the Frank Ford Award, a Winston Churchill Fellowship for Excellence in the Performing Arts, and a Regional Arts Australia Fellowship, amongst others. He is a graduate of Curve Theatre’s Young Arts Entrepreneurship program.
HK Ní Shioradáin (Relationship Programme)
HK Ní Shioradáin is a composer and sound designer from Dublin, Ireland, working in film, theatre, musical theatre, radio, and bands. They are currently on Rough Magic SEEDS 2023/2024, and recent credits include The Scratcher (Dublin Fringe Festival), Grindr, Saghdar, agus Cher (Galway International Arts Festival), St Brigid’s Cloak (RTÉ), Piglet (the New Theatre), Good Chips (Virgin Media). They are also a bilingual poet and lyricist, writing in Irish and English. They were chosen for Poetry Ireland’s Introductions 2022 and they recently won the Máire Mac an tSaoi Award for their poetry.
Tandeka Williams (Relationship Programme)
Tandeka Williams is a Derby based emerging Creative producer, Youth practitioner and Director of Mashup Derby, a youth organisation dedicated to nurturing the skills, talent and creativity in young people.
Committed to the principles of 'each one teach one', dedicated to personal growth, whilst learning from others and encouraging my community to embrace the world of art , creativity and theatre.
Passionate about music, long-life learning and the belief that 'knowledge is power'.
Proud of my Guyanese Caribbean-born heritage, with a deep appreciation for carnival and all things that reflect my roots.
A lover of museums, galleries and all things creative, embracing the worlds artistic treasures. Enthusiastic about exploring other cultures through travel,whilst connecting with diverse communities.
Theatre enthusiast, embarking on a new adventure as a creative producer, on a path to share my passion for the magic of the arts and the stage with others. Collaborating with organisations with in Derby's community such as Deda, Derby CAN, Derby Theatre and The Quad to create impactful work.
Creative producer behind 'Small Island Stories 2, a production that has toured the UK and Wales in collaboration with the Windrush Film Festival 2023.