Meet the 2022 Board Shadowers

Meet the creatives spending the next 9 months shadowing the board meetings of Dance Umbrella and Without Walls, attending shows, networking opportunities and other engagements.

Our award winning Board Shadowing Programme is designed to demystify the roles and responsibilities of the board, broker relationships with aspiring trustees and create an even playing field.

Introducing the 2022 Board Shadowers...

Aerial Mel Stevens

Artistic Director of Aim To Fly

“I feel privileged to learn more about how our sector works from real people which will strengthen so many qualities in a priceless opportunity, that traditionally would never have been accessible to any person like me. I feel honoured to be an advocate for my peers.”

Aerial Mel wears many hats.

Aerial is a performer circus, spoken word poet, music and film producer, teacher, consultant and an active member in their Buddhist community.
Assisting on many boards of local, national and international levels, including NASA UK, EYCO, CircusWorks facilitating a clearer understanding of Exclusion and what real inclusion looks like, and the differences that lead to access diversity and equity.

Lived experience with of barriers of disability, hearing loss, race, culture, sexuality and inherited lessons, it seemed natural to try to bridge the gaps between all of these marginalised groups, rather than compete with them.

All of Aerial’s achievements in the last 20 years are a result of the access, that is vital to their existence in the sector and many of their peers and by sharing how combined they create a whole new body of evidence to reach excluded communities creating new dialogue.

Debbie Bandara

Artistic Director of Forest Tribe

“The programme has come at a time where there is shift in thinking about how boards are truly represented. The Shadowing opportunity will be a valuable asset to observe how two National Portfolio Organisations are governed.”

“Skilfully directed & choreographed by Debbie Bandara, she does a fine job of engaging with the young audience—the gestures are expansive & clear, the expressions & moods always writ large & easy to read. The children’s attention is held throughout by the performances; they are engrossed by the visuals & delighted by the interactive elements.”– British Theatre Guide.

Debbie Bandara is an Immersive Theatre Digital director, producer and choreographer. She is the Founder and Artistic Director/ CEO of the Award-Winning Organisation, Forest Tribe Theatre.

Her repertoire spans over 20 years making engaging work for audiences both neurotypical and neurodiverse. She is a “Leader of Tomorrow” alumni, a programme supported byTiata Fahodzi, 20Stories High, Talawa Theatre, Freedom Studios and RTYDS, to promote diversity. She currently is the lead Facilitator for the Young Company Maker’s Cohort at Royal Exchange Theatre.

Her work has reached internationally including at Folkteatern, Gävle Sweden, assisting directing and lead choreographer for “Stranden”, a piece crafted for children with Profound Multiple Learning Needs.

Maria Tarokh

Dancer, Choreographer and Producer

“I am honoured, privileged, and very excited to be participating in the board shadowing programme. This is a fantastic opportunity to unlock access to understanding how boards work and becoming a trustee. I am very grateful to ADF for making this accessible. I know it’s going to be very instrumental in my journey to becoming a leader in the arts sector. I can’t wait to get stuck in!”

Maria is a British- Iranian Dancer, Choreographer and Producer, professionally trained in ballet, contemporary and Middle Eastern dance. A first-generation immigrant to the UK, she has performed and taught at shows, festivals and events across the UK and Europe. Currently, she is the Creative Producer of a theatre and circus company, NDP Circus. NDP works with theatre, circus and dance and uses a participatory approach, combining site-specific workshops, residencies, and performances at heritage sites across the UK, Europe, and Middle East.

For the last 10 years, Maria has also worked in the non-profit sector as a researcher and evaluator, particularly with organisations working with vulnerable women and refugees and asylum seekers. Most recently, she was Programme Manager at The Fore. Maria holds an MA from SOAS in Middle Eastern Studies and speaks French, Spanish and Farsi.

Vanessa Maria Mirza


Dance Programmer, Choreographer and Visual Artist

“The ADF Board Shadowing program is a remarkable initiative for training and professional development for people of diverse backgrounds. I absolutely love the empowerment that this programme carries with it and the fantastic opportunity it presents to engage with world-class organisations such as Dance Umbrella and Without Without Walls.”

Vanessa Maria Mirza is a contemporary dancer/choreographer, visual artist and curator from Kolkata, India. She is the Founder-Director of Dance Bridges, an international contemporary dance festival with residencies, workshops, artist talks and regular classes. Vanessa has represented the festival in platforms in such as Aerowaves, Lyon Biennale de la Danse, CINARS and TPAM among others. She has curated events for Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (Mumbai) and the Kolkata Centre for Creativity (Kolkata) as well as done consultations for arts organisations such as Chaitown Community (USA/India).

She is an ATSA (ARThink South Asia) Fellow for 2018-2019. She studied contemporary dance at Taipei National University of the Arts and business at St. Xavier’s College (Kolkata). She is the Artistic Director of Vanessa Mirza Creations through which she presents her painting and choreography internationally. She is currently a postgraduate student in the MA, Arts Policy & Management program at Birkbeck, University of London.


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