Author Chemical Engineer
Expressions, Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, 15 July 2015
Expressions is described as "a sharing which brings together inclusive dance groups from the North of England, giving talented dancers with disabilities the chance to showcase their skills to an audience on a professional stage." I have seen inclusive dance before in Llandudno (see An Explosion of Joy 23 Sept 2014) and Glasgow (see No Mean City - Accessible Dance and Ballet 26 April 2015) and had enjoyed the performances very much. Yesterday's show by 7 dance groups was free but I would gladly have paid to watch it.
The first pieces was by Me2, a dance group for individuals both with and without disabilities between the ages of 11 and 25. It is based in Leeds and meets every Friday during term time between 18:30 and 20:00. Me2 danced Respond which was described as "a new contemporary dance work that highlights [the dancers'] strong sense of group and their ability to be aware and to respond to each other creatively." The group entered pushing one of their number in a chair. Though they stayed together each danced to the music in his or her own way. One young person caught my eye. Just as the group entered the stage a friend from another group wished her luck. She appealed to the crowd to clap her and we all did. She had an infectious smile and she danced exuberantly. At the end of the show she bowed (as did the others) energetically. They all know that they had been a hit but she did particularly.
Mind the Step are a group of adult dance artists with a range of learning and physical disabilities. They meet every week for an hour long weekly class at Yorkshire Dance. Last year they made a film of their activities called Mind the Step at Yorkshire Dance which has been uploaded to YouTube. I recognized several of the dancers from last night in the film. Last night they danced "Warmth and Togetherness" for us, a work that had been choreographed by Zoe Parker, Louise MacDowell and the dancers themselves. There seemed to be a fair degree of improvisation in this work which gave it some freshness. The dancers performed solos, duets and group works some of which required strength and skill.
Phoenix Dance Theatre has always impressed me for its performances. Yesterday it impressed me even more for its work with its Illuminate Dance group. These are young people aged between 6 and 18 with additional needs. Phoenix offers classes for those kids in three 10 week terms. Last night the group performed Expand which explored the concepts of expansion and contraction. The performers, all of whom danced in Phoenix t-shirts, did their teachers proud. The crowd loved them as did I.
I learned at Llandudno that a wheelchair can be used very effectively in dance. Although I have yet to see him perform on stage I have seen films such as Remember When in which the well known dancer and choreographer Marc Brew shows what can be done with the conveyance. In Motion is Northern Ballet's programme for wheelchair users aged 8 to 19. RAISED is a company of adult dancers with and without disabilities that includes wheelchair users. The Northern Ballet group performed Freedom which had been choreographed by Leanne Kirkham and Sam Carruthers. Both Leanne and Sam keep blogs on their work. The young dancers showed skill in manipulating their vehicles and artistry in their interpretation of the music. RAISED danced Assieme in which the dancers (some with wheelchairs and others without) interacted and collaborated with each other. Zoe Parker who had choreographed Warmth and Togetherness for Mind the Step was one of the choreographers of Assieme. Rachel Fullegar who danced in the piece was the other named choreographer.
The second act consisted of two fairly long pieces. The first was A Moving Stillness by Ability which I mentioned in Northern Ballet's Ability Programme on 15 June 2015. The second was Parked which was danced by Flex Dance which describes itself "as an emerging professional dance company of artists with a learning disability". Both pieces were impressive in that they required considerable skill, stamina, technique and artistry.
A Moving Stillness was inspired by a visit to Leeds Art Gallery. Each dancer developed a phrase in response to a work in the collection. I have recently performed in a work that lasted just over 3 and a half minutes for which the Improvers class of Northern Ballet's Over 55 class (all of whom are able bodied) required nearly 2 months of rehearsals of 30 minutes each. This was a much longer work that required at least as much skill. It was slick and polished and deserved the loud applause that it received.
The last work was centred on a park bench and revolved around the lives and stories of the 3 men and 1 woman on stage. It began with the shout "Story Time" and the dancers bounced on stage with a placard welcoming us to a story. Each story needed a hero but which of them was it to be? There was a romance between the woman and one of the men and there followed a Giselle like plucking of the petals of a flower with the other dancers brandishing heart signs with the words "She loves him" on one side and "She loves him not" on the other. Each of those placards, sign and other props was kept in boxes on the stage and that prompted another theme: "A place for everything and everything in its place". Yet another theme was the changing seasons to which one of the dancers cried plaintively that he didn't like change. And in winter everything had gone. But not quite everything for he received a letter which seemed to bring good news for away he went. This last work was a lovely piece but also a difficult one which would have been a challenge for any dancer. Flex Dance were more than equal to that challenge.
Yesterday was as enjoyable an evening as many that I have spent in theatres watching performances by leading dance companies. It is a reminder that dance is for everyone and not just the few who make it through White Lodge, the Upper School and the major ballet companies. It made me very proud to be a Friend of Northern Ballet and the Northern Ballet Academy.
Northern Ballet has provided some lovely pictures of Ability's contribution to the evening which Gita has uploaded to Expressions - Some Pictures,