Within current theatre, diversity is a huge conversation topic and issue in the industry.
When you hear ‘hip hop’, ‘street dance’ and ‘the hood’ our minds across the board think of stereotypical urban scenes, characters and storylines. ZooNation are a fantastic company – from difference in race, ability, gender, body types, the troupe of dancers range in all these aspects, and not to make a point but because they are talented, passionate and perfect for the roles.
It is refreshing to see that there is comedy played on the stereotypes that is thought of urban areas and ZooNation uses the ‘Into the Woods’ story to transform a once predominantly white European Grimm Fairy-tale–esque story into a modern and comical production.
As a former street dancer, I have noticed over the years the transformation of the industry. Coming from a popular era where street dance was fluid, to the past few years where popping and locking has become more common, ZooNation combine not only choreography that you cannot take your eyes off, but they introduce contemporary dance, break dance, even 1920’s flapper moves. This with the combination of a range of music from the more hard core hip hop, to 70’s favourites, the company creates a clever illusion of this fantastical world.
It is usual that a play has one main character, or a performer who stands out. Into the Hoods Remixed makes this decision hard. The concept of the story line – a fairy-tale land where we meet all our favourite characters from Cinderella to Rapunzel [Or in this case, Spinderella and Rap-un-zel] the principal characters are abundant – and so are the performers. Not a single performer is unable to embody whatever character they are, and this is implemented through their dancing, never breaking character. This troupe not only compete for the limelight, forcing us to love them all for each individuality, but also show that as a team and a dance group, they connect well and play off one another with great skill.
The set itself is fantastic – well constructed visuals of tower blocks, cartoon characters running through the backdrop and minimalist prop and staging helps us to create the scene. In addition to this, the voice over narrator occasionally setting the scene and the performers brilliant execution, Into the Hoods Remixed does nothing but leave you astounded and with a huge grin on your face.
In this darkened room at the bottom of the Southbank Centre, an intimate setting with a small audience feels like a secret space for a spiritual group. 4 poles lit up, one with a hooded robe draped on it and boxes that remind me of some form of religious set, there’s a serious feel to the atmosphere, cleverly set by this staging and lighting that we are made to feel anxious for the performance to commence.
A physical theatre piece, the biblical story of Abel and Cain is the premise for this beautiful piece of work. For those unknown to the story, as I was myself, these two brothers are the direct descendants of Adam and Eve. Eventually, Cain murders his brother Abel which is unclear in the bible as to why. Many have understood it as it was through jealousy and envy in God’s attention to Abel and not Cain. Unfamiliar to this story, a piece made of physicality and sounds and no speech, Animikii Theatre did a fantastic job in telling the story.
We are introduced to these shirtless characters, who play with one another using the space to give the initial build-up of the brotherly connection. Using laughter, sounds and imitation of actions through avant garde physical metaphors, the audience giggle along with the almost caveman-like attitudes and relationship. This is all set in the concept of Cain’s memory – switching from fun memory and obvious timeline of events, to Cain’s switch into turmoil at this reminiscence.
The movement and choreography of the piece brings us into mystical interpretation of what leads to Cain’s mental destruction. A wonderful dreamlike state, Abel’s loveable and fun character turns into a devil like character in a red robe, who tricks Cain into false sense of securities. It’s unclear who this character is until we return to ‘reality’. The performers do well to switch from positive to negative, to evil to innocent and while we know the final out come from the initial physical summary at the beginning, it is still a shock.
The lighting in this dark room is versatile, and while we should base physical theatre pieces of the movement, the contouring of the body and interpretation, the lighting plan highlights the men’s bodies in these states to render us in awe at their physical abilities.
Origins creates the right atmosphere and does well to use physicality and sound to bring this ancient story to life. We are pulled into the biblical story without a feeling that we are being forced religion upon us. We relate to the relationships and actions which is in your face but not negatively.
Many volunteers and Spice Time Credit users recently had an unexpected and very welcome trip to the ballet Sleeping Beauty. Wales Millennium Centre had generously offered tickets to be used by members of the community who could ‘pay’ with their well earned Time Credits. The tickets were quickly taken up and many had to admit that they had never seen a ballet and some had never visited the WMC before so what an opportunity this was to get close up and personal to a fabulous performance.
But this was no ordinary Sleeping Beauty. The Matthew Bourne production was full of colour, movement and energy performed to the well known music by Tchaikovsky. It was a gothic tale for all ages, a love story fraught with curses and spells. The costumes were outstanding, from the very first scene setting the christening of Aurora with a life-like puppet of the baby girl drawing in the audience from the beginning. We watched as the familiar fairy tale of a young girl cursed to sleep for one hundred years was enacted and danced through various scenes.
As Aurora grows up, we were taken through the fashions of the day, including a genteel tennis game followed by afternoon tea on the lawn, watching the antics of her suitors as they tried to gain her attention. Years later, when Aurora wakes up, we are in the modern world, still beset with many temptations and sinister goings-on.
It was an outstanding performance, full of magic, fairies, vampires, love and romance, danced by incredible dancers . There was certainly no falling asleep during this performance.
Thank you once again to the Wales Millennium Centre for giving us the opportunity to experience a beautiful and amazing ballet.
Hi, I am 10 years old and this was my first ever trip to see a Ballet. Before we went I expected there to be three good fairies that went to live with Sleeping Beauty and keep her safe so the evil witch couldn’t get her, just like I’d read in the story.
The show was at the Wales Millennium Centre, the venue is spectacular, inside and out. After a short amount of time in the queue we exchanged our time credits for tickets and went to find our seats. We had fantastic seats only a few rows from the front with lots of space and a great view of the stage.
The show was really good with lots of really great parts in it, lots of music and amazing dancers. The dancers took us on an emotional journey of excitement, laughter, fear, sadness and delight. I was surprised how they managed to tell the story without using any words.
I really liked the puppet baby at the start particularly when it was climbing up the curtains. I also liked it when the evil and good fairies were dancing around the baby in the night. I would definitely recommend this show.
Our project coordinator recently spoke to Alastair Sill who provides Audio Description for a range of theatre companies in Wales.
Hi Alastair, can you tell me how you got involved in your area in the arts?
After finishing my degree in English, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do but I knew I wanted to be involved in drama. I started writing to a few theatres across the country and the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry was one of the theatres I contacted. It just so happened they were looking for a marketing assistant to train up, so I went along and was lucky enough to get the role. I was a general marketing assistant so distributing posters, general office support etc, which was fine. Whilst there I was chatting to a colleague about other roles available in the theatre. She mentioned that she was involved in Audio Description and would I like to come and have a listen to it and see what I thought? I said yes and went along. At the time Audio Description was a voluntary service so there would have been about 6 audience members who were interested, this must have been about 15 years ago, things have changed since then. After meeting everyone I was keen to get involved, in-house training was provided by a member of the Audio Description Association. I enjoyed the training but was really interested in acting and applied and managed to get a place on the drama degree at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff and completed this course in 2003.
After qualifying I saw an advert for a training course in Audio Description at the Soho Theatre in London. Which I applied for and got accepted. The final exam was to AD a Christmas show at the Soho Theatre, which was the Big Bad Book by Lauren Child, which as you can imagine was very nerve wracking. The production was brilliant with lots of animation and live performance. It was difficult to capture in AD the style of the animation in the show but it went well and I passed the course. I continued to develop my acting career but the AD started to drip-feed into my work, mainly through friends based in Cardiff. who had their own theatre companies. I think one of the first productions I provided AD for in Cardiff did was at The Sherman Theatre called The Minotaur in Me by Paul Whittaker. The Sherman then asked if I could do the Christmas shows and then a few more shows a Sherman.
So how did you employment as an Audio Describer develop from there?
I then went to work at the Torch Theatre. Peter Doran the Artistic Director said they had accessed some additional funding to provide moreAD for their productions so I spent an autumn season there, which was really nice. I provided AD for a Christmas show and a play called Accidental Death of an Anarchist, by Dario Fo the play is a farce. That was a challenging piece for me to AD as it was difficult to keep up with the timings. When you are describing different types of theatre you have to change the AD to fit appropriately.
I wonder if you would mind explaining your actual process when you are asked to Audio Describe a production?
I spend quite a long time with the work; firstly I go and watch the play, with the audience. Then I come back again and read the script and often watch it from the audio description booth, which is the space I am usually in when providing AD for a production. I make notes on the script, pauses in the dialogue and perhaps the facial gestures of the cast. It’s important to note relationships between the characters and how lighting helps to tell the story. Then I come back again and watch it for a third time and will often have been given a video recording by the theatre or production company. This helps to really focus on what I need to be prioritising when providing AD. I can pause and rewind, which you can’t, do in real life! In total this process can take about 5 days to a week.
Could talk a little about your actual approach to live AD during a production?
OK so most importantly you cant talk over what’s happening on stage! This means you might create a sentence that you think describes perfectly what’s happening on but then when the actors are performing you might not be able to find the gap. This means you have to condense everything down to tell the story. This can be difficult as there are often lots of different things happening at the same time. You have to try and focus the AD down to the essential elements that convey what’s happening on stage and are most important for the audience.
There are moments when there might be a pause or a silence and the AD disrupting this can spoil this silence and the drama of the moment. Essentially AD is about choosing when to talk and not to talk! The AD audience and non-AD audience share the same space and the same moment in time, you have to feel what’s happening on stage. When it works, you feel connected to the world on stage; it’s a strange sensation as though you are on stage with actors.
Then there are also moments which frustrate me and I am not alive to the situation and I speak over what the actors are saying and that annoys me as I want it to be as good as it can be. Sometimes I get a bit carried away and get too descriptive. There is only so much information the audience can assimilate in their heads. It’s really important to get to know your audience.
So what companies in Wales have you been working with most recently?
I have worked with new writing company Dirty Protest on the play Parallel Lines written by Katherine Chandler and directed by Catherine Paskell. Catherine and the team were very helpful. Everyone was interested in the AD provision, I was aware it was a piece of new writing and felt a responsibility to describe it correctly. I spent quite a long time in rehearsals which was beneficial to the final AD for the production and also provided AD in a variety of venues when the show went on tour.
Alastair providing AD for Taking Flights production of A Winters Tale
I have also worked with Taking Fight Inclusive Theatre Company as a cast member and provided AD. Taking Flight often perform outside for their production of ‘A Winters Tale’ I played a character who was sort of the court audio describer and I was referenced during the play by the cast and was visible to the audience, which I am usually not. There were moments during the production when I would provide live AD with a microphone to an audience who are using headsets and then moments when I would speak directly to the entire audience That was really great to be able to integrate AD in this way.
I have recently just started to AD dance, for a production called Jem and Ella. I am developing my dance vocabulary and getting working on getting the emotional feeling across as much as the technical vocabulary. I had a lot of support from Jem Treays and his daughter Ella who are the performers in the piece. They helped me develop my vocabulary to AD the movement in the show, I found Rudolf Laban’s quality of descriptive movement helpful as well.
As you mentioned AD provision is becoming increasingly common, more creative use is being made of artists working in this field. What do you personally think the future might hold?
Well in Wales there are more companies and venues supporting the provision, which is great. Some venues really support AD well but I think it needs to start from the top down. Awareness of audiences need to start from that initial entrance to the venue and meeting the Front of House staff right through to the actual performance, inclusion should be the norm. Venues often don’t know when someone blind is attending so if possible they should aim to have an inclusive attitude for every show.
Personally I am interested in creating my work with AD at the heart. Also I am not aware of anyone that provides AD in the Welsh Language in Wales and wonder if that is something that could be supported in the future?
Next up I am providing AD for Theatr Fynnon for a production called Pupa, which will be performed at Chapter Arts Centre on Friday 20 May – Saturday 21 May. Then National Theatre Wales and a production called Before I Leave at the Sherman Theatre. I think the AD for that production is on Saturday the 11th of June at 2.30 pm. I am also working with Hijnx Theatre Company and their Unity Festival. And of course Taking Flight who are performing Romeo and Juliet this summer.
Many thanks for your time Alastair.
Alastair recently took part in a charity bike ride to raise funds for Taking Flights summer performance of Romeo and Juliet.
You can catch Alastair providing AD at the following performances below.
On the 26th of April, I was lucky enough to see Sleeping Beauty at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff. I haven’t really seen a ballet performance, besides the odd Nutcracker performance at Christmas, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I was absolutely blown away, it was incredible.
I love the Disney interpretation of Sleeping Beauty, but I think I found my favourite in this performance. It followed a similar structure, but it was so unique. The fact that the Princess didn’t fall in love with the prince was a breath of fresh air. I also liked the fact that the gardener and the Princess were already in love. It can be sluggish sometimes if you watch two characters fall in love. My favourite part would be the fact that the evil queen died before the curse came true. It was the son who made sure that it happened, and I just found it so interesting. It was different. The story was in the gothic genre and as I have studied it, I loved watching what aspects of the gothic were in the performance. It was dark and eerie. You kept wondering what was going to happen next, even though you knew how it would end up.
Ballet is such a beautiful form of dance, each move had such grace and elegance to it. I could not take my eyes off of the performers. I liked how each character had a performance that was unique to them, so you could define between each of them. As ballet is silent, the performers had to express so many different emotions through their performances and they did not disappoint! You could feel the emotions they were feeling, especially the Queens when Sleeping Beauty was put to sleep. It was almost as if you could hear the words that they weren’t saying. They are all incredibly talented.
The set was simple and sweet. There was not too much on the stage at one time, but you still got the feeling of elegance within the castle, and you got the sense that this was a gothic love story. The costumes were just incredible! They were so detailed, and unique to everyone. Each Faery had a different costume so you knew which was which. They reflected the personalities of each character, which helped you understand more about the story and what was happening. They also reflected the gothic nature of the story and the fairytale elements.
I loved this production and it definitely has inspired me to go see more ballet. Whilst it was confusing to begin with, it wasn’t long until I understood what was going on. The different interpretations were really interesting to me as both a literature student and someone who loves going to the theatre. I was left speechless when it finished. I recommend people who love the story of sleeping beauty, ballet and theatre to go see it.
(Although I do recommend not taking someone under the age of 10 as there are parts which could be disturbing.)
We are so used to the Disney versions of our traditional fairytales that we forget they come from a dark place. Tales of babies being cursed at birth, young women being locked away or made to sleep for 100 years. I am, it has to be said not a natural lover of ballet. I sometimes find it a little sterile for my personal tastes, however there is something about Matthew Bourne’s productions that I absolutely adore.
The theatre is plunged into darkness, a crack of thunder sounds and the menacing outline of Carabosse appears, played superbly by Adam Maskell. This is a lavish production, a return to the gothic roots of this fairytale. Bourne takes us on a journey from 1890 ( the year this ballet was first performed) through to the present day. It’s a twisting turning adventure through a dark ride. From the birth of the baby Aurora and her subsequent spiriting away to an underworld where she sleeps for 100 years, everything is beautifully choreographed. There is not one wasted movement. The thing I particularly love about this production is that the stripping away of some of the traditional elements of ballet puts the dancer’s skills totally in the spotlight. I can see the muscular physicality of their movements, the sheer hard work of their effortlessness, the way they communicate with every single part of their bodies. It is a stunning feast of dance and the dancers themselves are superb. The title role is played with elegance and power by Ashley Shaw and having watched her on stage I can only be excited at the prospect of her taking the lead in Bourne’s next production The Red Shoes which will be coming to the Wales Millennium Centre in 2017. Ashley is more than ably supported by Dominic North as Leo and Christopher Marney as Count Lilac together with a cast of exquisite dancers.
This stunning production uses a lush opulent set design to convey a dark gothic Victorian age and an Edwardian garden party before thrusting us into a stark underworld and a sinister costume ball. The use of puppetry for the baby Aurora is a stroke of genius introducing some lighter notes of comedy at the beginning of the ballet before unleashing a duel between the fairy kingdoms with a vampire thrown in for good measure all swept along by Tchaikovsky’s score. The whole production is a wonderful spectacle returning the tale of Sleeping Beauty to the place it truly belongs.
Emma (second left jumping) with Motion Control Dance members
Our project coordinator Guy O’Donnell recently spoke to Emma Mallam Director E-Motion Dance and CEO at MCD – Motion Control Dance
Hi Emma, can you tell me how you got involved in your area in the arts?
I have been dancing since the age of 3 and loved performing on stage so I always knew I would make a career in the dance world. When I began to look for jobs during my BA Hons degree, I was devastated to find out that I would not become a performer as I was too small being only 4ft11″ when the average height for a professional dancer at the time was at least 5ft4″!!!!!! I was lucky to be accepted onto a PGCE Dance at Secondary School degree – there were only 2 universities that were delivering the course back then in 1996 and mine was one of them. After graduation I got a job at a high school in Ashford, Surrey teaching dance and drama then moved to a school in Birmingham when they changed my job role to that of a PE teacher. A year later I found my dream job in Stantonbury Campus in Milton Keynes teaching dance across all levels of KS 3 & 4, GCSE and BTEC Dance. I moved back to Wales in 2000 when my husband fell terminally ill and I began to develop community dance classes in the Vale of Glamorgan as a freelance teacher who saw a niche in the market – my first street dance class held in a small community hall had 74 girls turn up for it! From there I was employed by a voluntary youth organisation in 2005 as a dance co-ordinator and my programme has since grown from there.
You describe yourself as Director at E-Motion Dance and CEO at MCD – Motion Control Dance Can you explain what this means?
After being made redundant in 2014, I had a choice to either have a complete career change or take on the dance programme that I had been developing as my own independent venture – I decided to take the leap on my own as we had over 200 young people dancing with us each week. I created E-Motion Dance as a sole trading dance school but had my mind made up that I wanted to create Motion Control Dance into a charitable organisation rather than just another dance school as I wanted to leave a legacy of the great work that we had produced over the years in the community. We were successful in May 2015 to be registered as a CIO so E-Motion Dance is now part of the Motion Control Dance charity. Being a small charity there is only me and a handful of wonderful and dedicated freelance staff who produce outstanding results with all whom we work with and our reputation is highly thought of in our area. As the director and CEO, I wear a lot of different hats every day to keep the organisation thriving – teaching, co-ordinating, monitoring, developing, admin, funding, marketing, film making etc – its hard work but I love it! I am hoping to create a bigger team in the near future so the organisation can continue to grow from strength to strength.
Motion Control Dance Members
Was there a moment when you thought this is the career for me?
I always knew I wanted to have a career in dance but I think the turning point was when I went for an interview to be a medical secretary in college at the age of 15 because the career’s advisor said it paid good money! It was then I realised that I didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk all day doing a job that I didn’t have any passion for!! So I went back to school to do my A levels and got a place in Laban College in London and I thought my life as a dancer was beginning. But my dream was cut very short as that year the government stopped all discretionary grants I was told I couldn’t go to Laban. I was heart broken and then had to wait for clearing day to apply to all other dance colleges only to find they were all full! I found a place for a BA Hons dance degree at Bedford College which turned into De Montfort University while I was there – I graduated in 1996 with a 2:1 – so my dream to work in the field of dance was still alive. I have been very privileged to have created my own career path teaching dance and becoming my own boss, enjoying every day in work – something that not many people can say!
Are their any individuals or organisations that helped support you once you realised a career in the Arts was for you?
My mentor in university was the person who inspired me to pursue a career in teaching dance in education. Her name was Jacqueline Smith-Autard, the acknowledged world-leading exponent in dance education, Chief Examiner for the dance GCSE and was a founder member of the National Dance Teachers Association and a pioneer in the use of technology to extend and enhance dance pedagogy. From her I developed my passion for teaching dance to children and young people and also the realisation that I was good at it!
I also owe a lot to the youth voluntary organisation Vibe Experience who believed in me when I told them that I would develop a successful dance project when no-one would hire me on a full time basis after my husband died. I couldn’t support myself and my young son as a freelancer – I needed the security of a salary and if they hadn’t taken me on I expect I would have gone to work in a dead end job that I hated just to make ends meet.
Can you tell us more about the two dance projects your run?
E-Motion Dance runs weekly dance sessions at the Barry YMCA in street dance, break dance, hip hop and creative dance for ages 3-30yrs. Groups perform at local community events throughout the year and our street dance team compete at local & regional competitions and have achieved great things! We bring guest tutors down occasionally such as Carlos Neto and Xavi from Pineapple Dance Studios to work with our dancers but the sessions are mainly taught by our A Team freelance faculty who are very passionate and highly motivated to produce great results through dance.
Motion Control Dance aims to ‘advance the education of people all ages, living in the Vale of Glamorgan and the surrounding areas, in the performing arts, particularly the art of dance, for the benefit of the public’. Through provision of classes, workshops, training and performance opportunities, we have created many memorable experiences for over a decade, working closely with schools and agencies in the Vale of Glamorgan with disadvantaged groups. Our mission is to give the community ‘A Chance 2 Dance’ – we are very proud of our award winning group of disability dancers the Local Motion Dance Company who started with us in 2008 that was funded by Children in Need for over 6 years. We also run training courses for Dance Leaders and provide volunteering opportunities with the MV Awards. Motion Control Dance also provides holiday schemes and organises trips and workshops with professional dancers such as Candoco and National Dance Company Wales.
Motion Control Dance Members
Do you have any advice for anyone interested in following your career path?
Follow your dream and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t – it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of passion with a relatively low income but it is worth it as each day is never the same! I would suggest they train in all forms of dance to understand the many techniques so you can break down the styles correctly to teach. I am a great believer that you can never stop learning – there are always new methods of teaching to discover and new trends to understand. I advise anyone wanting to get into teaching dance to volunteer to help out with classes in their local area to gain valuable experience of behind the scenes of the dance studio as too many young people think that teaching is easy and that they can just grab a stereo, play some hype music and show off a few dance moves but it takes a deep understanding that everyone learns in different ways and you have to accommodate for all abilities to ensure everyone gets an enjoyable and high quality dance tuition. I would also advise them to take part in performances for themselves so they understand what it takes to get up on stage and have the confidence to perform in front of others like they will expect their students to do. I would also advise anyone interested in following a career in dance teaching to ensure they have studied at University level and undertaken one of the many teacher examinations with a credible board, this will give you good reputation of being skilled and knowledgeable in your subject. There are so many more opportunities nowadays for those wishing to dance as a career than back in my day! They also must be a people person and love kids!!!!!
What are the opportunities for those interested in dance as a career in Wales?
I always tell any students who want to pursue a career in dance to study with a variety of teachers of different styles to give them a broad range of teaching methods. I also advise them to get involved with extra dance projects such as the National Youth Dance Wales or AdVance Dance. I understand Bridgend College has a wonderful dance and musical theatre programme that they can study at for 2 years and then I would strongly recommend Rubicon’s Full Time One Year Dance Course before going on to either the BA Hons Dance degree at Cardiff Met or University of Wales St Davids. Of course most dancers choose to focus on finding a place in England such as London or Manchester as that is where there are more opportunities for dancers but over the years we have lost a lot of talented young dancers who have never come back to Wales, which is a shame.
How do we get involved in your dance projects?
We offer a range of services in the Vale of Glamorgan for those wishing to take weekly sessions, those who want to pursue a career in dance, those who are looking to gain work experience or a university professional placement or organisations wishing work in partnership with our organisation.
If anyone would like to get involved with our dance projects please visit our websites
Please contact Emma Mallam by sending an email to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
I opened the door to the dance hall at Chapter Arts Centre, lots of unknown faces turned their heads and peered at me. There were two long rows of chairs facing each other with an aisle running down the middle. The one woman who was standing said ‘hello’ and I quickly chucked my bag on the floor and placed myself onto an empty seat. The standing woman faced away from me and carried on with her performance, if she had ever stopped. I had no idea what to expect but I was certainly intrigued.
The woman was attempting to dance. I say attempting because she would interrupt her movements, stop herself and start again, trying to achieve something, I wasn’t quite sure what, commenting on what she was doing all the while. It was unclear whether I was watching a wholly scripted piece or a workshop for dancers which was more spontaneous and organic. This blurring between reality and performance was clearly a theme they were playing around with. Comedy was created through her almost childlike frustration at the inability to fully let go. The audience was kept in suspense as we waited for the dance to flow.
‘Maybe you could do it like this’ piped up someone from the other side of the room. Jo Fong stepped into the space. Her energy was immediately captivating. Fong talked a lot about her energy, expressing how she was bringing it into the room and giving it to the audience. There was definitely a sense of the performer enthusing the audience; her movements were big and bold, she had something inside her which didn’t know how to get out. Again, there was that tension. It seems to be a comment on how people struggle to give in to their emotions, stopping themselves from being totally free. Fong at one point did this sporadic movement with her arm which she called the ‘contemporary arm’, stating it ‘wants to express itself.’ There was a battle for control over the body, limbs did not perform as wanted and had a mind of their own.
After advising the first performer on how she should move, a third dancer, Beth Powlesand, came up and took to the floor. They all seemed very natural in the space, making the most of the strip between the rows of chairs. The further it went on, the more I realised how much of it was staged, which didn’t diminish the piece as we were supposed to be aware of its constructed nature.
There was a key element which really made it a unique and original experience; the audience. The show was shaped by the audience as the performers were continuously responding to the people watching, to the energy of the room and incorporating it into the performance.
As people started to understand what the show was about and got more relaxed, there was a change in the power dynamic. One audience member controlled Powlesand like a puppet on a string, the dancer imitating her as she freely moved her arms. It was a fascinating development because we were no longer just watching the show, we were a fully-functioning part in it. I’ve always been very interested in audience interaction and the relationship between performer and viewer and the show explored this wonderfully. Laura Lee Greenhalgh, the woman who said hello to me at the beginning, noticed I was furiously writing notes and commented on it; she looked down at the paper and read aloud ‘who is the leader? Who is being lead?’ It seemed to create a strange electric current between her and Powlesand, who were mirroring each other, and they rapidly danced down the room together as though fired up by the observation.
Near the end of the show, Powlesland invited people to get up off their seats and follow her movements, they were now the puppets. Quite a few practically leapt out of their chairs and joined in with enthusiasm. Yet, I think one of the most memorable moments was when Fong said ‘do you think I’m going to sit on a chair and do nothing like you?’ and proceeded to give the most emotionally charged performance of the evening. Her movements became more aggressive and the tension that had been building up throughout finally came to a head. She shouted ‘I just want to get this out of my body!’ with an intensity that resonated. It’s the sort of frustration I think everyone can relate to; this sense of being trapped or being unable to feel totally uninhibited. It’s felt honest and that’s why it stuck with me.
The concept of the show for me was about breaking down barriers, not just between performer and audience but internal barriers too. It’s about trying to fully experience an emotion and letting it flow through your body without fear. However, there’s a conflict there because can you really achieve this if your are performing? It would interesting to ask Jo Fong and the other dancers whether they think they have ever had a moment of pure release while doing the show. We are constantly reminded that what we are watching is a construct while are also actively participating in forming the performance. Without the audience, the piece would not have been what it was but it can also adapt to whoever is watching. Thus we all become performers and like the three dancers, we are all in pursuit of freedom.
With the exciting news that Jukebox Collective have recently become a new Regularly Funded Organisation funded by Arts Council Wales. As well as supporting their young dancers to perform in Groove on Down the Road at the Wales Millennium Centre. Young Critics Wales project coordinator Guy O’Donnell caught up with Liara Barussi, Company Director and Zoe Munn, Development Manager to discuss the companies past present and future plans.
Hi both, thanks for taking the time to chat, firstly can you tell me about the background of Jukebox Collective?
Jukebox Collective is a creative company based in Cardiff, focused on the delivery of the highest quality street dance education, performance and consultancy. The creation of Jukebox in 2004 was a reflection of the increase in demand, as well as the need to provide an outlet for some of the most talented young dancers in the UK. Over 10 years since its creation, we still keep the core emphasis on nurturing fresh young talent up to professional level, as well as producing high-class work for stage and screen.
The Jukebox mission statement is – “Founded on the principle of excellence in street dance being a right for all, our mission is to inspire, create and educate through street dance and hip hop culture”.
Thanks I wonder if you can tell us how you apply this in practice?
We apply this through the development of a multi-strand approach: Participate, Theatre, Creative Services and The Academy. The approach developed is based on a deep knowledge of the dance forms taught with a growing understanding of the different avenues for dance. By bridging the gap between community and professional work, we provide the platform to support talent from grassroots through to professional. We continue to work with respected industry artists to inspire dancers and support our vision of excellence and education being accessed by all.
The company has its own premises and has held events like the Social Saturday’s can you tell us more about the intention behind these events?
Jukebox is all about sharing and exchanging dance, and these events are needed to create a sense of community within what we do. It’s important to keep an open door and have free public events so that anyone can access what we do. We want to get people together, to enjoy and exchange, to have fun and to explore something different. We want people to leave with memorable experiences and a taste of what dance can bring to them. These events allow us to reach out to new people, introduce dance styles that may be unfamiliar, and to showcase that street dance forms are a vibrant and vital part of the cultural narrative and to local communities. The get together’s are also a chance to encourage collaboration between dancers as well as with other art forms.
Liara you and Jukebox Collective have been very involved in the annual Breakin’ the Bay Weekend at the Wales Millennium Centre. It appears the WMC have been very supportive of Hip Hop culture. I wonder could you tell us more about your relationship with the WMC and involvement in this event?
Yes, I have been involved in curating the festival since its creation, over 10 years ago. We support Breakin’ the Bay to enable the Welsh dance community to become internationally recognised, as well as educating, inspiring and connecting them with other dancers across the world. This year we focused on sourcing some of the freshest national & international talent in Europe including dancers from France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland & Sweden. Jukebox’s reach on the International Hip Hop scene has attracted dancers from around the world to spectate and participate in the annual event. It’s the perfect opportunity to celebrate Hip Hop culture and all its diversity and bring it to the center of Wales. This year we also introduced a new “Experimental’ category, not only specific to this event but to the local dance community. This was very exciting and showcased a dynamic approach to street dance fusion.
Arts Council England have invested funding in Breakin Convention which takes place at Sadler’s Wells and companies such as Zoo Nation to support their touring. We note that Jukebox company members have just been involved in Zoo Nations ‘Groove on Down the Road’ (which also forms part of Cardiff Dance Festival) at the WMC 13-22 Nov. Could you tell us more about your involvement in this performance?
It’s great to see not only Arts Council England but also the theatre venues across the UK welcoming street dance and making it available to mainstream audiences. The involvement gives further opportunities to local youth to develop professionally and consider a career in street dance theatre. The Groove on Down the Road production features Jukebox Collective dancers – Jo-el Bertram, Shakira Ifill playing ‘Little Wiz’, and Renee Brito playing ‘Wicked Witch of the West’. We are delighted to participate and work in collaboration with Zoo Nation.
Arts Council Wales have recently named Jukebox as a Regularly Funded Organisation, congratulations! Can you tell us what led the company to apply?
Thank you! We applied as we felt with the support of ACW we could collaboratively grow the organisation to its full potential. Becoming a Regularly Funded Organisation provides us with more opportunity to produce creative work and to realise initiatives that support and celebrate talented creatives. We will also be able to plan further ahead and work more strategically. We are looking forward to developing this partnership and creating some fresh new work.
Your work supports a wide demographic of participants, I wonder if you think your organisation works with young creatives who wouldn’t otherwise be engaged in mainstream arts in Wales?
Yes, absolutely, we attract a diverse group of participants with our programs, and continue to have a point of view that talks to all people, regardless of location, gender, race and income. We are able to relate to a diverse group of people and cultures through their shared common interests. This commitment to equality and diversity is at the heart of all the work we do.
Welsh Assembly Government culture minister Ken Skates has been supportive of your company, Liara could you tell us more about your relationship?
The progressive discussion that the Minister is encouraging is very exciting, and the support really highlights the progression of our arts community in Wales. We are seeing the Senedd opening up to hear younger voices in the arts, and I’m very excited to be a newly appointed member of the Welsh Government’s Arts and Creativity Forum.
What are the long term plans for Jukebox?
We will focus on creating and expanding our dance Academy as well as continuing to produce compelling high quality dance productions. We want to keep creating opportunities and working closely with the local community, as well as touring professional work, and creating bespoke work for special events and campaigns. We are keen to support the development of young creatives in all aspects of performing arts. We want to work with local businesses and form partnerships to support all the strands of our work, aiming to build a healthy, sustainable company.
My aim with the creative work is to build a collective of dancers who develop a language that can be pushed to the very edges of expressive, aesthetic and visual possibility. I want to make collaborative work that pushes the language of dance to new, deeper levels – exploring the edges of possibility through movement and expression.
And finally how do I find out more if I want to get involved?
To get involved in any strand of the company, from professional development and performance or just for fun, if you have collaboration in mind or would just like to hear more about our work, you can contact email@example.com.
Keep a look out for our new website, which will be launching in January 2016.