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“There’s a commitment to community dance in Wales which provides a framework of dance for everyone.” An Interview with Kokoro Arts Ltd

Hi Gundija and Krystal, great to meet you both, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

Gundija: I am an independent contemporary dance artist based in Cardiff. Originally from Latvia, I have trained and worked in dance in Denmark and England, but now I have found my home in Wales – I have been living and working here for over 5 years now. I am also the Executive Director of Kokoro Arts.

Gundija Zandersona

Krystal: I grew up in Bermuda, in a green bungalow with my seven siblings and our parents. I continued dancing at my local dance schools until I moved to Wales in 2012, to dance with Ballet Cymru. Currently, I’m a freelance dance artist, choreographer, writer and emerging director, based in Newport. I am the Artistic Director of Kokoro Arts.

Krystal S. Lowe

What got you interested in the arts?

Krystal: The arts have always been a part of me, my maternal grandmother is a mixed media artist. She creates sculptures and paintings, and uses found objects and transforms them into intricate works of art. Her house is the most beautiful and colourful place I’ve ever experienced – hand painted floor rugs and walls covered floor to ceiling with her artwork. My grandmother’s sisters were all writers, musicians, poets and fashion designers. My mother is a writer and would paint the ceiling in our kitchen into the image of the day sky. Growing up I was always taught to think differently, creatively; the house was filled with books and blocks and painted walls. The arts are an integral aspect of my identity and culture. 

Gundija: I have always been exposed to art when growing up – theatre performances, outdoor exhibitions, social cultural events, strong Folk dance and national singing traditions. Once dancing became my choice (rather than my parents) – I was exposed to different new dance styles, which led me to viewing dance as an art form not just a fun (and tough) movement activity. Through new international friendships – eventually collaborations – I started immersing myself into other art forms on a more professional level.

Together you run Kokoro Arts, the organisations mission is  “Kokoro Arts supports and promotes the development and work of young artists, facilitates sector-wide discussion and champions inclusion, accessibility and diversity throughout the Wales dance sector.”

How did the organisation develop and what are you working on at the moment?

The organisation developed out of passion and love; passion for the arts and a love for Wales – its culture and the wide diversity of the people here. It developed through conversation; through seeing the gaps in the sector and finding a way that we could fill them. We saw that there was a lack of support for young/early career artists, and we each understood what that lack of support feels like. We decided that we wanted to connect those artists with opportunities, with the sector, and to offer support for their development.

We offer support to young artists through 1-2-1 sessions, bespoke advice and feedback, application and CV writing support, sharing monthly opportunities, and ensuring we offer an open door for any questions/concerns they have. Also, we build and support networks, individually and as a company. Through the company last year we facilitated dance sector conversations and through that, the Wales Dance Network was formed. The Wales Dance Network | Rhwydwaith Dawns Cymru continues to bring the Wales dance sector together and we’re part of that steering group. We began an EU Artist Network, to be a support to artists living away from their home countries, and to share contacts and networks within that group. These connections are very important to us and our work.

Currently, we’re working on an incredible Arts Council Wales funded ‘Connect and Flourish’ project – Emerging Artists: Access, Inclusion, Connection – which will offer five early career artists the opportunity to collaboratively explore how access and inclusion can be integral to their movement practice.

The programme is in partnership with Stephanie Back, Krystal Dawn Campbell, Eädyth Crawford, Matthew Gough, Chris Ricketts, and Ballet Cymru, The programme places anti-ableist actions and perspectives at the centre of developing the next generation of movement artists in Wales. Along with that, we’re working on an Erasmus+ project; a partnership between Finland, Latvia and Wales. It is a transnational, interdisciplinary project that aims to explore and exchange practices on using creative body-based approaches for social inclusion and community building. And finally, we’re collaborating with a Bermudian organisation on a research and development project. The History of Us | Ein Hannes Ni explores how artists from different backgrounds, cultures, and languages share their artistic process and practice through discussions and dance sessions.

Kokoro Arts has choreographed a new dance film for the National Dance Company Wales, Youth Dance company, The Associates. The project has been created entirely online and is inspired by the work of Artes Mundi 9 exhibiting artist, Prabhakar Pachpute. His practice “reflects on the working conditions, relentless excavation, unequal social development and land politics in his home state Chandrapur, known as ‘the city of black gold’.” Could you see any links between Prabhakars approach to Chandrapur and Wales in your work with the Associates?

Similarly to Prabhakar’s artistic approach to his work, we wanted the film we choreographed for ‘Now Begin’ to address issues that are pressing and important to young dance artists in Wales. In the film, they dance and speak about the change they want to see in the world – it felt really important to give them a platform to be seen and heard.

Prabhakar Pachpute, A march against the lie (IA)

As the project has been delivered entirely online due to Covid-19 how did you approach the choreographic process and working with the young dancers?

It was important to us to make sure that the creation process was as engaging and interactive as possible. Collaboration with the Associates was essential to us – we really wanted to give them ownership over their creative process as well as the finished work.

While we had previously engaged with some of the Associates, it was our first interaction for most of the Associates. We spent time in the first session finding out about who they were as people and as artists; what was important to them about not only this process, but also their artistic development and ambitions.

We facilitated time and space for them to comment critically on each other’s choreographic work within the session using Zoom’s chat function. In giving feedback, artists engage quite differently with the work. The critique isn’t about higher legs or more stretched ankles, it’s about expression and movement; how the work is created, how it comes across and translates to audiences. Even the filming of their choreography allowed for them to engage further in the creation process. Each Associate chose their own filming location, choreography, and camera shots.

The NDCWales Associates are one of a number of youth dance organisations in Wales. Do you feel the opportunities offered by these groups are of value?

Yes, I believe that these programmes are of great value. They can connect young people to dancers from other dance schools, other parts of Wales, and the UK, in a way that helps them to engage differently with their practice and development.

Youth dance organisations have the ability to offer young artists a space to learn from different dance artists who come to teach and to create work on them and to learn different ways of moving from what they’re used to.

However, each of these programme’s could do with a lot more boldness in the range of dance styles they are offering and the range of artists that interact with the youth artists. I would love to see a wider diversity of young artists audition and accepted onto these programmes. This would offer young artists a diversity of lived experiences to interact, engage with, and learn from.

Whimsy,Kokoro Arts Ltd. Credit Sleepy Robot Photography.

If a dancer wanted to stay and train in Wales and then pursue a career, what support system would you suggest they require in order to be able to do this?

  • Access to dance classes that would develop their skill-set continuously.
  • Sustainable ongoing support for their professional development rather than one-off engagements that have no continuity.
  • Mentorship and coaches to support their artistic practice and help them reflect on their career development.
  • Platforms and events that allow them to test their thoughts and creative practice at a variety of levels.
  • For organisations and project funded companies to regularly advertise for new dancers rather than turning to those they already know.
  • For organisations and project funded companies to have more paid apprentice positions or opportunities to observe and engage with them.
  • More public discussions about dance in Wales
  • A strategy for dance in Wales that helps the sector develop and therefore offer opportunities for those who want to remain here.
  • Undergraduate training would be a good option but isn’t necessary to become a professional dancer.

Are there any examples of training systems or support networks that exist in other nations that Wales could look to utilise?

This is difficult to answer, because each nation’s system reflects a particular context. What works in one place might not work in another.

In Latvia The Latvian Academy of Culture offers an undergraduate degree programme in contemporary dance with an intake every 4 years, which offers an increased intensity and focus to their education; however it does leave gaps in graduate years.

Irelands Step Up dance project for graduates aims to bridge the gap between dance education and professional contemporary dance practice in Ireland.

CAT schemes in England show how additional opportunities can be facilitated, but we would need to be careful that they don’t only offer routes to conservatories or serve those more privileged.

What does Wales do well in dance or cultural training and delivery?

There’s a great commitment to bilingual and multilingual work, including an emerging commitment to British Sign Language.

Wales has created an environment that allows visiting (short project) artists to feel like they want to stay here – live, work, and feel at home.

There’s a rich diversity of dance styles in Wales from Welsh folk dance, concert dance, and contemporary dance, to a wide range of cultural, social and competitive dance practices.

There’s a commitment to community dance in Wales which provides a framework of dance for everyone.

The Wales dance sector attracts international interest; for example, events organised by National Dance Company Wales, Groundwork Pro and Cardiff Dance Festival as well as Wales based dancers who have an international presence on their own.

You are both parents of young children working in the arts. Given that you are both freelance artists and parents the Lockdown period must have been very challenging for you in combining the demands on your time? How did you approach this?

Krystal: For me, it was the same when I decided I would be a parent in the first place. I decided not just that I was going to do it, but that I could do it. That decision doesn’t change what happens, but it changes how I experience what happens. Those days that my son needs me even more than usual, I leave work alone and make myself available to him. I decide that that’s not a work failure but a moment to enjoy rest and connection. Motherhood has made me far more efficient in my work. I’m not lethargic, because I don’t have the time to be. I am definitely more tired than I was before I had a child, but I’m also more passionate, I’m more eager, and I have far more resilience. I decide that I can do it, and that doesn’t mean I always do it perfectly but it means I don’t give up.

Practically, I take on the work that I can do and I’m honest about the work that I can’t do. I find opportunities to get work done at odd hours. It’s about being really flexible. Learning that I could schedule my emails has revolutionised my working! If anyone ever gets an email from me at 8am, it’s because I stayed up the night before really late, responding to all of my emails. Making lists helps so much. I have pages and pages of to-do lists – this means that the tasks are out of my head so I don’t have to feel overwhelmed by them. I can look and decide what’s important to do each day. Another thing that helps a lot is having deadlines for when my work is due. This helps me to know when I need to focus on a specific task and when I have time to focus on other tasks; it’s essential to my wellbeing.

Gundija: The lockdown period, especially the very beginning of it was challenging, yes. There were suddenly new roles I felt I needed to fulfil as a mother whilst trying to work at the same time. What helped me was the repeated reminder (that came from myself, family and even social media sometimes) that I don’t have to be able to manage everything at once. So I learnt how to manage my time better (or tried to) – for example, when there were work meetings, I would tell myself it’s OK if my daughter has longer screen-time so that I can focus. Being present as a mother, for me is a priority, so whenever my attention is split and I’m neither with my daughter nor fully at work, I get stressed. The only way to avoid that is to clearly set times/moments when I know I will focus mainly on work and be less present as a mom and then have clear times where I’m fully engaged in activities with my child. And similar to Krystal – making to do lists helps me as well. It lets me get out of the chaos in my head when everything feels ‘too much’ and see all I need to do nicely organised on a paper.

Given the challenges you described above what support would help Creatives in Wales with young familes?

Flexible working hours and the ability to have children in the room whenever safe. Working with people who try to understand the unpredictability of life with a child would help reduce the guilt often felt by working parents. Having the ability to job-share more often would also be really great – that way a parent can engage with less worry about child-care costs. Where possible, including child-care as access costs would make a massive difference. Often, in order to work and have your child cared for, you end up losing money. Even a contribution towards child-care costs would make a big difference.

It would also be great, if there were a few parents, that the project or organisation could facilitate a shared child-care arrangement on the premises. Even something more informal would be a huge support. Potentially a child-minder who could take on a few children with the organisation/project covering a portion of the costs.

Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision. Are you aware of any barriers that creatives in Wales face? If you are, what might be done to remove these barriers?

Despite some changes, there is still systemic excluding around multiple characteristics. The system needs to act on equality not just talk about it.

Cultural Contracts and Arts Council Wales requirements for Portfolio organisations are a step forwards, but there needs to be deep thinking and radical doing to shift our perception of who is and who can be an artist.

A big issue is that not enough new job posts are being advertised, so those who are most marginalised are at a constant risk of precarious work, (hourly paid staff, fixed contracts, not secure in their position) so they don’t have time and space to develop their artistic practice.

With the roll out of the Covid-19 vacancies, the arts sector is hopeful audiences will return to venues and theatres. If theatres want to attract audiences what do you think they should do?

Gundija: I don’t think Vaccine Passports are a good idea. I have found live streaming performances alongside live events works well, so those who cannot attend physically, can still access it. It would be good to organise events for different specific audiences – perhaps have a coach that would pick up a group of members from a specific area. I think Venues should lobby the government so that our return to theatre spaces can be equitable. Perhaps there are ways of reducing costs for people who might struggle to attend or engage? And I think co-creating with people and communities might help us return together in a sustainable way.

Krystal: I think venues and theatres should continue to get even more creative about how they offer arts performances and engagement opportunities to audiences. Clearly outlining safety measures in place, more performances in public spaces, and shorter performances to offer more audiences an opportunity to engage safely.

It’s great to see many venues and theatres taking advantage of their outdoor spaces to engage audiences safely.

 If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

Gundija: My priority would be to fund continuous support for early career artists. A scheme that would provide mentoring and opportunities for them to develop their artistic practice,  give space to share their work and learn how to reflect on their practice and critically discuss it.

Krystal: I would fund disability arts. It’s important to me that all people are able to access and engage in the arts. I believe that the most effective way to develop and innovate as artists and as a sector is to engage closely with those who are different from us. Disability arts, and ensuring a diversity of disabled people are a part of this, would ensure a wider diversity of voices sharing and imparting into the sector, strengthening us all as well as developing audiences in Wales and beyond. I would love to see Wales become leaders in innovative disability arts. So often, within disability arts, people are still marginalised and forgotten. I am passionate about seeing Wales changing this – not becoming complacent but continuing to push towards more inclusion and an active respect and appreciation for difference.

What excites you about the arts in Wales?

Gundija: What excites me the most is definitely the potential I can see and feel in the Arts sector in Wales. Potential for the sector to grow, develop and co-create a Welsh identity that’s built on a strong support network for one another, diverse voices and inclusivity.

Krystal: I’m really excited about Theatr Iolo’s solar powered travelling theatre and the potential long-term possibilities for this kind of touring and showcasing work.

Aubergine Cafe’s unyielding commitment to offering opportunities and development to neurodivergent people.

Literature Wales and National Dance Company Wales’ cross artform collaboration for Plethu/Weave; their commitment to offering a wide range of artists the opportunity to be commissioned and to collaborate.

Articulture Wales’ consistent commitment to offering opportunities to under-represented artists.

Ffilm Cymru offering opportunities to develop a new generation of diverse film-makers.

Arts Council Wales’ Connect and Flourish funding strand – we need more real collaboration in the sector and even more so need a stronger commitment to Black, disabled, and Welsh speaking people.

Music Theatre Wales’ New Directions Programme which will address the urgent need in opera to diversify the experiences and voices and the types of people who engage and make opera.

Yvonne Murphy’s co-creation and curation of new forms of engagement with democracy with 16-24 year olds on her Democracy Box project.

The Wales Dance Network|Rhwydwaith Dawns Cymru bringing the dance sector together.

What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

Our Voice Network | Rhwydwaith Ein Llais  sharings have been an incredibly valuable and enjoyable space to be a part of. I feel that’s exactly what the sector needs – informal sharings of artist practices, a safe, supportive space to listen to artistic process and to ask questions. Each month this space is a place to enjoy the beauty of being artists; and each month the value of being a part of this space is clear.

Thanks for your time.

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.

“Rwy’n cael fy nhynnu at nodweddion emosiynol a chorfforol y profiad dynol.” Cyfweliad â Hanna Lyn Hughes.

Clod i Noel Shelley

Helo Hanna, mae’n braf i gwrdd â chi. Allwch chi roi rhywfaint o wybodaeth i’n darllenwyr am eich cefndir os gwelwch yn dda?

Rwy’n ddawnsiwr llawrydd o Gaerdydd. Fe wnes i hyfforddi fel Aelod Cyswllt o’r Ysgol Ballet Frenhinol a Chwmni Dawns Cenedlaethol Cymru cyn mynychu Ysgol Ddawns Gyfoes Llundain yn 18 oed. Rwyf wedi gweithio gyda choreograffwyr gan gynnwys Crystal Pite, Caroline Finn a Dane Hurst ac wedi dawnsio gyda chwmnïau fel y Danish Dance Theatre a Just Us Dance Theatre, ac yn ddiweddar rwyf wedi ymuno â Ballet Cymru fel dawnsiwr cwmni.

Beth sbardunodd eich diddordeb yn y celfyddydau?

Rwyf wedi bod yn greadigol erioed. Gan amlaf yn yr ysgol, roeddwn yn dwdlan dros fy ngwaith cartref mathemateg ac yn creu dawnsiau disgo ar iard yr ysgol. Roeddwn hefyd wrth fy modd yn astudio Tecstilau a Drama Safon Uwch.

Clod i Sian Treberth

Rydych chi’n ddawnsiwr cwmni gyda Ballet Cymru ac ar hyn o bryd rydych chi’n gweithio gyda nhw i edrych ar ffyrdd o gefnogi cyflwyno dawns yn yr Iaith Gymraeg. Beth yw eich gobeithion a’ch uchelgeisiau ar gyfer y fenter newydd hon?

Yn dilyn cyfnod prawf llwyddiannus, rydym yn gyffrous i ail-ddechrau’r dosbarthiadau ballet dwyieithog i oedolion ar ôl y Pasg. Rwyf hefyd wedi bod yn dysgu Cymraeg i rai o aelodau’r cwmni; mae eu hyder wrth siarad yr iaith wedi cynyddu ac mae eu brwdfrydedd wedi bod yn galonogol iawn. Rydym bellach yn edrych ar fwy o ffyrdd o ymgorffori ymarfer dwyieithog ac mae hynny wedi cadarnhau i mi mai addysgu dawns yn ddwyieithog ddylai fod y ‘norm’ yng Nghymru. Os ydych yn ymarferydd dawns yng Nghymru, rwy’n erfyn arnoch i ystyried sut y gallwch ddefnyddio’r Gymraeg yn eich sesiynau. Gyda bron i 30% o’r boblogaeth yn gallu siarad a deall Cymraeg, mae’n werth yr ymdrech.

Pe bai dawnsiwr am aros ac ymarfer yng Nghymru cyn dilyn gyrfa, pa system gymorth fyddech chi’n awgrymu y byddai ei hangen arnynt er mwyn gallu gwneud hyn?

Mae mynychu eich ysgol ddawns leol yn le gwych i ddechrau ac os ydych yn ddigon ffodus i fod wedi’ch lleoli yn Ne Cymru, efallai y gallwch fynychu’r cynlluniau cyswllt sy’n cael eu rhedeg gan CDCCymru a Ballet Cymru. Ond nid yw’n bosibl hyfforddi’n alwedigaethol hyd at lefel broffesiynol yng Nghymru ar hyn o bryd, sy’n drueni mawr!

Llun o gynlluniau cyswllt Ballet Cymru
Clod i Sian Trenberth

O ran dilyn gyrfa mewn dawns, yng Nghymru, rwyf wedi canfod bod deall fy sgiliau a’r hyn y gallaf ei gynnig i sector Dawns Cymru yn bwysig iawn. Er enghraifft, mae cydnabod yr angen am ymarferwyr dawns sy’n siarad Cymraeg a darparu’r gwasanaeth hwnnw wedi fy ngalluogi i ennill profiad o greu coreograffi ac addysgu, ac mae wedi bod yn achubiaeth ariannol hefyd ar adegau. Wedi dweud hyn, rwy’n teimlo fy mod i’n cael fy ngwerthfawrogi a’m hystyried ar safon wahanol fel dawnsiwr oherwydd fy nghenedligrwydd a’r ffaith fy mod i’n siarad Cymraeg. Rwy’n teimlo’r un mor lwcus i gael cyfleoedd gan fy mod yn Gymraes, ond rwy’n poeni weithiau bod fy ngwaith yn cael ei werthfawrogi ar y sail honno’n unig. Rwyf wedi dod i delerau â’r teimladau hyn trwy groesawu’r llwyfannau sy’n cael eu cynnig i mi a’u hystyried fel cyfleoedd i herio rhagdybiaethau, ac i ragori ar ddisgwyliadau mewn rhai achosion. Rwy’n angerddol am fy etifeddiaeth a’m diwylliant ond nid yw’n diffinio fy ngwaith na’m hunaniaeth.Rwy’n angerddol am fy etifeddiaeth a’m diwylliant ond nid yw’n diffinio fy ngwaith na’m hunaniaeth.

Rydych chi’n artist sydd wedi gweithio gyda phobl greadigol o amrywiaeth o ffurfiau celf i greu perfformiadau artistig cyffrous yn y gorffennol. Sut fyddech chi’n disgrifio’ch ymarfer creadigol orau?

Rwy’n defnyddio ioga, hedfan yn isel a gwaith byrfyfyr yn fy ymarfer fy hun ac mae ansawdd fy symud fel arfer yn cael ei alw yn llyfn a chywrain. O ran coreograffi, rwy’n cael fy nhynnu at nodweddion emosiynol a chorfforol y profiad dynol, yn enwedig themâu marwoldeb a chreu. Rwy’n edrych ymlaen at ddatblygu’r syniadau hyn yn y dyfodol.

Clod i Erik Emanuel

A oes unrhyw enghreifftiau o systemau hyfforddi neu rwydweithiau cymorth sy’n bodoli mewn gwledydd eraill y gallai Cymru geisio eu defnyddio?

O ran systemau hyfforddi, dim ond dros y ffin i Loegr y mae’n rhaid i chi edrych i weld rhai enghreifftiau rhyfeddol. Byddai mentrau’r llywodraeth fel y cynllun CAT yn fuddiol iawn i Gymru, i fynd i’r afael â materion fel hygyrchedd a chysondeb mewn hyfforddiant. Mae angen sicrhau bod mwy o lwybrau ar gael i bobl ifanc sydd ag angerdd am symud i ymgymryd â gwaith creadigol ac ehangu eu haddysg dawns. Mae hyn hefyd yn cynnwys cael rhaglen hyfforddiant galwedigaethol i astudio dawns ar lefel broffesiynol.

Mae Get the Chance yn gweithio i gefnogi ystod amrywiol o aelodau’r cyhoedd i gael mynediad at ddarpariaeth ddiwylliannol. Ydych chi’n ymwybodol o unrhyw rwystrau y mae pobl greadigol yng Nghymru yn eu hwynebu? Os ydych chi, beth ellid ei wneud i gael gwared ar y rhwystrau hyn?

Un o’r rhwystrau rydw i wedi bod yn ymwybodol ohono’n y gorffennol fu’r diffyg ystyriaeth i ymarferwyr dawns mewn ardaloedd mwy gwledig yng Nghymru. Gan fod sefydliadau wedi gorfod addasu i ddulliau digidol o gynnal neu ffrydio eu digwyddiadau, mae’r ymarferwyr dawns hyn o’r diwedd wedi gallu mynychu digwyddiadau na fyddent wedi gallu mynd iddynt yn y gorffennol. Rwyf hefyd yn bersonol wedi gwerthfawrogi fy mod yn gallu cyrchu a gwylio perfformiadau wedi’u ffrydio’n fyw ar-lein ac er gwaethaf pwl achlysurol o ‘flinder Zoom’, rwy’n dal i obeithio y bydd sefydliadau’n parhau i gynnig o leiaf rai agweddau ar weithio/perfformio ar-lein.

 Pe byddech chi’n gallu ariannu maes o’r celfyddydau yng Nghymru pa faes fyddai hwnnw a pham?

Mae angen dirfawr am arian mewn llawer o feysydd ond hoffwn weld rhaglen hyfforddi broffesiynol gynhwysol ar gael yng Nghymru yn ogystal â gofod i uno lle gall dawnswyr greu, addysgu a pherfformio gyda’i gilydd (rhywbeth fel Dance City yn Newcastle)

Dance City, Newcastle.

Beth sy’n eich cyffroi am y celfyddydau yng Nghymru?

Mae wedi bod yn gyffrous gweld cymuned ddawns Cymru yn gweithio gyda’i gilydd i sefydlu cymuned fwy cysylltiedig o ddawnswyr trwy ddigwyddiadau rhwydweithio a thrafodaethau ar-lein. Edrychaf ymlaen at weld sut mae’r cysylltedd hwn yn digwydd yn Sector Ddawns flaengar ac amrywiol Cymru.

Beth oedd y peth gwirioneddol wych olaf i chi ei brofi yr hoffech ei rannu gyda’n darllenwyr?

Gwylio Revisor Crystal Pite a “BLKDOG” Far From the Norm fel rhan o Dance Nation. Mae’r ddau yn ddarnau rhyfeddol, ac maent ar gael i’w gwylio am ddim ar Iplayer.

Revisor Crystal Pite

“I find myself drawn to both the emotional and physical characteristics of the human experience” An Interview with Hanna Lyn Hughes.

Credit Noel Shelley

Hi Hanna, great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

I’m a freelance dancer from Cardiff. I trained as an Associate of The Royal Ballet School and National Dance Company Wales before attending London Contemporary Dance School at 18. I’ve worked with choreographers including Crystal Pite, Caroline Finn and Dane Hurst and have danced with companies such as Danish Dance Theatre, Just Us Dance Theatre and have recently joined Ballet Cymru as a company dancer. You can find out more about me at my website

What got you interested in the arts?

I’ve been creative as long as I can remember. At school, I was more often than not doodling over my Maths homework and choreographing disco dancing routines in the school yard. I also loved studying Textiles and Drama at A Level.

Credit Sian Treberth

You are a company Dancer with Ballet Cymru and are currently working with them to look at ways to support dance delivery in the Welsh Language. What are your hopes and ambitions for this new initiative?

Following a successful trial period, we’re excited to bring the bilingual adult ballet classes back after Easter. I’ve also been teaching Welsh amongst the company members; their confidence in speaking the language has grown and their enthusiasm has been really heartwarming. We’re now looking at more ways to incorporate bilingual practice and it’s solidified my belief that teaching dance bilingually should be the norm in Wales. If you are a dance practitioner in Wales, I implore you to consider how you can include the use of the Welsh language in your practice. With almost 30% of the population able to speak and understand Welsh, it seems worth the effort.

If a dancer wanted to stay and train in Wales and then pursue a career, what support system would you suggest they require in order to be able to do this?

Attending your local dance school is a great place to start and if you’re fortunate enough to be based in South Wales, you may be able to attend the Associate schemes run by NDCWales and Ballet Cymru. But it’s not currently possible to train vocationally in Wales to a professional level which is a huge shame!

NDCWales Associates.
Ballet Cymru Associates, copyright Sian Trenberth Photography

In terms of pursuing a career in dance, in Wales, I’ve found understanding my skills and what I can offer the Welsh Dance sector to be really important. For example, recognising the need for Welsh speaking dance practitioners and providing that service has allowed me to gain choreographic and teaching experience and has at times been a financial lifeline. Having said this, I feel that as a dancer, I’m sometimes valued and held up to a different standard because of my nationality and the fact I speak Welsh. I feel equally lucky to be given opportunities because I’m Welsh but sometimes anxious that my work is valued exclusively on that basis. I’ve come to terms with these feelings by embracing the platforms I’m offered as opportunities to challenge assumptions and in some cases, surpass expectations. I’m passionate about my heritage and culture but it doesn’t define my work or my identity.

You’re an artist who has in the past worked with creatives from a range of art forms to create exciting artistic performances. How would you best describe your creative practice?

I draw upon yoga, flying low and improvisation in my own practice and my movement quality is usually described as fluid and intricate. In terms of choreography, I find myself drawn to both the emotional and physical characteristics of the human experience, in particular themes of mortality and creation. I’m looking forward to developing these ideas in future.

Credit Viktor Erik Emanuel

 Are there any examples of training systems or support networks that exist in other nations that Wales could look to utilise?

In terms of training systems, you only have to look across the border to England for some amazing examples. Government initiatives like the CAT scheme would be very beneficial for Wales, to tackle issues like accessibility and consistency in training. There needs to be more pathways made available for young people with passion for movement to engage in creative work and broaden their dance education. This also includes having a vocational training program to study dance at a professional level.

Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision. Are you aware of any barriers that creatives in Wales face? If you are, what might be done to remove these barriers?

One of the barriers I’ve been aware of in the past has been the lack of consideration for dance practitioners based in more rural areas of Wales. With organisations having had to adapt to digital means of hosting or streaming their events, these dance practitioners have finally been able to attend events that they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to in the past. I’ve also personally really valued being able to access and watch live streamed performances online and despite the occasional bout of ‘Zoom fatigue’, I still hope organisations continue to offer at least some aspects of working/performing online.

 If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

There are lots of areas in desperate need of funding but I would particularly like to see an inclusive professional training program available in Wales as well as a unifying space in which dancers can create, educate and perform together (something like Dance City in Newcastle)

Dance City, Newcastle.

What excites you about the arts in Wales?

It’s been exciting to see the Welsh dance community working together to establish a more connected community of dancers via online networking events and discussions. I look forward to seeing how this connectivity materialises in a progressive, diverse Welsh Dance Sector.

What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

Watching Crystal Pite’s Revisor and Far From the Norm’s “BLKDOG” as part of Dance Nation. Both extraordinary pieces, available to watch for free on BBC Iplayer.

Crystal Pite’s Revisor

Review, Keeping Faith, Series 3, BBC/S4C, by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

There is a moment in the final series of Keeping Faith when Eve Myles becomes Celia Imrie. The transformation is extraordinary. There is no CGI or special effects; rather, just Eve Myles doing what Eve Myles does best. It’s why we’ll miss her as Faith, the gutsy, emotional, steely and vulnerable lawyer who has been through the ringer, so to speak, over three series of the hit Welsh drama. Throughout that time, Myles has more than embodied the character. She has become her. And in this, her final swansong, Imrie has matched her star quality as Faith’s cold, manipulative and deliciously deceitful mother, Rose. Together, the two of them have simply sparkled onscreen. Their sparring matches have been so emotionally explosive that they have enthralled and exhilarated in equal measure. The introduction of Faith’s backstory has been a stroke of genius by the show’s creator, Matthew Hall, and these two acting heavyweights have helped to make it so. However, they are by no means the sole contributors to its success.

What made the first series of Keeping Faith so hugely popular was not just the superb acting talent of Eve Myles but the strong cast of characters that surrounded her. Keeping Faith has always been, at its heart, a drama about family. It is to Hall’s credit that he has managed to retain this as the central focus, the effect being, in this final series, a real depth to those supporting characters, whose arcs are as important to and invested in by the audience as Faith’s. Catherine Ayers deserves special mention for her heartrending portrayal of Lisa’s alcoholism, the scene at her first AA meeting being one of many powerful moments in this final series. The quiet resolve grown in Tom by Aneirin Hughes is another that has been beautiful to watch, with the presence of strong women, such as Suzanne Packer’s Delyth, being key to this change. I have loved watching Demi Letherby and Lacey Jones grow in their roles as Alice and Megan respectively, each bringing a different temperament that perfectly matches the stubbornness and fragility of Faith herself. Then there is the warm and gentle manner of Steve, who is played to perfection by Mark Lewis Jones, opposite the increasingly jealous and controlling Evan, played by Bradley Freegard. These two men have been magnificent, circling around the magnetic Myles with performances that have helped steer the romantic element away from soppy sentimentality, and ensured that the depiction of a relationship breakdown has been studiously honest and suitably dramatic. Such significant attention to detail has been the difference in ensuring that Keeping Faith has not just been engaging drama but has won the devotion of many fans too.

This devotion has also been generated, in no small part, by its memorable soundtrack. Amy Wadge was rightfully recognised for her musical contribution to the original series, with ‘Faith’s Song’ proving incredibly popular even outside of the series’ run. It returns in this final instalment with a greater appreciation than its more intrusive presence in series two. There is a mixture of recognisable favourites and brand-new compositions, all of which complement the action onscreen. It is in the final scenes though that the emotional weight of the title track in particular is laid heavily on the shoulders of the audience. The complete absence of music in the last episode before this point contributes to the tear-jerking moments that follow. The appearance of Osian (Keogh Kiernan) – having survived the operation that Faith fights so hard for in this series – Alice’s poignant speech, and the intimacy of Faith and Lisa as they walk across the beach to the sea, is enough to get the lip quivering. But it’s the presence of that iconic yellow coat, now firmly worn by Faith, and accompanied by her song, that really starts the waterworks off. It ensures a truly satisfying end to a show that has changed the face of Welsh drama, and been taken to the hearts of so many in Wales and beyond.

From its humble beginnings as Un Bore Mercher on S4C to its primetime slot on Saturday night BBC1, Keeping Faith has been a juggernaut of a drama. It is rare that I get on my hobby horse but I think it’s important, given the constant criticism levelled at its news output, that the future of the BBC and its licence fee is not debated on such a narrow-minded understanding of the corporation to the detriment of gems such as this. Keeping Faith demonstrates the BBC’s commitment and ability to produce quality Welsh drama that is made in Wales, for the people of Wales, but with the potential to reach beyond Wales too. It may not always get it right (see Pitching In) but without it, there is little evidence to suggest that the commercial channels will step up to the mark. The Pembrokeshire Murders (ITV) may represent a rare foray into Welsh representation. However, its risk-taking (a true story crime drama) leaves a lot to be desired. Keeping Faith is unlikely to have been made without the backing of the BBC & S4C. Could its success herald the possibility of a sea-change? I doubt it. But whatever happens, we will always be grateful for Faith Howells. So thank you, Matthew Hall. Thank you, Eve Myles.

Click here to watch the whole series.

Review written by
Gareth Williams

Review: The Falling in Love Montage by Ciara Smyth by Sian Thomas


The Falling in Love Montage by Ciara Smyth had some reminiscent tones of Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End. The book, following Saoirse and Ruby’s summer romance, was fated to end with the beginning of university terms and the creeping cold of autumn.
After a good few years of university behind me, it was such good fun to read something light-hearted, summery, and fun. Saoirse is a sarcastic, snappy character navigating the transition from college to university struggling with her decision to go to Oxford and leave behind her mother with dementia and her father exploring new relationships and straining the family. Ruby is excited for the future and for the present, she’s looking for fun as time ticks by before she goes back home – from Ireland back to England.
They agree on a contract – they’ll have fun now, and when the summer ends, so will their time together. In the meantime, they’re living out a list of rom-com stereotypes: movie night, fun fair, teach the other a new skill, kiss in the rain, and every other thing from every other movie under “rom-com” or “cheesy flick” type categories that you can think of. Most of the book is compromised of this, the “fun” part but a depth gets explored as well, Saoirse’s past relationships, Ruby’s family, the ever-looming start of university. It was nice to watch the blossoming of an LGBT relationship. While I’ve read a lot of YA/LGBT books before, on reflection I’ve realised I’ve read more about gay men than I have about lesbians – so this was a great change of pace – and it shined a light on both me and on my bookshelf. There’s a line somewhere tucked in the pages that talks about the absolute lack of lesbian rom-coms which I realised, although I don’t typically watch rom-com movies, is true.
Although I knew that when the book ended so would their relationship and there wouldn’t be some classic “happy ever after” (and I thought I was prepared for that because, like They Both Die at the End, I had ample warning), there was still a strong tug to my heartstrings when I reached the final few pages. Saoirse’s father remarries to a woman that Saoirse grows to like – the relationship grows slowly into something that genuinely feels earned, which is lovely to see unfold after their rocky start – and, as expected, Saoirse and Ruby’s relationship comes to an end with the promise to send a few letters in the post, to show each other their “life debris” as time marches on.
The writing was gentle, funny, and very life like – I’ve found more recently than not that stories that decide to include text messages are getting better and better. The humour comes through them effortlessly – sometimes better than through the dialogue – and they bring an extra layer of life to the characters. This is the kind of book I needed just after a slew of classics and other tomes on my ever-growing university reading list. It was such a great change of pace to read something that was so enjoyable I read through it like a breeze.
The book was a great read, and came along at the perfect time. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to enjoy something easy but heartfelt, something fun and bittersweet. It really is a lovely book.

Sian Thomas

Review, Bregus, S4C by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Hannah Daniel gives an impressive performance in S4C’s latest drama series, Bregus. She is almost unrecognisable from her best known role to date, playing straight-faced, sharp-tongued lawyer Cerys in Keeping Faith. Instead, she takes on the character of high-flying surgeon Ellie, whose vulnerability and fragile mental state begin to unravel following the sudden death of her sister, Luce (played by Sara Gregory). Daniel manages to create a richly compelling personality, surrounding her with an air of mystery that is greatly enhanced by the use of camera, music and cinematography. In doing so, she makes the transition from supporting actor to leading lady with aplomb. No doubt awards will follow.

The series begins almost as a mirror image of Keeping Faith, with Daniel adopting the organised chaos of the married middle-class professional with kids first thing on a weekday morning. The initial picture that is painted is one in which everything appears perfect. Life is good. But then an unexpected twist turns everything upside down. Where Bregus then veers from Keeping Faith becomes more apparent, not least in the actions of Ellie, whose accompanying blank expressions could not be more different from the swirling emotion conveyed by Eve Myles as Faith. This is where Daniel excels in producing a sense of detachment both within the drama itself and from us, the audience. She becomes something of an enigma. The lingering close-ups, jarring soundtrack and surrealist techniques all contribute to this unknown element. But it is what surrounds the dialogue between Ellie and husband Mart that really unlocks the general feeling of unease that accompanies the strangeness of this drama.

It is not about what is said so much as what is not said that makes Bregus so intriguing. The surface dialogue contains such rich subtext that it is hard not to be gripped by the exchanges of Hannah Daniel and Rhodri Meilir in particular. Meilir is perfectly cast as the quietly controlling Mart. His ability to play a character with such threatening calmness is ideally suited here. There is always a sense of an ulterior motive behind his composed exterior which, like in his previous role as Bill in 35 Diwrnod, is never quite confirmed until the final episode. In the meantime, it is the suspicion that surrounds him that helps build tension here, with the revelation of his character’s true nature being even more powerful when it finally comes. It is in the final scenes that everything that has been bubbling underneath the surface is suddenly unleashed in explosive fashion. The dialogue then becomes explicit, so carefully crafted as to cut like a knife, and revealing Bregus as a beautifully feminist piece that is incredibly moving to say the least.

Bregus is this wonderful mix of mystery drama, psychological thriller and family psychodrama. At its heart is a wonderfully complex female character whose actions are often far removed from the stereotype. Hannah Daniel portrays Ellie exceedingly well as a mother, wife, friend and surgeon who is not immune to the challenges and external pressures that come with these roles. Her responses are often unexpected and at times surprising, which is partly what makes this drama so absorbing. Its sense of intrigue is elevated by music that is so resonant at times that it overwhelms; close-up shots that are so immersive that they enthral; and the use of surrealism such that one is never quite sure whether what Ellie is experiencing is real or not. It is in the subtlety of expression alongside the dialogue though that should be particularly commended. Daniel and Rhodri Meilir excel at this, though the rest of the cast have their moments too. It is in the mystery at the heart of these relationship dynamics that makes Bregus such a fascinating watch. And it is the vehicle through which Hannah Daniel finally announces herself as a solid and very capable lead.

Click here to watch the series on Clic.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams


LoveReading LitFest, the recently launched, digitally native, subscription-based books and literature festival, has partnered with Newport Live – a charitable trust providing cultural and sporting activities in Newport, Wales – to support the launch of the critically-acclaimed debut novel Many Rivers To Cross by Dylan Moore at an exclusive event. The talk will be live on LoveReading LitFest tomorrow.

The author, who is the editor of the welsh agenda, was interviewed about his new book by Sharif Gemie, with the session filmed at The Riverfront Theatre and Arts Centre, right in the heart of the city centre. Sharif Gemie is a former Professor of History. He mainly researched people on the move, whether refugees (Outcast Europe, 2011), Muslims in Europe (French Muslims, 2010) or hippy travellers (A History of the Hippy Trail, 2017). He lives in Newport and is currently writing a novel set among UN aid-workers in Germany, 1945—46.

Written following a period volunteering at the Sanctuary Project in Newport, and partly based on interviews with asylum seekers and refugees, Many Rivers To Cross traces a series of journeys – migrations across time and space – from the streets of Pillgwenlly, Newport to the ‘Jungle’ camp at Calais, and from Ethiopia to the island of Lampedusa. Described by Welsh novelist, poet and translator Siân Melangell Dafydd as “an essential story for an age of migration”, the novel takes the reader to places most of us have never been, and would never wish to go.

The event also featured contributions from two refugees originally from Ethiopia, now settled in Newport. Biniyam Birtukan talked about how his work as a freelance magazine journalist in Ethiopia became impossible due to issues around freedom of speech, his role in establishing the famous St Michael’s Orthodox Church in the ‘Jungle’ camp at Calais, and the satisfaction he has found working as a healthcare assistant since being granted leave to remain in the UK. Yohannes Obsi talked about his mixed heritage background and how his support for the formerly banned opposition group the Oromo Liberation Front landed him in government detention, from which he escaped to make a dangerous journey through Sudan, Libya, Italy and France to reach the UK.

Paul Blezard, Festival Director at the LoveReading LitFest, said: “Dylan’s powerful new novel does something extraordinary. It takes us beyond the screen images that have filled us with horror and compassion for too long and straight into the hearts, minds, hopes and fears of those who are forced, or choose, to undertake life-risking journeys towards safety and sanctuary. We are so honoured and privileged to host Dylan, Biniyam and Yohannes and to support them through this important event.”

Alan Dear, Head of Theatre, Arts, and Culture at The Riverfront Theatre, Newport Live said: “TheRiverfront is delighted to make this new partnership and as we start on the long journey of Covid-recovery we hope that literature will form a core part of our future programme. We now have the capacity to provide content digitally and hope that this will provide pleasure to our new and current audiences until a time when we can reopen our doors again.”

Dylan Moore (@_DylanMoore) | nitter

Many Rivers To Cross by Dylan Mooreis published by local publisher Three Impostors at £10

“Working outdoors is a great option for providing safer access to arts and this can then be a draw for people to return to the theatre.” An Interview with Kate Lawrence and Joanna Wright

Hi Kate and Jo, great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

Kate: I was born in London and spent my early years in Tanzania and Mexico before returning to the UK aged 11 to go to a quaker boarding school in North Yorkshire.  After school I trained as a dancer at Thamesdown Contemporary Dance Studios in Swindon and then did a BA in Dance Theatre at Laban, in London.  Then I started a feminist dance company called Nomads which ran from 1989 – 1995, doing performance and education work.  When the company ended I spent a few years doing all sorts of things, car maintenance courses, creative writing courses, stunt training, delivery driving, caretaking.  Then I got a job as a dance lecturer at University of Surrey where I spent 10 years. In 2010 I moved to North Wales to be in the mountains and feed my passion for rock climbing.  I got a part-time job at Bangor University as a lecturer in performance.  During the 10 years I have spent here, I began my own vertical dance company, Vertical Dance Kate Lawrence (VDKL). 

Joanna: I’m an artist from North Wales, I grew up on the coast near Conwy. I left Wales when I was a teenager to study art. I ended up living in the USA, working in a really eclectic range of jobs that included furniture maker, running a market stall, selling pizzas, working in a shoe repair shop, photographer for the US government and then working in the art department of film and theatre productions. In 2001, shortly after September 11th, I got a job as a videographer on a sailing boat doing a global circumnavigation, as part of an pioneering interactive, online education project. That was a turning point that eventually bought me back to Wales and took me into working in documentary, in many different forms.

What got you interested in the arts?

Kate: I come from a family of professional musicians on my father’s side (although my father was an amateur) and my mother is a visual artist and potter so I grew up in an arty environment.  I did a lot of dancing alone in my bedroom as a child – the pandemic has reminded me of this as I have returned to my bedroom as a dance studio.  I think what I love about the arts is that it is really a way of thinking, a way of being in the world that is centred on experience, expression and communication.

Joanna: I grew up with a parent who had a severe mental illness. In the 80’s in North Wales mental health services were poor to non-existent, both for those with mental illness, and their families. In the arts I found a way to express ideas and connect with others that I hadn’t been able to previously. I specifically credit the generosity of the wonderful artist and teacher Dave Pearson who I met as a young art student, he saw some of the weight I was carrying at that time and encouraged me to tell stories with my work and experiences, and also to find playful ways to get it out into the world.

Kate I believe you are working on a new project called ‘Portrait and Landscape’ its described as  “a series of online bi-monthly events for the international vertical dance community and beyond. It was conceived by Wanda Moretti in collaboration with Kate Lawrence and Lindsey Butcher. The series runs bi-monthly until the end of October 2021 “.

For those who may be new to the term what is ‘Vertical Dance’ and how did you come to be involved ?

Kate: Vertical dance is a newish term that refers to dancing in suspension – the dancer is suspended using climbing or access equipment, such as harnesses, ropes and abseil devices.  Often this is against a vertical wall (hence the term vertical) which becomes the ‘dance floor’.  So it often takes place in public space, on the sides of buildings. 

I got involved with vertical dance when I started climbing in the late 1990s – as part of training to be a stunt woman (that never happened!).   I found the movement of climbing very similar to dance and when I began teaching at the University of Surrey I asked if I could run a module called vertical dance.  That began in 2001 and was the beginning of my development of the practice.  I began teaching dancers to climb in the climbing wall and getting them to develop choreography from that and then gradually I introduced suspended dancing.  In 2005 I embarked on PhD study into vertical dance and that led me to meet other vertical dance artists from around the world.  The first two I met were Wanda Moretti from Venice and UK- based Lindsey Butcher, and we are still working together.  I finally finished my PhD in 2017 – it took me a long time because I was working and creating at the same time!

Kate, what is your ambition for Portrait and Landscape?

 During the pandemic it has been impossible to do vertical dance practice for me and I spent 2020 doing other things – gardening mostly and some writing – this has been quite a healthy break from a very busy time.  This series of events was the brainchild of my colleague Wanda Moretti and she invited Lindsey and I to collaborate with her on running it. 

Wanda Moretti

The ambition is to bring international vertical dance artists – and anyone else who might be interested – together at a time when we are all isolated and distanced.  The current time is an opportunity to connect across borders and learn about how different artists practice the form and also to keep our artistic minds working!  My company, VDKL, has received some funding from Wales Arts International to support this project which means we have offered 3 bursaries to Welsh artists.  It also enables us to explore making the series more accessible.

You are both working on a project researching into Dance for people who are blind, this sounds fascinating please tell me more!

Kate:  Yes, Jo and I are working on a project called Yn y Golau/In-visible Light, which began in 2016 as a collaboration between myself and photonics scientist Ray Davies – a Synthesis project funded by Pontio

Pontio (Bangor) - 2021 All You Need to Know Before You Go (with Photos) -  Bangor, Wales | Tripadvisor

Photonics is the science of light – I didn’t know that until I met Ray.  The project developed and in 2019 we did a research and development project funded by ACW with a couple of test performances.  Our purpose was to make a show that tried to build accessibility for blind and partially sighted people into the creation process, rather than audio describing a finished product.  It was a huge challenge and we were assisted by a visually impaired actor and aerialist, Amelia Cavallo. 

Amelia Cavallo

We constantly asked ourselves: what would this experience be like if we couldn’t see?  And this led to some new ways of working for me as a choreographer.  Sometimes I would close my eyes and listen to the dance…  It also reminded me that dance is a kinetic art form not a visual one.  Sometimes I think we focus more on shapes we see than movements we feel.  We invited blind audiences to the test performances and then interviewed them afterwards to get feedback on how successful our approach was.  We then received further funding from ACW to develop a touring show, but the pandemic has made us change our plans. We are now working on a film and we also have some seed funding from Clwstwr to do further research into access for blind and visually impaired people to performance.

Joanna: Kate first asked me to work on Yn Y Golau as a documentary filmmaker. In my work in documentary I’m especially interested in how new technologies can be used in storytelling. In Yn Y Golau I felt there was potential to explore how to share the work in an interactive, non linear way, which might better enable us to think about how to move beyond the screen, and think more deeply about how the embodied experience, that was central to Kate’s live work, can be expressed or shared digitally. There are also a lot of documentary elements in the project, and we are exploring how the project audience can choose which aspects they want to engage with.

Prior to this project did you have any knowledge of areas such as audio description for theatre/dance?

Kate: Yes, I first started thinking about audio description back around 2008 when I was asked to do a workshop at an audio description seminar at University of Surrey.  The topic then lay dormant for me for several years, and then in 2016 I was asked by Mari Emlyn to make a piece of work for the foyer of Galeri.  It was the year of the centenary of Roald Dahl’s birth and so we made a new story built from the drawings of primary school children of their favourite Roald Dahl characters.  The piece was called Omnibus and was performed in the foyer of Galeri with the dancers flying in the space overhead. 

We created a bilingual (Welsh and English) recorded audio description alongside the soundscore so that everyone in the audience could hear it.  From our current research I know that this is sometimes referred to as ‘open audio description’.  The traditional method is that an audio describer is in a booth describing events as they unfold, straight into the ears of the visually impaired person, who wears headphones.  Headphones can however be distancing, muffling and isolating so I felt it was important to search for ways in which to make the work with accessibility built in.

Joanna: Absolutely none, and that is really motivating me. When I started looking and learning about it, I am not proud to say, I realised how I had never really considered this aspect in any meaningful way. I know I was also, unfortunately, in a majority.

If a dancer wanted to stay and train in Wales and then pursue a career, what support system would you suggest they require in order to be able to do this?

Kate: I can only speak for North Wales, where it is virtually impossible at present for a dancer to train in the conventional, vocational sense – I think there is more capacity in South Wales, but even there options are limited.  To make a career entirely in Wales I think it is necessary to take every opportunity available and to be very self-motivated and resourceful.  VDKL employs mainly North Wales based dancers, who I have trained in vertical dance techniques.  This is because I want to build a community here, however small it is!  The dancers I work with have trained in dance outside Wales and returned.  I also want to provide employment opportunities for local artists and persuade them to stick around!  My company used to run affordable twice weekly training sessions of 3 hours each but we lost our space in 2017, and now with the pandemic training has become impossible.  But we are hopeful for the future – the beauty of vertical dance is that we can go outside!  In an ideal world a dancer building a career in Wales needs regular affordable access to dance training sessions and also affordable access to space to dance.  A vocational/degree programme would also be very helpful.

 Are there any examples of training systems or support networks that exist in other nations that Wales could look to utilise?

Kate: France has a great system of support for artists that pays them whilst they are ‘resting’ between jobs.  This gives them time and financial support to continue their training and professional development.  Many European countries have arts centres that offer space and residencies for artists.  Access to affordable space to practice is essential and it would be great if each region of Wales had dedicated spaces or ‘homes’ for dance.   I have been doing daily practice sessions during lockdown with Wainsgate Dances in Hebden Bridge, England and this is an excellent example of an artist-led initiative that has built a community of dancers who are now contributing to the provision of residencies for other artists at the centre.

Joanna: I’ve been very inspired by people who have built their own networks where none exist. I’m part of the Arts Territory Exchange project, it facilitates collaborations in remote locations that are cut off from the networks which usually sustain a creative practice. I think as an artist  it’s very important  to be part of a community of support, to develop and challenge your work and ideas, and to share skills with others. There are some great DIY examples out there, the  Artist Residency in Motherhood set up by Lenka Clayton is another inspirational network

What does Wales do well in dance or cultural training and delivery?

Kate: In my experience support for the arts in Wales is a friendlier affair than my previous experience in London and the South of England.  I have found local venue managers and programmers to be great collaborators and the Arts Council of Wales officers are approachable.  I think cultural training and delivery in Wales is ‘on a shoestring’; the positive side of this is that it is extremely adaptable and mobile – it has to be due to the geographically dispersed activities.  But it needs centres too, and not just in Cardiff. The bizarre thing is that it is quicker to get to London than Cardiff for North Wales dance artists looking for training. 

Joanna: In my experience Wales supports it’s creatives well and gets a lot out of small budgets. However there are real impacts currently in relation to access to arts education, and the financial barriers for those who want to study. I feel strongly that this will further negatively impact diversity in the cultural sector. About the centres that Kate mentions, I’d say something about the impact of Covid this last year, there has been more cross Wales collaborative working, in my experience, which is great, but the Cardiff region still has a hegemony in terms of cultural projects, and I’d like to see that be distributed more widely across Wales.

Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision. Are you aware of any barriers that creatives in Wales face? If you are what might be done to remove these barriers?

Kate: Well we are working on access for blind and partially sighted audiences.  Our research so far is showing that provision for these audiences, particularly for dance, is very limited.  A perceived barrier is that it costs of a lot of money to provide access and independent artists/small companies with very limited resources can’t afford to spend extra money; this is also true for the larger companies.  I would like to  challenge artists to see how they might begin to build accessibility into their work so that it can be appreciated by all.  A big barrier for many in rural areas is getting to and from performances, so any schemes that provide transport can be really helpful. 

Joanna: To build on my comments above, barriers to access can be many, including financial, but there’s also a lot of potential positive learning from the online way of working that’s been adopted because of Covid. Personally, as a carer and parent of a school age child I’ve been able to take part a lot more, due to events being online. It would be a shame for this to be abandoned when things open up physically, because in my opinion it’s cracked open cultural provision MUCH more widely.  I’d like to see ways of live-online access being continued for people who can more easily engage in this way, and supporting people where access to stable internet is an issue.

With the roll out of the Covid-19 vacancies, the arts sector is hopeful audiences will return to venues and theatres. If theatres want to attract audiences what do you think they should do?

Kate: I think first and foremost, theatres need to ensure that they are safe spaces and then market that fact very clearly.  Perhaps look at small, socially distanced audiences, and commissioning work for this kind of audience.  Working outdoors is a great option for providing safer access to arts and this can then be a draw for people to return to the theatre. 

 If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

Kate:  Dance of course!  I think dance is always the Cinderella of the arts and tends to receive less subsidy.  We all have bodies – we all move – and our physical and mental well being can be enhanced through dancing.   I would love to see the creation of small dance centres around the country so that local artists and the community in general have somewhere to meet and dance.  They don’t have to be for dance exclusively, but should provide the space necessary for dance – and rigging points for vertical dance of course.  

Joanna: Really good interdisciplinary arts education. The studio based art college system that supported so much groundbreaking creative work across the UK has been decimated. Artists are great problem solvers, and skills in the arts are widely transferable.

What excites you about the arts in Wales?

Kate: I love the maverick nature of the arts in Wales.  People are making work in the most surprising places and this gives rise to exciting new techniques and approaches.

Joanna: It’s collaborative & supportive, there’s some great, innovative work happening in cross disciplinary settings. The arts in Wales is embedded into our culture in quite a unique way, the Urdd does amazing work with children and young people. There were 12000 creative works across music, dance, spoken word and visual arts made by children who entered the online Eisteddfod T this year for example- That’s amazing!

What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

Kate: In our last Portrait and Landscape event San Francisco based choreographer Jo Kreiter shared with us her project called ‘The Decarceration Trilogy’ a long term project looking at the US prison system and its effects on citizens.  It was a really moving and inspiring offering to our community and a great example of the power of dance and the arts in general as a tool for examining issues of social justice.  Here is a clip of Jo talking about her work in general

and here is a link to a film of The Wait Room that she showed during our event: 

Joanna: I am currently a research fellow at the Open Documentary Lab, MIT where I recently saw a presentation of Hatsumi VR It is an amazing  project in development that uses virtual reality to allow participants to visually express experiences of pain, emotion and sensory experience in audio visual body maps.

The Serpent – Reflections on a TV Crime Drama

With less to do during lock-down, Simon Kensdale has been resorting to the BBC i Player.  He has noticed how many broadcast crime series consisting of murder enquiries.  Some are truly horrific, like The Serpent, in the sense of being both true and frightening.  It has made him wonder if there is a danger of TV audiences gradually becoming desensitised to violence. Simon explores these areas in the article below.

There is a secondary story in The Serpent about Herman Knippenberg.  He’s a Dutch diplomat obsessed with tracking the killer – Sobhraj – down and his meticulous record-keeping finally results in success. His obsession costs him his marriage and threatens his career prospects.  He’s odd, too, keeping boxes of paperwork with him wherever he goes, rather than throwing anything away.  But at least Knippenberg’s activities are normal – ish. In following the series, through him we see a bit more of humanity than that of a unique, psychopathic killer who gets off on drugging and murdering young travellers in the Far East.

Knippenberg’s behaviour makes him similar to the average TV detective.  We can almost predict – as yet another crime series kicks off with yet another discovery of the body of a dead woman – that there will be someone on the case who can’t let go and who also cannot maintain a private life. The detective will be divorced or uncommitted to a relationship. Recently several detectives have been shown on TV as also having problematic relationships with their daughters. Ironically, in The Investigation – the true story of a particularly bizarre Danish murder, committed on a privately-owned submarine – it turned out that the Head of Homicide really had been alienated from his adult daughter.

The Investigation

What seems to happen in all these series is that the main thrust of the narrative – the need to apprehend a killer – is cross-cut with ‘everyday’ human drama.  The lives of the detectives and the supporting cast of police officers are presented as if they are representative of the wider community. I rather doubt that the professional upholders of law and order are as interesting as the TV companies make them appear to be, or even as interesting as Knippenberg, but I admit that this could be a personal bias. In any case, their personal dramas are never meant to be as important as the main story line. It’s as if no-one believes there’s any serious drama going on in human situations anywhere that does not involve a killing – or three, or nine.  Everything that is not murder is soap.

But murder is rare in European societies.  It is a comparatively easy crime to solve, as there is usually a connection between the murderer and his victim.  Of course, recently the police clear-up capability has been speeded up by the information processing of computers and by the scientific advances which make DNA recordable, storable and traceable.  The police can also monitor mobile phone usage and draw on the massive amounts of film footage accumulated by security cameras. But where there is no connection between victim and killer – as in the case of Sobhraj – or where there has been a professional ‘hit’ – the police are still ineffectual.  They often have to wait for the killer to make a mistake – as in they did in the case of the Yorkshire Ripper – before they can solve the case. 

The fact that you and I know about these new developments is an indication of how many crime series we have swallowed down whole.  We could almost all now write one ourselves.  You open with a shocking and mysterious death, preferably in an unusual setting; you introduce in a handful of ‘interesting’ characters and some back story.  When you feel the tension level flagging, you throw in some more bodies, as if adding fuel to the fire.  (You needn’t concern yourself with the fact that with murders more is actually less, since the audience can’t keep on meting out its sympathy and will get emotionally confused as the body count increases, forgetting who got killed first.)  You can enrich your material with a red herring or an unexpected clue and you must include a chase, on foot or using cars.  You might even put in some comic relief before you wrap it everything up with a dangerous, ‘dramatic’ confrontation with the murderer. The over familiar narrative process is meant to reassure everyone that, however bad things appear to be, truth will out and justice will be delivered.

More than exciting an interest in the nastier side of life and the worst forms of human behaviour, I think there is a problem with this narrative form. Seeking to reassure a mass audience with a basic fantasy is a form of brainwashing.  We are seduced into abandoning our rational awareness that murder enquiries are nothing like as tense and interesting as the way they are presented (The Investigation is an exception to this rule) because of the real time they take and because of the dull routine of the work involved.

More importantly, few of us live the experience of confronting a problem which gets solved, allowing us to we live happily ever after.  Instead of having one large and horrific issue to grapple with we have innumerable minor difficulties that most of the time add up to make our life either frustrating or frightening.  We know this situation is never going to change, that nothing we can do will make any difference and that nobody is coming to help.  If we are not actually the victim in an unsensational case, we will be like the junior police officer expected to solve a crime with access to limited information and having no authority, struggling with a mountain of bureaucracy, against a background of incompetent management and competitive colleagues.  Our family life may not be any more straightforward than our work life.  It will be banal but it will consist of more than a communication difficulty with a daughter.

Given this reality, in my opinion what we need from the purveyors of fiction, is a constructive reflection on our circumstance – an experience exploring the outlines of the predicament we find ourselves in.  This should be done in a way that is not escapism disguised as realism.  The proliferation of crime dramas based on murder stories suggests that TV as a medium, despite the talent and intelligence of the people working within it and despite the quite astonishing technical facilities available to them nowadays, is not able to offer this kind of creative reflection.  Maybe I am expecting too much from what can only ever be light entertainment.  If I want the kind of imaginative experience I am defining, perhaps I have to read novels or go to the theatre.

I did appreciate the ingenuity of The Serpent, in particular the way the timing of the action moved backwards and forwards.  I was suitably appalled by what Sobhraj did, although he was presented as being so perpetually cool and self-controlled that he seemed quite dull.  Little space was given to exploring his capacity to be so charming and desirable that his partner and indeed his ex-wife both found him irresistible, despite their knowledge of what he was capable of.  For me, the really interesting questions surrounding Sobhraj remains not what he did or how he got away with it, so much as why he did it and why others helped him. 

Otherwise I thought the acting in the series was of a good standard – although Tim McInnerny hammed it up as a Belgian. The dialogue was credible and moved the plot on even if it didn’t say much about Sobhraj’s motivation.  Since the series draws on a true story for its outline it only required the details to be coloured in carefully.  The impressive settings for the action in Thailand, India, Nepal and Paris were like pages from a holiday brochure.  

Tim McInnerny

Would a closer focus on Sobhraj have demanded too much of us?  It would have required us to sit and pay attention and respond to words and phrases in conversations and note small gestures and aspects of behaviour in the way we do in front of a live performance.  We would not have been able to just get up and go and make a sandwich or look at our texts or carry on with the ironing.  We might, though, have been truly moved by what we were watching.  We wouldn’t have wanted to either pause an episode or wait until next week for the sequel.  The story would have possessed us.

Numerous people have said they ‘loved’ The Serpent. Personally, whilst I might admit to loving plays by Shakespeare and Moliere, or novels by Dickens and Tolstoy, I can only say the series temporarily distracted me whilst my options of doing anything else other than watching TV were limited by lockdown.  Despite its expensive ingenuity it did not tell me anything new about the human condition and it did not give me that sensation of excitement that engagement with a work of art provides.

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