DanceGrist at the Royal Society of Arts: How Dancers Make and Express Change. Guest Review

Group of dancers, 4 on floor in different positions looking pensive, one standing behind clearly trying to work out positioning

E14 Dance rehearsal, DanceGRiST at the RSA, image (c) Kate Coleman and DanceGRiST 2019

Courtesy of the wonderful RSA and curated by RSA Fellow Carole Edrich, the event How Dancers Make and Express Change, showcased the work-in-progress of six performing artists and gave the audience the opportunity to discuss the social drivers, impact and objectives of their work.

The event achieved a number of fantastic firsts. DanceGRiST at the RSA was;

  • the first dance showcase for our host venue,
  • the first event curated by the DanceGRiST social enterprise,
  • the first time anything like this has been presented in this format anywhere,

and

  • the first event in which members of the 23-strong-and-growing DanceGRiST Collaborative Artists Steering Group had a part in directing.

Usually, like everyone else, I am in the audience. Not today. This time I was part of the team, there from the start.

I was with the artists when they arrived. They chatted, laughed, hung out. The normal stuff that everyone does. Then they began their performance preparations. Some had a quick run-through, marking their work in a series of small movements. Some looked around the performance area, examining the possibilities and limitations of the space. Others found a quiet corner to focus and centre themselves. So started my privileged view of their transformation from ordinary-seeming people into extraordinary artists.

 

Extraordinary literally means ‘beyond the ordinary’. That is what each exceptionally talented dancer became. Each performance was moving and profound. Each dancer deserves their own post. But I only have one post and it can’t be too long, so I’ve focussed on the three performances that touched me most deeply.

 

Katie Boag’s group piece, Danube was inspired by a sculpture that commemorates the Holocaust. Katie’s company, E14 Dance explored themes of violence and segregation in a visceral piece full of strength and energy. So much strength, in fact, that she bloodied her nose during the performance. It was emotional and at times painful to watch, as the dancers’ bodies and faces contorted with the occasional sharp, jarring movement from hip-hop and krump.

 

Isaac Ouro-Gnao presented an extract from The Oreo Complex work-in-progress that incorporated dance and a video installation, Palatable. The work explored culture, identity and their relationship with “mainstream” society. In Palatable, Ouro-Gnao demonstrated that he is a skilful writer and a moving orator. His choreography has influences of West African dance and he moves with a fluid grace. He included a moment of audience participation when he offered a tray of Oreo biscuits in a gesture that seemed both invitation and challenge.

 

Ffion Campbell-Davies gave an extract from Boundless, a deeply personal work that explores vulnerability, identity, culture and race. Elaborately draped with ropes that culminated in a large, coiled headdress, Campbell-Davies was statuesque, dignified and striking. With deliberate and graceful movements, punctuated with tremors and shudders, the ropes formed a constraint, but also her personal narrative coiled around her. At last she freed herself, arching and stretching as she became untethered.

 

When the event was over, we packed up and left the building. The dancers appeared as ordinary people again. Laughing, joking, chatting. The normal stuff everyone does.

But not everyone is able to do what they do. Fewer actually do it.

This art, this expression, this communication and movement, it takes talent, drive, dedication and a huge amount of hard work. So yes. Better pay please. For these six artists, but for all dancers and movement artists everywhere.

They are extraordinary.

They deserve it.

original event description

(editor) Written by Kate Coleman, this is one of a series of guest posts, created and shared as part of the development of our media training and mentoring program for movement artists and dancers.

To find out more and share our journey, join us at DanceGRiST.com, and thanks again RSA for your support.

Female dancer bent backwards under the apparent weight of artistically wound ropes, her eyes are shut and she gives an aura of strength and perseverence

Ffion Campbell-Davies performing Boundless at DanceGRiST at the RSA, (c) Kate Coleman and DanceGRiST 2019