My work as a choreographer in contemporary dance involves movement found through a combination of physical and sensory encounters with people and places; curiosity about what might be discovered; and a stretching of the limbs of our imagination in how we might initiate a response. I am keenly interested in where the choreography emerges through diverse – even unexpected – elements of setting, situation, methodology and dialogue, and towards an outcome that is completely new and invigorating. Here are three examples:
In the solo piece Divided. between. displaced. newfound devised in 2011 I merged experiences of exploring movement out of doors and unsighted with those of some workshops I had led with refugees and asylum seekers where we had used dance to devise a kind of temporary architecture that fulfilled an emotional quest for an imagined home. Christo Wallers had filmed some of my unsighted experiments and the solo dance grew from my watching this and nailing some essential responses.
An ex-coalfield village community in North East England had experienced high incidences of coronary heart disease and respiratory illnesses, fast diminishing local resources, closed shops and low community esteem. I was told that the heart had gone out of the village. I developed and facilitated an incremental two-year project that explored and established what a dancer might bring to the situation. A number of initiatives grew into schemes of work including one with older people who were nervous about walking alone. I established a local walking group and when we were invited to finish our morning walks at the local primary school to have our dinner with the children, I facilitated early afternoons where the older walkers and the younger children talked with each other. From these conversations the children and I devised a choreography called My Big Heart and performed it at the school to the walking group, family and friends.
During two of the visits I made to South Africa as part of the cultural exchange programme between the Eastern Cape and North East England, I worked with Port Elizabeth-based Uphondo Lwe Afrika, a dance and music ensemble performing a mostly traditional repertoire. But they were increasingly interested in new ways of devising and developing ideas into choreography. We made an exchange: I introduced them to an imaginative workshop process where we can generate movement into dance from any conceivable idea, theme, topic, or situation; while through the company's director Zamuxolo Mgoduka I learned about his work as a sangoma, a Southern Africa traditional healer, and how this informed the company's work in post-apartheid South Africa.
I recognise that my work is underpinned by embodying the imagination through engaging with affirmative action, exploration and discovery. In doing so we explore, express and exchange experience to make art. And sometimes it is like a kind of anthropology where dance and the body are like the tools, the means of research into any and all aspects of our world of change and diversity.