Projects, Performers, Performance

Mind the Gap

photo Denis Darzacq

Jack Riley and Liam Bairstow from Mind the Gap ©Denis Darzacq

Travel broadens the mind, so the cliché goes, so here I am sitting in a sunny top floor flat in Budapest thinking about the work that I am currently doing in Bradford for Mind the Gap.

I’ve gone a long way in my attempt to understand the nature of things. I am often confused and exasperated at my inability to explain what I am doing and why I am doing it. Sometimes a little clarity emerges and I can explain things a bit better. That normally happens when I am thousands of miles from the place that I am doing it. So coming to Budapest was important in doing my work in Bradford better.

©Denis Darzacq

Susan Middleton Mind the Gap Ambassador ©Denis Darzacq

I first worked with Mind the Gap in 2003, when I was at Northern Stage, and asked Tim Wheeler, then Artistic Director and one of the founders of the company, to collaborate with us on a touring production.  We decided to create a new version of ‘Don Quixote’ adapted by Mike Kenny, and it toured to 18 venues across UK, with a company of learning-disabled and non learning-disabled performers, from two ensemble theatre companies, to great critical acclaim. Tim and I became good friends and I have been loosely involved with the company, over the years, since that time.  Last year Tim resigned as Artistic Director of Mind the Gap and I was asked to join the company as a consultant and ‘critical friend’ to help them through a process of change.

©Denis Darzacq

Euan Evans Thirlwell Mind the Gap Academy Student ©Denis Darzacq

It has been a fantastic opportunity for me and I have learnt much more than I could ever have imagined through the process. I have of course my own methods and idiosyncratic ways, but the time spent with Mind the Gap has made me question some of those long held beliefs. What is emerging for me now is a new way of thinking about theatre and how to make it.

What I have learnt working with Mind the Gap.

I am currently in rehearsal for a new piece of theatre called Contained which opens at Mind the Gap Studios on 16th October 2015 at 7.30. Come and see it.

Listening to the Mind the Gap performers’ stories has been up-lifting and I have learnt so many things from them, including some pretty deep thoughts about what it is to be human.  Their stories have become the true centre of our work, reflecting their lives with honesty and finding new ways of presenting themselves through story telling, music, dance and just by being who they are. Sometimes the simplest of tasks takes on a sense of deep meaning, for example, watching them go about a series of jobs on stage, moving a speaker, plugging in an amp, testing a microphone become powerful moments of self expression.

©Denis Darzacq

Chloe Shaw-Champion and Israr Abbas Mind the Gap Ambassadors ©Denis Darzacq

One of the aims of the work has been to create the environment in which the performers have been able to say, in a sincere and complete manner, I am me, I am here and I am fine.  It takes a lot of guts to say that and mean it.  Many of us find it really difficult to do. It makes us vulnerable and unsure, yet if we can believe it, it can make us powerful and lovable. The Mind the Gap performers’ have become experts at presenting themselves. Nobody does it like they do it and it is wonderful to watch.

Which, of course, is true of anybody presenting themselves in front of you with complete sincerity.

One of my favourite stories, that I repeat a lot, was told me by the Russian director Yevgeny Arye, artistic director of Gesher Theatre Company in Tel Aviv.  He explained that he was watching rehearsals one day when a door opened in the wings and a cleaner just swept the back area of the stage without noticing anything else going on. Yevgeny explained that it was mesmerising and beautiful to watch, much more interesting than the ‘actors’ working hard in front of him. I hold that story close to my heart. Let’s bring the cleaners to the front of the stage.

©Denis Darzacq

Jez Colborne Mind the Gap Resident Artist photographed by Denis Darzacq

Collaborations

The Music of Jez Colborne

I got to know Jez Colborne when he was a performer in the Northern Stage/Mind the Gap co-production of Don Quixote back in 2003. Years later I went to see ‘Irresistible – Call of the Sirens’ written by Jez.  It was amazing.  Jez as a composer and performer was just brilliant and it was obvious that I wanted to collaborate with him on Contained. He started writing music for the piece and it suddenly occurred to me that a great narrative for our show would be the making of a music video. The performers would create a band to play Jez’s music. They would seem to learn it and rehearse it during the show and finally they would perform a finished version at the end of the show.  ‘Im Me’ music composed and with lyrics by Jez is produced by long-term Mind the Gap Associate Artist Si McGrath.  It will be accompanied by the music video directed by French photographer Denis Darzacq.

©Denis Darzacq

Khadijah Afza Mind the Gap Academy Student photographed by Denis Darzacq

 The photography of Denis Darzacq

I was introduced to the work of Denis Darzacq by Mind the Gap when I saw photographs from his exhibition ACT some years ago. He had captured powerful moments that touched me deeply. When I started working on ideas for Contained I immediately thought of him as a collaborator. I believed that the authentic moments I was looking for, from the stories of the performers, could be achieved more effectively through the photography of Denis. It would give me a start. I would get to know the performers better by looking at them first in photography by Denis.

©Denis Darzacq

Jack Riley Mind the Gap Academy Student photographed by Denis Darzacq

Contained

In creating Contained we started by filming every performer from Mind the Gap’s Academy and Resident Artists to learn their story. One minute on camera each. Then Denis took a series of portraits and ‘sofa’ shots. We were compiling material. Stories and images were quickly accumulated. We filmed with Denis in locations around Bradford for a week for our final music video of Jez’s song. This was the source material that we would use for the creation of our piece of theatre.

©Denis Darzacq

Alison Short Mind the Gap Resident Artist photographed by Denis Darzacq

Once all the stories were collected we started to devise a project that could accommodate that material.

So ……

Contained (The Project) is a ‘circle of projects’, that surrounds a piece of high quality theatre, that feed off each other artistically and build long-lasting relationships with people locally, nationally and internationally.

The ‘circle of projects’ are developed from a relationship with a new performance piece, Contained (The Performance),  which at its centre, is a collection of personal stories told by an ensemble of performers, with a range of learning disabilities, whilst they create a music video.

The activities include a series of one-minute films, a two day filmmaking residency, an Academy showcase, a music video, a documentary about learning disability, an exhibition and much more.

Ideas travel between each mini-project – informing, exciting and generating enthusiasm for the whole range of ideas and activities, developing an holistic/integrated approach to the project as a whole.

Contained (The Project) will grow experientially over time, changing and developing and deepening the experience for ourselves and the people we create the projects for and with.

The theatre piece is moving  towards its final stage. Rehearsals for the final production starts at the beginning of September. I will be back on familiar ground in a rehearsal room with a team of performers and theatre practitioners.

The place I love to be. It’s going to be beautiful.

©Denis Darzacq

Denis Darzacq and Euan Evans-Thirlwell ©Denis Darzacq

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Anniversary’ Work in Progress

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The Anniversary Company of Performers

‘Anniversary’ is a new multi-media dance and theatre performance created by older artists, including performers from a ‘various and wide’ life experience. It involves true stories, original live music, dance and video imagery to be performed at the West Yorkshire Playhouse (Leeds, United Kingdom) next year produced by The Performance Ensemble in co-production with West Yorkshire Playhouse.

On July 4th 2015 the company performed the first ‘Work in Progress’ of the piece to an appreciate audience of a few hundred people – part of the process of developing new work and funded by The Baring Foundation’s LateStyle Project. The Baring Foundation has pioneered support for a wide range of programmes supporting older people to enjoy and take part in the arts  This latest programme,  funded professional artists (all of whom are over 70) to bring their original and exceptional artistic craft and insights to the theme of “Age”.  We choose the choreographer Royston Maldoom to take on this role.

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Royston Maldoom

Review of ANNIVERSARY Work in Progress

THE OPENING SET for ‘Anniversary’ is curiously unpromising: a broken-down sofa, with its back drawn defiantly to the audience; old crates scattered randomly across the floor; tatty clothes abandoned on a metal rack… Already the metaphor is in place – something, or someone, has been chucked on society’s rubbish heap. For what we see is not a place of prestige. An air of abandonment prevails. Then, out they come crawling, from behind the detritus, like alley cats, into the open space. Dancers. Stealthy, defiant. Vibrant. Full of mischief. And the mayhem begins.

This is a company of ten performers. Five long-term professionals, five total newcomers with zero experience or training – except the two-week intensive rehearsals they have been through with director Alan Lyddiard and choreographer Royston Maldoom. The one thing everyone has in common here is their age. For this is a piece about being older – in your sixties, seventies, eighties. In other words, on the human scrapheap, right? Wrong. So very, very wrong.

From their first audacious appearance amongs the rags and tatters in the studio corner, to their final triumphant flop, in a heap of tangled bodies, onto the old sofa, which has now been turned to face and embrace us, centre stage, these performers hold us in a spell of virtuosity and celebration. They mesmerise, with their rich presence, their wisdom, their humour, their LIVES.

‘Anniversary’ is not so much a story, more a series of loosely interconnected scenes, in movement, original music (by Chris Benstead), and words, all evoking the complex, multi-layered experience of getting older. It would have been so easy to go for the sympathy vote. To have the audience say, ‘Bless them for having the nerve.’ Not for one second does that happen in this piece. This is a piece of art, powerful in its own right.

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It’s sometimes rueful – a group of women mournfully examine their bingo wings, their spreading girths, their wrinkles and eyebags, in front of an imaginary mirror. Sometimes there is defiance – a man walks slowly, with his walking stick, to centre front, looking vulnerable, alone, only to be joined from behind by a chorus of stick-thumping, loud-chanting dancers, turning loneliness into sudden, anarchic, joyful solidarity. Elsewhere, tenderness surfaces – two people sit close, gazing into each other’s eyes, a hand placed to their partner’s face in exquisite understatement. And often, it is thrillingly dynamic, beautifully strong – the whole company moving in ensemble dances that are brimful of energy, chutzpah and hope.

The choreographer, director and composer have done a fine job here of melding their considerable respective talents to create a jewel of physical theatre. But more than that: they have fostered a palpable sense of connection, of integration – between professional and non-professional dancers; between the performers and the audience. This is something increasingly rare in a contemporary culture that is often elitist, youth- and celebrity-obsessed, a culture somehow disconnected from our everyday lives – our memories and our dreams.

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‘Anniversary’ is aspirational in the best sense of the word. It certainly tells some sanguine truths about the world it depicts – that of the elder, the “senior citizen” (how hateful is that term!) – but it also shows the sheer glory of the human spirit: raging, raging and DANCING against the dying of the light.

Written by BARNEY BARDSLEY

(Barney Bardsley is a freelance writer and dancer)

barefootbarney.wordpress.com

From Others That Saw It

A profound, inspiring, integrated and very humorous piece!! Very well done all.

Enjoyable performance, good to have the post performance talk. Well done everybody!!

 Not too sure when I was given a ticket but found the whole thing amazing. Well done to everyone.

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 Thank you – you brought a tear to my eye and you saw it as well. Beautiful music and choreography, lovely vocals and competition. I loved it all. Can’t wait to see more next year. Tell ACE to come and see it tonight!!

 Totally riveting – such variety, smoothness, exploration of themes – music, movement, character, humour – great! Onwards to the next venture!

It was just wonderful. Gives me hope for the future!

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 From the outset it was a captivating and very moving piece of theatre. I was entranced and unaware of the fact that the performers were in the older age group. I appreciated the variety of the movements as the more voting sections were interspersed with humour. The music brought it all together into a whole performance that was inspirational. I came to see a friend – one of the ‘community’ dancers and left feeling that I had seen a quality work.

 A fantastic, emotional and inspirational performance.

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Tamara Mclorg

 I came to the performance because I have a friend performing, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I found it very expressive and moving. I was mesmerised and felt the performance really flowed. I liked the variety – the mix of sadness at times and optimism. As a person coming up to retirement age myself I find it optimistic to know that these projects exist for older people so that we can enjoy a fulfilling and creative retirement. It is never too late to learn, start something new and be creative and active.

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 A truly moving and thought-provoking performance! Beautifully presented with some personal touches. There’s so much stigma around community art, but this piece proves how valuable it can be. My only reservation is that you have to Abe older to get involved – I’d love to, but am 30 years too young!

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Alex Elliott, Villmore James & Namron

 It was brilliant to see artistic expression at this level and it is always ageless and universal.

What a fantastic performance. I could have watched it all afternoon. A brilliant example of the importance of art in the community. Life-affirming and inspiring. Looking forward to seeing how it develops. So many possibilities!

 A feasts of talent. Makes me proud to be ‘old’. Well done all. Good luck with the funding.

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Christopher Bensted

 Loved your comments about ‘not just being a memory bank’, ‘the potential within’, ‘looking forward to developing…’ Was inspired by the movement, energy and being in the moment, avoiding the cue from the armchair to just sit. Broom and radio in the kitchen here I come!

 This has inspired me to explore what I can do in the future to keep feeding my soul (I sing with a choir and am on my way to listen to our sister choir ECHO at Leeds College of Music. I want to stretch my boundaries and really come out of my comfort zone. Too long being timid! Thank you!! For a bright future!

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Royston Maldoom, Sally Owen & Alex Elliott

 It was very inspiring and heart warming. Thank you! Congratulations on combining dance and age! Hum’s appearance on stage was very touching and made me cry! You were ALL fabulous! I truly hope you will carry on to inspire future audiences. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

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 Wonderful, inspiring performance. Very moving! Brought more than one tear to my eye!

 You guys have made me rethink ageing and how I look at ‘older’ people. You were all graceful and inspiring, thank you so much for a wonderful show.

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 Congratulations. I’ve been working with the Calder valley performance ensemble on what turned out to be a beautiful nostalgic piece – however, what I’ll take – mainly- from your powerful work is to focus on the ‘now and next’ and start the art from there. ‘Two roots of the same tree’.

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 Inspirational. I came to see Namron perform as he taught my children’s father, Brian Claxton-Payne. I love to dance and still perform when I can and was blown away by the depth of the piece, the humour and technique. The professionals definitely still have it and the community performers definitely brought it. Keep dancing all of you. PS – jazz saxophone, lovely touch.

Namron and Pat White Heydays Members

 It was inspiring to see everyone dance together. I like the way fun was integrated into loss in all it’s many ways. I loved the salsa bit. Thanks for a great evening and I hope to see more!

 Fantastic show, we need you to show us younger people what ‘true community’ is about. Very poignant moments but so much energy. Doesn’t matter how old you get, life is always in a state of constant flux. Blessings.

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Royston Maldoom

 A fabulous experience, want to see how it grows and realises it’s potential. Thank you.

 I thought that the performance was inspiring – the woman on her own when the couples dance…breaking out themes… Look forward to watching older people dance without having to think about being old.

 Lovely, would have liked to see a bit more.

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Royston Maldoom & Villmore James

 Well done. Keep it up!

 Congratulations on a beautiful and moving performance. Please keep me in touch with future activities. If you are thinking of touring this, please come to Corby.

 I work as an older person’s physio in Dewsbury and meet people in hospital with a passion for dancing. Do you know if there are any similar groups in Dewsbury?

 Love the performance, full of heart. Please keep in touch -the family Halifax.

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Sally Owen & Alex Elliott

 

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Anniversary

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of ANNIVERSARY directed by Alan Lyddiard

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of
ANNIVERSARY
directed by Alan Lyddiard

 

I am 66 years old. I’ve got my state pension and my free bus pass and I am counting it as income towards my new company, The Performance Ensemble. I feel like I am an emerging artist again, working on a limited income, starting on a new enterprise that will keep me going until I can work no more.

I am developing an Ensemble Company – working together over a long period of time, creating work and improving it over years. I made a version of “Animal Farm” that stayed in the Northern Stage repertoire for 12 years. My adaptation of “1984” is still being produced across the world. That’s the way I like to work, with people I admire over long periods of time, growing the work together. We create work that never stays still, always looking for more depth, more nuance, more clarity.

We start by working within a community setting, creating work, then develop that work with the introduction of professional performers and other artists. The community participants teach the professionals and, in turn, the professionals teach and help develop the skills of the community/amateur participants. The important thing is that we learn from each other.

One of my main inspirations for the setting up of The Performance Ensemble is world famous, 72 year old Japanese theatre director, Yukio Ninagawa. We presented Ninagawa’s work at Northern Stage and I had the opportunity to meet him and discuss his work. I met him again recently when I travelled to Japan to see the work of his company.

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of ANNIVERSARY directed by Alan Lyddiard

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of
ANNIVERSARY
directed by Alan Lyddiard

Over the last year I have established a very strong relationship with West Yorkshire Playhouse (WYP) that has allowed me to develop The Performance Ensemble to a place where it is now capable of creating a higher quality of performance with older people. I work closely with the arts development programme and the producing, technical and marketing teams at WYP in the creation of the work and its relationship with audiences. This is invaluable, and will allow me to expand my capacity to produce theatre with one of England’s leading regional theatres. It is a professional partnership founded on open, respectful communication working to the shared aims of valuing and empowering older people through performance. There is great value in working together, pooling our expertise gained over many years of practice at the highest level of integrity and professional achievement. One of the key relationships is with Heydays, WYP’s flagship creative programme for people over 55.

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of ANNIVERSARY directed by Alan Lyddiard

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of
ANNIVERSARY
directed by Alan Lyddiard

‘Anniversary’ is a new multi-media dance and theatre performance created by older artists, including both professional and community performers. It will involve true stories, original live music, dance and video imagery to be performed at WYP next year.

The first stage, a work in progress will commence shortly.

The final piece will be created in 2016. It will be directed by me, choreography by Royston Maldoom, with a new musical composition by Christopher Bensted and will include a combination of five older professional performers including Namron (dancer with London Contemporary Dance Theatre) Tamara McLorg (Choreographer/dancer) Sally Owen (dancer with Ballet Rambert), Vilmore James (Founder member of Phoenix Dance) Alex Elliott (Founder member of Northern Stage Ensemble) together with five performers from WYP’s older person project, Heydays’ drama/dance group.

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of ANNIVERSARY directed by Alan Lyddiard

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of
ANNIVERSARY
directed by Alan Lyddiard

 

In the first stage these performers will work with Royston for two weeks to create a piece of dance. This two week development process will be filmed and will include documentary footage of all the performers’ lives outside the rehearsal room. We will capture their home life, travelling to work, the rehearsal process and their social lives and outside of these two weeks we will capture the birthday celebrations of the choreographer and some of the company.

This material will be used as part of the final performance. We will create a film and sound/music score as the piece is created. We will project/display images of the lives and careers of the performers over a period of 25 years, creating a kaleidoscope of images and text that crosses many different styles of presentation. This would include storytelling, conversation, dance, music, film design and other visual theatre techniques. The piece will reflect the lives of a unique group of older people and their relationship with creating the performance and how it affects their daily lives.

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of ANNIVERSARY directed by Alan Lyddiard

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of
ANNIVERSARY
directed by Alan Lyddiard

The first sharing of the piece with the public will be in July 2015, when the piece of dance will launch at WYP’s Open Season 2015.

In 2016 the dance piece will be developed into a theatre piece to be performed on the Courtyard stage at WYP. After these performances the piece will be developed further in Scotland for performances for the Luminate Festival 2016. The Performance Ensemble have a long association with Luminate, having performed in the last two festivals. ‘Anniversary’ has also been invited to Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London for The Elixir Festival 2016