High Spin (Op-Ed)

panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

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What happens when you bring together two learning disabled groups of performers who don’t speak each others language to do a cultural exchange? That was the journey High Spin Dance Company from Brighton and the L'Atelier de Jour du Ravelin group in Dieppe embarked on this year as they set about devising a new dance piece to be performed at Brighton Festival and the bi-annual learning disabled arts festival in Dieppe. Funded by Interreg, the intention was to undertake an Anglo-French cultural exchange for artists with learning disabilities.

The project entitled ‘Dancing Tongues’ brought about a wonderful exchange of experiences not just for the performers but for the artistic directors and audiences too. However, the journey also raised many interesting issues about the sharp contrasts in arts provision for people with learning disabilities on both sides of the channel and sparked some interesting debates….

Different Backgrounds

Initially, the organisations were coming from very different backgrounds. High Spin is the professional dance company of Carousel, a UK based organisation which initiates arts projects and training for and with people with learning disabilities.

It is a professional, integrated dance company devising new work with choreographers for national tours since 1996 and is led by Artistic Director, Ingrid Ashberry. However, L’Atelier de Jour du Ravelin is a day centre in Dieppe, sitting within a national Mencap style organisation called Apei in Dieppe. The facility offers day services with some arts activity for people with learning disabilities as well as organising the L’Ame de Fond Festival.

The project came about following an initial approach to Carousel because Le Ravelin wanted to extend their arts provision and enrich their festival with cross channel collaboration.

Le Ravelin is primarily funded by local and regional Government through the Social Services department. The arts funding system in France does not yet recognize the value and potential of arts by people with learning disabilities.

So ESF money offered the opportunity to develop the level and quality of Ravelin’s arts activities as well as to learn more about the disability arts culture in each country. Le Ravelin and Carousel embarked on a two year collaborative project within which sat the joint dance project.

Incorporated into the project were a series of workshops in both countries and culminated in the creation of a dance theatre piece called ‘And the Day After…’. It included four experienced dancers from High Spin and four people from Le Ravelin who were part of a drama group facilitated by Odile Mauviard the theatre director of the company Hors de Soi, based in Dieppe.

The Project

Our project provided a rare opportunity for learning disabled people to access an international cultural experience and develop an exchange of skills between professionals, workshop leaders and participants.

The initial concern around the language barrier was quickly resolved. Ingrid said “They bonded as a group very well and very quickly. Because they were communicating physically, language wasn’t needed and sometimes they even forgot that they spoke different languages. ”

Their common purpose to make and perform the piece created a supportive, focused and professional environment. Peforming on each other’s territory, sharing cultural experiences through being at festivals together, seeing different performances, eating together, all these things created a very strong connection within the group”.

The performers returned full of memories about the success of the shows and their unique unforgettable and rewarding experiences. Andy Saunders, a High Spin dancer said “I love the people so much. They worked very hard”. Maria Pengelly from High Spin said she “liked speaking French” and she “felt professional to have posters up in France”.

But beyond this lay more interesting issues. Despite our own misgivings about funding in this country and our perception of the ‘cultural French’, Le Ravelin were very impressed by the amount of funding dedicated to creativity for people with learning disabilities here.

Odile Mauviard of Companie Hors De Soi commented, “There is little creative infrastructure in France and people with learning disabilities don’t have a voice. They ( the English dancers from High Spin) are much more familiar with performing as they have worked with professional choreographers and toured their shows, which is very rare in France.”

As a result, the French group had not before created performance of a professional level with a proper production budget and collaborating with professional composers, costume makers, lighting designers. High Spin have been working at this level for many years, being received at mainstream venues nationally. In France only one company could be identified as achieving this on a similar scale, the Creahm, a company originally from Belgium.

Working on this project Le Ravelin and Odile Mauviard have begun to shift their perception about the quality that can be achieved within the disability dance/ theatre sector. Odile expressed her desire to promotie the acceptance of and creation of professional groups in France as it is in England.

The approach of the two directors was also different: “The French dancers seemed to be guided and led much more in tasks whereas High Spin’s approach is to give space within the creative process to allow for individual expression”. Ingrid commented that “Initially, the French group checked for the leader’s approval constantly”.

As the process moved forward, the High Spin performers freedom in expression and the leadership of Ingrid encouraged the process to become more free flowing and to focus on individual movement expression. As a result the French dancers began to develop more autonomy in their movement and to gain confidence from High Spin’s wealth of experience.

The Performance

When it came to the performances in the Brighton Fringe Festival and L’ame de fond, they were both rapturously received with over 700 audience members! The piece won Best Dance Award in the Brighton Fringe Festival.

For High Spin, this was the first non-integrated performance and has been an interesting experiment. Ingrid observed how the High Spin performers’ confidence grew as they took more risks in their own creativity and during performance held the piece so confidently and maturely. This has raised an issue over company integration in the future.

Overall, the project has raised some interesting questions about approach to artistic direction for High Spin and Le Ravelin . Despite differences in approach, and the disability dance climate in each country the performance project demonstrated the artistic merit and value of dance with learning disabled performers.

This article was written by Sara Sampson, Marketing Manager and Ingrid Ashberry, Artistic Director, High Spin Dance Theatre Company. No payment was made for using this piece.

[ High Spin Website ]

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