Six professionals, 994 city folk. Diane Parkes explores an interesting public dance concept.
WHAT does the word ‘home’ signify?
Does it conjure up images of a roaring fire and a woolly rug? A semi-detached house with a garden in Hall Green? A barn conversion in the Warwickshire countryside? Or a country far away which your family left to come to England?
These are the questions being posed by a new dance commission which is due to hit the streets of Birmingham.
The performance of Home will see six professional dancers and 994 enthusiasts dancing in the city centre on 1,000 doormats. On each of these mini stages the performer will be expressing an idea of home and identity in movement.
The show will be performed daily for three weeks as part of International Dance Festival Birmingham.
The idea was sparked by DanceXchange’s artistic director and IDFB co-artistic director David Massingham who engaged theatre director Andy Brunskill to make the concept a reality.
“It is about home, belonging, identity and people’s response to that,” says Andy.
“And the way we are approaching that is we are getting 1,000 people to respond to the word ‘home’ coupled with four choreographers, a designer, a director and the streets of Birmingham and we are turning that into a three week performance which is site-specific to be performed every day on the streets of Birmingham.”
A team based at the city’s DanceXchange have spent nearly six months holding workshops and open days to encourage people to share their ideas of home.
Groups have been sourced from St Basil’s, the Chinese Community Centre, Birmingham Metropolitan College, Irish in Birmingham and SIFA Fireside. Hundreds of individuals including prisoners, pensioners and students plus Birmingham Poet Laureate Jan Watts have also contributed their thoughts.
Their responses have then been studied by Andy and a team of four choreographers, Gary Clarke, Rosie Kay, Eva Recacha and Luca Silvestrini, to create the actual dance piece.
“The initial thing is that people have been recording their own responses to those three things, home, belonging and identity, either in dance forms or whether recording and uploading online. Also there has been other submission in other formats – song, poetry, prose,” says Andy.
“Then we are using that as an inspiration for the rehearsal period to create the pieces which people will watch.”
The team have also recruited 1,000 dancers – some of whom are also the contributors but some of whom are only performing.
“People from all walks of life, young dancers, people from all different ethnic communities are taking part,” says Andy. “Some people are involved just one day and others will be available for all of the weeks.”
The project forms part of Dancing for the Games, part of the Cultural Olympiad in the West Midlands, so aimed to be as inclusive as possible.
“Home will be a slice of 2012 in Birmingham - what people all across the West Midlands think of it and their response to that, almost a zeitgeist of the moment.
“It is important to have people who aren’t just amazing dancers, it is anyone who has a response.
“We have aimed to make this a collage of people. I am a rotten dancer but if you want to dance then you should do it, you should have that response.
“It would be unrepresentative of the West Midlands if we just had amazing dancers taking part.”
With performances taking place each afternoon primarily in High Street and New Street, Home needed to be a work people could dip into.
“My ideal scenario is that if you watched it for five minutes or every day for an hour and a half you would get a fulfilling experience,” says Andy.
“So we want to hit the ground running.
“There is going to be a period and structure for each day with a beginning and end but it will be on a cycle so, if you arrive half way through, you can watch it all the way through and it will begin again and by the time it gets to the point where you joined it, you will have seen it all.
“I want people who see it to have interacted with the notion of home.
“Whichever week or performance they see I am hoping they will engage with the themes we are trying to explore.
“I want them to have a reaction to the themes and find something new about the idea of home. All of the material should come from an interrogation of the theme, it is not just movement for movement’s sake.
“But because it is like a kind of mosaic, if you see just two or three people or if you see the whole thing you will get a different but equally fulfilling experience.”
Working with four different choreographers also ensures the work has natural changes.
“All the choreographers are specific in their own setting,” Andy explains. ”I have separated the whole thing into four blocks – three acts and the finale – and each choreographer is responsible for each part.