Expressions returned to Northern Ballet last month, filling our building with a fantastic energy as over 200 performers took to the stage at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre. Welcoming Casson & Friends, Opening Doors from Malta, TIN Arts and an array of talented local groups, Expressions was a wonderful celebration of inclusive dance, giving community dancers an opportunity to perform on a professional stage, exchange and develop their skills. With full auditoriums, lots of new audience members and three jam-packed performances, Expressions 2018 was our most successful to date.
Casson & Friends performing in Expressions 2018. Photo Brian Slater.
Jem Clancy was commissioned by BEYOND to work with our very own in motion dancers and after months of preparation, it was wonderful to watch Jem’s choreography come to life on the stage. Here Jem gives us an insight into her experience…
I love watching all styles of dance and the infinite ways that the body can move fascinates me. I think you can learn ‘steps’ and how to be a ‘good dancer’, but I don’t think passion can be learnt in the same way and, for me, the real stand out performances are the ones that have it. There is an assumption that the word community or disability means that a performance is somehow less or secondary. Those who come and take part in and/or watch Expressions know that is simply not true. If I could go to the theatre everyday I would. I’d sit in all the classes and rehearsals too. Expressions is more than a dance show. It is pure and contagious joy, and every performer has passion in abundance.
in motion performing in Expressions 2018. Photo Brian Slater.
I worked with five dancers who could not have been more different in personality, background or dance experience. I think a lot of people are frightened of difference, particularly when it comes to disability and even more so in the case of invisible disabilities. I think it is important to remember we are all different. Do we accept that none of us are perfect or rather that we are all perfect but in our own way? The challenge I set myself was to find the perfection in each of my five dancers and bring that to the fore in the choreography. By learning ballet they became stronger, more proficient dancers. But, by giving of themselves to the process of making a dance they created something unique and wonderful. I am so grateful to Northern Ballet for letting me work with their in motion dancers and the BEYOND team for commissioning me. But I am especially grateful to the dancers themselves for trusting me. They inspired me to do better and be better for them, but also myself. My most favourite thing was watching their sense of pride and achievement at the end of the project. It is an experience I will never forget.
Jem Clancy pictured second left, performing in Expressions 2018. Photo Brian Slater.
I didn't tell the dancers I worked with that I had a disability. There were a number of reasons for this. They assumed I was ‘like the other staff’ and I never corrected them. After a while it became irrelevant. At the end of the project one of the dancers said finding out that it was my first project, that I was in fact different in a similar way to what they were had made them rethink their experience. Importantly, it made them think that if I could do it, then maybe they could too. Others have since said similar. I never thought about it like that before, but there are very few disabled role models working in the professional sphere. I have been so inspired by the artists I have met through Expressions and BEYOND, it never occurred to me that I might inspire others too. So I also find myself with much bigger ambitions than I had before because I feel like I have something bigger than myself to succeed for.
Expressions 2019 is already in the planning and we can’t wait to bring you another memorable week of performances. Until next year!