Dancing Nation: Dance in the Here & Now

Hello, I am Eckhard Thiemann, programming associate for dance at The Lowry.

My role it to seek out the best, most exciting, popular and new dance artists and productions to appear on our three main stages, and also across the building, from galleries to outdoors.

Dance is in the DNA of The Lowry. The building opened with the spectacular Paris Opera Ballet in 2000 and since then we have been one of the foremost dance presenting venues nationally.

What excites me about dance is its power to communicate and speak to our current times. It can offer wonderfully uplifting escapism and wonder through magical productions like the visits from Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, and also bring to us personal, intimate and bold voices of the latest talent grappling with urgent issues like the Covid-19 pandemic, mental health or Black Lives Matter.

For me, dance is a true 21-century art form: fast moving, global, dynamic, and engaging in the newest trends of science, technology, tastes and fashions but rooted in the oldest medium we all have: our own bodies. Dance genres are secondary to me. We embrace many styles: from ballet to flamenco, from contemporary dance to hip hop, from bharata natyam to cabaret. What is important is that our dance programme shows the power of dance to relate to the ‘Here and Now’.

So, has dance stood still during the Covid 19 pandemic? No, it hasn’t. Sadly, we must recognise that many dancers have badly suffered through lack of earning, touring, creating, rehearsing and seeing work.  It will take considerable time to bring back the sector to pre-Covid conditions. But dance artists have also responded creatively and adventurously to the conditions set by the pandemic.

From creating small intimate works in living rooms and bathtubs, to cinematic films set in atmospheric locations and turning rehearsal studios to livestream venues. We joined forces with our partner company Rambert, for instance, to offer the thrilling live stream from their building of Wim Vandekeybus’ Drawn From Within. With flickering candle lighting and fast-moving hand-held cameras, this menacing and risk-taking work was the closest I got to the ‘thrill of the live’ while watching it on my screen at home.

Rambert

On 28 January, Sadler’s Wells in collaboration with the BBC present three hour-long programmes of Dancing Nation, a snapshot of dance across the UK, celebrating the diversity in styles, aesthetics and approaches that make our dance ecology so rich. Virtually all of the featured companies have regularly appeared at The Lowry. Dancing Nation is a true roll-call of a typical programme in our building. In this short blog I will highlight just some of them and whet your appetite for what feels like our Dancing Nation.

Each programme will be available for 30 days on BBC iPlayer for audiences in the UK and on Sadler’s Wells’ website for those outside the UK, followed by a 90-minute highlights programme which will be available for 12 months.

You can sign-up to receive an email and/or SMS alert which will notify them when Dancing Nation is available to view. Sign up is available here: https://www.sadlerswells.com/whats-on/2021/dancing-nation.

You may remember some brilliantly costumed hooded figures on the cover of our last printed brochure. These were for BLKDOG by Botis Seva’s Far From The Norm, a genre-defying blend of hip hop and claiming the right to remain childlike in adulthood, which is now part of Dancing Nation and will come back to The Lowry in due course.

Botis also created one of the most moving films of the pandemic: Can’t kill Us All. Still available on BBC I-player, this is a most personal reflection on childhood memories and reliving Black trauma, Can’t Kill Us All pushes through the darkness to find light, humility and peace.

Can’t Kill Us All is at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p08jrjfp

Far From The Norm: https://www.farfromthenorm.com/

Birmingham Royal Ballet and Northern Ballet will show extract of works created during the lockdown.

Lazuli Sky, created for Birmingham Royal Ballet, is a hopeful and regenerative ballet by Will Tucket. During lockdown, without the distractions of normal everyday living, the creative team were drawn to the open clarity of the sky, wind-shaped landscapes and birdsong. We showed a recording of Lazuli Sky for one week last autumn and look forward to more digital collaborations with the company.

And while touring at present is not possible, BRB has created their home-from-home platform with many items and snippets of information to keep you fully engaged in the life of a ballet company.

Check it out: https://www.brb.org.uk/home-from-home

Shobana Jeyasingh has influenced the dance world through her rigorous approach to choreography and putting dance in a wider context of science, theatre and politics. Her approach during lockdown has been to deepen the conversations dance can have with other disciplines in a series of podcasts: Brilliant insights from creative minds in art and science.

Episode 4 of her series of Surface Tension deals with connections between science, sci fi and Dance and includes reflections on creating her work Contagion, which explored the effects of the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918-20. In Shobana’s words: “Watch a dance work as if it was a science fiction work’. An extract of Contagion will be shown as part of Dancing Nation.

https://www.shobanajeyasingh.co.uk/explore/surface-tension-episode-4-science-and-science-fiction/

In October 2020 we presented the Birmingham-based company Humanhood in an outdoor performance of their meditative and intense duet Sphera. Alongside its sister work Orbis, both duets explore the physical and spiritual dimensions of the light and dark side of the moon. Expect deep physicality and spirituality as they perform both works in Dancing Nation.

Humanhood

https://www.humanhood.net/

These are just some examples of the rich offering of Dancing Nation. Other Lowry regulars appearing include Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures in their seminal hilarious quartet Spitfire, Candoco Dance Company, Breakin’ Convention, Akram Khan, English National Ballet and Matsena Productions.

So, despite the many cancellation, postponements and hardship for the dance sector in 2020, I feel hopeful for dance in 2021. Artists like the ones mentioned in this blog, use the power of the human body to connect us to our times and create emotional experiences which transport us to an elsewhere. They can give us respite, and they take us deeper into the complex issues of our times. Dance can hold both the power of escapism and the power of the hard-hitting, because it deals with the human body.  And we all have one and can relate.