This week, I am performing a scratch 15 minute version of The Dance Collector to the Luncheon Club at Wishing Well in Crewe who I have been working with over the past few weeks, and then to some students at MMU who are studying Community Theatre. On Friday, I am talking on a panel for an event hosted by PANDA called Work for Non-Theatre Spaces.
In making this scratch work in progress showing, and in preparation for the PANDA event, I have been considering what it means to make work for/with a community. My background is in studio based contemporary theatre, but I started moving into non-theatre spaces with Making Time, which was sited in theatre foyers and cafes. However, with The Dance Collector, the content of the piece is made up of real stories and memories from the people I have met during this project – the performance is rooted in real locations and genuine annecdotes. – I wonder whether the audience will even remember telling me the small details – like how Ruth & Mary used Liquorice Torpedoes to stain their lips before a night out dancing? Or whether Ethel remembers telling me how her name got shortened to Etty? Through the performance, I’m hoping the audience will learn about the people they’re sitting next to, and that it sparks conversations after I’ve gone.
And I wonder how it will be to perform these stories to the students at MMU who haven’t met Roland or Margaret or Barbara or Peter. Do the stories and memories translate outside of our circle?
I have thought of lots of ideas whilst creating this performance – projections of maps underfoot, mirror balls glittering over our heads, lighting designs and films of girls dancing – but in the community centre, not all of this is possible (or not within this time frame). Instead, I am hoping the authenticity of the two costumes in the space – the Polish waistcoat and my mother’s wedding dress will evoke the drama and emotion of these stories.
My mother’s wedding dress – a dress I remember her showing me 20 years ago. Boxed up carefully in her mother’s loft. As a 10 year old girl, I remembered it to be disintegrated and falling apart – but now it has resurfaced and I see it is fine. Yellowed, yes, but whole and sturdy. It has survived.
There are so many things I haven’t yet tried – a tap dance in my grandmother’s shoes, a way to embody the postures of Irish dancing, integrating the drama of Pavarotti (how do you dance to Pavarotti?), installing a maypole and dancing around it…
I imagine that with this project,
I will carry forward the stories and moves from the people I meet
into the next community
so that there will always be a trace of those memories
intertwined with new ones,
like the ribbons around a maypole,
like the ribbons binding my waistcoat to my body,
like my mother bound to me.