Apr 212013
 

A Pageant of Dance

Our links with Priory School started in 2012 when teacher Monika McIvor invited Everyone Matters to provide a short performance for the Post-16 Centre during Arts Week. In response Julia and I tucked an extra concert into our “Mood Music” project that we had already devised for presentation at three other schools, and the Priory students, young people with severe learning difficulties and on the autistic spectrum, wholly engaged with the music that we played. In particular they had fun dressing up in tails for conducting and in silly hats for our Rondo game and enjoyed participating alongside us using percussion, interactive features that inspired Monika to request a full project from us this year in which students could access elements of movement and costume. We decided to collaborate in a dance project and invited Lauren Potter to lead it.

Choreographer Lauren Potter (in the brown hat) has a background in contemporary dance; she was a member of London Contemporary Dance Theatre for many years and was a founder member of Siobhan Davies Dance. Her response to the three groups of students whom we met at Priory School was truly inspirational; she was always ready to change emphasis to catch the mood of the moment, constantly moving around the group in order to engage individual students in a way that would be accessible to them, and yet maintaining the momentum of the session so that we easily covered the full range of activities, flowing effortlessly from one style and mood to the next. Props such as long lengths of vibrantly coloured silks, dyed feathers, percussion instruments and a huge crate of hats, resources that Julia, Lauren and I had all pooled in advance, gave the different activities an added focus, and Monika McIvor, the teacher at the school with whom the workshops had been set up, identified the use of props as one of the features that particularly engaged the students.

We were struck by the freedom with which these young people moved, responding to the varied programme of music, some fast, some slow, some sad, some exhilarating, that we chose for our dance sequence. When Julia and I started playing an Allegro by Stravinsky one young man immediately leapt from his place in the circle of chairs to take centre stage with a spontaneous Cossack dance.

It was good to know that our workshops were building on a regular programme at school called “Step into Dance” and we were especially delighted that the teachers and teaching assistants were happy to join in the activities alongside the students, enabling them where necessary and also simply sharing the fun.

I feel very strongly that the power of great music is one of the most important gifts that Everyone Matters can offer during workshops, and for our “Pageant of Dance” Julia and I had identified and adapted music mostly from the early 20th century, including short pieces and fragments drawn from Stravinsky, Bartok, Gershwin and Satie. As the music’s energy shifted from fast to slow, from energetic to hypnotic, Lauren was able to lead the group from bursts of activity to moments of repose, from a march to a seated yawning dance, from a percussion band to silent creatures gliding through the jungle. Lauren here describes the use of chairs as an anchor, and the patterning of moods that shaped each session :

The semi-circle of chairs [was] an anchor point for the students, so they could return to the ‘safety’ of their seat as each ‘event’ unfolded then concluded.

As Monika wrote in her evaluation of our first full day of workshops at Priory:

One Teaching Assistant made a comment about one of our students that she hasn’t seen him move so much in years! At the end of the session some students were asking me if they were going to do it again. The students have enjoyed it so much!


 

A project led by choreographer Lauren Potter. Live music played by Julia Desbruslais, ‘cello and Margaret Archibald, clarinet.

Supported by the Lucille Graham Trust and the Red Socks Charitable Trust, with contributions from the schools.