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Dance Artist Sophie Unwin’s journey with Yorkshire Dance 

Fri 14 June 2019
Part of: Working with Artists
Feature image Performing Gender - Ljubljana 2017 © Nada Zgank (11)

Sophie Unwin is a York based solo artist. She has been supported by Yorkshire Dance through various projects and programmes since graduating from York St John’s University in 2011, including as a New Associate artists, Juncture Fellow and taking part in the Sketch programme. These opportunities Sophie says:

‘provided me with the experience and the tools to navigate further into the industry, allowing me the freedom to explore my practice in a safe and supportive atmosphere and opportunity to gain profile among promoters for my work across the North.’

Beyond her solo work, Sophie has many more strings to her bow. She is co-director of company 70/30 Split alongside collaborator Lydia Cottrell. Having met on the degree course at York St John’s, the pair have created work on themselves for a number of years touring both regionally and nationally. In 2016 they secured a commission from Northern School of Contemporary Dance (Northern Connections) for the research & development of bYOB, their first work on a company of 4 dancers. With further commissions from NSCD and Transform Festival, bYOB premiered at Transform in April 2019.

In 2017 Sophie Unwin came on board the European Partner Project Performing Gender – Dance Makes Differences.  She was 1 of 5 dance artists joining the project alongside artists from Italy, Spain, Slovenia and The Netherlands.

Sophie took part in the intensive international training weeks in Ljubljana, Bologna, Leeds and Den Bosch during year one of the project. The weeks were curated by the national partner organisations of the countries they took place in and encompassed a rich mix of artist led workshops, talks, meeting local community groups around a variety lived experiences of gender topics & issues as well as opportunity to research and develop a new solo work in response to this process.

‘It’s the first time I‘ve been involved in a European project, and a project which spans a year and more- it’s really taken me out of my bubble and has had a big impact on my practice.’

In particular the experience of forming a tight peer-group of fellow international solo artists from various corners of Europe growing together over the course of the intensive development opportunities in the first year of the project impacted on Sophie’s experience and development:

‘It was great to negotiate, discuss and share practices and perspectives. We were in dialogue with each other about our research, how we endeavour to make work and our diverse perspectives about gender and performance. What is brilliant about this project is being with the other artists: the peer group you get to spend a lot of time with. Not only working together, seeing work together, having conversations about life but also how making work functions in each other’s environment, which is invaluable experience.’

The different backgrounds, (cultural) contexts and experiences the artists brought to the project, particularly impacted the rich learning and new perspectives gained:

‘I’ve learned a lot about how people communicate, talk about work and feedback. I became aware that perhaps I come from a specific mode of talking about work, the training weeks offered different approaches and viewpoints owing to the various contexts, places and cultures. I was also conscious that I have become a bit fixed in particular ways of working, the training weeks allowed for some significant shifts and considerations about process, which has been both terrifying and brilliant- something that will continue to impact on how I make work.’

Having the opportunity to experience different working practices, methodologies and research by European artists whose work touches on gender in many different ways was a vital part of the project:

‘There was a click moment when I felt connected to an internal place, and really relished the feeling of my body opening up to new experiences and connections. It’s like I’ve gone from the non-dancing dancer to wanting to really work with the physical me. I started to think a lot about the relation between gender and class, and how the body is an archive, a physical site where relationships of class, gender, race, sexuality etc form together and are personified and practiced. I am thinking about bodies- respectable bodies, unruly bodies, vulgar bodies, controlled bodies, out-of-control bodies, medicalised bodies …and how does class manifest itself in the body?’

Alongside taking part in the Performing Gender project, Sophie Unwin secured a Dance Partnership with Yorkshire Dance which allowed her to further channel her research into the development of her new solo work CHASM.

Receiving dramaturgical support by YD’s Artist Development Producer Tanya Steinhauser, who took part in Performing Gender as UK dramaturg, she developed a brave, honest and important new work. The project took on a new direction with Sophie having to unexpectedly deal with ill health in her life, a new reality that started to shift the focus of the work as it was developing.
CHASM was first performed as part of Yorkshire Dance’s Encounters festival on ‘Celebrating Women’ in March 2019. As Sophie sums up in her copy for CHASM:

When your body is at war with itself,
When you’ve lost control…
How do you hold on?

CHASM candidly flicks through alternative chapters of a story, a story mixed up in time, somewhere in the future, somewhere between reality, imagination, fairytale and cancer.
Sophie draws on health, absurdity and control to form her own story, one with an ending she decides.

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