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Looking back at 2 Encounters festivals

Fri 14 June 2019
Part of: Encounters Festivals
Zsuzsa Rozsavolgyi - 1.7 © Gabor Dusa (79)

This year we took the plunge to start a new core programme Encounters. Our aim was to bring some of the most interesting local, regional and international artists in contact with local people including families, older adults and LGTQ+ people who might not normally see contemporary performance. And by doing so we wanted to have a chance to connect, reflect and share thoughts about some of the most challenging issues of our time.

With the polarisation of society all around us, this programme felt like an important way of bringing people from different walks of life together through dance. Knowing that dance has such a connective power, and can be joyous and fun, perhaps, dance would enable us to have difficult conversations that we can’t have anywhere else?

After the first two editions, with the 3rd around the corner this month, I can safely say we certainly had some very difficult conversations as well as utterly moving, magical, nourishing moments and lots of fun. 9 performances 12 workshops and 2 talks were attended by over 1000 people.

“A wonderful chance to dance with other families. So much fun! I’d like to do this everyday!”

During the first Encounters we asked how we, and how artists reach out to people who are different to us, who we think are ‘other’. There were many spine-tingling, magical moments of intergenerational exchange: young children, parents and older adults dancing, watching, creating and sharing fun and connection. There were also some difficult questions proposed around ethnicity with even the approach to the language of otherness experienced as divisive and unhelpful.  Heated debate after an interactive performance left some pleasantly provoked and others very angry and alienated. For sure a renewed insight around representation, sharing power and inclusion is since informing discussions and programming.

“I enjoyed the warm up games and felt comfortable being a parent and non-dancer, really enjoyed TC Howard’s workshop and realised I don’t need to be a born dancer to enjoy movement and expression. Made me and my son smile throughout!”

A real highlight was the Make a Dance in a Day workshop with children, parents and grandparents that was so deeply moving that it had literally everyone (doing and watching) in floods of tears.

One of the unique aspects has been the interaction between the local and international. Thanks to support by Leeds Dance Partnership we were able to present Robby Synge, Zsuzsa Rozsavolgyi and will soon welcome the incredible Daniel Mariblanca (Spain/Norway) – this enables audiences including local artists to encounter new perspectives and approaches.

One of the other real successes has been the fun, festival-feel created throughout the building by the ‘new look’ bar/café and craft areas, imaginative library corners and interactive chalkboards and film room. And the yummy soup and scones!

So on balance?

So how do you keep ownership of the event among a staff team who come at it from different perspectives? What actual work, images and copy can you agree on that are both inclusive and genuinely activist? And how do you ‘hold’ the space for people to feel out of their comfort zone and make them want to come back? How do you curate a diverse audience? How can we genuinely champion work by diverse artists in the broadest sense? How do we share the decision making processes beyond existing hierarchies and still deliver a brilliant event on time and a tiny budget?

Whilst celebrating some of the beautiful moments in Encounters of different people dancing together, these questions are informing our planning all the time. We are excited about the following Encounters on June 28 / June 29 with some beautifully titled workshops (The Joy of Moving/Wild Rumpus/The Bravery of Being You) designed in response to a dialogue with local LGBTQ+ members. Can we create a shared experience between local dancing families, the local LGBTQ+ and artistic communities?

I guess you’d have to come and find out…


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