Ali Ford, Theatre Programming and Development Coordinator at Square Chapel Arts Centre, shares her response to the 5-hour version of Wallflower at GIFT this May – where we danced our 2,000th dance!
I first fell in love with Quarantine’s work as a Theatre & Performance student at the University of Leeds, when Make-Believe came to stage@leeds. It was the first I’d seen of its kind – where the concept of performance itself was reinvented; suspension of disbelief was made obsolete; and the words and actions of the ‘non-performers’ on stage (including a two-year-old boy with little-to-no consciousness of his audience) were equally as powerful as those of the trained professionals. I left that space feeling like I’d just had a glimpse into a world I’d never before known. A world that, moving forward, would hugely influence my own relationship with the idea of theatre, performance, and the people that get to make it.
Fast-forward nine years. Square Chapel Arts Centre (where I now work) is one of the partner venues on Quarantine’s latest offering, Wallflower, and I’ve made my way further north to Gateshead, to see Wallflower in the context of GIFT (Gateshead International Festival of Theatre, led by the formidable Kate Craddock) at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. It’s blazing sunshine on a Friday afternoon and as I walk from the train station, the River Tyne is lined with post-work drinkers, stags and hens, early-bird diners and semi-clad sun-worshippers. To say there isn’t a little part of me regretting signing myself up for a 5-hour durational performance inside a space with no natural light would be a lie – but the moment I walk into the BALTIC and feel the warm, first-night buzz of GIFT, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
Upon entry to the performance space, I meet a wall of remembered dances, typed out on white paper and neatly pinned in rows and columns. I spend some time absorbing these and hear the performance begin on the other side of the wall. I’m not in a rush to take a seat – this isn’t the kind of theatre where you have to sit down and shut up by the time the curtain goes up. At first, it feels more like a gallery – the lights are up and the pace is slow and calm; unafraid of silence. It takes a few moments to adjust – but once you learn to disregard what you think you know about being an audience member, and embrace the observational and portraiture-like nature of Quarantine’s unique style, you soon get comfortable – and before you know it you can barely tear yourself away. After all, this is a dance marathon, and we’re all in it together.
All performers sit with the audience and one-by-one take to the stage to remember a dance – physically and verbally – shouting requests to the DJ (who’s with them onstage) for the corresponding song as they go. One of them documents the dances quietly from the side of the stage. We see a series of pique turns danced in a pair of Pina Bausch’s shoes; an impressive head-stand that reveals the physical marks of love and wear that come with carrying a child; a grandfather swinging his grandchild back and forth between his legs; and an all-night rave in Ibiza. We see these and hundreds more over the course of the evening, pushing the total number of dances that have been remembered over the life of the project past the 2,000 mark.
Every half hour or so, all the dancers take to the stage for a returning motif that marks the handover of the documentation task from one performer to another. They recap the dances that have been remembered since the last handover, and it feels like a good opportunity to go for a quick toilet-break / drink refill – but in reality I only actually manage to tear myself away once over the whole 5 hours. I’m captivated.
The more dances I watch the more I remember of my own: imitating The Spice Girls as a girl band of 7 year olds in the school playground; as a teenager, holding my Grandpa’s hands in mine whilst taking baby-steps together in his later stages of Parkinson’s; balancing tall on the shoulders of a stranger during the headline set at last year’s Wilderness Festival (feeling like I’m on top of the world); the first dance with my husband to Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get it On, played live by a 10-piece ‘dirty funk’ band put together by two of our best mates. Despite having had a genuine love and talent for dance growing up, it’s not the shows, competitions and professionally choreographed routines I choose to remember. It’s the dances that signify important moments in time: the movements and motions that have shaped my character and connected me, physically and emotionally, to the world around me.
It’s Square Chapel’s 30th Birthday this year, and I can’t think of a better way to mark the occasion than with a performance that celebrates the memories and stories behind ‘every dance you’ve ever danced’, in a building which has seen three decades of its own: afternoon tea dances, professional dance companies, first wedding dances, volunteer parties, Hacienda club nights, swing dances, community performances, immersive Gatsby Charleston dancing, café/bar staff letting loose to Ibiza classics on the early morning shift… the eclectic list goes on.
We’ll be collecting some of these remembered dances and more from our local community to feature online and in an exhibition that will run alongside Wallflower. We’ll throw an after party with a local DJ playing requests that represent the remembered dances of all who join us. And most of all, we’ll celebrate. We’ll celebrate all the bodies who have believed in Square Chapel over the past 30 years, and the dances we have danced along the way.
We hope you’ll join us.
Square Chapel Arts Centre is one of the partners on the 2018/19 tour of Wallflower.
Catch Wallflower at New Adelphi, Salford on Friday 19 October (5pm, 5hrs); Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Brighton on Friday 23 (8pm, 2hrs) & Saturday 24 November (3:30pm, 5hrs); and at Square Chapel Arts Centre, Halifax on Friday 30 November (8pm, 90mins) and Saturday 1 December (5pm, 5hrs).
All images taken by Richard Kenworthy at GIFT 2018.