Skills Exchange Day 4
Collectivism, Activism, Autonomy and Agency
Rachel trained at Northern School of Contemporary Dance and co-founded Gracefool Collective, devising “post-intellectual-pseudo-spiritual-feminist-comedy-dance,” and performing internationally. Previous Gracefool commissions include: Furnace (West Yorkshire Playhouse), Arrivals/Departures (NSCD), Reveal Festival (Bolton Octagon), Northern Connections 2015 & 2017, Choreodrome (The Place), CARP (Barnsley Civic) and CATAPULT - awarded to the most exceptional emerging dance-makers in the North. Recent achievements include a 22-date, 4- & 5-star run at the Edinburgh Fringe as part of the prestigious Underbelly Untapped Programme showcasing innovative new writing and, a tour of northern venues, presenting double bill: Convicts and Lunatics, with renowned Red Ladder Theatre.
Rachel is a co-founder of ProDanceLeeds and sits on the Yorkshire Dance Advisory Board and Leeds Dance Partnership steering group. Her specialism is leading challenging groups who have had limited experience of or access to movement. She is currently working on an empowerment project in Aldecar, Derbyshire with thirteen females of 13 years old; all from deprived backgrounds, with little to no experience of the arts and a multitude of difficulties within the home and school environment.
For Yorkshire Dance Rachel have been a co-lead on the Young at Arts programme for older adults, creating fun, experimental, creative experiences. She co-leads 'Raised', an integrated dance company for adults. The group are supported by Yorkshire Dance and have been recognised for their high quality of work by other organisations such as Mind the Gap, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Tin Arts and, by Arts Council England. Rachel is sessional lecturer for Northern School of Contemporary Dance since 2014, and an Associate Artist for The Bunbury Banter Theatre Company, delivering on their community and professional projects.
Rachel's workshop drew on the notion that our art form has influence outside of the creative process and product. It reflected on ideas about how our personal politics and values drive our practice. In her own words she describes the thinking behind her process:
My own creative practice explores collectivism and hierarchies. It poses questions about our interactions, highlighting where there is dissonance and coherence. It is inherently collaborative, working to break down creator/performer/participant hierarchies by using group devising processes that facilitate autonomy and agency.
It reflects some of my core values:
- It is important for self-belief to see ourselves as individuals as well as part of communities.
- A combination of contributions can only make life richer for all.
- Equity can be built through fostering empathy, acknowledging and celebrating difference, and opening our eyes to the value of others.
Often, within community settings, I am given a brief that aims to utilise art to meet a need of some kind. Those organising/funding the activity require a legacy for those involved. My skills are employed to offer possibilities to groups that are relevant outside of our time spent together.
Whatever need is identified, I often find that it is important for my groups to find a sense of their own self worth and feel the support of others in their community.
When designing my offer in any setting, it is important to acknowledge that within this role I do not have all the answers and cannot provide one fix for all problems. If I did believe that that was my role, I would not be acknowledging the wealth of experience and creativity already within those communities. The meeting between the community and me must involve a mutual exchange. Without this, I cannot expect that a community will feel they have something to offer and therefore cannot expect a legacy where groups feel empowered.
Therefore, my offer involves looking at the skills and experience I have as an artist and understanding their relevance to my groups and to wider society. In my workshop as part of the AEP, my tasks posed the question:
What is naturally involved in a collaborative creative process, that can contribute to the empowering of a group?
The tasks I offered aim to foster skills that can lead to increased involvement in the decision making process, in order to work towards greater ownership of the final creation and to build confidence, agency, and responsibility. One particular activity involved dividing the group into partnerships. Each individual was given a secret task that they must encourage their partner to do. The one rule the group were given was that talking was not allowed.
Example instructions were:
‘You must encourage your partner to introduce themselves to at least five people’
‘You must encourage your partner to travel in a circle five times and do a victory dance at the end’
The group had to figure out how to encourage and persuade through action, body language and tone, while non-verbally deciding who gets to have their task completed first.
The task had some degree of uncertainty in my initial instruction - I did not specify you had to complete the task one at a time, or at the same time. Likewise, the phrase, ‘you must encourage’ does not mean the task has to be completed. The group had to negotiate with one another, watch others, and find ways of working together to create their own desired outcome. Through tasks like this, a group can find ways to regard the unknown as an exciting challenge and an opportunity to offer suggestions to one another.
In a community setting, this task would be repeated to find new ways of negotiating. Eventually, the group members would be invited to offer their own instructions to the task.
In all my approaches within community settings, the following is crucial:
- Making opportunities for those who have had little experience of creation to find the skills the skills that may be useful for creation and to offer them ways to contribute using these skills.
- Offering discussion opportunities to reflect upon roles in the process as individuals and as part of the group, to ensure critical reflection on how we contribute to a task or idea.
- Emphasis on the importance of each member’s contribution to the task, however big or small, to foster the group’s sense of value of all those involved and allow us all to learn from each other.
- Employment of humour and play as tools to generate ideas and to provide an atmosphere within which we can take supported risks.
All of the above contribute to developing artistic skill, but also develop a recognition of agency and how an individual can be crucial in supporting others.