Dance, young people and creative agency

It is vital that artists and scholars share their processes with young people. Currently, I am at the beginning stages of further work with/for young people based on the city and shore explorations of Concrete-Water-FleshThis artistic-scholarship addresses agency and placemaking for young people in public art experiences. It uses dance as a non-verbal mode of express and communication. The research premise, that art-making can be a conduit for community participation and cultural inclusion for young people. This explores agency in identity-making and place-making through young people’s co-curation and co-creation of public art experiences. Including asking:

How do children (particularly those from diasporas that extend beyond their local geography) reclaim museum/gallery spaces and have a voice in the cultural curation of the city/town where they live? How do we support and empower these young people in telling narratives of Self that authentically speak to their twenty-first century circumstance? 

The process of making together is the activity. Previous phases of this work are Light Steps Project and ILA project taking place between 2014 – 2018). These projects resulted in two interactive performance works for young audiences, Light Steps and Found.

Light Steps is a 40-minute music & dance performance aimed at children aged 2-5 years and their families in theatre and Early Years settings.  Light Steps centers on Alex, an endearing rag doll, woken by the morning light to explore a day punctuated by points of light as the sun travels across the sky. Alex’s journey is overseen by three friends (two dancers and a musician) whose movement, music and dance mirror Alex’s feelings and curiosity as they experience the journey of the sun across the sky.  Beginning with first light, the dance and music (a profoundly beautiful live soundtrack by Jake Alexander) trace the sun’s morning light, followed by something flying by in the midmorning, then a cloud over head in the mid-day sky, the light on the tide coming in in the afternoon, and finally a beautiful sunset, Alex’s day is an adventure in colour, music and dance which children can enjoy and participate in, free to be themselves.

Found is an engaging and lively 40-minute music & dance performance aimed at children aged 4-7 years and their families in theatre and educational settings.  With live music and an invitation to audiences to play and participate, Found looks at what connects us to each other and our surroundings drawing on stories of discovery, exploration and travel.  A drift on their own islands the performers bring audiences into a magical world where connections become visible as soundwaves ripple through bodies and lines and angles converge in new journeys and forms.

Inspired by objects selected from local museums, Found was created through residencies with three Primary schools.  The show provides an adventure in colour, line, music and dance which children can enjoy and participate in, and feel free to be themselves.

Light Steps (made during 2014), initially partnered with The Turner Contemporary, Margate and three reception/kindergarten classes of Bromstone Primary School. I worked with the children to facilitate them responding to the Turner’s summer 2014 ‘ exhibit of fine artist, Spencer Finches’ work .  In the co-creation with the Reception classes, this resulted in the professional dance-performance work, Light Steps.  The piece was originally made for three professional dancers and one professional musician. It is an interactive performance work in which young audiences participate at different points across the whole performance. This was then performed to other reception/kindergarten age children (outside the area) across South East 2014- 2015. This phase was support through funding from Middlesex University, University of Michigan: Flint, and Arts Council England. 

Ila project (made during 2016 – 2017) developed this theme of co-creating with children as they respond to exhibits in their local cultural organisations (museums and galleries). Workshops with children age 5 – 10 years were carried out in three geographic locations – London: The London Hospital School with V&A Museum of Childhood, Bristol: Hannah Moore School with Bristol Museums and Galleries, and Flint, USA, Daley Elementary School with Flint Institute of Arts. This project (ILA) led to the making of performance work Found. Found is an interactive performance-work for two professional dancers and a professional musician. This phase was supported through funding from Middlesex University, Pavilion Dance South West, Arts Council England.

In 2018 Light Steps was adapted for younger audiences 0-3 years. This included changing the performance to include only two dancers and one musician. Found and the newer pre-school version of Light Steps were toured across England. This brought the works (and voices of the young people who had co-created them) to young audiences outside of the areas the works were created. Audience feedback sessions were conducted to better understand if these young audiences absorbed the ideas that incited the works. Thus after the performances young people who had not been involved in their creation responded to the work with conversation, drawing and impromptu dancing. This phase was funded by Middlesex University, Arts Council England, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Hopper project (Take Art & China Plate).

The journal article ‘…wind in my hair I feel a part of everywhere…’: creating dance for young audiences narrates emplacement’ published Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices (2019) was written as reflection in the 2018 tour of Light Steps and Found. 

The impact of this work has extended cultural participation and overcome barriers to engagement with dance. This is includes increasing the confidence of arts organisations to engage with very young people as co-creators of public art experiences. Also encouraging programming of dance in non-traditional settings, nurturing collaboration, and catalysing new ways of thinking about dance and young children within schools and early years settings. This included 30 interactive-performances, 20 workshops, in an additional 8 organisations and 10 schools  involved in the first two phases of the project. Over 1600 children attended performances and workshops and 554 adult carer/parents, as well as art centres, museums and galleries.

Artists involved with the making of Light Steps and Found projects:

Choreographer, concept, direction: Adesola Akinleye

Composer and live musician: Jake Alexander

Dancers: Anna-Kay Gayle, Alice Cade, Irisz Galuska, Natalie Lee, Maga Judd, Harry Fulleylove, Adesola Akinleye

Scenography: Shelby Newport, Andy  Hammer, Kat Leung, Kate McStraw

Impact