Narrating Spaces

Watercolour painting of woman standing reaching up with her arms.
NMM, image: Adesola Akinleye

 This work developed  methodology and methods for dance as a way to facilitating the expression of people’s lived-experiences in specific places. This seemed to acknowledge their presence in communities through recognising their bodily experiences.

Untitled: women’s work (Flint, USA), Undercurrents: Flint Water Dances (Flint, USA), Global water Dance Deptford (London, UK)  Movements, Narratives and Meanings: Border Identities (Enniskillen and Belfast, NI), Her Life In Movement: reflections on embodiment as a methodology (book chapter).  Choreographing the Campus at MIT (Cambridge, USA) This work is mapped in the Narrating Spaces web-site 

Untitled: women’s work (2014 – 2015)

Untitled: women’s work (originally called Living Jobs), is an interdisciplinary, multimedia work of scholarly art. While policy conversations about employment are ubiquitous especially during election years and there is a plethora of scholarship on all aspects of labor and, the lived experience of working in all its complexities is difficult to capture. Yet, the immense popularity and staying power of such books as Studs Terkel’s Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day (1974)) and Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickle and Dimed: On (not) getting By in America (2001) underscores that there is an audience and need for narratives about particular individual experiences of work — precisely the type of fine grained detail that often gets left out of academic and policy debates but that art can capture.

The research is dance-based exploring  the lived experiences of women living and working in the Flint and Detroit, Michigan area. It is an attempt to take the body seriously when we talk about women’s work.  Living Jobs is both scholarly art and artistic research using narrative inquiry, dance and film as research methodologies.   In it women express what they hope for in a good job and the barriers they encounter in searching for and keeping them.  Specifically we draw out two themes in brining home the lived experience of working: rhythms and relationships and their continual establishment, disruption, negotiation and maintenance. 

This research was commissioned by University of Michigan CEW/NCRW conference on women’s ecomonic security, held May 14 – 16 2014.

Co-sponsors of the conference: Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, School of Social Work, Institute for Research on Women and Gender

Link to Untitled: women’s work film of the work and research process. 

Link to Her life in Movement: reflections of embodiment as a methodology Chapter 

Soma centred research project
The soma centred nature of the project addresses the belief that the lived experience is multi-layered, and that experience defies the positivist limitations of a single coherent narrative.

We use the language of dance and image as a methodology in order to address the multi-layered nature of the lived experience, particularly the translation from the original sensation of immediate empiricism that informs participants’ narratives, to the qualification of memories as they are solidified into independent events. It is in this translation of experience to communication that meaning can be locked into written text and in doing so become two-dimensional. From the soma centred approach of the research this is too early in the understanding process. By drawing on movement (dance) and image (film) the research seeks to provide for the somatic. Findings from the research will therefore be presented in the multi-layered format of dance, film and conversation.

‘Events turn into objects, things with a meaning. They may be referred to when they do not exist, and thus be operative among things distant in space and time, through vicarious presence in a new medium.’ (Dewey 1958 p.166)

This interdisciplinary research and presentation process allows for meaning to be operative beyond written text while not loosing meaning in abstract sensation. The nature of the topic “what makes a good job” affects people on levels from ethereal constructs of identification of Self to the physical needs of a hungry body. The arts are used in the research process to accept the challenges of translation of embodied experiences. This is done to acknowledge that the embodied being  is not wedded to a chronological framework for meaning making nor relies on a totalizing discourse in order to communicate memory.  

Methodology: A Narrative inquiry / ethnographic framework using interviews and ethnographic observation to inquiry into ‘what makes a good job?’ Six participants drawn from the Detroit / Flint area will be consulted.

Undercurrents: Flint Water Dances (2016 – 2017)

In January & February 2017 Adesola will held five workshops at Odyssey House with Elder women exploring ideas and stories about water and the Flint water crisis which had been effecting them since 2014. These were documented and aimed to ensure the women in the workshops had a full part on the process of making the water dances. 

In March Adesola worked with dancers from Flint Institue of Music (Dance Department) to devise and rehearse a  12 minute dance work in response to the Odyssey women’s stories. Adesola  worked with the Flint Youth Ballet (FYB) dancers March 24-26 and March 31-April 1.  They were joined by the Odyssey house women to finalise the create of an inter-generational performance-work. FYB provide costuming. The choreography grow out of the stories collected at Odyssey House and the FYB dancers’ response to them and their own experience of the Flint water crisis.  This will be a collaborative work facilitated by choreographer Adesola.  We are hoping for around 10 dancers who are secure enough in their dancing to use it to share the stories.  The resulting work was part of the Festival of Dance May 6 and 7 at the U of M-Flint Theatre as well as part of Global Water Dances June 24 2017.


Concrete -Water-Flesh: Deptford Global Water Dances (2021)

DancingStrong Movement Lab. with Irie! Dance Theatre and The Albany. Collaboration in South London. Across the collaboration we worked with schools and local people to create an interactive sharing of the celebration of caring for water. 

Movement, Narratives and Meaning: Border Identities (2017)

Responding to the electoral mandate the 2016 ‘Brexit’ Referendum and USA election votes appear to have given policy makers, it is important that people in everyday communities have modes to create being heard. Alongside this, the surprise political analysts expressed at the ballot box results betrays the need to give attention to the narratives of individual lived-experiences. This pilot project, Movement, Narratives and Meanings(2), sought to use dance and film to acknowledge that the complexities of people’s lives are beyond what can be expressed in just words.

Dance-based workshops were held with people living in Northern Ireland: in Enniskillen, Fivemiletown and Belfast. I collaborated with London based film maker Anton Califano, Northern Ireland based dance-artists Dylan Quinn and Sheena Kelly and Robbie Breadon and Fi Gilmour of Common Ground NI. The project consisted of film and dance participatory workshops that facilitated members of the local communities in creating choreography around the topic of borders, boundaries and edges. Participants shared their movement-memories through site-specific dance and film, in places meaningful to the memory-narrative. This created little movement vignettes that (re)inhabit places of significance in personal histories. The project started a conversation about Place and Identity. Funding from Middlesex University.

Article about the project Border Identities was published in Animated Spring 2018

The following film is one of versions of the documentation of the project.