Sunday Reads #1: Dance Out

12 April 2020

Welcome to our #SundayReads series, where we look back and revisit past highlights from our programme. In this first edition, we remember Dance Out, the fabulous project, which mixed contemporary dance, Ugandan hip hop and traditional Ethiopian dance.

In an exciting British Council project, in May 2018, Company Chameleon took part in an international dance collective, which blended styles and approaches of UK and East African dance. The result was something unseen and new.

We reflect with our Co-Artistic Director, Anthony Missen.

Tell us about the project.
The project, supported by The British Council, was the first collaboration of its kind and saw three socially-driven dance companies from Ethiopia, Uganda and the UK collaborate through merging expertise in choreography, youth engagement, individual dance styles and outdoor performance techniques.

The project began in Ethiopia (6-20 May 2018), where a week of sharing, creative investigation and experimentation provided the building blocks for a series of pop-up and promenade performances, starting in Addis Ababa before travelling out to Awassa and Bahir Da.

Outdoor, site-specific and promenade performances seldom take place in Ethiopia, so this project created a lot of curiosity and interest for young people in contemporary forms of dance.

The UK leg of the project (22-26 May 2018) involved a series of performances at three selected Manchester Co-operative Academy Schools.  A workshop programme accompanied the performances and introduced groups of young people to both traditional and contemporary Ugandan and Ethiopian dance styles. A co-delivered session by all companies also turned the spotlight on choreographic collaboration.

The project culminated in a free performance open to the public at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester and an outdoor performance in Manchester City Centre.

Who was involved?
Three dance companies. DESTINO from Ethiopia, Batalo East from Uganda and ourselves from the UK.  All three companies are very different in their style and approach.  DESTINO’s expertise is in contemporary technique rooted in vibrant, rural and traditional Ethiopian dance culture, whereas Batalo East specialise in hip hop, urban and street style dance. Chameleon’s dance theatre approach is different again and works with theatricality and contact work.

The combination of the three companies and their influences and strengths permitted a re-examination of approaches to dance technique and choreography, particularly suited for outdoor performance. This led to co-creating something new and that had never been seen before, which was really exciting.

The project also included an original soundtrack developed for the production, and in the collaborative spirit was created by two sound artists – Faizal Mostrixx Ddamba from Uganda and Sheba Sound from Ethiopia.  Traditional sounds from their respective countries were mixed electronically and used in the UK performances.

What made the project special?
What made the project special was the bringing together of so much knowledge, so many ideas, processes, technique and perspectives. Each Company worked in a very different way, in terms of practice, conditions and social and cultural considerations.  The common denominator was the belief from all parties in the social value of dance practice, and the positive impact dance can have on people’s lives, both audiences and participants.

How did the project meet our aspirations?
The project mirrored the British Council’s efforts to bring together UK and East African art, blending traditions, styles and approaches.  Our aspiration was to learn from each other, be exposed to completely different types of practice, and to collectively create something new and unseen anywhere.  Looking back, we definitely achieved this and we’d love to further this work through more UK-East Africa collaborations and exchanges.

Tell us about the culmination of the project at The Whitworth.
Part of the excitement from all our perspectives was that the end result is entirely unknown! At the Whitworth, we moved around the different galleries responding to the different spaces. The performances felt powerful, creative and experimental. We know from audience feedback that people felt like they hadn’t seen anything like it before, which was really inspiring to hear. There is a lack of exposure to East African traditional and contemporary movement styles in the UK and through this project, we were able to bring them together and create something really wonderful.

Explore more:
Click on the links to find out more about DESTINOBatalo EastBritish Council East Africa and Sound Artists, Faizal Mostrixx Ddamba and Sheba Sound.  Explore East African Arts on social via the hashtag #EastAfricaArts.

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