An authentic response

11 June 2020

Creative freedom, female ambition and a sustainable dance ecology, we explore the drivers and inspiration behind Coalesce Dance Theatre in an inspiring Q&A with Directors, Fern and Rachel.

In this second series of Theatre Thursdays, we’re celebrating the very best of dance in Greater Manchester by shining a light on some of the amazing dance artists that live here and the wonderful work they’re producing.

This week, we showcase Coalesce Dance Theatre directed by Fern Wareham and Rachel Maffei. For the next week, an excerpt from their production, The Cocoon, is available to watch on our YouTube channel.  Here in a Q&A, we find out more about the artists, their creative approach and why a thriving local dance community is crucial to their work.

1) Hi Coalesce, great to welcome you as part of Theatre Thursdays. To get started, can you introduce yourselves to our readers. 

Fern  We are Fern and Rachel, the artistic directors of Coalesce Dance Theatre. Both of us are based in Greater Manchester. I grew up in Cambridge and moved up north to study.

Rachel  I’m originally from Wilmslow in Cheshire. We both work full time running the company.

Fern  Coalesce is most certainly a labour of love, but we wouldn’t have it any other way!

2) Tell us about your dance background.

Rachel  I began dancing at an early age, participating in ballet, tap, modern and jazz at my local dance school.

Fern  As a child I couldn’t choose between playing football or ballet lessons, so I did both without much conviction. When I re-found dance as a teenager, that’s when it became really important to me.

Rachel  We both went to study Dance at The University of Salford, which I think we both agree was a wonderful experience. That is where we met and founded Coalesce.

Fern  Coalesce has achieved a lot in a short space of time. I don’t think either of us could have imagined how things would blossom and develop.

Rachel  Having established the company in 2018, we’ve developed and shared work throughout the UK, received various commissions, and regular funding from Arts Council England, and created a thriving educational outreach sector of our organisation.

Fern  We are unapologetically ambitious in our goals for the company and we want to encourage other female creatives to be fearless in their endeavours. Female ambition needs to be celebrated.

3) Tell us about your production that is been featured in the Theatre Thursdays’ series.

Rachel  We are sharing with you the latest trailer from our newly re-developed work, The Cocoon. Early research began on this piece back in June 2019. It has since been developed into the company’s first full length work.

Fern  We recently performed this work in venues in London and Manchester. Luckily, we got to share the work with live audiences before everything went into lockdown.

Rachel   The Cocoon is a raw and uplifting celebration of womanhood, exploring the female experience and drawing on stories gathered and shared by women’s groups across Greater Manchester. This work searches to connect women to each other, and to themselves.

Fern  We wanted to develop a work that gave women a voice and a platform to share their stories. To do this, we had to build an environment that nurtured support and empathy with everyone involved; audiences, project participants, and the cast. I think this is what’s truly at the base of this work.

4) What is your choreographic process?

Rachel  As a company we like to work closely with our dancers. We place them right at the heart of our practice. We encourage the artists that we work with to really bring themselves into the process. It makes each work we create unique to that group of individuals.

Fern  We often work with improvisation to find authentic responses to an idea or theme. We do a lot of play and exploration before things start to become more solid and set. Myself and Rachel always have an idea of how we want things to develop. We spend a lot of time walking that fine line between guiding the process and allowing a freedom to allow anything to happen.

5) Why does a dance community in Greater Manchester matter to you?

Fern  For the Manchester dance community to continue growing and thriving there has to be the right infrastructure in place. To implement that, we ultimately need artists to choose Manchester as a place to work and be creative. We also need to ensure the right support is in place to allow them to do this successfully. It’s a delicate balancing act. A big part of our working practice is trying to assist in the building and development of a sustainable dance ecology in the Greater Manchester area.

Rachel  A thriving ecology creates opportunity and we all need that at every stage of development. Places to share work, training opportunities, networking, commissions etc. Without that community and that activity, we would all be working in isolation. We’ve seen it first-hand, with the development of our pro class initiative DanceConnect, the more we connect and share our resources, the more successful we can make our practice.

Fern  The growth of Coalesce is so intrinsically connected to the successful development of the local dance community. We need those around us to thrive in order for us to continue developing.

6) Where can people find out more about you and how can they keep up-to-date with what you’re doing?

Fern  You can find us via our website or through our social media pages. Do give us a like and a follow, so you can keep up to date with what we’re getting up to!

Company website:
DanceConnect website:
Instagram: @coalescedancetheatre & @danceconnectmcr
Facebook: Coalesce Dance Theatre & DanceConnect
Twitter: @coalescedance

Thank you to Coalesce for being part of our Theatre Thursdays series. Head over to our YouTube Channel to experience Cocoon, watch here.

The series continues next Thursday, with the spotlight on the University of Salford’s postgraduate dance company, Emergence Dance Theatre, led by Joss Arnott. Until then, stay safe x

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"10 was such a wonderful experience - I cant wait to see more of your incredible work!" "Effortless grace, strength, humour and athleticism - a visual treat!" "We brought 65 young people to your performance tonight - every single one loved it! What an amazing show!" "This show reminded me why I dance and what I’m constantly working towards! Thank you for this experience!" "Such beauty in the small moments of this show - please don't stop doing what you’re doing"

Thank you to everyone who comes to watch us perform and for all your wonderful comments and feedback!