What a joy it is to dance and sing
The iconic line from Angela Carter’s magical novel rings ever true.
Song (and on this day specifically) dance, remains an integral part of our existence as human beings. Whether it’s after a few too many wines on a Friday, in your pants as you do the ironing or watching a beautifully crafted piece of movement on stage – dance remains a universal way for us to shake off our worries and get our hearts beating. Dance is at the heart of Emma Rice’s new production Wise Children. It’s a tale of the ever-passionate performer; living life for their craft and love, whilst also shining a spotlight into the dark corners of the industry we call show. For Nora and Dora Chance – our protagonists – to dance is all they know.
Every time I hear that iconic line from Angela Carter in the rehearsal room, the child inside of me does a little jig. The memory of discovering dance as a lost 10 year old remains one of the biggest turning points in my life. Being dropped off at my first ballet lesson was a momentous thing; there was me crying in terror at the prospect of tutus and tights, my loving mum stubbornly pushing me onward and the inspirational male ballet teacher who made the studio feel like a safe haven to flourish. What I discovered was a world where I could express my inner most emotions without saying a thing whilst simultaneously feeling freedom in my ever-awkward teenage body. That love has never left me. The passion I discovered lead me to London and a career I could’ve only have dreamt of back then. Just like Nora and Dora Chance in Wise Children – the pride I find in my craft and the thrill of entertaining will remain the backbone of my life as I grow old.
But life as a professional dancer can be a difficult thing. Like every profession it is full of bumps and bruises with the hard graft and commitment not always reaping the awards we dream of. Emma has beautifully drawn this out from Angela Carter’s novel and the pain and heartache that the performer can feel as they navigate life’s trials: ‘Every bone in our bodies aching, feet burning, exhausted, propping against each other on the tram after work half asleep, half awake?’. Oh and how life and work in the theatre can seem to become one! The physical pain is always waiting in the wings but the emotion that we imbue our work with hazes lines and boundaries that we don’t even realise are there. We give up multitudes for our love of dance and the Chance sisters’ constant mantra to keep finding the joy is a brilliant reminder to keep strong and stay true to why you started the journey in the first place.
My life journeys have weaved and meandered and the amount I now dance professionally has dwindled (mostly now very unprofessionally with a margarita whilst listening to Cardi B). What really excites me now is how dance can tell stories – how the body and our physical energy can bring people together to feel, laugh and love. I do believe ANYONE can dance and as I continue to work as a choreographer and movement director find so much joy in guiding people of all ages, backgrounds and experience to find their inner confidence. Within the work I make (and I believe it is similar for Emma) – dance and movement can let us connect with emotion and narrative where words may not necessarily be able to go. A form that can let an audience make their own decisions about what they’re witnessing, imagine the sensations of it and recognise the relationships between us. Some of my favourite moments in Wise Children are when the dance and the music catch us off guard and combine to take us as on an unexpected storytelling roller coaster – it’s really magic – and I can’t wait to see how the audience respond.
I’d like to leave you with an image of dance that moved me to tears – shaken by its all-embracing connection to the heart.
I visited Blackpool a few years ago and marveled at the beautiful ballroom there. It was 3pm on a Wednesday and the lavish hall was filled with every possible age of dancer dressed up in their finest finery. Couples listened to each others bodies, felt the music and were emboldened enough to embrace the moment whole heartedly. But it was specifically seeing the couples in their 70’s and 80’s (the same age as Nora and Dora at the end of our tale) – dancing gently as if they’d waltzed straight out of a picture book – was some of the most beautiful storytelling I have ever seen.
Let’s remember the words of Nora and Dora – ‘What a joy it is to dance and sing!’.
Tom Jackson Greaves
Assistant Choreographer for Wise Children