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Dance in Isolation

Oxfordshire Artweeks

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Esther Lafferty
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As part of the Oxfordshire Artweeks festival (2-25 May) Emma Dickson, dance artist and artistic director of the alterative Neoteric Dance Company (NDC) is presenting a new short dance film, ‘A Home in Isolation’, in response to life in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The film reflects the experiences of dancers and other freelance artists in these weeks when the performances have moved online and the future is uncertain.

In this five-minute short a series of confined contemporary dancers idle away time whilst the world moves on outside and each, in their separate small domestic spaces, feels left behind. There’s a stillness that belies an undercurrent of restlessness as we see a narrow attic kitchen, a cramped landing and aimless reclining on beds behind laptops. This gentle yet restless rhythm is broken and rebooted by an injection of energy – everyday dance, stretching and movement – and with the input of some colour, life continues in confinement.

“I am interested in how dance and other art disciplines can come together to create work,” says Emma, “and enjoy creating mixed-media dance works, that draw on the strength of artist collaboration. This helps people connect to both to themselves, and to those around them; which helps them find alternative ways to express their thoughts, emotions and experiences as well as finding space to dance and moving for the pure joy of it. We hope to lift the spirits of people who are spending time alone or struggling with day-to-day life in lockdown and remind them that things will move forward wherever they are.

‘A Home in Isolation’ explores the impact coronavirus is having on both the artists that make up Neoteric Dance Company, coupled with the experiences held by other freelance and independent artists. Each dancer created and filmed their solos in the safety of their own homes, in a space that best reflects their current situation. These were then woven together to share a combined narrative. This project was completely created through email and video correspondence, with non of the artists having a chance to work with one another or to see each others' movement contributions. At the point of this short film being made NDC had one dancer with the virus, one was stuck outside the UK, some had to self-isolate due to underlining health issues and one was pregnant. The spoken word artist created a short poem that incorporated not only her experiences, but those of participants, who left their thoughts, feelings and movement suggestions on a comment thread on Facebook. A musician offered us some music that he felt best reflected the current situation and which perfectly linked with the dancers' movements. ‘A Home in Isolation’ is merely a marker of what many may be feeling and hopes to be a piece that supports viewers in knowing they are not alone, that in isolation there are still ways to be connected to others whilst opening up a platform for conversations.”

NDC’s other projects include the sharing of stories from armed forces personnel in the UK, for which Emma worked with the military community to explore and portray the experiences of both those who are currently serving, veterans and their family and friends. The two short dance films created in response will also be online for Artweeks. The first, ‘Day to Day I Am Fighting To Stay Alive’, is a solo exploration of the impact that combat post-traumatic stress disorder has had on one veteran after he had left the military. The second, ‘Through Her Eyes', explores and portrays the experience of military wives as they support loved ones who have a diagnosis of combat PTSD or have mental health issues as a result of their time in the forces. “As we celebrate VE Day next month, it is particularly important not to forget the impact of conflict on individuals’ mental health and that of those around them,” Emma explains.

Visitors can see each of these dance films alongside a small collection of photographs and art pieces created as part of previous projects at Emma’s virtual gallery space at artweeks.org, where you can also explore the latest pieces created by painters, potters, silversmiths, textile and glass artists, sculptors and furniture-makers. You can also follow #oxfordshireartweeks on Instagram to enjoy the creative talent of hundreds of artists and designers.

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