Nicky Taylor, Community Development Manager
It’s the end of the fourth week of rehearsals for Anniversary, a brand new contemporary theatre piece we are making at West Yorkshire Playhouse with The Performance Ensemble. With a company aged between 50 and 90, this is a unique show and a fascinating process. It brings together world class dancers and ordinary people who are starting to perform in their 60s, 70s and 80s – though it’s soon clear that no one involved in this show is ordinary.
The process of creating this piece relies entirely on the experiences and skills of the performers, as people share aspects of themselves. I listen to Namron talking about his journey to London from Jamaica. It’s incredibly moving to hear this statuesque man in his 70s reflect on being a boy. Maureen’s dance with Villmore, shows a tender intimacy, as if she were dancing with her brother, holding onto him with all her strength. I watch Tamara expertly choreographing, finding solutions, teasing out the beauty in the movement of others, but also challenging herself to perform again, something she hasn’t done in a long while. Stepping out of her comfort zone, she is graceful and vibrant.
Some company members have known each other for years. Alan and Alex worked together in the Northern Stage ensemble for nearly ten years. Chris, who has composed the most exquisite music, responding to and shaping the emotion of the piece, has worked with Tamara for nearly 40 years. Others met just a year ago, and so new relationships emerge, new possibilities and adventures.
I listen to Barbara assure a BBC journalist that ‘you just have to give these things a go’. She’d like to live to 90, she tells him. She’s 88. Two years. It’s precious time. It took us two years to make this show happen. From Alan’s weekly drama sessions with Heydays, the Playhouse’s creative engagement project for over 55s, through outreach sessions across Leeds and Calderdale, successful and unsuccessful funding applications, we reach the end of this stage of the Anniversary project – our production in the Courtyard Theatre. Making theatre takes time.
There are huge challenges. I see performers struggle with the repeated action of moving up and down from chairs, the body less willing then it previously has been. What strikes me is that there is so much to remember alongside the lines and the movement: all the stage business is carried out by the company. Hundreds of balloons must be positioned, there must be a chair in the right place or a fellow performer will have nowhere to sit. Care must be taken. And this care comes through very clearly – in this company people are looking after each other. There are smiles, a supportive arm, a little nod to reassure, and it is beautiful. We’ve held a couple of open rehearsals and at each one someone has commented on the supportive relationships between the performers, and the fun.
In the first day of tech, Barbara laughs aloud, as she has frequently over the last four weeks. There’s been a little joke between her and Tamara and Sally. She says to me, ‘I’m really going to miss them when this finishes and they all go.’
Anniversary runs from 14 – 17 September 2016.