Rosalind Conlon is Activate Performing Arts' Dance Producer and has held this position for the past 7 years. The role is part-time (approx 2.5 days per week).
Rosalind was invited to answer a few questions posed by Activate's Administrator, Irene Archibald with the purpose of enabling a better understanding of all that being a Dance Producer entails and to highlight the advocacy, networking and partnership working that underpins the role.
How long have you worked at Activate?
Since 2008- my very first day was a meeting with our Dance Generations project participants followed by a site visit with Kate to Weymouth to the site of the Inside Out Dorset Veles e Vents show. A great first day.
You have undertaken many projects involving older people’s dance, could you explain why you targeted this group?
I spent many years in the East Midlands delivering movement in older people’s homes and realised how cut off from society these places often are- out of sight, out of mind. Older people in communities became less and less visible and less and less valued. I know from experience the valuable transformative power of dance- it can benefit physical health but also wellbeing. It can make you feel creative and joyful; as the Dance for Parkinsons movement has found, it can make you ‘feel beautiful’ rather than just a bundle of medical problems. It also transcends a need for verbal communication and for physical dexterity, as expression can be found within each person’s own mobility levels.
I watched the evolution of a strong youth dance sector, with increasing opportunities, increasing strategic development- ie- everyone working together to make youth dance better quality engagement, better quality performance, better opportunities for participation and performance. I want to support a similar development for older peoples dance, to support older people to actively and creatively age, but to also make this work as visible as possible. Older people are obviously a vital and valuable part of our society and demonstrating that they continue to challenge themselves and be creative and active as they age will, I hope, increase community capital.
Do you think access to the arts is linked with an individual’s wellbeing?
Yes, definitely. In societies where everything else has broken down, you will often see people still striving to create and express. I agree with the possibly misquoted Churchill- ‘if there is no art, what on earth are we fighting for’. It would be interesting for people to do an audit of culture and creative impact on their everyday lives- from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed, notice the things around you that have been created by artists, books, tv, furniture, paintings, prints, buildings, clothes, cinema, theatre, adverts, music, etc etc. My mission is to bring more opportunities for people themselves to create and participate in the arts and cultural experiences, as they make you feel better, feel happier, more thoughtful, more healthy, more valued. Imagine a life without these experiences…not worth living. I am following an FB page at the moment of artists in the ‘Jungle’ which is the Calais refugee camp. Many of these people have been through trauma to get there, and then live in chaos while there, but still find a way to be creative, to make and to share creative acts that either articulate their experiences or bring positive impact to their environment. This is important to them and will definitely be supporting their wellbeing and their sense of identity.
What initiatives are you currently involved with?
Broadly, at the moment I am focussing on audience development and arts and health work. When I say audience development, I don’t just mean getting bums on seats, although I obviously really want to encourage people in to our Dorset venues, I mean trying to widen an understanding of, and appreciation of, dance performance and participation. I was watching the BBC coverage of Chelsea Flower Show last year and there was a garden that had been designed to represent the work of a charity that cares for people with sensory impairment- so each plant represented a project that the charity did and the people that they work with. The presenter asked the garden designer if the viewer needed to understand all of the elements of the garden to be able to appreciate it. The designer responded that the viewer could know nothing about the inspiration for the design and yet still appreciate what they were seeing. This, for me, was a perfect example of the creation and performance of dance. There are lots of different inspirations that go into a piece of dance, and if you know these, it may enhance your viewing, but you can absolutely view and appreciate it without knowing exactly why each step or each section was created. This is what I would like to explain to potential audiences who often say ‘I didn’t ‘get’ it’ . I don’t think the Chelsea Garden show viewer would say they ‘didn’t get’ the garden design, they would say ‘I liked it’ or ‘I didn’t like it’ because of how the plants were placed next to each other and the desirable or undesirable patterns that they were making. I would say ‘go see a piece of dance and decide if the patterns they are making are pleasing to your eye or not’ and if it makes you feel something because you are looking at a human body move, then that is also great.
In terms of arts and health- I am slowly developing a Dance and Dementia project with the Library service; working on several possible projects with Arts In Hospital in Dorchester Hospital and continuing to find opportunities for our older peoples dance groups.
Part of your role involves seeing and evaluating dance performance. Could you share some of your dance highlights from the year so far?
Highlights this year…
· Seeing Gracefool in Bripdort, which one of our Portrait ex members is in- Rachel Fullegar. She studied at Northern and then has co-founded this company who are making really interesting work and have a bright future. She is also a really good example of how to develop post graduation- she has just hit the ground running in terms of making work and getting it seen, speaking to everyone, asking organisations for help.
· ‘What The Body Does Not Remember’ by Ultima Vez at Lighthouse- a really spectacular piece by Wim Vandekeybus- powerful, funny, exceptional quality. My standing ovation of the year.
· ‘Of Riders and Running Horses’ by Dan Canham in Bournemouth- another brilliant piece by this brilliant choreographer.
· ‘Liberator’ by Stacked Wonky- this was in a stunning location- Bossington Head, near Minehead. On the hill overlooking the marsh and the sea. 3 boys aged roughly 5,7 and 9 as well as one grown up performed this, and the boys particularly were just incredible. They held the choreography and the performance so powerfully- a really fantastic experience.
How would you like to see the future of dance in Dorset develop?
I would really love to see some great dance companies based in Dorset and making work here. Cscape is a really great example of a good quality dance company that clearly defines itself as a Cornish company, but tours nationally- it would be great to have similar locally. I really want to investigate the nature and character of dance in the landscape, and support dance makers to do more of this in our beautiful county. I am really looking forward to seeing the impact of having a dance degree now based in at AUB- I hope this will offer great opportunities for the dance sector in the county and bring some well-trained, exciting new dancers to work in Dorset, post graduation.
PDSW will also play host to British Dance Edition in 2018 and I anticipate this will be fabulous. It will showcase some fabulous British Dance to programmers from around the world and it will be on our doorstep- just thrilling. I hope that we can support our local makers (meaning across the South West) to work towards this showcase with work that is internationally tour ready.
What do you do when you are not being Activate’s Dance Producer?
Well, I also work independently as a dance artist/ practitioner. I am Rehearsal Director for Dance 6-0, which is an older peoples dance company based at Salisbury Playhouse. They are about to work with Lila Dance and will perform in the showing on The Deluge at Salisbury Arts Centre on 20th October http://www.salisburyartscentre.co.uk/whats-on/Event.aspx?EventID=1432 . I will also be working on Wimborne Community Theatre’s next piece about Wimborne during WW1, which they have just received Arts Council funding for. I have been delivering vintage tea parties for Elevate at Salisbury Hospital, which is an arts and health project, and has been absolutely joyful. And last weekend I took part in a dramaturgy training weekend run by South East Dance, as this is an area of work I am really interested in developing.
Outside of dance, this year I set myself a challenge to do a triathlon and I have now done 2 little ones, and slowly! So, training takes up a bit of time. I am really keen on cycling and love watching the grand tours- such as the Tour de France, which I go on a family trip to watch every year. I try to go out with my cycling club 'ladies rides' as often as possible too. I also recently cycled on the Olympic Velodrome in London which was amazing and great fun.
Other than all this, family and home, camping, walking, cycling with my boys. Reading and a glass of wine.
Thank you Rosalind.