Blog: Kevin
Edward Turner

The co-artistic director of Manchester touring dance group Company Chameleon on performing its production Illuminate among the bookshelves of three local libraries

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Not coming from an artistic family or from a family that frequented artistic spaces, I really understand the importance of taking culture into communities. It allows for communities and people who may not necessarily engage with artistic projects and culture to connect with great work. This can be life changing, as it was for me as a young boy.

My first contact with the performing arts was at school. I vividly remember a theatre company and the Northern Ballet visiting my school in Partington. I found the power and the magic of their performances totally inspiring. Seeing work being performed in front of me was very different to watching people dance, act and perform on the telly.

If these cultural experiences hadn’t been brought to me in my community, at my school, then it’s possible I would have never pursued a career in dance. This is why it’s important to take great art out into communities, and this is why I love the fact that we’re taking Illuminate, an ambitious commission we originally performed at Manchester’s Central Library last year, directly to communities via local libraries.

By doing so, I hope we’ll meet a new audience who like what we do and who are inspired by what they see. At Company Chameleon, our work is layered in a way that it appeals to people who have seen lots of dance and who haven’t seen any dance at all. I hope Illuminate interests people enough to consider coming to see us in the more traditional setting of a theatre, so they can see us perform on-stage as well, which offers a different kind of cultural experience.

Thinking about theatres and other more traditional arts venues, another reason it’s important to take dance and the arts into communities is that unfortunately for some people theatres, museums and exhibition spaces do not feel like a natural place for them, and this is for a whole host of reasons.

If you’ve never been to a theatre before, it can be intimidating and a bit scary. There’s a certain code of behaviour, which informs the way you act and the way you dress. This can make people feel uncomfortable. It’s also expensive so why would you spend money on something that makes you feel uncertain?

The very notion of people dancing in libraries breaks the rules

Libraries are very different. They are safe spaces where everyone is welcome and communities congregate. They are, by their very nature, centres of learning and places where people seek out new knowledge, experiences and insights.

Company Chameleon is always trying to find new ways to present our work and share it with audiences that might not ordinarily engage with us. Taking dance into libraries is a fresh and exciting idea. The very notion of people dancing in libraries breaks the rules. Physicality in libraries is not something you expect see, so in this sense the performances will play with traditional conventions and library etiquette.

This is important as libraries unique position as repositories for information has been taken away. If people want to find out a fact or a piece of information, they go online. It is important libraries reinvent and reimagine what they are and what they do, while holding on to what makes them special the first place.

If we are to inspire more people to engage with art and culture, then we need to bridge the gap and take great art to the heart of communities. Performing in a library is a great way of doing this, and I hope Illuminate proves this point, by reaching out and resonating with people, and through being a shining example of the transformative power of the library space.

Illuminate is at Longsight, Library, 31 Jan, North City Library, 1 Feb and Wythenshawe Forum Library, 2 Feb

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