Blog: Deb Ashby

The Dance Manchester director looks for a new approach to achieving unity

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I apologise in advance as I am going to mention it again – the B word. Whichever side of the vote you were on, I suspect that at present the one thing that unites us is the fact that we’ve all heard that word a little too much recently.

What Brexit highlighted was not our unity but our divisions, not necessarily caused by Brexit or the EU but the issues that bubbled under the surface in our communities, whether that be lack of opportunity, unemployment, austerity, challenges to identity, changes in our population or the prevalence of the human trait of being wary of someone who is “other” than ourselves.

On 29 March, Luca Silvestrini’s Protein, Dance Manchester and the Lowry join forces to mark the day we were set to leave the EU with a special one-off performance of Protein’s dance touring work Border Tales, funded by Arts Council England. Border Tales was created in 2013, long before Brexit had entered the national consciousness. With Border Tales, Protein presents a thought-provoking yet poignant commentary on multicultural Britain through dance, live music and dialogue compiled from the performers’ personal experiences.

The longevity of the work and its reflection of personal experiences confirm that the divisions pre-existed. Brexit only served as a mirror to our reality. As one of the original commissioners of Border Tales, Dance Manchester saw the planned exit of the EU as the ideal moment in time to present this work, which reflects on post-Brexit Britain as seen through the eyes of the international cast and, in the best British tradition of satire, to take a humorous look at stereotypes and bigotry.

Guests will join together with audiences to interrogate how the arts can help us move forward

One of the common threads of the post-referendum era was the division between generations and the impact that this decision would have on young people’s future choices and careers. In this context we felt it was important to add their voice to the event through a trail of pop-up performances, created by Greater Manchester-based dance students and artists. Featuring young people from Altrincham Grammar School for Girls alongside three duets by Manchester-based professional dance companies – Matrifisc Dance with Giorgio De Carolis, Tangled Dance Company and Coalesce Dance Theatre – each performance reflects their own responses to themes in Protein’s Border Tales of identity, migration and multiculturalism. Performed at 7.30pm and repeated at 9pm in the Lowry foyers on 29 March, they literally lead the way into the discourse.

Following Border Tales, the discourse continues with the Big Debate, chaired by Karen Gabay, celebrity producer and radio presenter. Guests will join together with audiences to interrogate how the arts can help us move forward from division by promoting integration. Bringing their unique perspectives to this are: Clare Courtney, co-founder of Heart and Parcel, a Levenshulme community-based organisation which brings women from migrant communities together to develop English language skills through making dumplings; and councillor Luthfur Rahman, executive member for schools, culture and leisure at Manchester City Council, a strong advocate for the role of culture in the development of the city and instigator of the Festival of Manchester, which showcases the vibrancy and diversity of culture and creativity in the city.

Meanwhile Luca Silvestrini, artistic director of Protein Dance, is known for connecting theatrical experiences with real-life stories, resulting in witty shows, both on and off stage, that reflect the absurdity in everyday situations and experiences. Luca is keen through this event “to honour and celebrate all those in the world who have migrated and consequentially contributed to creating richer and more understanding communities”, which accurately reflects his own contribution across the 22 years of the company’s history.

Art should say something. Artistic voices challenge and question our point of view and reality bu, not only this, the arts go further, bringing people together through shared activities and experiences. They enable increased understanding, so that the person who doesn’t look or live like us is no longer “other” or “them”.

Border Tales is a work that does all of this. As the rift in politics grows deeper, surely it’s time for a different solution to division, a new approach to achieving unity.

Luca Silvestrini’s Protein presents Border Tales at the Lowry at 9.15pm, Friday 29 March

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