Barrowland Ballet's Little Red

Barrowland Ballet Little Red.Photo: Ian Watson 

Barrowland Ballet is one of Scotland’s most exciting and successful contemporary dance companies touring nationally and internationally. Based in Glasgow, the company name reflects the company’s unique mix of popular culture and high art as well as their East Glasgow base and their belief that dance is for everybody. It is built around the artistic work of choreographer Natasha Gilmore.

Just as their latest show, Little Red, begins its run we managed to grab some time with Barrowland Ballet’s Producer Belinda McElhinney to find out more about their latest production and look back on the company’s year. 

Tell us a little bit about what audiences can expect in your new show Little Red?

Little Red is an imaginative, anarchic retelling of the Grimms’ classic through dance theatre. Audiences can expect a combination of charismatic performances, irreverence, energy and wit. The dance and choreography is innovative and exciting, whilst remaining accessible for everyone, be them seasoned dance attenders or those new to dance. It is a fizzy, funny dance show that is a joy for all ages, showing Little Red Riding Hood as you have never seen her before. Little Red reunites the creative team behind Tiger and Tiger Tale as Natasha Gilmore works with Robert Alan Evans and there is an emotive sound design including original composition created by Kim Moore and a stunning set, designed by Fred Pommerehn, which creates a vivid, changing world for Little Red. The show is on at the Tramway from the 1-23 December and tickets can be booked at Tramway Box Office.

Barrowland Ballet Little Red.Photo: Ian Watson 

You had huge success with your production of Whiteout and its associated outreach programme.  What do you think were the key ingredients of its success?   

Earlier this year we premiered Whiteout at DIG 2015 before we toured it across Scotland. Whiteout is based on Natasha Gilmore’s experience in a bi-racial white European/black African relationship, and as the mother of children of mixed heritage. It is a heartfelt, witty and innovative piece of dance theatre that explores the complexities of racial difference. Within the piece we worked with six dancers and moved between live dance and digital projection.

The work evoked great responses from press ("Barrowland Ballet bring a thrillingly muscular energy. ...This is a take on life with genuine strength of conviction in a natural, vivid style. We’re entranced." **** The Guardian) and audiences (“Whiteout by The Barrowland Ballet was just what I wish dance to be. Thought provoking, athletic, energetic, beautiful, beautiful, fun, dark, beautiful, purposeful, necessary.” Audience Member) alike.

It raised important questions concerning identity and belonging. These are universal questions but for many non-white audience members it was the first time a production in Scotland had reflected back a show where they could identity with the performers and the questions raised.

The strength of the collaborators was essential to the success of Whiteout. Natasha Gilmore worked with musician and composer Luke Sutherland (author of Venus as a Boy, musician in Mogwai, Long Fin Killie, Bows), who is of black heritage, growing up in a family he describes as ‘a miniature melting pot’, and Candice Edmunds of Vox Motus, director of the award-winning Dragon, who was dramaturg on the production.

Another contributing factor to the success of Whiteout was the outreach programme we ran alongside touring. As a company our professional work is directly linked to its community involvement and the two are interdependently linked.

We ran a series of unplugged sharings in community venues with local diverse groups, followed by workshops and then tickets for participants to come into the venue to see the final performances. The whole cast of six dancers ran every workshop so there was a brilliant ratio of one professional dance artist working with three or four participants. The creative work the participants devised in a two-hour workshop was phenomenal as was their progression within this. There was also a wonderful sense of ownership about Whiteout when the participants came to see the performance in the venue, as they had already met and danced with the cast. For most of them it was their first time at the theatre watching contemporary dance. We are now pitching the show Whiteout at BDE 2016 in Cardiff next year in the hopes of touring the work again.

Your performance projects often integrate participatory practice and encourage intergenerational working.  What benefit or value does this bring to your performance work? 

As mentioned earlier, we often integrate participatory practice into our performance projects e.g. The River and Bunty & Doris and usually with an intergenerational group of participants. The benefit of this is the combination of energies and experiences in the room that rub off on each other. The younger participants, especially young children have a playfulness and energy that knows no boundaries; whilst the older participants bring a focus and depth of experience. The participants raise the expectations of each other and challenge each other to innovate and create, breaking through stereotypes about each generation. For audiences it means the final performance reflects back a truer picture of society and has more layers and points of engagement, giving everyone a means of identifying with the work. Natasha explains her thinking behind inter-generational work in this interview about The River:

You often choose to work with participants who have never danced before, which may be a daunting experience for them.  How do you get the best out of them in a short space of time?     

We don’t hold auditions to dance in our performance projects; we encourage people to be involved who have never danced before. Everyone can dance; it’s a question of creating a confidence in people and not giving them room for doubting themselves. It is up to the choreographer to create access points into the dance so that the people performing feel confident and know that they look good. With dance theatre how you perform is often just as important as the steps themselves. We always ensure that our participants understand the theme or narrative behind the movements, so they can perform as well as dance. There is an authenticity that is brought on stage by participants that cannot be recreated, a sense of honesty, energy and growing confidence that radiates through their dancing. 

.Barrowland Ballet Little Red.Photo: Ian Watson

Your recent tours have developed your profile and led to an increasing demand for your work nationally and internationally.  What are your touring plans for the new year?  

 We have recently toured internationally with our shows Tiger and Tiger Tale performing in China, Japan, Egypt and across Europe. These have been great opportunities for raising the profile of the company and for meeting promoters and other companies from around the world. A number of performances have been within international festivals so there has been demand from promoters attending to perform elsewhere. For next year we have been invited to perform Tiger Tale in Australia, Denmark, Poland and to return to China to perform the show again. We have also been invited to perform Poggle (six months to four years) a more recent children’s production in China and Ireland. In the May and June you will be able to see Poggle touring across Scotland and performing at Imaginate.

Find out more about Barrowland Ballet at http://barrowlandballet.co.uk/.

Photo credits: Ian Watson.

Barrowland Ballet is one of Creative Scotland's Regularly Funded Organisations for 2015-2018.

This article was published on 04 Dec 2015