We dance, wee groove China tour

We dance, wee groove. Photo: Brian Hartley 

This January Scottish multi-arts company Stillmotion were invited to Shanghai to help mark the Chinese New Year by bringing participatory dance event We Dance, wee groove to children and families in the city. Stillmotion founder Brian Hartley tells us more…

What is We Dance, wee groove?

We dance, wee groove is an interactive participatory dance event for families and young children under five. The audience is invited to dance with the company of professional performers onstage throughout the performance, and presents a journey around the world with many genres of music, accompanied by vibrant animation projected on a large screen and colourful and expressive lighting. The show comprises a company of performers: Penny Chivas, Brian Hartley, Tara Hodgson and Joel Wilson and technical manager and lighting designer Sergey Jakovsky. The audience are on stage with the performers and everyone is invited to dance together, with the performers presenting short choreographed dances within the show where the audience are invited to sit and watch.

What did you get up to in your China tour at the start of 2016?

We were invited to perform the show at the Art Space for Kids, (The A.S.K.) in Shanghai by a company called Vertical Productions following meeting the director Forrina Chen in Scotland. Working with Red Bridge Arts to produce the tour and develop this level of international touring. The venue in Shanghai has a year round programme of world class international dance and theatre for young audiences with companies visiting from Australia, Denmark, Russia and UK, and audiences are enthusiastic to see and experience the work presented at the theatre, a modern and very well equipped studio theatre in downtown Shanghai.

In our tour we performed the show at The A.S.K. for a three-week run up to the Chinese New Year and spring holiday, a very significant holiday time for families in China, and a very vibrant time to visit China. We were warmly welcomed by the staff at the theatre and the technical and front of house staff became involved in the show as they got to know us and learned some of the dance routines and translating some of the text in the show for the Chinese audiences. For this version of the show we created a new ending section, featuring a mix of Chinese popular music and Scottish Country dancing which was a joyful way to finish. The entire run was sold out in advance thanks to the excellent rapport between the theatre and its audience. Families commented they had not experienced such an energetic and interactive dance experience before, and it was a joy to see everyone interacting together; meeting and responding to the dancers during the performances.

As well as the performances, we also presented a series of workshops to local schools in Shanghai.

    Photos: Brian Hartley

    What was the response like from the children in your Shanghai workshops?

    The workshop explored elements from the show, and was led by members of the company,  in particular sharing some Scottish folk music and country dancing and ceilidh. This was very popular with the schools as they also learned something about Scottish culture as were made a short presentation about Scotland to accompany the workshop, allowing the children to learn something about our lives in Scotland and they a often had interesting questions to ask about the images we showed. The dancers led a warm up and then taught some steps and routines from the show and the children enthusiastically learned the steps, creating a short ceilidh in each workshop, much to the amusement if the staff who also participated in the workshop.

    How important is taking We Dance Wee Groove out to international audiences?

    In Scotland we have a dynamic and experienced sector creating theatre and dance for young audiences, and taking this work internationally is a way to share this model of work in places where this kind of interactive and participatory work is unusual. The use of non-verbal communication and belief in the value of dance and movement to communicate and celebrate is something that can transcend languages and cultures, as we experienced in China where much of the music was unfamiliar to the audiences but was still received very enthusiastically. Seeing the grandparents dancing to disco and Scottish country dancing was a very memorable experience. Bringing back these experiences to Scotland is also important, allowing us to learn about how we work here in the UK, our cultural identity and how audiences react to the work, I think that the skills we learned in communicating with our Chinese audiences definitely added a confidence and refinement to the dancers’ skills.

    What’s next for We dance, wee groove / Stillmotion?

    Thanks to the success of We dance, wee groove in Shanghai, Vertical Productions are interested to further develop the partnership and look at future touring opportunities.

    Stillmotion is also looking at other ways to develop the work and look to find new partnerships with international audiences and thanks to support from Imaginate and Federation of Scottish Theatre will attend the Assitej On the Edge Festival in July 2016 as a delegate to see an international presentation of theatre for young audiences and accompanying symposiums and delegate programme.

    Photo credits: Brian Hartley. 

    Stillmotion were supported through Creative Scotland’s Open Project Fund.

    This article was published on 18 May 2016