Do you have any dance your side of the Pennines? she asked enquiringly. Not a great deal no, I replied. There are moves to remedy that, happening right now in the city, programmes being put in place, more platforms and opportunities… but as for professional companies, we are a bit thin on the ground.
In actual fact all four members of our newest company LO:CUS Dance Theatre, were there inside Manchester’s Contact Theatre, to cheer on Jo Ashbridge from Hull. Jo opened Turn 2016 – a two day celebration of five years of dance at Contact – on the main stage of Space 1 in front of a large audience. The John Moores University trained artist, was taking her first opportunity to revisit the piece, that saw her being named the Turn Prize Winner of 2014.
Having had two years away from professional dancing, due to illness, her star billing – Jo’s image featured on all the publicity – and the considerable responsibility for being first in the programme tonight, represented a successful return to the professional stage, for the Hull born Freelance Dance Artist and Choreographer.
To the enduring strains of shoe-gaze pioneers My Bloody Valentine, feet and then legs, just the legs mind, slowly emerged from inside the Tardis-like canvas tent and began to slowly move: legs fanned out and then came together again as if kicking underwater.
Described as being ‘inspired by the idea of “mental time travel” or mind wandering’ the work ‘Going Places’ explores the real world against an imagined one, drawing together daily mundanity and routine, with escape and fantasy. Surprising and often amusing connections are made as Jo presents a picture of what exists in her mind; in her world. The recorded footage, suggests the different ‘mind wanders’, with elements being brought forth from the digital into the real world with precision timing: the egg moment. Visual images are also mapped onto the outside of the tent, creating multiple layers from which to appreciate the work.
Although the piece sets out to be amusing, to be playful and fun, knowing something of the intense struggle it has been in getting to this point, the experience of watching ‘Going Places’ becomes tinged with poignancy. The sight of the the dancer live on stage in real time responding and reacting to the doppelgänger of the past, untouched by illness, all gets rather emotional. Reinforcing the prevalent themes of time and experience, shadows real and constructed, past and present, begin to dominate the work.
In my mind ‘Going Places’ has developed, it has grown yet more layers, layers that exist beyond those which were intended, the creative potential of these emergent layers is yet to be fully explored.
Jo presented ‘Going Places’ as a ‘work in development’ with the support of Dance Manchester, hAb and Contact, through Turn Prize 2014 – also supported by National Lottery, ACE, and by Yorkshire Dance, Hull Dance and Hull College. The previous list of supportive organisations underlines the kind of communication and joined-up thinking that needs to happen, if we are to give our dancers, the best opportunities of getting their work seen on the national stage.
During the months of development Jo has collaborated with filmmakers Jay Moy and Katie Sunlay of Fly Girl Films and local musicians Dave Gawthorpe and Mark Young. The project mentor for ‘Going Places’ was Lucy Suggate. Jo also sought out stills photographer Jerome Whittingham (some images from those sessions kindly reproduced here) to explore the potential of photographing dance and dancers further.
Before Jo Ashbridge created Danza! Hull’s contemporary dance showcase, there was no annual dance/dance theatre event in Hull. None. Dance was very much the poor relation, playing second or third fiddle to regular theatre and local music: dance would be shoehorned into programmes as an afterthought. Even today, there is a common assumption in the city that dance is somehow inferior to other art forms – this is borne out by the lack of visible support the dance community has had, during the wilderness years, before the 2017 award was announced.
Now with renewed will, not to mention the funding support – we have a chance to build on the work taking place in dance studios in the city and then to export it around the country, much as Jo has done with ‘Going Places’ at Turn 2016 in Manchester.
Artist site: https://joashbridgedance.wordpress.com
Photos reproduced by permission Jerome Whittingham http://jerome.photoshelter.com
Turn 2016 is presented by Word of Warning, Contact and Dance Manchester Coming This Week Review of Friday’s other performances