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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Growing... old
Animated, Winter 1997. Age can equate to growth. Carolyn Naish reflects
Work with older people is fun because it is a two way learning process! There is an immediate connection between the activity, the emotional response, and the feedback. Working with children is incredibly rewarding hot there is a time lag between the learning and a sustainable performance. Older people bring their enormous wealth of experience to their dancing so the dance artist can see the instant physical benefits and personal development which is so rewarding.

I like the idea of growing and being old. It gives me great pleasure to think that we can all develop and that getting older is not an ending but a period of growth. Working with older people there is an instant connection between the idea and their experiences. What is noteworthy is that the movement is often restricted and therefore different that makes one look with fresh eyes. The most important thing is the quality and integrity of the movement. Often it is not the amount of movement but how the movement is executed that is transforming. Looking at the Lilian Baylis Performance Group, I have been able to see a very different dance quality from a younger group of dancers and this goes to make up a rich tapestry.

Dance has a great transforming quality and it is possible to see the immediate change in attitude and physical well bring, especially when the imagination is used as a creative tool. Often it is only a matter of placing a value on the work that makes it resonate. Dance is a perfect medium as it allows for physical stimulation and freedom by giving a new language with which people can express themselves I have heard some of the dancers from the group talking about emotional states by using physical gestures. The benefits of dance are many physical awareness, mental stimulation, solving problems in an imaginative way, team work, using the music as an outward stimulation, but most importantly the sense of touch. Often as one gets older one loses the opportunity to touch and suddenly to move, dance and touch people has a restorative and therapeutic aspect. Physical well being and confidence are spin-offs when working with any age group and this is especially true for older people.

Work with Older People started at Sadler's Wells in 1990 as a weekly meeting Using the resources of the two theatres (Sadler's Wells and Lilian Baylis), the activities were based on practical workshops and talks on the different aspects of the theatres. Initially the experienced education officers from visiting companies were reticent about working with this age group. However, it soon became evident that because the work was so enjoyable companies revisiting the theatre always asked to work with the group. The membership of the club was over 200, with a cure group of about 40-60 attending regularly. As confidence grew so ton did the wish to perform and in 1992 the Lilian Baylis Performance Group was formed, consisting of 24 women aged between 63-84 years (one generation). The must exciting thing was that no one had had any experience of contemporary dance apart from the workshops.

The first piece was created by Roystnn Maldoom. He had 14 of the group making their entrance by rolling on the flour, others were lifted in the air and there was a considerable amount floor work. This piece challenged our perceptions and was very moving, not because the dancers were old but because of the different quality of movement. The performance work has given the group an identity and a focus. Often a major complaint from older people is that the older you become the more invisible you are.

In 1993, as part of the year of older People and Solidarity Between Generations, Sadler's Wells hosted the First International Performance Festival that had groups participating from Belgium, Germany, Scotland, Newcastle and London. During the festival I was aware that there was an enormous amount of common experiences but because each group presented a completed performance there was little opportunity to share experiences. So I felt that it was important to have a workshop festival where the participating groups could work and learn together.

In 1995 the Full Swing International Workshop Festival took place at The Lilian Baylis and the participating groups came from Ireland, Greece, Holland and London (60 people in total). The aims were to break down cultural differences, to have a common meeting ground that would be the arts, to allow the participants to develop a common language and to have air intensive week where everyone could work at their own speed but with support from some of the leading professional artists. The quality that was being asked for was respect. Any "nappy acting" (older people pretending to he cute children) or "zimmer frame mode" was gently discouraged.

During the Workshop Festival week there was a gradual transformation from the tutors getting older and the participants getting younger, so much so that they almost flew. What was important was the value that everyone was asked to place on their own work. When one retires there is little value placed on the experience of the older person and often they are expected to find a sheltered home to live out the rest of their days and in comments of one of the participants, "That's wrong". What was fantastic was the change in everyone's faces and body language from the first day to the last day where everyone danced and hugged each other in the garden movement at its most expressive. I was very privileged to be part of this process and although it was hard work it was an experience that was both positive and life affirming.

After the festival The Lilian Baylis Group has continued to work with different choreographers who are challenged and in turn are challenging. Each of the different groups has gone back to their homes confident in their own skills. They are demanding that there should be a continuation of the work in their own countries. The groups continue to communicate with each other on a personal level and there are plans for the Second International Workshop Festival to take place in 1998.

Carolyn Naish, Freelance Dance Administrator

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001