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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
People matters
Animated, Summer 2001. What do Harvard, Italia Conti, John Moores, University of Bath, the Laban Centre London and Dartington have in common? They all have young dancers trained by Dyfed Dance taking up places this autumn. Yet, Dawns Dyfed does not work with dancers or with artists. So what exactly does it do? Leigh Verrill-Rhys provides an insight

Dawns Dyfed does not work with dancers. This fact may come as a surprise to many of our colleagues, as well as our company members. Neither do we work with artists.

Dawns Dyfed works with people. This is our strength and our ethos. Working with people requires more talent and skill, more patience and more dedication, more commitment and more energy. All of these elements make Dawns Dyfed.

We do not differentiate the person with Down's syndrome from the person who has just been granted a full scholarship to the Laban Centre London. We do not consider the person with cerebral palsy as any more special than the 13-year-old dance champion.

All our people are dancers and artists. We encourage participation and creativity at all levels. We enable people to find and express their own ideas through dance.

Because we are a bilingual, bicultural company, on every occasion that we are asked to define and justify our work, we are asked this question: How is language important to dance?

Language informs and defines culture. Culture informs and defines dance and all other art forms. Art does not exist in a vacuum. What we are, what we feel, what we see and experience, how we communicate and how we are kept from communicating all contribute to our sense of self and determine how we express our intrinsic creativity. Non-verbal art forms are no more universal than literature and drama; they are as intrinsically locked into the secrets of their culture as a poem written in Welsh is locked away from anyone who cannot speak this language.

Some visitors along with many others in Wales see only the culture to which their experience gives them the key. In many instances, they believe that what they cannot see does not exist. They look through a window, which, from their side, shows an empty house. Too often, they do not attempt to press their faces to the glass.

If they did, they would see a vibrant, complex and vital cultural exchange, growing naturally and continually from a shared linguistic heritage as well as a shared threat of extinction. If they looked closer, they would see the value of a culture rich in dance, theatre, poetry, visual arts and design to rival any that attracts the cultural tourist to exotic places.

Working with people empowers Dawns Dyfed to address all that matters to people. Language matters. Wheelchairs matter. Scholarships matter. Art matters. Dance matters.

When the Arts Council of Wales began promoting the Year of the Artist, Dawns Dyfed took the opportunity as part of our existing three-year project to develop youth dance in the three counties of west Wales. The dance development project was barely six months old but we had already succeeded in forming two of the four new youth dance companies for which we had secured Arts for All Lottery funding. Year of the Artist gave us an added boost and incentive to this work.

One boost was that our three county-based animateurs separately decided to use musicians rather than recorded tracks for their performance course weeks throughout the Year of the Artist scheme. This gave our youth dancers a singularly professional and unique experience. Not only did the musicians compose music especially for the performance, but also for warm-ups, cool-downs and worked closely with the dancers as they choreographed their own pieces.

Dawns Dyfed's work with young dancers addresses issues that are relevant to the dancers themselves. The choreography is created during the week-long course and performed once. The dancers work six hours a day over six days, responding to one another, creating work, developing as a team, learning to rely upon one another, working closely with adult professionals in a non-competitive, creative atmosphere in which every individual's contribution is valued and becomes a part of the whole of the performance piece. Each of the new companies had over 30 members, many of whom had never danced or performed before.

In an area which boasts vast and uninhabited countryside, industrial towns, drovers' markets and isolated farms, bringing young people from widely diverse backgrounds together can be 'tricky'. Other youth workers and our performing arts colleagues warned us - that this approach could be problematical - that young people from this town or that area never ventured beyond their patch.

Our dancers develop their own choreography that draws on experience of their patch and their impression of the world as a whole. Despite their different backgrounds, the dancers invariably find that they have more in common than the few elements of difference that separate them.

All of our theatre venue partners have reputations for excellence in their programmes of professional artists and performances throughout the year.

The opportunity for young people to work in the company of a wide variety of artists made the performance course weeks in our Year of the Artist project of particular significance. The dancers were able to work in a charged atmosphere of theatre, music and education, addressing their own issues of aspirations, security, risk, growth, love, drugs, alleys, homelessness, journeys, friendship, loss, amongst many other concerns that encourage and blight our youth.

During the first year of the project, Llanelli Youth Dance Company, directed by Solveig Frykman-Lloyd and based at Theatr Elli, worked with the composer and pianist, Dulais Rhys, who played live during the performance. North Pembrokeshire Youth Dance Company, directed by Margaret Ames and Gillian Henry, based at Theatr y Gromlech, collaborated with Sian Williams and his band who then recorded the music for performance. The Ceredigion Youth Dance Company, now entering its tenth year at Theatr Felinfach and the model for all our youth dance work, under the direction of Margaret Ames, worked with the percussionist, Kris Jenkins, whose music was then recorded as the performance soundtrack.

Over the past nine months, two more youth companies have been established. Ammanford Youth Dance Company, Solveig's second youth company, had the opportunity to work with music composed by Trevor Stainsby for their production of Streets /Strydoedd. Pembrokeshire musicians, James Crisp and Jerome Davies, worked closely with young dancers from Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, now directed by Catherine Young, and performed their work live on stage with the dancers.

South Pembrokeshire Youth Dance Company, directed by Gillian Henry, was the fifth company to be established and is based at the Torch Theatre in Milford Haven, famous for its long sea-faring tradition, Admiral Nelson and Emma Hamilton, crippling unemployment and overwhelming, all -encompassing oil refineries and spills.

Our young dancers have also had the opportunity to work with other professional dancers through the National Youth Dance of Wales (NYDW) scheme of workshops. At an event in Pembrokeshire, the NYDW practitioner commented on the extraordinarily high level of ability and creativity of this group of young people. This company had by then attended two intensive performance course weeks of training and given two public performances, developing their own ideas and creative skills throughout. They, like their colleagues in all Dawns Dyfed's youth groups, had been encouraged to see themselves as artists, as well as people.

Leigh Verrill-Rhys, company manager, Dawns Dyfed. Contact +44 (0)1570 471049.

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001