The UK development organisation and membership
body for community and participatory dance
Animated Edition - Autumn 2005
Rhythm is it!
Susannah Broughton on reaching new audiences through community dance on film
Rhythm Is It! is a documentary that was filmed during the creation of a performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring in Berlin and is currently enjoying phenomenal audience numbers of around 600,000 in Europe. Royston Maldoom's choreography for over 200 young adults was performed in January 2003 to an audience of over 3,000 people with Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker. The filming of this project resulted in an extraordinary documentary that has initiated many discussions about the importance of dance and music for the physical and mental development of young people.

In July 2005 it received Germany's most prestigious Film award, the Golden Lola for best documentary and best editing. Royston Maldoom received the German Dance Prize and shared the Schiller Prize with Simon Rattle for this work. At present it has had distribution in Austria, Japan and Switzerland and is continuing to generate much interest amongst dance communities, politicians, pedagogues and music organisations across Europe, the UK and America.

The inspiration for a film to be made at this time came when Sir Simon Rattle took up his post as Chefdirigent of the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2002. The directors - Enrique Sanchez Lansch and Thomas Grube and the producer Uwe Dierks of Boomtown Media were keen to capture the arrival of Simon Rattle to this world famous orchestra and to document his impact during his first few months in Berlin.

One of Simon's new ventures for the orchestra and for the eclectic mix of communities in this vibrant city was to somehow bring them together and bridge the gap between the seemingly elitist world of classical music and the 'general public'.

'Music is not just what it is, it's what it means and what it can do for people. One of the things work on music can teach people is what joins them rather than what separates them.' (Sir Simon Rattle, Rhythm Is It!)

A shared desire for the various teams working in this organisation was to take the orchestra out of its traditional concert hall venue, and find a new, accessible place where a major project could flourish, attracting a more varied audience.

The thinking behind this venture was then expanded by Richard McNicol, head of education for the Berliner Philharmoniker at the time. He had previously collaborated with Royston on a number of projects in the UK and his proposal to bring dance into the equation was immediately seized upon. Royston agreed to do Stravinsky's Rite of Spring with a small team from Dance United and a large cast of over 200 children and young adults from a variety of schools and youth groups from across the city. The timing for Boomtown Media was perfect and in December 2002, with no specific agenda, no prior meetings and a huge leap of faith, the film crew, dance team and 243 young people began a process of workshops, rehearsals and filming that was to last two months.

No auditions were held for this project and schools were chosen because of their geographic or ethnic mix. One of the main criteria was to bring together pupils who would never normally have access to such a dance and music experience. Two well-established youth groups were also chosen so that some dancers in the piece would be able to undertake the more technical aspects of the work.

Royston, myself and Volker Eisenach, one of the youth group leaders who taught on the project and translated for us, rehearsed with each of these groups in their separate schools for five weeks before bringing the whole cast together in the Arena Treptow for eight days prior to the performance.

The film crew became an integral part of this process and their sensitivity and observation of detail was quite extraordinary. They interviewed and followed several participants during this time and gradually three main participants emerged - each of them carrying fascinating and varied stories.

Marie was one of these characters along with Martin and Olayinka. Martin was part of a small group of men who joined one of the youth groups. He was initially very isolated, struggling with the movement and with the physical contact that had to be made with others.

'I don't like it. I'm the sort of guy who doesn't like to touch people. That's something that can be very unpleasant for me. I don't shake hands with many people, for example, if I don't know them. That's too intimate for me.' (Martin, Rhythm Is It!)

Royston's' vast experience in this field of work allowed him to both acknowledge the difficulties that so many of the participants experienced during this process as well as push them quickly past these solvable blocks.

'I cannot see a single person in this room who is not capable of being extraordinary. And try to see if you can understand what we are saying, because you do have the power.' (Royston, Rhythm Is It!)

Like many others who struggled at the beginning, Martin stuck with it and towards the end acknowledged: 'I feel a change inside. I can sense something inside, certain feelings that are developing. I still have to learn how to express them'. Martin has continued to take dance classes with the youth group to this day.

Olayinka was a pupil in one of the schools who participated in the project. He came to Germany under very extreme circumstances from Nigeria.

'I've been in Germany for six month. The reason I left my country was the political problem that happened in my country, which killed my parents and many people more... To leave your country is a very big step. And to start again, to start a new life without family, without anybody who will take care of you is a very big step. But I have no alternative...

By going to the school, I know that nobody will wake me in the morning. I have to go, because I want to learn. I'm very happy to be here. I like to learn, I like to be challenged... I don't like to be free. God has created me to be alone now. So I have to be alone and to be strong. And to be serious with what I do. Because I have to live.' (Olayinka, Rhythm Is It!)

For Olayinka the project helped him to gradually integrate into European society and culture and accelerated the process of making friends: 'This gave me a chance to know people I don't think I could know before. It's very good for me'.

Earlier this year he joined the youth group Faster Than Light and to my delight, danced in the third project of this kind, Stravinsky's Firebird. However, Olayinka is now fighting another very real battle - to stay in the country. After finally feeling that he was at home in Berlin, the German courts have decided that he must return to Nigeria, to a different town, so the people who killed his parents won't find him. He is not being allowed to attend school any more. As I write this article, members of Boomtown Media, some of the orchestra members and many others are trying to seek help from the Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit to put pressure on the authorities to help Olayinka complete his education and become a fully integrated member of German society. He has a web site: (in German and English) where his progress can be followed and supported. I hope so much that somewhere in all of this, his chance decision to take part in a dance and film project three years ago has maybe, just maybe, given him a very real sense of support and belonging that can now help him at this crucial juncture in his personal life.

Olaynika's situation is a very real one and whilst it sits at the extreme end of the issue of dance as an inclusive art form for young people, there are many for whom such work becomes a transformative tool. It can help to open up friendships and networks that were previously inaccessible or unknown for one reason or another. One of the youth groups has expanded hugely since the first project, with an influx of some of the previously more reluctant participants who seemed most unconfident and insecure at the time: they are now flourishing.

Screenings of this film have allowed a wide variety of audiences, many of whom are totally unaware of this kind of work, to see the potential impact of the arts and dance on individuals. The film has helped to highlight a whole body of work that is on-going in the UK and abroad, in church halls, school gyms, youth centres and in youth groups on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis.

' ...I think as artists if you love something or if you are passionate then you must want to share it with others.' (Royston, Rhythm Is It!)

Whilst the film is scheduled for distribution in Poland, USA, Australia and Spain in 2006 Boomtown Media continue negotiations for general distribution in the UK. Nikki Crane from Arts Council England has been a staunch supporter of this work and the film.

'I'm delighted that we have been able to support extra screenings of the film in this country to help it reach a wider audience and predictably it has provoked many interesting and, at times, volatile discussions. The Arts Council's values as expressed in our manifesto Ambitions for the Arts include creativity, trust, diversity, collaboration and quality - look no further, all of these are encapsulated in a uniquely inspiring way in the film. The film also cuts across all those artificial boundaries that we love to set up in the arts world - excellence versus access, social impact versus high quality, community development versus mainstream arts and so on.

I am steeped, as many of our artists and arts organisations are, in the business of gathering evidence, talking endlessly about social impact, making our case for the arts with excluded young people - it's a heavy burden but a necessary one much of the time. How the arts can transform lives - we could not wish for more powerful content - we now need more ways and means to get our messages across and the film is a wonderful vehicle for this. As Royston says in the film... "you can change your life in a dance class" - of course we'll carry on building the evidence but meanwhile just watch.... you'll find it hard to disagree....' (Nikki Crane, Head of Social Inclusion Arts Council England)

These projects have continued in Berlin on a yearly basis with the fourth one scheduled for May 2006. Dance is about to become part of the curriculum in Germany starting with 20 schools in Berlin, and choreographers like Volker Eisenach and Anja Muller continue to run workshops and projects in schools, providing opportunities for dance to remain accessible and alive for the young people of Berlin.

'...all these next years, the arts will have to struggle for existence and we are going to have to remind people that this its not a luxury, it's a necessity, and people need it like the air they breathe and the water they drink.' (Sir Simon Rattle, Rhythm Is It!)

For more information on the film, please visit

Susannah Broughton was assistant director for 'Rite of Spring' in 2003, co-director (with Royston Maldoom) for 'Daphnis and Chloe' 2004 and Artistic Director (co-choreographer Tara-Jane Herbert) for 'Firebird' 2005.

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Animated: Autumn 2005