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Animated Edition - Winter 2008
When time does not fly
Bisakha Sarker, Artistic Director of Chaturangan, the Liverpool-based south Asian dance development organisation, demonstrates that dance can make time fly for patients whilst they are waiting for treatment
When one is active, energetic, full of excitement time just flies yet when it comes to waiting for news, a result or a diagnosis, time suddenly seems to have been grounded, its wings clipped. As life goes on from birth to death we move on with time without much concern for its presence. Our perception of time remains restricted to what the clock tells us, as it transports us from one task to another.

An instance when everything suddenly stops, and we are forced into a situation of marking time - minute by minute, second by second - is when the time is related to health issues. Time looms large and hangs heavy in the waiting rooms of doctors' surgeries, hospitals, recovery rooms, labour wards and its effects can be felt even in the intimate privacy of the homes of individuals waiting for news or a phone call.

Good or bad, the actual news is something that one can deal with in a dignified way. It is the waiting time that is filled with uncertainty, fear, impatience, irritation and depression. Waiting takes away our control and along with that our motivation. We put life on hold. We are scared to hope. The mind is left without an anchor.

At those difficult moments art can offer dreams and invitations to explore alternative possibilities. Art gives permission to enter a world of imagination, where one can again be 'in control'. Art sets a different agenda, a different sense of time, a different take on permanence. It may not alter the situation but can instil a sense of satisfaction/achievement, often enough to change an attitude and give courage.

Earlier this year, The Liverpool Culture Company, in partnership with Liverpool Primary Care Trust (PCT), invited tenders from a range of arts organisations to deliver a city wide arts and health initiative that addresses the issues of 'Waiting'. Three very different organisations were awarded the tender - Foundation for Art and Technology (FACT), The Comedy Trust and Chaturangan. As theartistic director of Chaturangan I recognised this as a good opportunity to get involved in an upcoming area of growth - dance and health.

Chaturangan's proposal was based around six workshops where we wanted to put dance and movement based activity right at the middle of real stressful situations of waiting. Our programme took us from the Parkinson's Disease Society (a support group for the patients and their families) to The Haematology clinic and Oncology Ward of the Royal Liverpool Hospital; from the ante-natal clinic of Liverpool Women's Hospital to the gardens of The Woodland Hospice in the grounds of Fazakerley Hospital.

Most of the time we worked in a team ofthree - a dancer, a musician, and a poet. Patient confidentiality meant we could have only restricted photographic documentation for just one session. We devised activities that were well paced, not too long and could be dipped in and out of and have a number of different routes/possibilities of development. The activities were based on storytelling and related movements. Simple props like ribbons, feathers and paper boats were used to help the participants to respond with their own creativity.

It has been an extraordinary journey, at times full of self doubt and sickening nervousness. How can any one walk into a situation of such real stress and propose to do a physical activity let alone dance? Then again we came across many precious moments of pure joy and true rewards too, when we saw tense faces relax into smiles and heard sounds of laughter coming from otherwise intense and often depressing waiting areas.

This creative engagement helped restless anxious minds to find an anchor and to loose the track of time. The patients endorsed that had they not joined in the activity they would have looked at the watch every five minutes and, in this way, they did not know how the time passed. Sensitive creative works like these need team work .The other artists who had contributed hugely to the creative process were Ali Harwood (artist), Chris Davies (musician), Dave Ward (poet), Kevin Patton (musician), Noelle Williamson (painter), Simon Richardson (Photographer), Vina Ladwa (dancer). Dance film-maker Gina Czarnecki observed the sessions and is currently making the film that will reflect the moods of the sessions and can be screened at the waiting rooms.

The medical profession aims to cure. Art makes a less permanent promise. Engagement with art does not get rid of the medical problems but can fill mind with a 'brightness of being'. As the patients, carers, staff and the companions feel energised, hopes and dream replaces fear and anxiety.

contact bisakha@blueyonder.co.uk

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Animated: Winter 2008