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Forging communities
Date posted: 19 July 2021
In the midst of difference, dance artist, choreographer and writer Krystal S Lowe finds ways to forge different communities with countless cups of coffee and focused debate. Here, Krystal writes about finding the best ways to support each other no matter how unconventional that support may look.
Krystal S Lowe. Photo: Sleepy Robot Photography

I consider myself someone who enjoys alone time. I’m a self-producing, freelance artist – I dance, choreograph, teach, create, write and direct. Through all of my work I engage with others but there’s an amount of solitude involved. When I consider community, I don’t, at first, realize the value it holds for me. I have been based in Wales since 2012 and over the course of those years I have become a part of a few different communities – some very small and others much larger. Each one as essential as the other.

Perhaps the largest community I am a part of is the Wales dance sector; I teach, perform, and create as part of this community and most importantly, we gather. The Wales Dance Network | Rhwydwaith Dawns Cymru is a network for all of those who love to dance, to move, in Wales. We gather regularly to connect and move forward – together. This is a community of people for which I learn from and grow with – because together, we’re stronger.

The Our Voice Network | Rhwydwaith Ein Llais aims to provide a regular space for Black artists to be platformed; to share their artistic process and practice with the entire arts sector in Wales and beyond. Each month artists share what inspires them, the things that excite them and how they could push past ‘creators block’ to continue to make. Then we ask questions and learn more – together. I am immensely proud to be a part of a collective of innovative and engaging artists. And each month, when we meet, I have a place away from the weight of all of the planning and strategising to focus on the art; the intrigue and the joy of creating.

My smallest community is what underpins it all. This community of two, that I get to be a part of, was forged with countless cups of coffee, focused debate, and years of time – not yielding, but moulding into a shape that represents the both of us. A shape that reflects the differences that engulf our discussions and mingle within every reference to culture and work. ‘I’m going to need you to make a new sentence’ – my way of asking for clarity when our usually fluid way of speaking falters. A community, of any size, is most brilliant when different minds come together – and our minds are very different. We have had very different experiences of culture, family, education, dance training, and career path. We are two beautifully crafted instruments created in different lands, for different purposes, playing different songs in different genres but the exact same chords; and those chords connect us and bring unity to our partnership. They ensure that in the midst of difference, there are shared values and objectives at our very cores.

I met Matthew Gough, a distinctively tall dance artist, dramaturg, lecturer, writer (and many other things – one of those people who are frustratingly good at many things), in November 2015 at a National Dance Company Wales performance. ‘Are you Krystal Lowe?’ were Matthew’s first words to me; they had seen me perform with Ballet Cymru recently and decided we should meet. I only now realise how significant that decision was and I’m grateful for it. We spent the following five years connected through our work – Matthew invited me to teach on the BA Hons dance degree course at the University of South Wales, for which they are Senior Lecturer and course leader, and in September 2016 created a work on me for the NDCW Stage One event.

We had moments of working together throughout the years but those moments weren’t what created this community of two that we’ve built, this collaborative partnership where we aren’t afraid to frustrate and challenge each other because we have trust and a clear understanding of the other’s rhythm. What created this community, our community, was the time we spent discussing our values, failings, fears, passions – it was the foundation that we laid from the very beginning that makes this process so enjoyable and rewarding. This foundation isn’t stagnant, it’s fluid; ever-changing, developing, as we both grow. We continue this learning of one another, over innumerable coffee cups and each piece of work we create.

Our first collaboration was a Green Man Trust commission, Rewild, in 2020. I shared a poem that I had written with Matthew and said a few things about filming outdoors and that was it – Matthew came to the filming day with a plan, while simultaneously being really relaxed and adaptable to the process. I came to the filming day terrified.

Rewild was the first work that I made that shared myself clearly. Even as a performer, there’s this massive part of me that would rather be hidden from public view. I can hide behind the male-dominated world of Juliet (from William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet)  and the insecurities and unrequited love experienced by Helena (from William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream); but when they’re my words – there’s no place to hide.

I felt I would be seen (really seen) and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that at all or with Matthew.

But as we walked through our filming location there was an ease I realised I felt around a person I spent five years sharing with – a person that understood not only where I had been but, more importantly, Matthew knew (and still knows) where I want to go with my work. Together, we walked through this beautiful green space – sometimes populated by other people and at other times our community of two held the space alone – me, shaded by a distinctively tall frame and Matthew, accompanied by my unending questions about their musical theatre training background. And when we stopped and filmed, I moved and so did they. We moved together and captured a film that wasn’t a stagnant viewer sitting nicely while the performance played out before them – no; like any passionate dance artist, Matthew was a part of the performance and it created a film that captured the same warmth and fluidity of its maker. Matthew is easily one of my favourite dance artists. I am captivated by the space Matthew fills with clear, decided movements while simultaneously being delicate and intricate, not forgetting any part of the body; fingers dance as passionately and purposefully as limbs. And when we move together – our bodies connect and articulate space with care and knowledge of the other in a way that is engaging and allows for us to be challenged and surprised.

I love words and I communicate best in writing. The time I spend writing is both relaxing and engaging – it’s my ‘me time’. To share that space with someone else takes negotiation; on both our parts. The first application Matthew and I wrote together was in collaboration with Kokoro Arts Ltd for an Arts Council Wales funding strand which emphasises connection with communities, audiences, and artists. Emerging Artist: Access, Inclusion, Connection is an early career artist development programme focused on integrated access and inclusion – over the following months the programme team will spend time collaboratively developing four early career artists through a series of: 15 professional development workshops, 1 to 1 mentoring, producer sessions, and a supported development of a ‘digital’ work in progress. Following that application, we began writing more together. About intersectional process and performance, the use of contact improvisation in arts and health, and most recently, we’ve been co-writing a script for a film we will create (and perform) that explores touch and neurodiversity through dialogue and contact improvisation. To write collaboratively takes a willingness to allow another person to see your process – the messy bits. It takes trust and a lot of negotiating of personal desires for the good of our shared desire.

Shared desire; that’s the important part. Matthew and I spent five years cultivating our shared desires, and this cultivating continues still. Our community isn’t about ease or comfort it’s about us working together to fulfil our shared desires and objectives for our careers, for the sector – for Wales. I enjoy working with Matthew as much as I enjoy the work we do. When we come together, we debate everything, we discuss the depth of how each and every sentence articulates our vision for the work; we fervently commit to our values, and we discuss the process in which we will create far more than we discuss the product. We shift and manoeuvre our considerable differences to ensure we work in a way that supports us both.

In certain instances, I experience quite a lot of anxiety during video calls with others. Writing my thoughts and feelings clearly is easy for me but there are times when I struggle to speak them. One aspect of my access rider states that when we’re in meetings together, Matthew is allowed to speak on my behalf. This is something that I wrote into my access rider to be clear that Matthew isn’t speaking for me but, in those moments when I cannot speak, Matthew is articulating my own thoughts and desires. It’s also written to support Matthew in their support of me – so that others aren’t misjudging the dynamics of our partnership. Part of being in a community, of any size, is understanding the needs of those within that community and finding the best ways to support each other no matter how unconventional that support may look.

How do you find your community? You seek out people that are playing your same chords – so that no matter how different your songs sound, there’s this depth of understanding that transcends the small choices that are made throughout the course of a collaboration. Community is essential to successful development. And no matter the size of your community, you find ways of working that support all; you negotiate, you trust, you build, and learn - together. Because together, we’re stronger.


Image credits from top

  1. Krystal S Lowe. Photo: Sleepy Robot Photography
  2. As above
  3. Krystal S Lowe, Whimsy. Photo: Sleepy Robot Photography.