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Inspiring us to come together through dance
Date posted: 24 April 2018
Debbi Purtill, Artistic Associate at balletLORENT, will lead a workshop at this year’s People Dancing Summer School (23-28 July). With a passion for dancing and for people, Debbi is most inspired when they come together… forming a creative community.
Debbie Purtill, balletLORENT. Photo by Iolo Penri
Dance, for me, is about community. It has the power to change peoples’ lives, to bring people together, to be enjoyed and celebrated, to be moved and inspired by. I have always had a strong leaning towards participation and training in dance and performance being open and available to everyone, of all cultures, ages and social backgrounds, and to all people who enjoy expressing their feelings and ideas through movement. Dance doesn’t have to be just for the specially trained or elite; it can be an all-embracing, moving experience, transporting and connecting with audiences and boosting the confidence of those participating or observing.

My own journey into dance was surprising and sudden, courtesy of a newly appointed PE teacher, Miss Brown at my high school in Leicester. It was the early ‘80s. I was 15-years-old, clueless about what I was interested in and our new PE teacher taught us a contemporary style dance routine for her first lesson. I was instantly smitten! Within six months she had set up an after-school dance club, a boys dance group and had invited guests in to run workshops. One of the guest dancers, Judy Webb, ran the Leicestershire Youth Dance Group which I quickly signed up for. It was Judy’s passion for teaching and guidance that led me to audition for Northern School of Contemporary Dance (NSCD) founded by the late Nadine Senior.

Nadine was a pioneer of dance education who inspired confidence in young people and wanted to ensure that there was a place for creative talent by opening a school in the heart of Leeds. She broke down barriers and, along with her fantastic team of teachers, Namron, Gurmit Hukam, Debora Johnson and the late Steven Long, shaped a generation of dance artists. I feel this was down to being taught and guided by a small number of very passionate people whose philosophy was not just focused on the technicalities of the body, but also on nurturing our ability to communicate human experiences through our own creativity.
My first paid work was with Dance in Education company, Nexus Dance and I was lucky enough to work on two projects with the late Nigel Charnock whose energy and passion were infectious and had a huge influence on my own exploration of choreography. This led me to the North East where I met Liv Lorent, Artistic Director of balletLORENT. Liv’s commitment to working with the community and engaging them in her performance work drew me to her and the company where I’m now surrounded by the most generous, talented and inspiring dancers and teachers.

At the heart of balletLORENT’s work is a passionately held belief that creative activity should be representative of the community it serves and this means integrating non-professional dancers into the works through extensive research and rehearsal, and combining their stories and experiences with those of the professional casts. Liv’s focus on  working with the communities around us inspires me, and connects with my own beliefs; previous works have involved toddlers, older people, children, families, and pregnant women and has deepened my connection to the wider community.

balletLORENT’s current production, Rumpelstiltskin is the third instalment in our trilogy of Grimm Fairy tales. Both previous productions, Rapunzel and Snow White included children and young people with no previous dance experience and in Rumpelstiltskin we developed this further with an intergenerational cast age range of 5–82 years old.
In my role as Artistic Associate, I know the hard work that goes into ensuring the experience of our community casts is special and that they are made to feel valued and as much part of the production as any other dancer. Being part of the rehearsals and performances gives people a real sense of purpose, our young and older cast programmes demonstrate how the arts can inspire and bring people together.

It can sometimes just take one valuable experience and passionate person to inspire self belief and my inspiration goes back to my early teachers, which has stayed with me all these years. I can only hope I can continue in their footsteps to be as passionate and generous, sharing this through my own work as a teacher, choreographer and Artistic Associate.

Debbi Purtill
Artistic Associate, balletLORENT

Debbi will lead a workshop at People Dancing’s Summer School on Using repertory as a resource in community dance practice’ (Tuesday 24 July 2018). This one-day course will use balletLORENT’s current fairy tale production, Rumpelstiltskin (which is aimed at family audiences), and extracts from La Nuit and The Night Ball (both aimed at grown up audiences) as the basis for the workshop.

Photos show:
Rumpelstiltskin, balletLORENT - Bill Cooper
Debbi Purtill, balletLORENT - Iolo Penri