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Collective IDentity
Date posted: 09 December 2021
At the end of 2021 dance artist Danielle Teale reflects upon a multidisciplinary programme for people with Parkinson’s that was experienced during pandemic times and shares her passion for co-creation, a sense of self and love!

It’s timely that at the end of 2021 I’m invited to write this piece sharing practice from Collective IDentity (CID Project). At a time of great change, uncertainty, and reflection, this programme of work evolved with a simple core aim: to support dancers to compassionately acknowledge the situation that we found ourselves in (it was during the third national lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic that we began this work), and sensitively look towards a process of transition that we hoped would find us stepping confidently back out into the world of in-person connection once again. We have offered throughout this year, the opportunity to ‘come as you are’, ‘share as you are’ and bring the challenges of our pandemic lives together to connect and unite us. We knew we would be changed; stronger, connected, and ready to invite relationships of intimacy and touch back into our lives as the project evolved.

So, what is the CID Project? The title Collective IDentity, or CID, represents the core themes of the project; collectivity, identity, compassion, and care. It has been designed for people with Parkinson’s, led by myself alongside artistic collaborator Jaka Skapin (musician) and an incredible team of multidisciplinary artists from across the UK. The project is currently at the halfway point and will continue to produce a body of artistic work that represents the collaborative enquiry of dancers with Parkinson’s across the country. In partnership with 15 venues and 7 national organisations and artists, the project includes online and in person dance workshops; a bespoke one-to-one exploratory workshop for dancers in their own homes; collaboration in the creation of a documentary film (released 2022) and a newly curated visual arts exhibition titled ‘Who we are now, and then…’ which tours to library, hospital and arts venues (tour October 2021 – March 2022) and is available as a digital immersive gallery for those that want to access the work online.

Pandemic opportunity

The development of the project initially sprang from a curiosity and depth of practice that the pandemic offered us; to go confidently into a mindful and empathic exploration with our dancers drawing from their lives, homes, challenges, and stories of lockdown. This dialogue had already begun in the summer of 2020, when we offered two workshops a week to promote connection and contribution, despite the gulf of distance that the pandemic had created.

“I allow myself to miss those I love, to long for their company, to grieve for their loss” – dancer, CID Project.

We were concerned initially, that the intimate connection that we foster in the studio would not be possible to recreate online. As many of us felt the pressure to jump into productive action on screen, Jaka and I took our time, tried out approaches, tested them with a focus group of dancers from our classes, and became familiar with the software available to us which would create an immersive experience.

We were glad we did, and the result was surprising to all of us. A more open hearted, communicative, and emotionally vulnerable space was created than we had ever expected. We were so inspired by the intimacy of the dance work we were doing, and wanted to expand and explore this practice further, devising ways of sharing it in a time when in-person dancing was still restricted, but digital inclusion and breadth of connection had the potential to grow.

“Imagination - and importantly, also character, seem to transfer so perfectly via Zoom. Zoom projects our work but without distorting the original material.” – dancer, CID Project.

Visibility

During my long enquiry into identity within the dance and Parkinson’s field, I have often found myself discussing visibility, how we see ourselves, our identity as an individual and as part of a collective. Parkinson’s can lead to isolation and disassociation, and a sense of personal identity can get lost in the diagnosis as ‘person with Parkinson’s’ becomes the lens through which all experiences are seen and felt. Interrogating this with my dancers, we reflected on making art, and being the subject of artistic work, and the impact this has on sense of self, value, and our contribution to the world. With this in mind, and with the ambition to create work that was visible despite the restrictions of the pandemic, we devised a way to bring our intimate online experience to a wider audience, through the curation of a visual arts exhibition. Three commissioned artists were invited to join us in our explorations online, and to respond in their own way to the dance process we were exploring.

“I think it’s taken quite a time in my life to realise that actually, identities are not fixed, and that we are all kinds of people at all kinds of times. Sometimes simultaneously” – dancer, CID Project.

The resulting artwork by David Armes, Edwina Kung, and Emma Brown, has been on tour since 1 October across London and continues into 2022 at our regional venues in Lancashire, Hampshire, and Essex. Who we are now, and then… is an exhibition which sensitively articulates the conversations of our online dance experience and draws on themes of identity to bring visibility to the dancers with Parkinson’s. The curation of this exhibition has been a privilege for me and demonstrates an extension of our artistic vision for the body of work to change perspectives and bring visibility to real human beings and real stories.

Learning

The learning that this programme so far, and the pandemic experience from 2020-2021 (and most certainly beyond) has given me as an artist is significant, and I thought it was worth sharing some of this in relation to the rest of the CID Project as it evolves (we will be releasing a documentary film in 2022 and a strand of independent research which has interrogated many of these themes below):

  • Co-creation – this term is one of great interest to me and has featured in my practice and research for many years. Nothing has tested its significance and application in practice more than the pandemic. Co-creation is the same as active listening. Holding space for people to contribute with equality on screen involved a level of empathy that can only be achieved through present moment awareness and complete trust, that whatever evolved was as it should be in that moment.
  • Love – an active listening approach is akin to a loving approach to connection. Love requires open attention to another person with curiosity and respect. It is not surprising that this evolves in a dance setting where respect and attention are offered to everyone in the space. Love is a word that denotes strength, connection, and depth which all feature highly in my work. This word seems to be scarcely acknowledged in the context of community dance; but if we are offering care, and encouraging self-compassion in the process, then are we not also suggesting that love for self and others is important in this too?
  • Ensemble – a word I have previously considered alongside concepts such as sameness or unison and challenged in my work in the dance and Parkinson’s field as I had felt that expectations of sameness don’t sit well in an inclusive space, which by its very nature should champion the individual. However, in this project it has come to represent togetherness, connection, collectivity and compassion. Being able to work as an ensemble is a privilege and offers a chance for active listening, witnessing one another as we are, and kinaesthetic empathy which can lead to compassion. In the context of dance and Parkinson’s, I’ve observed how compassion for others can hold dancers accountable to themselves and foster a greater sense of self compassion – a hugely important approach to living well with Parkinson’s.

“I made the rather grand claim that the CID project is in a way about learning to live; I stand by this. In our shared exploration of what we have in common, we are in the process of learning to love ourselves and each other.” – Dancer, CID Project.

The CID Project continues into 2022 as we continue the tour, release new research and a film (please follow the development on our website www.explorationsincollectivity.com). We forge forward with our studio workshops at partner venue Poplar Union in East London. Our practice is deeper and more personal, and we acknowledge that the value of our time at home is still significant, has changed who we are now, how we connect, and can bring us closer together.


The seven partners for the CID Project are University College London Hospital: Arts and Heritage (Central London), Arts St George’s (St George’s Hospital Charity) (South West London), Poplar Union (East London), LPM Dance (Lancashire), Dance Network Association (Essex), and The Point (Hampshire).

In addition to these partners Danielle Teale Dance has worked with CILIP, the UK’s library and information association, to connect with libraries across the UK for a national events and exhibition tour. Exhibition tour and online gallery: www.explorationsincollectivity.com/gallery

Please get in touch for any more information or questions:

Images: Collective IDentity, a Danielle Teale Dance Programme. Photo credits: Sara Hibbert.