‘Twenty-seven young people – and I (!) – have had an incredible start to 2015.
We are privileged to have internationally-acclaimed choreographer & director Matthew Bourne OBE as one of our Patrons and I met with him last year to discuss how we could work together to benefit vulnerable young people. It was an inspiring meeting of minds, from which came our first collaboration, a six day dance residency with his dance charity Re:Bourne at Sadler’s Wells. This experience has been transformational for 27 young people, one of whom wrote to me:
“After spending the week following my passion and my dream, I am even more sure than ever that I will be a dancer.” Between 3 and 8 January, 25 young carers drawn from seven London boroughs, four children from Rickmansworth School and two of our dance volunteers worked together as a dance company to devise and rehearse a new dance piece, Our Hands. All the ideas and moves were devised by the young people under the expert direction of Kerry Biggin and Paul Smethurst, professional dancer/choreographers from Matthew’s dance company New Adventures.
I spent a wonderful weekend – so worth cutting short my festive break for – watching the skill and commitment of these incredible leaders as they encouraged the diverse group of young people to get to know one another (most of them had never met before), build trusting relationships and work as a cohesive team (crucial for dance) as the new steps unfurled. Their creativity shone through, friendships blossomed and confidence soared as they developed a six-minute “Curtain Raiser” that inspired, delighted and moved to tears an audience of family members and professional dancers – more than 30 members of New Adventures – at the dress rehearsal on the main stage at Sadler’s Wells on the afternoon of 8 January. I had the privilege of meeting families as they arrived and one mother – who has given me permission to tell this story – told me about her life and what the week had done for her daughter, Sylvie (not her real name). They had spent the last six Christmases, she said, in hospital with her husband. First he had his leg amputated; then he got terminal cancer; last year he died leaving them bereft. Sylvie, who had provided much of his care – medical assistance, household chores, emotional support – was now failing to cope and had been excluded from a school that did not know how to deal with her challenging behaviour and emotional distress. She and Sylvie had spent this Christmas looking at each other, lost because they didn’t have a father in a hospital to visit.
Then Sylvie started our dance residency. This gave her a chance to express her feelings, explore her creativity, meet other young carers and share experiences. As part of the young dance company, she had to work hard, remain focused and develop physical and emotional resilience. The evening before, I learnt, her mother had gone to Sylvie’s bedroom at 11.30pm to say goodnight and found her standing in front of a full length mirror rehearsing her moves. When I asked Sylvie the overriding thing she would take away from the week, she told me: “If someone gives me an opportunity, take it.”
At 7.30pm on Thursday 8 January, Matthew walked onto the stage at Sadler’s Wells and introduced the Curtain Raiser to the sell-out audience of 1,480 people who were there to see his production of Edward Scissorhands. I told Sylvie’s story and when I took my seat in the auditorium, the woman next to me said I’d made her cry.
The Curtain Raiser was beautiful, moving, dramatic and highly polished. As I sat and watched the young dance company – 27 dancers who just six days before had been 27 expectant young people – I too cried. They were professional; they were together; and the dance told a beautiful story of the power of bringing people together to explore and share dreams. As they came to take their seats for Edward Scissorhands they received rapturous applause … for the second time. After the performance, our young dancers partnered with the New Adventures dancers for a bucket collection, which raised an incredible £2,194.50. For me personally, the single most significant donation was given by one of the young dancers who came up to me at the end, drew a £10 note out of their pocket – literally pocket money – and handed it to me with the words: “This is so you can give other children an opportunity like this”. If you too would like to give other vulnerable young people opportunities like this, please support us.’
Nicky Goulder, Chief Executive
Check out Channel 4′s coverage of the collaboration and their interview with Valeria, one of our young carers who took part in the project.
Photographs © Alicia Clarke