Folkestone Library Sassoon Gallery Residency

Sophie in space first day

A few months after our first meeting Sophie moved to Folkestone and we set to work. From the get go we got on very well in a very straightforward way; our differences and things in common complementing each other effectively and enjoyably. She has a long structured formal dance training and strong facility for Choreography, Ballet, Tap and Pilates, deep anatomical and remedial knowledge plus experience in business and marketing. I came to Dance late in life studying Flamenco, Ballet, Butoh, a range of Afro-Brazilian styles and developing a practice as a site-specific performer and improviser, creating dance film and a range of mixed-media events, processions and happenings, having had a previous career as filmmaker. I had had a longer time to embed into the arts community of Folkestone and her clarity of vision helps give a really inspirational frame to my sometimes overflowing fountain of ideas and thoughts. We also share that we are both very direct communicators, decisive in opinion and action and both like people and like to laugh. It is a very enjoyable and generative working relationship and friendship.

Sophie built our web-site and almost at our first meeting we applied for and were awarded grants from East Kent County Council and a private trust and were soon commissioned by Brigitte Orazinski at Strange Cargo to choreograph the annual Charivari parade, by Folkestone Pride to choreograph during the Pride parade and by Lynsey Illett to do a 2 month Residency at the Sassoon Gallery above Folkestone library.

I was unable to attend the meeting at Folkestone Library that I had set up and was initially a bit perturbed that we had been allotted the month of May which was only a few short weeks away.
I had also arranged that the Folkestone short film satellite of I am not a Village would be piloted at the Sassoon Gallery in June alongside other Creative Quarter Artists as part of the annual Open Quarter. So in effect we were due to be there for a full 2 months.

We contacted people who might be or were interested in teaching classes and started to create a programme, we commissioned the amazing Helga Feralchild to design our FolkestoneDance branding. We hired a vinyl dance floor, mirrors and barres and after reassuring the Library we had all the risk assessments, insurance etc in place we BEGAN..

The vast and beautiful Sassoon Gallery space immediately opened up so many possibilities. Like a blank piece of paper for the artist or the painter. I have loved to have my own studio space but to a have a BIG SPACE again made everything more possible. I was exhausted from having to travel every week to a community centre in Nunhead (S.E. London) just to share my practice and space with other moving bodies. I also like to work in relation to the environment I am in and really wanted to extend the live-dance-film work I was doing mostly in Hackney (E. London) to my new community in Folkestone. Before we began Folkestone Dance I had somewhat resigned myself to being a lonely dancer leaving weekly to feed my need. It’s amazing what collaboration with just one other like minded soul can generate. Suddenly it felt as if the whole town wanted to dance!

We offered the space every morning 10-1 (and often in afternoons) to Artists using the body in their practice and organised workshops by Vocal Artists Helen Davison, Leela Faiza and Carol Grimes (though the latter had to unfortunately be postponed when the Library space flooded.. more later), Drummer Kevin Richards, Theatre maker Matthew Hahn, Dance Artist Tania Soubry, Butoh Dancer Ken Mai. Sophie began fulfilling some life long dreams of adults who had wanted to learn Ballet and Tap but had never had the chance before. I offered one-to one sessions in Tamalpa Life-Art and worked with my Tamalpa teacher/ mentor Lian Wilson. We organised Residency slots for visiting Artists Tania Soubry and Rukeya Monsur (the latter also postponed due to flood sadly).

I began a series of interviews asking a variety of local people to take me on walks meaningful to them through the town and its surrounds (that I will then transform into movement or song and if they want incorporate their characters into the movie). I want to tell a multi-layered story of the town’s longer and current histories and the migrations, diversities, ruptures, prejudices, continuities and transformations. This will form a short film version of my longer “I am not a Village” project, reflecting the influx of Londoners to the town and entwining this with other local stories and migrations.

We created a cheerleading choreography (Me, Sophie deVooght, Ashleigh, Helen Davison and Penny) which we performed at Dover Boxing club at “Fight for Pride” in which Bean and Hannah Revill (Rev) performed a boxing match to raise funds for Folkestone Pride. I also organised a “Day trip to Dungeness on the light railway” to generate performance material for Folkestone pride and the Charivari parades in reference and relevance to Derek Jarman who lived at Dungeness as the Pride theme was “Beach” and the Charivari theme “Film”. We also organised a beautiful public show performed by the visiting Trio de Femmes (from London, Mexico and Seattle) and Butoh Artist Ken Mai at Eleto chocolate cafe.

It was all going “swimmingly”, the excitement generated in even such a short time was palpable and inspiring. My scepticism about Sophie’s dream to make “Folkestone a destination for dance” was due to the fact that I had not felt able to find any substantial collaboration or interest in my interests until Sophie arrived. The lack of suitable space was a huge issue. The gorgeous historical dance space “Dance Easy” closed a few short months after I arrived. I was given sporadic access to the studio space at the Quarterhouse and Glassworks but a dedicated dance floor at the Glassworks had actually been destroyed when the Creative Quarter took over that building even though numerous Creative Quarter personnel had agreed with me when I’d stated the need for a dedicated dance space. Our success at the Sassoon Gallery made it clear that if we had a permanent home then the use would be multi-layered and powerful.

Unfortunately a few weeks into the Residency heavy rains flooded the library and forced them to close the upstairs space to make structural repairs. They offered us use of the Community room at their Wood avenues branch and we fortunately had pre-booked some space at the Quarterhouse and Glassworks during the Open Quarter and we were given some additional slots at the Glassworks studio. The sunny weather also allowed us to host some drumming and singing classes on Sol Calero (Triennial Art-work managed by the Harbour arm). Denise Dever also shared the Folkestone Fringe space for a Ballet class and Bean also offered us Performance space when we needed it. We also conducted the Charivari workshops in 7 local primary and 2 special needs schools.

It was in some ways exciting having to suddenly move the whole Residency out all over the town- turning Folkestone into a town-wide dance studio (we even bought the dance floor as it cost the same to hire); But it was very challenging and for instance we unfortunately were forced to cancel voice workshops by Carol Grimes, and a Commedia del Arte workshop by Matthew Hahn and Rebecca Bogue as well as a planned Residency by Rukeya Monsur.

The Library space had given us an indispensable base of operations for responding to the multitude of ideas and suggestions we were receiving and developing our own and the energy it takes to organise working in multiple spaces inevitably takes energy away from our further development. Dance, as much as or perhaps more than other art forms needs a constant focus, practice and dedication. Our 3 month Launch series has brought us a group of supporters keen to work with us and also to help us to find a permanent space.

The challenges due to changes in venue and our limited capacity to publicise make it I think even more impressive how very much we have achieved in a very short time. We have more than proved that there is a deep and real need and desire for dance by a wide variety of people here of all ages and backgrounds, that Folkestone can indeed very much become a “Destination for Dance” given half a chance. The activities we generated also brought at least 20 Dance Artists I know from around the world to participate in just this short time period. We found substantial audiences for relatively obscure but important practices such as Butoh, Tamalpa, Contemporary soul groove and Viewpoints alongside more obviously popular forms such as Ballet, Tap and African Drum. We connected a multitude of Art forms; Voice, Song-writing, Chanting, Theatre, Drum and had an enthusestic popular public reaction and participation in our Cheerleading, Folkestone Pride and Charivari endeavours. There are already discussions to expand this work over the next year. The Library staff were fantastically supportive and enthusiastic and loved us being there and deeply apologetic for the problems. Cheryl and Louella and Natasha at Creative Folkestone have in particular been very supportive, Di and Denise Dever of Folkestone Fringe/ Harbour Arm have been very helpful and interested in future collaboration. Madeleine Hodge is keen to help us in future funding bids. Jo Nolan of Screen South is very interested in our dance film work. Anil Sebastian and Cherif Hashizume want to set up a Dance studio/ recording studio with us. Dance can connect to almost all areas if life and Folkestone clearly wants to dance.