Attending the Dancing Human Rights event at The Old Fire Station on 1st February, curated by Dr Dana Mills as part of Oxford Brookes University’s Think Human Festival, was a deeply moving and thought-provoking experience.  Three very different pieces were shown and brought out different responses in me as I watched.

Eliot Smith’s solo excerpt from Pitman depicted the world of the coal miner with his lamp and shovel.  We felt his sweat and labour in the oppressive and cramped working conditions.  We saw the relentless drudgery but also the sense of pride and relief when at last he found the freedom to stand tall and stretch to full height again after a hard day’s work hunched underground.

The story of the Pitmen Painters, how whilst living this harsh working life a group of men were motivated to find an outlet to share their experiences and express themselves and begin to paint is an extraordinary one.  It tells me that regardless of education or training humans have an innate creative impulse and when it is nurtured, encouraged and given opportunity to grow we all can develop a voice to enable each of us to tell the story of our lives and our place in the world through the medium that suits us best.

The second excerpt was from Body Politic’s Father Figurine.  I confess I’ve seen this more than once but such a powerful duet deserves several viewings.  To watch the characters of father (Tyrone Isaac-Stuart) and son (Isaac Ouro-Gnao) in a simple domestic setting, so utterly unable to communicate makes my whole body tense up with stress and frustration.  We can all identify with that feeling of being stuck in an emotional state or response and not knowing how to change or find a solution. It is a tragedy that because we are afraid to appear weak or be misunderstood we fail to share our real feelings especially in what should be our closest relationships.

The courage it takes anyone to ask for help is huge and we should all be conscious within our families, friendships and work environments that although mental health is being talked about more readily, rarely are people actually getting the real help they need.  It was great to hear about the education work that the company undertakes alongside these performances to truly help young people get what they need through learning to express themselves and having access to space and groups where they are encouraged to talk about their feelings.

The last performance was Blakeley White-McGuire’s solo Our Only World who held the audience transfixed with her intensely physical and technically brilliant performance. A soundtrack of poems by Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver as well as the music of Arvo Part gave the piece a sense of urgency and at times deep sadness as if it was a desperate plea calling humanity to protect and save the planet, ourselves and each other. If only we would listen and act!!!

The panel discussion as always could have gone on longer, but I particularly appreciated hearing each artist tell us the story of the person who gave them their first opportunity to access creative space.  Both a physical space to dance in as well as an imaginative space in your own mind to say, ‘I could be a dancer/artist’, and show leadership and the way to follow.

All humans deserve the right and the opportunity to express themselves creatively and to be witnessed and acknowledged by other human beings.  Access to the opportunity to find your voice is vital.  This requires time, space and a guide (teacher/mentor/library).  Those who dance I’m sure share a love of non-verbal communication via our shared common experience of living in a body, although we are all different and have different life experiences.  If we learn to express ourselves authentically then surely that will always communicate to others.  The evening caused me to reflect on my own creative journey and the importance of realising how we all should play a part in enabling and encouraging others on their way, especially if they are yet to begin.

Jenny Parrott

5th February 2020