The Scotsman Sessions #293: Dumfries and Galloway Dance

Welcome to the award-winning Scotsman Sessions. With the performing arts sector still impacted by the pandemic, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, Jorja Follina, Claire Pencak and Malcolm Sutherland give a series of short, pop-up dance performances in locations throughout Dumfries and Galloway as part of the Dance Happens Here project from Dumfries and Galloway Dance

There’s something magical about happening upon something, rather than actively seeking it out. Whether it’s wildlife or art, the unexpectedness of it adds another layer of enjoyment. For ten weeks this summer and autumn, Dumfries & Galloway Dance gifted local people with exactly that – mini “happenings” that were caught, rather than sought, as they went about their day. Delivering over 60 pop-up performances in 30 locations across the region, dancers Jorja Follina, Claire Pencak and Malcolm Sutherland made parks, beaches, forests, playparks, riversides and pavements their temporary home, the ground beneath their feet alternating between dewy grass, hard tarmac, wet sand and crunchy autumn leaves.

Created by choreographers from a range of backgrounds, including hip hop, aerial and contemporary, each of the five pieces they performed came with its own set of props, costumes and mood. Some works were serious, some playful, leading to numerous conversations with curious passers-by – and attracting several dogs who wanted in on the action. Gathering together a series of these short, surprising moments, their Scotsman Session gives a snapshot of how the project unfolded.

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Not only did Dance Happens Here entertain the public and introduce potential newcomers to dance, it provided much-needed work for artists starved of employment during much of the pandemic. Choreographers Bridie Gane, Tony Mills, Jen Paterson, Matthew Hawkins, Louise Ahl and Emma Jayne Park all created new works, or adapted existing pieces for the outdoors, and in addition to the dancers and choreographers, other local artists also got involved, including designers, photographers, musicians and filmmakers.

Jorja Follina, Claire Pencak and Malcolm Sutherland

For Dumfries & Galloway Dance’s artistic director, Emma Jayne Park, the name itself – Dance Happens Here – has significance. Dancers Follina, Pencak and Sutherland spent six months in the region, getting to know local residents, volunteering with community groups, working with local artists and making connections. A very different approach from the usual drop in, move on, touring model. All of which fed into the idea that dance does indeed happen in that area.

"There’s a dedicated dance community in Dumfries and Galloway,” says Park. “But we know that watching dance is not a common habit for many local residents. As someone who grew up in Gretna – and discovered a love for dance through a series of happy accidents – I think this could be due to a lack of access to regular high quality touring dance."

“Many organisations work hard to tour dance to the region, but it requires people to be available when performances are scheduled and feel bold enough to buy a ticket. By popping up in public places, we created a no-pressure environment to watch dance, chat to the people performing it and hopefully spark an interest. And for those already familiar with watching dance, it created an opportunity to see performance in the spaces they move through in their everyday lives.”

For more on Dumfries and Galloway Dance, visit https://www.dumfriesandgalloway.dance/

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