22o, how did we, Bicycle Ballet, come up with our show, Everyday Hero
The idea for the show started in 2009 when we were running our first ever stand alone, Bicycle Ballet, workshop in Lambeth and a blind woman emailed to ask if she could take part with her tandem.
Most of my work in the arts, including Bicycle Ballet, has been about engaging people in the arts and it goes against the grain to turn anyone away. However, it was our first workshop and we just couldn’t work out how to incorporate her, as a lot of the work with bicycles is ground based, involving lifting and moving around them etc, so we could only apologise.
Saying ‘No’ stayed with me for a couple of years until the forthcoming (at that time) Paralympics and Cultural Olympiad presented the opportunity to explore how this might become ‘Yes.’
I started making contacts amidst the visually impaired community, talked with Bradley Hemmings, Artistic Director at GDIF, and met Maria Oshodi, Artistic Director of Extant, the UK’s only theatre company led by visually impaired artists. She turned out to be the woman with the tandem. She was brilliantly helpful, giving advice and in particular putting me in touch with Odette Battarel of Pocklington Resource Centre who has been a key partner in the project.
In 2012, Arts Council England and Wandsworth Council funded Bicycle Ballet, to research the potential of creating a dance based, outdoor performance with visually impaired and sighted participants and tandems. We spent an amazing six weeks working with a brilliant group in Battersea experimenting with movement and sound, and exploring participants’ experiences of tandems/bicycles and cycling.
The core ideas for Everyday Hero emerged from the imagery and simple sequences that emerged over those weeks, in glimpses of a world of archetypes: heroes, monstrous creatures, dark scary forests and the parallel worlds of imagination and reality.
And, what’s involved in the making of the show? What are the challenges?
There have been quite a few challenges, I don’t think any of us quite realised at the beginning, the ambition of what we were setting out to do.
Everyday Hero is performed by six dancers, three sighted and three visually impaired performers. The main challenge on the choreographic side has been creating a new movement language, which doesn’t depend so heavily on sight.
Choreography generally relies so much on copying movement to learn or teach. Beyond the individual moves, the visual cue for an understanding of the bigger picture for example, where everyone is in a particular scene is generally paramount and, therefore, unspoken. So, our process has been a measured one, of describing movements, occasionally positioning performers to physically feel the movement in their bodies and, of course, working to & developing everyone’s strengths.
The clever use of an enticing soundtrack
Bicycle Ballet shows have always incorporated intriguing soundtracks with interviews and soundscapes woven into music. For Everyday Hero we’ve sought to extend this aspect of our work, to create a narrative, which is rooted in the movement, with music, sound, character movement descriptions and even sound moving around the space. The aim is to make the soundtrack interesting and exciting to a visually impaired audience and give the entire audience a glimpse of the needs of VI audience members.
There has been a bit of a chicken & egg tension between writing the narrative and creating the choreography. No one is quite sure which is following which, but a symbiosis does appear to be developing and the main question now is getting all the timings right! Getting everyone on the tandems was entertaining, but a few minutes of trepidation were followed by elation at the speed and movement, and the choreographic and acrobatic possibilities of the bikes. The performers are beside themselves with excitement to be riding to our work in progress performance on 6th June, let by one of the Wheels for Wellbeing instructors. Please watch our newest research and development video:
Are their specific partners that helped you create the show?
There have been some very key partners involved in the development of the show.
For the R&D phase, Odette Battarel from the Pocklington Resource Centre was amazing in helping us getting it off the ground. As a former co-director of a dance company and currently development manager of a drop in resource centre for the visually impaired, Odette immediately understood the challenge, providing contacts, advice and support throughout. She also ran inspiring and enlightening, visual awareness training sessions and participated as a dancer in that initial phase.
For this creation phase, we’ve teamed up with Wheels for Wellbeing (W4W), to share tandems for the performance. W4W run weekly inclusive cycling sessions but have never previously worked with blind or partially sighted people. So this is a fantastic partnership and outcome for the project, offering opportunities to visually impaired people across London, to ride tandems and experience the freedom and speed of cycling.
So, now we are really curious to hear a bit about the story of Everyday Hero
We have been looking at big universal themes such as overcoming fears; the influence of others on our lives and that even the tiny deeds people do for others everyday can be heroic – a smile or a kind word will do…
Having said that, there’s still a lot to do, so almost anything could happen
Are you looking for any particular audience?
The show is essentially a street show aimed at capturing the widest audience, with a dynamic choreography and soundtrack. However, we’re aiming in particular, to make the show accessible to a visually impaired audience.
There’s a general perception that VIPs don’t attend outdoor arts events. However, we have found a curious and switched on group who are looking for new and interesting experiences. There’s been a very positive response to the show concept from across the country, so we very much hope people will come and enjoy the show.