Observing the audience as they are played in by Pachelbel’s Cannon, the children sit poised on stage, unsettled themselves in their impatience for their guests to be seated. The children watch on and become the audience to the crowd and their peculiar ways; settling into their seats, squeezing in one last word, checking their phones and the invisible boundaries they set around one another, positioning bags, rolled up coats, drink bottles, arms and legs. All blissfully unaware that they are the ones performing.
Contrary to the typical format, the performance on stage begins when the music fades away. With the haunting lyrics of Gary Jules’ Mad World; sung as a cappella by an 11-year-old performer who tells the story about what it is to be unobserved and different; just as they were when the onlookers stumbled in; their familiar faces are those all acting similarly, unaware of anything beyond their field of vision until they are settled and allow their eyes to be opened.
The erratic and then organised and then chaotic pace of life is portrayed through the energy of the drummer; responding to the children as they jump and interact with one another, encircling the beating heart of the drum set as the performance is played out. A moment in time is snatched from the chaos where we observe the youngest child step forward. She demonstrates a line down her chest from collar bone to the soft gentle bulge of her juvenile tummy; the length of the scar and motion the stitches that entwined it and pulled her flesh back together. Behind her, the children join by her side and one by one they are unified in her story becoming familiar faces of a defining moment. Some break out and mime their own scars; one on their arm, another down their face. Before returning to the frantic chaos where we see some children stop and close themselves in, covering their heads or turning tight into a ball, waiting to be reassured and revived by another. And all ending as they did perfectly positioned, the sound of the Canon falling around our ears as though the heavy velvet of a curtain.
Watching on from the view point of a parent, I am in awe at the strong relationships these eleven children have formed between one another. Neither age nor gender divide them, they are all following the same beat of their own hearts; doing what makes them feel good. And in this case, it happens to be: dance. It appears that by osmosis they know just how each other will react next. Seemingly knowing one another so well they can anticipate and empathise with each other with just the turn of their head. And how there is a dimension within my child I have never seen before, yet it has always been there.
Stacked Wonky have teased this out of our children gently holding up the mirror to allow them to see them through the eyes of the Company. Part of this process involves being shown what possibilities lay ahead of them, what opportunities there are for dancers like them. We were fortunate to have been given the opportunity to take our children to London to meet the National Youth Dance Company (NYDC), and share an experience whereby we watch them perform, and in turn, they watch our children perform. Amongst the jaw dropping feats of endurance and screaming talent and tucked away behind the humble aptitude you could see that this group of young people shared the same sense of completeness with one another. That watching this group was just like watching our own group of dancers a few years on, that they too felt entirely comfortable with the people around them because they were also just being themselves. There was an emphasis on being comfortable in your own skin, to be yourself, celebrate uniqueness, and expression; and only then can you hold a stage presence.
We celebrated the end of our visit and the close of the questions and answers between the two dance companies with all the dancers united on stage doing the swish! It was a high that would carry us back to Somerset and echo throughout conversations, 140 characters, and onto the pages of diaries.
When they performed at the Tacchi Morris Arts centre in Taunton and at the Stroud Theatre in Street, and once again for the NYDC at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, the children received standing ovations, no less than these young performers deserved. Watching our children perform to these dancers; they all stood an inch or two taller, a little more sure of themselves, a little less afraid of people seeing them for all that they are. These dancers do things that make my heart sing.
Our young dancers are now bursting with anticipation of sharing three precious days with a handful of dancers from the NYDC who will be coming to Somerset in mid-August to the Stacked Wonky Dance Academy; where the next chapter in their journey begins.