A small ray of light amidst the gloom: Experimental new contemporary dance works for under-fives selected for first Little Big Dance national tour

25 Mar 2020

Takeshi Matsumoto sharing early ideas for his work with under-five-year-olds. Image: Summer Dean.

South East Dance is today sharing a small ray of light in the midst of a period of devastating news for the arts and cultural sector. Two dance artists who have been creating experimental new contemporary dance works for and with under five-year-old children have been selected to take their ideas into production for a two- month national tour this Autumn.

George Fellows and Takeshi Matsumoto are two of four artists who have been taking part in Little Big Dance, a major three-year national initiative created by South East Dance in partnership with DanceEast, Take Art and Yorkshire Dance with more than £371,000 investment from Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Arts Council England.

Since November 2019 all four artists have been using new learning about the developmental milestones that impact on very young children’s engagement with art to shape new work under the guidance of early years specialists, choreographers and a dramaturg.

In collaboration with under five-year-olds at Early Years settings in areas of the country with little or no access to the arts, they’ve been gathering and testing ideas for new dance works designed specifically with them and their families in mind.

At a sharing day on 28 February two of the four were selected to go on to production and tour:

Takeshi Matsumoto’s piece Club Origami is an immersive participatory performance for families with children aged 2+. Combining origami making, dance, fashion and live music Club Origami invites us to enter a world alive with animism – where spirits inhabit objects, natural phenomena, animals and humans.

Takeshi says: “It’s wonderful to work with children at an age when they are still free from social norms and rules, when they are full of spontaneity and playfulness. Testing ideas with them is to collaborate with and be inspired by them. Becoming a Little Big Dance Touring Artist means that I am lucky enough to continue exploring how placing children’s participation at the heart of the creative process can open new doors for my practice.”

Four Hands will be taking their as yet untitled work to production under the direction of George Fellows. A work that challenges the boundaries of children’s theatre, the piece draws attention to issues surrounding mental health and the childhood experience. At times quiet and tentative and at other times an explosion of pure joy, this unique work acknowledges and validates the depth and intensity of the emotional landscape of young children and their carers.

“It’s be wonderful to have had the opportunity to dig deep into the subject matter of this work,” says George. “I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with some incredible artists and, through the support of the Little Big Dance team, have begun a process that feels exciting and profound. I’m looking forward to developing the work for the forthcoming tours and collaborating with a design team that will enhance the process that we have begun.”

Cath James, Artistic Director at South East Dance says: “It was a delight to see how all four ideas have evolved but we were particularly taken with George and Takeshi’s approach. These are bold and brave works for very young children that will challenge everyone’s perceptions of what a brilliant dance performance for early years looks like.

“We’re absolutely committed to supporting these artists financially through this difficult time to ensure they’re able to create this work so that it can be shared with under-fives and their families once this period of uncertainty passes.”

At the heart of Little Big Dance is the desire to take the dance sector on a journey that will raise the quality of dance works for very young children, and place a higher value on them and their families as important audiences for the arts. Evaluation is being carried out by Dr Angela Pickard of Canterbury Christ Church University, who will contribute to a raft of tools forming a best practice blueprint to support the dance sector in working with and for pre-school children.

The dates and venues for the first Little Big Dance national tour will be announced later this year.

Little Big Dance is also supported by Dance Umbrella, Birmingham Hippodrome, Strike a Light Festival, and English National Ballet School.

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