Ahead of the premiere of new outdoor dance work by Stopgap’s senior dance artist Chris Pavia, Executive Producer Sho Shibata shares an insight to Chris and his work and invites other key industry players to support more marginalised artists.
Listen to an audio version of this blog read by Sho...
Chris has been working with Stopgap as a dance artist for 25 years, and he is premiering his new outdoor piece called ‘Echoes from the earth’ on 26th August in the grounds of Petworth House in West Sussex. The work will then tour to other green spaces around the south of England in September through the support of the South Downs National Park Authority. ‘Echoes’ is Chris’s fifth major commission, with his first being The Awakening in 2014. The Awakening made him the first choreographer with Down’s Syndrome to make work for national touring.
Chris worked predominantly as a performer for Stopgap from 1999, but alongside his performances, the company continuously invested in his interest in choreography and he became predominantly a dance-maker in 2016. Chris has been a pioneer in dance – he became the first artist with Down’s syndrome to present work at The Place’s emerging artist festival “Resolution!” in 2009, which eventually led him to make The Awakening and other works. His most recent project was ‘Beyond the Waves’, a film installation commissioned by the Watts Gallery. This can still be seen at the Gallery until the 2nd October. Link to the event is at the end of this blog.
Echoes from the Earth Captured During Rehearsals
Dancing amongst old stone columns, Jonathan, a white male standing dancer stands on the left watching Abbie, a white female dancer, as she dives towards him with arms raised and head lowered.
Jonathan, wearing a red sports top, weaves back through the limbs of a tree. His arms above his head and his gaze up to the sky, he is suspended.
Jonathan twists and looks back at Abbie who is directly behind him. They gaze at each other. Jonathan wears a bright blue sports jacket and Abbie wears a pale purple grey jumper.
Chris wanted a new challenge with ‘Echoes’. It’s a site specific duet set in the green grounds of Petworth House, and it involves promenade dance work where the audience follow a pathway set by the dancers.
The work is characteristically Chris.
It’s mesmeric with a deep undercurrent of darkness. Themes include being afraid of the unknown and being lost, but the work ultimately moves towards some kind of resolution. His choreographic material is distinctive, reflecting his own fluid style interjected by laboured, ponderous moments that seem to weigh down the performers. His dancers Abbie Thompson and Jonathan Mewett, composer Dougie Evans, costume designer Ryan Laight and choreographic support Thomas Goodwin all collaborated brilliantly to bring Chris’s vision alive. I’ve written more about the importance of putting together the right kind of collaborators for Chris previously, link to which is at the end of this blog.
But this time around, I wanted to shift the focus more onto the role that Stopgap played in bringing external partners together. Stopgap grew as an organisation alongside Chris and his pioneering colleagues. After starting out as a community group in the mid 90s, it became a core funded organisation of the Arts Council in 2006 and began touring nationally and internationally in 2008. By 2014, the company had built its profile enough to convince partners to support Chris to make and tour The Awakening, the success of which opened the door for him to gain a commission from Unlimited and then from the Watts Gallery. For ‘Echoes’, we were able to secure support from Petworth House, South Downs National Park Authority and its trust body.
I think this is a good case study of a core funded organisation believing in and supporting marginalised artists to thrive. I want to stress the fact that it took the best part of 20-years to bring Chris’s career to where it is now, and there’s no easy fix, particularly as these artists have not had the same kind of access to opportunity as their mainstream peers. They need sustained care and support with a long-term plan, and this is only possible when core funded organisations get behind them. The arts industry continues to struggle to reflect diversity in its creative leadership, and only a cohesive plan and commitment from key players will change this landscape.