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Dance Away The Spiders – a short dance review by Pete Kalu

Dance Away The Spiders took place at Home, Manchester, UK. on 22nd January 2019. Ask theatre professionals what group might be the hardest group to work with from the point of view of simple logistics, and asylum seekers / refugees would be right up there. They often live precarious, indigent lives in which even turning up to a meeting can require expense and movements beyond their capacities. To attempt to organise a group of seven into a solid dance corps and to create a work of art to be staged live in a major theatre is to embrace therefore the utmost uncertainty.  Yet working with Sheba Arts, a refugee-led arts organisation, this group managed it. On the night, the performance was preceded by a short video providing glimpses into the women’s lives, the difficulties they have had, some reflections of their selves outside the rehearsal studio, off-stage: their daily lives, the private joys they find there and the challenges they face – the video makes an explanatory and humanising counterpoint to the live performance. The stage was set. The lights came up.  Dance Away The Spiders began as individual dances, each performer expressed her own tradition of dance – Latin American, South Asia, Eastern European and West African – while also delivering those moments of individuality that bring such dances alive. The individual dances segued into a group dance in the round. To a vibrant soundtrack, a narrative emerged of the hardships some of them have faced and escaped, and how, by coming together in solidarity in Manchester, they have managed to build hope, both individual and collective.   The power of Dance Away The Spiders comes not from the competence of the dancers (and they were wonderfully expressive) but from the sense of an important moment in their lives taking place.  The opportunity to express themselves, to produce and share something of aesthetic value with the audience and in that way bridge the gap between refugee on brightly lit  stage and authorised citizen in the comfort and dark of the theatre seats; for all  to slip labels and become in the moment of the performance and sharing, a community of people uniting in a shared will to a fairer, kinder future for all. They took to the stage to dance away spiders, to chase away fears. The dance shone with life and vibrancy; the costumes were upbeat, from bold red, flamenco dresses, to the kathak-influenced, to aspects of folk and Western contemporary. There was a delicacy and tenderness between the dancers. If one faltered, another would step closer, pull them through. In this, there was a template for us...