Creativity, joy, soul and happiness: Eliot Smith Dance perform AWAKEN at Bradford Cathedral this June

On June 19th Eliot Smith Dance presents AWAKEN – a triple bill of bold and exciting contemporary works, presented in partnership with Kala Sangam and Bradford Cathedral. We caught up with Eliot Smith ahead of the performance the night after a performance at the Journal Culture Awards to ask him about the background to his career as a dancer and what we can expect from the show, but firstly on how he was feeling after very little sleep!

Artemis clown

It was a full day and a full night, and I’m now in London on four hours sleep! We’ve just finished our spring season which involves touring three works, which were premiered at the SAGE Gateshead last year, and that takes us to our rural venues, which we love to engage in, like memorial halls, churches and cathedrals, across the north east, taking dance to areas that are less engaged with the arts, performing in halls and spiritual places, and theatres, so I’m still coming down from that type of season, but I’m getting ready for Bradford Cathedral which we’re very excited about!

How did Eliot Smith Dance come to be?

We’re based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne [and are] a professional touring contemporary dance company. I was born and raised in the North East, something that I’m very passionate about as the North is very rich in culture, art and heritage, and I think that inspires me. It makes my job much easier as I’m naturally inspired. We are a company that comprises of technical and theatrically accomplished male and female dancers that are drawn from around the world. We’ve had dancers from Germany, France, Colombia, New Zealand and Spain, and in the performance at Bradford Cathedral there will be myself, a principal dancer Yamit Salazar who is Colombian and Gemma Paganelli who is Italian, so it brings a really diverse perspective to the performance. The company is eight years old and we have a lot of ambition for our tenth anniversary, which includes developing the Smith Method, a national tour, going back to where we performed previously – Paris, New York, Italy. We also commission work, for people to create pieces for the company. It’s not just myself who makes the work. I should mention that a lot of my early works have been inspired by my spirituality. I am a practicing Catholic, which I do keep quite quiet. I don’t really put on my faith to others unless they ask. We’ve performed extensively across the North East. I feel that, when we perform in these spaces, it gives the sense of magical, natural and spiritual evolution. It enriches and empowers our performances. It gives the audience a very different perspective on the dance works than what you would see at a typical theatre, and I love that. I always hear that from the audiences, that they’re always inspired when they come to see our works – that they’re seeing them in a different perspective.

Could you tell us a little about ‘AWAKEN’?

There are three works that we’re bringing to Bradford Cathedral: one of them is called ‘Artemis Clown’ which is by Rosie Kay. It’s just been on tour. It’s a new work and a solo piece, and what’s magical about that particular work, is that it draws upon beauty, humour, fragility and strength, with the title referring to the goddess Artemis (goddess of wild animals, childbirth and virginity) and a reference to the clown and Pierrot. It gives a sense of fluidity within the movement and it’s something that the audience can acknowledge and enjoy in abstract way.

The second piece is a trio called ‘We Got the Beat’ which is a work choreographed by Maurice Causey in 2016. It’s set to music by composer and musician Gyorgy Ligeti . It’s a playful type of technical work created on myself, Gemma and Yamit. What will be interesting about this work will be seeing it in Bradford Cathedral so it’s allowing the dancers to transform this rich space with the culture in the body, and helping the audience see different perspectives.

The last work – ‘After the Rite’ – is a work performed by myself. It is quite a special, sentimental, personal work. I say that because it’s the last piece I’ve created looking at my spiritual background. It’s a work created in 2013. It’s my perspective on looking at what happened after the ‘Rite of Spring’. I studied at the Martha Graham school and at that time I was asked to create a solo. I came back to the UK and premiered this inside St. Mary’s Cathedral. This is my interpretation of what happened after the sacrifice, looking at death and resurrection from a Christian perspective. It’s set to Carl Nielsen’s Rhapsody Overture and James MacMillan’s Father, into thy hands I commend my Spirit, from Seven Last Words from the Cross. For those who don’t know McMillan – he’s a Scottish and Catholic Composer who’s works have been created for the Pope. That particular composed music fits very neatly with the solo. The bit that I’m really looking forward to, and this is very exciting, is that we’re working with Alex Berry at Bradford Cathedral, who will be featuring and playing over the portion of the track at the end, to give a real sense of jubilance and revelation within the Cathedral. It’ll be really interesting to have the mixture of music, dance, organ and the heritage of Bradford Cathedral happening at once. It’s going to be really exciting!

Going to places like Bradford Cathedral is such an honour for us as dancers, and the audience, and I’m aware the Cathedral has such history, and that people have worshipped there for some long. It’s such an honour that we’re performing in the same space that people have worshipped in for centuries and even today, and I hope that we will be do justice to that. I’m very much excited.

We got the Beat

Is the live organ accompaniment important to you?

Very much so. The last six months I’ve been working with live musicians, such as Jason Holcomb, our trombonist. I’ve worked previously with Dominic White, part of the Dominican order, and he’s sometimes played the piano or the organ at St. Dominic’s Church in Newcastle, and it just gives such an elevated feel, having live organ. It’s very different to playing live organ from CD or a recording. You can feel the organ run through the body, and it gives more drama to the dance, and it will be really exciting for the audience to see that. I believe this is the first time that professional dance has been performed at Bradford Cathedral, so if it is then it’s another exciting and honourable thing for us to be part of.

Are you excited about celebrating a decade of Eliot Smith Dance?

Yes, but there have been lots of challenges! We are an independent company, so over the past eight years we have been very thankful from private companies, foundations and trusts. We are very thankful to the Arts Council England who have invested in us over the past five years through the creation of new dance works, delivering workshops to schools and community groups and providing company development. We don’t have the funding like other dance companies where they can rehearse every day and be paid weekly, so we still find lots of challenges and I think that’s the same for many other arts organisations – like libraries, museums, spiritual buildings, I find it very sad when I see churches closing down. Once again it comes down to financial support – art and spirit, freedom, should be free – I very much believe in that. Although the last eight years have been very rewarding for us – last year we were a finalist in the Journal Culture awards and I was a finalist in the One Dance UK as a personality of the year – these recognitions have been fundamental and to perform in some of the UK’s beautiful places, with collaborations, but coming up to our tenth anniversary, internally as a company we’re looking how we can be more sustainable over the next ten years with our exciting projects are coming up in the pipeline. We’re looking at new commissions and to try and engage in local areas with those who have Autism or Mental health and how we can work with them to create new perspectives for them and opportunities, to be part of the company. There are a lot of exciting things, like hopefully our own studio where we can rehears rather than working at satellite buildings. It’s all great, but we’ve realised that if we have a place we can call home, it will allow us to do more.

For those interested in coming along to AWAKEN, how would you sum it up?

Naturally the three works we’re bringing are varied and different. They’re pulled out of creativity, joy, soul and happiness, so altogether we will help the audience have an experience and an awakening, that they’ll come to Bradford Cathedral with issues in their personal lives or a bad day at work, but they can come here, relax, enjoy the performances and be enriched and feel a sense of awakening, and go away feeling inspired.

Do you think some may be inspired by AWAKEN to become a dancer themselves?

Definitely, and that’s very important. Though I’m only twenty-eight years old, I can still feel my body cracking here and there! It’s very important that new artists in training, graduates or even those who are younger, male and females from eight to sixteen, that if they come to this performance and feel inspired. Finances can be quite difficult in the arts, but you can make a living out of it. It’s a passion. Every day I feel honoured that I’m doing what I love to do – to be a dancer. That is just such a beautiful gift. It’s important that people who are young will feel enriched and that they could be the next, and better, Eliot Smith and we are very much here to support that.

Eliot Smith Dance would like to acknowledge the support from Bradford Cathedral and Kala Sangam for Awaken. 

Eliot Smith Dance presents AWAKEN is on Wednesday 19th June at 7:30pm at Bradford Cathedral. Pay what you decide tickets can be booked at www.kalasangam.org or by calling 01274 303340.

The event also includes a post-show discussion, where audiences will have the opportunity to ask the trio any burning questions they may have.

This spring, Kala Sangam introduced a new Pay What You Decide pricing structure for most of their events. Under the new system, tickets can be booked in advance as usual but audiences don’t pay until they have seen the show. This allows people to not only pay what they can afford, but also decide on a price based on their experiences of a show.

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