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  • Writer's pictureJoe Powell-Main

2023 Round up Part 1

I can hardly quite believe that 2023 is now over. It only seems like it was yesterday when I was looking at my 2023 calendar starting to plan and fill it up, but now here we are the 2023 festive season is complete and we are now into 2024!

2023 for me began as quite an uncertain year. I had begun some really interesting conversations about what could be possible for me in my career and also discussed a couple of really exciting opportunities. But unfortunately for whatever reason at that time these opportunities were just not meant to be. Now looking back I can see that there was a reason why these opportunities didn't work out, but at the time I did start to have some feelings of self doubt and questioning whether I was good enough. Sometimes from the challenging times the greatest opportunities can occur and I think sometimes it is just a case of keeping your head up pushing forward and holding onto that self belief that you can achieve.

My first job of 2023 was as part of the British Ballet Organisation's beyond syllabus CPD event. It was a super interesting and informative experience for me to reflect on my dance journey and this actually helped me to keep pushing forward even in the most challenging times. Little did I know at the time that this event would lead me to become a patron for the organisation and help push forward with their inclusive work across their events and also most exciting of all the syllabus. It has always been a dream of mine to develop a ballet syllabus that is inclusive to dancers with all different needs and abilities, as I had gone through an extremely challenging experience to find a place to train after coming back to dance as a disabled person.

I am pleased to say that conversations and developments are ongoing and I hope that together we are going to continue to push forward with inclusive opportunities for young dancers to be able to access the wonderful art form that is dance...

Rehearsing for I am 8 with Sweetshop Revolution, February 2023.

In February I returned to rehearsals with Sweetshop Revolution for an intensive month long rehearsal and research and development period in preparation for the upcoming production of I am 8, which was all about exploring the idea of being eight years old through the show. There were parts of this experience that were incredibly challenging, especially when I had to remember what it was like to be eight years old, I found it difficult to look at how I would be able to represent my experience from that time onstage, especially as when I had been a young child I wasn't a wheelchair user. It taught me so much about myself though and although there challenges along the way it was great to be moving and dancing every day for a whole month, sometimes as a freelancer there can be periods of time when you may not be in studio every single day, as you also have to focus on planning and other admin duties, but it makes every single moment in the studio that much more special.

In March I began work on a new project Snow Queen with Propel Dance. This was a research and development project with some performances at the end of it, for a brand new company formed of dancers all who use wheelchairs, whether that is as full time or ambulatory wheelchair users. A company formed of dancers all who use wheelchairs, I don't think is something that has been done in the UK before. There are companies in the UK such as Stopgap and Candoco Dance Company who do some great work featuring dancers with all differing needs and abilities. But I don't believe they have done any work with dancers all who use wheelchairs.

It was an interesting experience. The high intensity of creating a forty minute show in the matter of a couple of weeks but also the fun of creating something that was new was incredibly exciting and also something that I was able to creatively contribute towards. I really enjoyed performing the role of Kai in the Snow Queen, the character goes on an extremely huge character arc, from being a happy go lucky boy to a cold heartless person who is utterly under the control of the villain of the story the Snow Queen, only at the very end of the story to be saved by his best friend Gerda.

Highlights of the experience included meeting Principal Dancer of Zurich Ballet, formerly of Birmingham Royal Ballet and fellow patron of BBODance. Meeting Brandon was great and hearing some of the incredibly kind and positive things he had to say about the performance spurred me on even further, especially as there were challenges along the way with outside forces pushing me to tap into some the insecurities that I wasn't good enough or that working with a dancer like was too challenging. But these negative self doubting thoughts were only fleeting and the joy of the performances and the positivity that was shared from the audience during this experience allowed these insecurities to be pushed away... far, far away....

The other highlights for me were performing on Steph's Packed Lunch, in front of Strictly professional Graziano di Prima, being featured on ITV News and Channel 5 News. I felt that these opportunities not only helped to prove those who told me I couldn't wrong, but it also hopefully got the word out about inclusive dance and hopefully challenged some of those stereotypes and beliefs that a dancer has to look or perform movement a certain way, and that to me was the most enriching part of the experience......

Performing the role of Kai in The Snow Queen with Propel Dance. Photography by Dani Bower.

In May I returned to working with Sweetshop Revolution in preparation for the premiere performances of this new version of I am 8. My favourite part of the show was my tango solo with an original score by the talented composer Frank Moon. It was a dance representation of my story and also the challenges I had faced. I just loved the music and it made me just want to dance. The feedback from the young people and adults in the audience was great as well. I have always found that children are incredibly welcoming towards my disability and they also ask some really interesting questions too.

I also celebrated my 25th Birthday, with a family filled day and lots of cake which I enjoyed very much!

Unfortunately though during the I am 8 project, I had a setback where I unfortunately had a relapse in my physical condition. It meant that I had to cut back on all standing and use of my crutches both in the dance studio and outside as well. It was an incredibly challenging period and I did struggle with pain at that time, but because I wasn't able to do any choreographic movement on crutches I was really able to delve into new choreographic ideas and opportunities using my wheelchair and that was exciting for me!

In July I was part of Northern Ballet's Expressions. Expressions is an inclusive festival curated by Northern Ballet featuring a professional performances, performances by community groups and workshops focusing on inclusive dance.

I was very lucky to have the opportunity to attend one of the performances. It was an absolute pleasure to see not only the professional performance by Candoco Dance Company, but also to see the joy that each dancer from the community groups brought to the performance.

I know sometimes I can personally get bogged down from the insecurities of whether a movement I am performing looks good or whether I am performing something correctly, but seeing these dancers spreading so much joy and telling a story through dance, made me realise that sometimes in my own work I take this fact for granted.

I particularly enjoyed seeing so many dancers of different ages and abilities performing on stage. Dance can enrich so many people's lives and this performance was a shining example of that.

Expressions at Northern Ballet. Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre. July 2023. Photography by Joe Powell-Main.

The following day, I had the pleasure of leading an introduction to inclusive ballet. It was an absolute joy to deliver this workshops to teachers from all different settings, including college settings, community settings and also dance artists from the Royal Opera House's Learning and Participation Team.

I really hope that all the participants of this project enjoyed themselves, as much as I did. It was fabulous experience to see the dancers explore movement in a different way, which was particularly evident when I set creative tasks for them to complete. It made me really happy to see so many talented individuals sharing the inclusive ethos, that I have always strived for and believed in.

In the foyer of Northern Ballet premises. July 2023. Photography by Patricia Powell-Main

I hope I can come back and deliver a second part to the workshop as with limited time I wasn't able to cover everything that I had originally planned, but hopefully in the near future there will be more to come.... fingers crossed.

In July I also was able to share the news that I was going to take on the new role of National Youth Ballet's first ever ambassador. I had really enjoyed the previous collaborations, I had with NYB and this new role I was (and still am) excited to continue to develop and champion the inclusive work that the organisation is doing.

NYB Ambassador announcement. July 2023. Photograph by Sian Trenberth.

The rest of July was a more restful time for me, which after the relapse in my physical condition a couple of months previously, was much needed.....

In August I began doing some work with The Birmingham Ballet Company, I was very much looking forward to working with the company after meeting them last year.

I attended two days from their period of the casting and creation day, ready for their upcoming production of Recital 2023: Aladdin and the Lamp. I really enjoyed having the opportunity of working with the young talented dancers to develop movement ideas for choreography. Not only did it help develop ideas for the upcoming performances, but it also gave me so many different ideas for my own new choreographic movement and approaches to partnering. This is something that I am continuing to develop. I had the very fortunate opportunity of working with two different partners Maddie (who was only 8!) and Isabelle (who was 16).

In rehearsal with BBCo with Maddie. Photography by Kate Frost.

They were both incredibly generous and open to trying to new ideas and incorporating my wheelchair into the choreography. I was so impressed by their commitment to the art form and professionalism and talent. I am so excited to see both of their dance journeys as I know that they are both going to have glittering careers.

In rehearsal with BBCo with Isabelle. Photography by Kate Frost.

During my time at BBCO it just so happened that NYB were also holding their residential performance course, down the road in Birmingham at Elmhurst Ballet School. I was very excited to have the opportunity to be invited to visit National Youth Ballet, see their rehearsal process as part of their summer school and also perform both in the studio and in the theatre for the students.

It was an amazing visit and I really enjoyed having the chance to meet these young dancers and hopefully inspire them to continue pushing forward with their love for dance, even if sometimes you might come up against challenges. It was also lovely to meet some of the team members in person, some of whom I would be working with later on in the month through zoom, as part of the All In activities.

It was also a full circle moment for me as I remember when I used to attend summer schools, and I always looked forward to leading stars from companies such as The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet and English National Ballet, attending to either give talks or demonstrations. These were always highlights of the summer school for me and it really did inspire me to hopefully one day become a leading dancer maybe in one of those companies.

NYB Residential company visit at Elmhurst Ballet School. With Jo Meredith Creative Director of National Youth Ballet.

Whilst since then many things have changed, I am still pursuing my dream even if it wasn't in the way I had expected. I may not be a dancer the dancer I thought I was going to be, I still hope that I have inspired that anything is possible and to never give up on those dreams as you never know what may happen in the future.

I certainly didn't but I couldn't have expected or believed that I would be on the journey that I am on now.

More to come from my round up of 2023 in part 2.....

Stay tuned!

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