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  • Writer's pictureJoe Powell-Main

Empower In Motion: A ballet inclusive

Earlier this year I had the fantastic opportunity of being part of Empower in motion, an inclusive dance gala that celebrated the 30th Birthday of the brilliant charity Children Today, who truly do some fantastic work to help provide opportunities and better the lives of children and young people living with disabilities. This performance brought together leading stars from the world of classical ballet alongside dancers and organisations with a specific focus on inclusive practice and the development of this going forward. This is something that I have always fought for having standing dancers and dancers living with disabilities sharing a programme together, striving to show that dance in its many different forms can encompass many different people from different backgrounds and abilities, and all these dancers are equal. This is why it was absolute honour to not only be a performer at this event, but also the event ambassador too.

Joe Powell-Main and Isabel Lubach (First Artist of The Royal Ballet) rehearsing at The Royal Opera House. Photography Andrej Upenski.

In November 2022, Ross Freddie Ray (A Producer for Empower In Motion and also Events Manager at Children Today), first approached me about the idea of this gala event and also celebrating dance in its many forms. Ross and I had first encountered each other years before as we both attended The Royal Ballet School White Lodge, and both entered the school in 2009, Ross starting as a year ten student and me starting as year 7 student. During my training a RBS I didn't really have much interaction with Ross, something that I think is quite usual in a school as you tend to have the most interaction with your own year group. After leaving White Lodge I had to for my own mental health distance myself from anything to do with dance, as at that time I thought that my dancing days were over and that for me was just too painful. When I came back to dance a few years later as disabled dancer, I began to search around for companies and choreographers and came across Ross and had seen that his journey had first begun as a dancer and then as a reputable choreographer. I wondered whether there would be an opportunity to work with Ross and then Empower in Motion presented itself....

Joe Powell-Main and Hannah Rudd performing The Royal Opera House and Alexander Campbell Productions piece, The Sleepwalker at Empower in Motion. Photography by Ryan Browne.

The very idea of Empower in Motion captured my imagination from the very beginning. The idea of showcasing the power of inclusive dance for the cause of the charity Children Today that focuses on bettering the lives of children and young people with disabilties really excited me. I myself experienced challenges accessing equipment and experiences after I acquired my disability so the work of Children Today was something that I not only identified with but also something that I knew was incredibly important. So when Ross extended the opportunity of not only being a performer for this very special event but also an ambassador, I immediately accepted.

It was a long journey to get to the performances in February, but every second was worth it. I really appreciated that both Ross and Henry Dowden (who also produced this event, and current soloist at English National Ballet, and also someone who had been a few years above me at RBS) allowed me to have some input into what the programme could be and who might be involved. It gave me an insight of everything that goes into putting on a performance/event like this, which is something that I know is going to important to my career going forward as someone who wants to continue to create and perform my own work.

Joe Powell-Main performing his world premier Passionately Defiant at Empower in Motion 2024. Photography by Ryan Browne.

I reached out to a few people that I had met and worked with along the way to see if they might be interested in being part of this special event, and luckily they were, so as soon as this initial contact was made I introduced these collaborators to Ross and Henry in the hope that they would eventually be part of the final line up for the is one of a kind performance.

I found it quite challenging though to think about what I myself might perform as part of the artist line up.

It made sense to me that The Sleepwalker produced by The Royal Ballet and Alexander Campbell productions, with direction and choreography by Alexander Campbell and Kristen McNally should be part of this performance as the piece has been really important to my own development as an artist, giving me confidence in my own artistic abilitiles and also showing that inclusion in dance is important and valid by working with dancers, choreographers and producers from one of the leading classical ballet companies in the UK and world. Luckily after some productive conversations I was happy and excited to know that Sleepwalker would be part of Empower in Motion with talented dancer Hannah Rudd stepping into the role originally performed the equally as talented Isabel Lubach (First Artist of The Royal Ballet). I was very much looking forward to revisting this piece again and also discovering new things.

But the question still remained what else could I perform as a second offering to what would become an immense line up.

I have always found that for me dance is way I can express what I am feeling or even start conversations that I may find challenging when just using words. This is why for this special performance, I wanted to create and perform a work that not only highlighted the challenges that I have experienced as a disabled person and dancer, but also how I have pushed back against these to forge my own path. Even when others told me it just wasn't possible. This is how the piece Passionately Defiant came to fruition, I wanted to find a piece of dramatic music that would convey the story, and hopefully something that wouldn't nescessarily be typically associated with classical ballet. That is how I came across the orchestrated version of The Rolling Stones, Paint it Black. As soon as I heard this track I just knew I had to use it.

I hoped that this solo work would show the audience that if you are passionate about something even if you don't approach it in a way that is typically seen as the norm, you can still go for it. Pushing against any negative stereotypes defiantly and pursuing your dream passionately. I also hoped that this work would inspire others and show that disability doesn't mean that you can't go after the things you want to achieve in life, you might just have to do it in a way that is uniquely different to others, and whilst there will inevitably be challenges along the way if you face them head on you can and will always find a way.

Joe Powell-Main performing his world premier Passionately Defiant at Empower in Motion 2024. Photography Ryan Browne.

The performance night itself is always a memory that I will hold dear, not only was it a night to celebrate the amazing power of inclusive dance, but it was also a professional milestone for me, my debut on the main stage at Sadlers Wells.

The atmosphere even before the performance had begun was electric. After my rehearsal times I had spent a great deal of time during the day watching the other dancers rehearse their work on stage via the monitors in my dressing room. To be featured in the same programme as talented classical dancers such as Daniil Simkin, Maria Kotchetkova, Sanguen Lee, Gareth Haw and Shiori Kase , who's careers I have followed dilligently, alongside leading companies and organisations from the world of inclusive dance, is something that I will forever be grateful for. It also felt like a small win to me, pushing against a very small minority of select individuals, who two years earlier had commented through twitter that I, as a disabled dancer, should not be featured on the same stage/programme as my standing counterparts, as I wasn't skillful or as talented. Whilst this comment at the time was one small interaction in a multitude of amazing support, neverthless although I wasn't overly bothered by it, it did sting just a little. So I felt that that this event was not only just a win for me, but hopefully a win for all dancers, showing no matter how you move or your background or ability that we are all on the same parity and we each have so much to offer share and give.

The peformance itself went by in very exciting and amazing blur. The Sleepwalker opened the show, after very emotional but important message from the charity. I felt so connected and in the moment with Hannah Rudd during the piece that I didn't realise that it had finished until the thunderous applause from the audience as we took our bows. I know I was certainly pleased and ecstatic with how the performance had gone and I for one couldn't quite believe that I had only met and been rehearsing with Hannah for a mere three days! It certainly felt a like a job satisfyingly done.

I spent the rest of the show before my second piece (which was the penultimate showing of the night) watching the other amazing artists perform on the monitor and also talking the time to relax in the dressing room. I also went up to the studio to run through the choreography once again, I was confident in the choreography and even if something went wrong, as I was the only performer on the stage for this piece, I would be able to use the power of improvisation (something that I have definitely done before to cover a minor mistake) to continue on. But I have to admit there was one part of the routine that I was nervous for, I had wanted to push the envelope and introduce an element of risk using balance on the fully functioning side of my body, a good idea in theory, but in practical terms as someone who's physical condition fluctuates regularly, which can affect my balance, maybe not the best idea, considering that there had been a couple of occasions during rehearsals where I had ended up in a heap on the floor. So the question was is would this risk pay off?

The Sadlers Wells stage during rehearsals for Empower in Motion 2024. Photography by Patricia Powell-Main.

That question was soon answered when I took my place in the wings as the brilliant host Grace Spence Green introduced the piece, I felt those all important butterflies in my stomach, then the music started and Passionately Defiant was in full swing!

I did manage to not fall over during the riskier movements in the choreography which was always a plus and the reaction from the audience during these points in the choreography willed me onto to complete the piece with as much commitment as I could. The thunderous applause and extremely kind and generous reaction from the audience signified the completion of the work and closing of this chapter of Empower in Motion....but hopefully more to come soon.

The whole experience of being part of this wonderful performance is something that I will absolutely treasure. It was just such a lovely time and a wonderful start to 2024.

A massive thank you to all at Children today, Ross and Henry who worked tirelessly to make this event happen. Thank you to Sadlers Wells for all the kindness and support especially regarding access. Thank you to all the audience for their applause and support during the show. As a performer I can genuinely say that the applause and appreciation from an audience means so much and ultimately I think that is why I dance and perform, to hopefully make the audience feel something and have that sense of escapism.

Thank you to Hannah Rudd for being a lovely partner to perform alongside, Sean Flanagan for staging the piece, The Royal Opera House for giving permission for the piece to be performed at this event and also the use of the studios and also Ballet Boyz for the studio time. Thank you as well to Alexander, Kristen, Isabel and The Royal Ballet for supporting the opportunity to create Sleepwalker in the first place. Such a lovely process and opportunity to be part of thank you!

The reviews for the show as a whole were outstanding, five stars! I think that this proved that there is an appetite to see more. Thank as well to all the reviewers who mentioned me and my performances it meant so much. Thank you to all the photographers for this event, Ryan, Jules and Frederic. So many lovely memories captured.

I have a feeling that there is hopefully more to come with Empower in Motion as not only did this event highlight the importance of inclusion in dance, but it also supported the work of an amazing charity. From the lovely audience members I had the chance to speak with afterwards, I get the sense that they would love to see more...

So hopefully much more to come!

Thank you so much for reading and supporting this blog! More posts coming soon. x

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