Last weekend, the NuDance Contemporary team came first in the national Loughborough University Dance Competition and were also awarded Best University amongst the thirty competitors. Impact Arts spoke to dance captain of the contemporary team, Georgia Attfield, a 4th year Pharmacy student, about a special piece that sheds lights on the issue of autism.
Could you tell us about the story/concept of the dance? Where did the inspiration come from?
The idea for the choreography came from the heart of our choreographer, who is also our onsite university dance teacher. Her son has autism. To her, it is important to raise awareness not only about autism as a medical condition but also to draw attention to the social discrimination that accompanies it. Our dance emphasizes the gradual acceptance and understanding of others to autism. The choreography starts with the other dancers turning their back to autism. Eventually though they come to realize that all the affected individuals need is patience and a willing heart.
As a dancer, how do you relate to the theme? How do you think other non-dancers will relate to this particular piece?
Awareness of Autism as a developmental disability is widespread, however true understanding of the intricacies of this particular disability is few and far between. This is one of the main challenges that we face with our piece: differences in society tend to be feared as opposed to embraced and so the common reaction to autism is not an educated one; in a sense, it is fear of the unknown due to lack of awareness.
Some people find contemporary dance abstract and difficult to understand. How does this particular piece of choreography overcome this communicational obstacle?
With contemporary, as with any dance, there is much more to narrating the story than with each individual’s bodily movement. Emotionally, we aim to begin as stoic, and gradually express a greater feeling of empathy with the autistic figure – mirroring her emotion – as the piece progresses. In terms of choreography, the autistic figure initially stands out as different and frustrated against a harmonious backdrop of the remaining dancers moving in unison. A dichotomy that again subsides throughout the story as all the dancers end up empathetically following her movements.
What has been the biggest challenge for the team?
Our biggest challenge with this piece was dealing with it in a sensitive manner. We wanted to make sure that our dance came across as a serious representation of some of the difficulties that are faced by those affected by autism. Our concern is that people will regard our dance as insensitive whereas it is intended to educate. Our choreographer was concerned that the piece may cause some offence. However she felt that as a mother of a son with autism she could only use this knowledge to create a positive impact and further raise awareness of the condition.
There seems to be an emerging trend of incorporating political or social messages in dance, at least on university dance level. In the Loughborough Dance Competition, other universities touched on issues such as the meaning of beauty and war-related issues. Do you think dance, as an art form, should have that political element?
Dance is an art form. Whilst we are unable to comment on the motivations behind other universities’ dances, our intention was to generate a deeper understanding of autism as a developmental disability. Dance is one of the most effective mediums we can use to communicate an idea or spread awareness of a particular issue. We have used our dance to reinforce a positive message about autism. We feel that through education and raising awareness of such a condition, associated prejudice can be overcome as a result.
The video of the winning contemporary piece at LSU Dance Competition can be viewed here
The NuDance Annual Showcase runs from 13th-14th March in Studio 7, King’s Meadow Campus.