FEATURE: Dora Frankel, Fertile Ground – My Inspiration | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image of Dora by Brian Slater

Fertile Ground was established in 2013 to give opportunities to emerging dance artists and to offer audiences and participants outstanding dance experiences. Often performing in unconventional spaces, the company commissions work by internationally recognised choreographers, touring the North East region and delivering high quality workshops in schools and communities. Fully Grounded is the company’s new double bill. Premiering on Wednesday 25th April, the new works will subsequently be shown at theatre venues and arts and heritage sites across the North East up to Saturday 21st July.

Dora Frankel, the founder of Fertile Ground, talks to Narc about the inspiration behind Fully Grounded and the themes which formed the basis for what will mark Dora’s final commission for the company.

I have been working with, and inspired and challenged for many years by the theme of ‘borders and barriers real and imagined between peoples and cultures’; it’s a broad and all encompassing theme but I think and hope one that is continually relevant, perhaps even more so now after Brexit and the way divisions in society both real and imagined have been highlighted and increased.

There are many reasons why I work with this theme, which took some years to articulate and why I keep returning to and exploring it and asking others to do so; the first is my own background.

My mother was from a middle class farming family in Devon and my father born of Polish Jewish immigrants in the East End of London; both were Marxists, and partly my life experience – a difficult teenage illness causing me to wonder if I’d ever dance again and subsequently nearly 20 years of my adult life spent working and living in Scandinavia as well as 2 years in America.

Couple that with my experience of life in the UK, the initial difficulty settling back in after so many years away and the many divisions I see in society based on class, gender, religion, skin colour, North/South inequalities and even rural/urban all meant I wanted to bring something really relevant to my dance making and to the stage. I am also passionate about dance as an artform!

My aim when I commission guest choreographers is to offer them this theme to explore in their own way and in any way that feels ‘right’. So each year I invite 2 or 3 of some of the UK’s best choreographers create work for Fertile Ground.

This year it’s ReGina Wielingen and Robby Graham; two incredibly gifted and different people who have brought so much to this year’s dancers, Alyssa, Katherine, Giulia and Lerato, not only in the way they teach and create work with them.

Originally from The Netherlands, ReGina commenced her studies at the Jazz Department of The Theatre School in Amsterdam and completed her training at The Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance in London. Since then she has worked as a freelance, choreographer, teacher and dancer, working with dance passionistas of different, backgrounds, ages and abilities. She travels very widely, from Italy to Sweden and the Middle East in her work.

Robby Graham is originally from Northern Ireland and has danced since he was 14; he is Artistic Director of Southpaw dance company, based at Dance City. Robby has performed, taught and choreographed around the world, including the Royal Opera House in London, the favelas of Rio Di Janeiro, and New York. In 2015, Robby was the winner of the UK Dance Artist of Choice. Most recently, he was Movement Director for Marianne Elliott’s acclaimed production of Angels in America at the National Theatre.

Our discussions started back in 2015, initial ideas are bandied about, time is spent with both choreographers talking about the theme and possible ways of approaching it – it really is up to them – diaries are checked and then the money is raised, which can take a long time!

In Leemte (Regina’s piece for the double bill) Regina refers to her background and her memories and initially sent me some text, which she’s chosen not to use but used during the research and development as a stimulus. She says ‘This work is a short story without a clear plot and I encourage you to draw the lines between the dots and paint the colors onto the frame in front of you. The word leemte (say laimtuh) is Dutch and in English the closest translation would be void, space or gap. Leemte also refers to a place where something once was and incompleteness. The starting point for this work was an inquiry into migration.

Robby also chose to look back to his childhood as inspiration for his work for the double bill, Flashpoint; ‘Growing up in Northern Ireland, flags, borders, barriers, checkpoints, even the colour of paint on the kerbs were all signifiers of belief, and served as warning signs of danger, depending which ‘side’ you were from. Flashpoint examines the allure and power of defining oneself alongside these barriers, sometimes real, mostly imagined, and the dangers of being the nail that sticks out.

Both choreographers comment on imaginary divisions. We hope, when we bring this powerful double bill to our audiences that they are moved and inspired by the beauty and power of the works and perhaps, for a moment, that they too wonder if they haven’t imagined some borders and barriers which they can actually push down and step over, meeting the world with just a little more tolerance and joy.

Now that would make me smile!

To buy tickets to Fertile Ground’s double bill, Fully Grounded you can visit their website here.


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