Culminating in a site specific dance installation built into the bookshelves and fittings of the borough library Apart from the Road was a three year project lead by choreographer Rosemary Lee with installation artist/film maker Nic Sandiland and poet Chrissie Gittins. Based on a one year part-time residency at Marsh Green Primary School in East London the project integrated dance, film and poetry workshops exploring the idea of home and identity for a class of 8 year old school children.
In the following years the project went on to include work with children from Lena Gardens, Sacred Heart and St Paul’s Primary Schools in Hammersmith and Shapla and St Paul’s schools in Whitechapel. Installations were also presented in the boroughs’ respective libraries. The title originated out of one of the children’s poems: I like our school apart from the road…, referring to the busy A13 trunk road adjacent to the school building.
Abbreviated Article from Animated Magazine, 16/10/02:
The long-term nature of this project meant that it could develop organically. Originally, it was set to explore the children’s notion of home and identity in the Borough’s industrial and residential landscape. But the transient nature of the school population – some of the children are refugees, others are in some form of care or foster home, several have been placed there on a short-term basis before being moved to a more permanent location; raised difficult issues requiring sensitive handling and a high degree of flexibility by all partners. Each time the artists returned to the school, for example, new faces greeted them. Furthermore, because the project spanned two academic years one of the original class teachers changed too which raised a number of issues. Would the new teacher want to take the project on in addition to her already full workload? Fortunately, through a process of nurturing and mentoring from within the school, she was fully prepared for the project and a willing partner.
Apart from the Road has been very much artist-led. Rosemary chose the location, the participants – in this case, children – and the type of project she wanted to do. As the commissioning body, it was East London Dance’s role to broker connections, partnerships and dialogues where none existed previously. These were developed throughout the project and have been integral to its success. They can of course produce the most rewarding outcomes as well as major frustrations. Nevertheless, without a dynamic team of partners equally committed to the project the problems encountered could have been far greater. As the commissioning body we had to be ‘multi-lingual’ – communicating and mediating effectively between the artists, the school, the library, the arts department at Barking and Dagenham Council and all the project funders – talking a number of different languages at any one time – making the right approach and saying the right things.
The library agreed to take on an unusual role and additional workload by hosting the installation. Convincing the school and the library about the project was not difficult – but the scenario may have been very different. How, for example, do you talk about the creative dance process with someone who does not have a frame of reference about what it involves? It became evident that this needed to be done by the artists themselves – a necessity to meet with project partners and talk about what they wanted to do, their aspirations, stating the case and making the arguments – and it worked.
Such a process, however, demands a high level of trust as well as flexibility – both have been significant elements of the project. The school had to trust the artists to work with the children off-curriculum on dance, poetry and film, and to argue for the disruption of the core national curriculum. Equally, we as the commissioning body were required to take a back seat during the creative process. We were fortunate – the artists rose to the challenges with integrity, sensitivity and discretion.
Site-specific work is an effective way of tackling problems such as this – it challenges existing notions of the theatrical experience and, arguably, makes the arts far more visible and therefore accessible. Apart from the Road is placed within the very fabric of the library – amongst the books, the overhead information signs, filing cabinets and reading desks. Going to see a production in a theatre is far more tangible than visiting the library but actually, what could be more natural. We hope that the location of the project will capture audiences who would never have gone to see it in a more conventional theatrical location or even engage those who are hostile to the arts.
Laraine Fisher General manager, East London Dance
2002 Barking Town Library
2003 Hammersmith and City Library
2003 Whitechapel Library
Choreographer: Rosemary Lee
Installation artist/film maker: Nic Sandiland
Poet: Chrissie Gittins
Apart from the Road was first commissioned by East London Dance. An A13 Artscape and Year of the Artist project with additional funding from Arts Council of England; London Boroughs of Barking, Hammersmith and Tower Hamlets; Paul Hamlyn Foundation; John Lyons Charity; Spitalfields Market Community Trust; Crying Out Loud.