Senior Project Manager Eibhlish Fleming visited Rotherham to attend the launch of Start with Balbir Singh Dance Company
Find out more about Start here

This is such an exciting opportunity working with Magna, the Rotherham Schools Improvement Service and children with open imaginations keen to explore and grow.

 Balbir Singh, Artistic Director, Balbir Singh Dance Company

I was lucky enough to be at Magna Science Adventure Centre for the launch of Start with our partner Balbir Singh Dance Company, on a cold and windy day just before Christmas. This year over 360 Rotherham primary children are receiving an introduction to Indian and contemporary dance through our Start programme. Most of these children have never been to a dance show, and many had never been to Magna until now.

 

Half the schools had already started workshops at school, introducing them to the techniques later seen at Magna. As the groups entered the warm and atmospheric Red Hall, they recognised the workshop leaders they had worked with before, and waved at them from their seats on the heated (!) floor.

Four dance styles were introduced: Odissi and Kathak, both traditional Indian styles of dance, were performed – one narrated Harry Potter through movement and music – followed by a contemporary dance demonstration. Finally, a “steel horse” was brought to the stage, and a performer did a dance piece on his BMX bike. Mouths agape, the children clapped along and supported the performers.

 

They were also introduced to some musical instruments. A saxophonist, a traditional Indian drummer (the tabla) and guitar player demonstrated a number of techniques, and gave a mesmerising live performance. Speaking to the company afterward, everyone was stunned at how engrossed the children were.

As a tabla player from India this was a special moment: to be in such an awe-inspiring place to play and bring Classical Indian music to a western audience. I am looking forward to next year and working with the children to create something magical for them to perform.

Anirudh Mukherjee

After the display (and following a queue for high-fives with performers) the children wrapped up warm to explore the towering Magna Science Adventure Centre, a former steel works in Rotherham themed on the four elements: air, water, fire and earth. Here children saw a fire tornado (the most popular exhibit, for obvious reasons!), wind tunnels and splashing water exhibits.

 

I could write pages about the warmth and enthusiasm that filled Magna that day, but here’s what one of the dancers and workshop leaders, Kimberley Hardy, had to say:

“As a pre-performance workshop, we focused on small sections of rep from ‘Champion of the Flatlands’. We dissected key moments from the piece and explained in detail, how the contemporary movement related and coincided with the BMX movements. The children were offered the chance to create their own work based on what they had just learned. As a large group we invented our own BMX tricks and had great fun doing so.

The children loved the freedom of contemporary dance and the fact that they could offer the wildest ideas and we could make it work, together. Participants were eager and enthusiastic and couldn't wait to see the full performance at Magna.

Teachers immersed themselves in the experience and joined in with their pupils. It was a great bonding experience, where the teachers could learn alongside their pupils. Teachers asked about certain intricacies so that they could practice with the children during P.E. The enthusiasm from the children lifted the room and Magna had an electric atmosphere that day.

The setting for the piece was outstanding. It was a vast building filled to the brim with history, there was so much to learn. The children had a guided tour where they were offered opportunity to ask questions and understand more about certain scientific topics. It also gave the children and teachers the opportunity to think outside of the box and contemplate ideas they would like to touch on for their own piece that they will create." 

What next?

The schools will have a series of workshops leading to a final performance in June. Children will perform parts of the show alongside the professional dancers in the Red Hall at Magna, celebrating the first year of their Start project in front of family and peers. After performing, the children and their families will watch a professional performance by Balbir Singh Dance Company.

Watch this space as we continue to follow this wonderful project, which will bring dance, music, storytelling and the performing arts into the science curriculum, and into several hundred Rotherham homes.


Photos © Marcin Sz.