Celebration Gala for Nadine Senior MBE – Review – West Yorkshire Playhouse
Celebration Gala for Nadine Senior MBE – Review
West Yorkshire Playhouse, October 2017
by Eve Luddington
In this exuberant and uplifting gala, performers, dance leaders and audience paid tribute to the life and work of an extraordinary woman. Nadine Senior (4 October 1939 – 28 January 2016) was a Yorkshire woman to her roots. She was born in Scarborough, trained in South Yorkshire and worked in Leeds. Dance professionals throughout the dance world have been inspired by her and her former pupils – who have introduced countless others to dance in schools, community groups and workshops, and through performance. This gala, a combination of performance, personal tributes and TV screening, was a fitting celebration shared by those on stage and in the audience.
In the late 1950s, while training as a P.E. teacher at Lady Mabel College, Nadine was introduced to educational dance based on the work of Rudolf Laban, who believed that dance was for everyone. Joining Harehills Middle School, Leeds, in 1970, she introduced educational dance. The school was in an area of multiple deprivation with multi-ethnic pupils, many of whom spoke English as an additional language.
Dance was a unifying medium of communication so effective that, in 1972, the head teacher, Jack Bramwell, took the radical step of making dance a compulsory subject for all pupils. In an interview screened this evening, Nadine Senior said: “I’m not training them to be dancers; I’m using dance as a vehicle to train them to be individuals.”
Once dance was on Harehills Middle School’s core curriculum, it developed a reputation for the exuberance, discipline and artistic expression of its pupils, and for academic results way beyond societal expectations. Whether or not her pupils developed their dance skills, the values and discipline of dance became part of their being. Nadine Senior transformed lives.
In fact, 48 former students, 44 of them male, went on to take professional dance training. The artistic journeys begun at Harehills have gone on to revolutionise the face of dance, contributing to the forming of Phoenix Dance Theatre, ACE Music and Dance, and RJC Dance. These organisations, along with the Northern School of Contemporary Dance (NSCD), all performed tonight. We saw only a tiny sample of their work: they all hold true to Nadine’s belief in dance for everyone and offer an astonishing 25,000 community workshops a year.
NSCD was founded by Nadine herself in 1985. Her passion led her to lobby for professional dance training in Leeds, partly driven by her knowledge that many committed and talented local dancers could not afford to train in London. NSCD remains the only institution in England, outside London, to offer professional training and higher education in dance.
The gala was introduced by Sharon Watson, Artistic Director of Phoenix Dance, followed by Jane Dowson, Lord Mayor of Leeds. Then, performers of all shapes, sizes and colours took to the stage. Their ages ranged from 5 or 6 to 50 or 60. As a non-dancer, I was thrilled to share in this celebration and am grateful to my companion for her dance expertise and insight.
The first half of the evening was imaginatively ordered to convey an artistic journey, from the kindling of the dance flame at school through to the blazing of talent and dedication afforded by professional training. Kahadijah Ibrahim, a Harehills alumni and performance poet, shared the spirit of the school in a poem recalling her time as a pupil. She had the audience on their feet, singing and dancing along with her.
RJC Dance followed, with ‘Soca Jambiez’, based on the Gothic Horror genre. These young people, from all backgrounds, attend weekly dance sessions at the Mandela Centre in Chapeltown. Their dance exuded high energy, commitment, discipline and teamwork.
A slightly older group from ACE Youth, based in Birmingham, gave a highly theatrical piece, ‘State of Mind’. I was reminded of heartbeats and machines, of bondage and freedom. After a speech from Janet Smith, current Principal of NSCD, some of her students performed ‘Ocean’. Beginning lyrically, this piece grew into a storm of dynamism. It is a driven, technically demanding dance, so brilliantly executed that it received the first of several standing ovations.
What united all these performers was dedication, discipline, high energy and teamwork. There were no stars, no sexual stereo-typing.
The second half included part of a BBC TV documentary about Nadine Senior, showing her working at Harehills Midde, instilling into her pupils the qualities and values displayed throughout the gala.
“Skill and spirit”
There were three solo performances, most notable for me, ‘The Path’. It was made and performed by Darshan Singh Buller, the first of Nadine’s students to go on to professional training. He’d arrived in Harehills as a young, bewildered immigrant from a rural community in Asia. Now in his 50s or 60s, his poise and lyricism gave heart to his personal journey.
‘Troy Games’, performed by NSCD, concluded the evening. Premiered in 1974, this is now an iconic piece, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to male machismo, originally choreographed for a male cast. It references the relationship of the individual to the group, highlighting humorously the one who doesn’t quite fit the mould, and demands a great deal of dancers performing individually and in the group. It was re-worked specifically for this gala to include women for the first time, and multi-generational performers; also, I think, to re-define ‘machismo’. For NSCD students and guests to come together and present the dance with such skill and spirit was a huge achievement.
I wish members of the current Government had experienced this evening’s testament to the transformative effects of dance. Shamefully, it is Government economic policy that causes arts provision in state schools to be continually and increasingly eroded, ignoring the basic economic fact that the arts industries put millions into the coffers; denying the unquantifiable but undoubted value of arts to society and individuals.
“Live with hope”
Fundamental to communication, community cohesion and culture, the arts should be for everyone. Could any school teacher today create such a revolution in the arts and a life beyond dreams of under-privileged pupils as Nadine Senior did? Perhaps trainee teachers should be shown the recording of this gala, so that Nadine can continue to inspire. We have to live with hope, determination and the refusal to let arts in schools wither away.
This woman has left an enormous legacy to professional dancers nationwide and beyond and to all those who, through her, have dance in their hearts. It all started in Leeds and is now under threat. In her speech, Jane Dowson, Lord Mayor, regretted that education is now all S.T.E.M. – Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – and called for it to become S.T.E.A.M. She was able to announce one positive piece of news, that Leeds has been declared a Major Dance Hub by the Arts Council. This status will be significant in Leeds’ bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2023.
Dance will not die in Leeds. Thank you, Nadine, and all who contributed to this glorious evening.