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Meta4 Dance: Conversing, Collaborating, Creating with People, for People

This week on Between the Art is an exciting one as it features the first company, rather than an individual artist, to be interviewed!

Meta4 Dance was co-founded by dance artists Lily Horgan and Charlie Dunne in 2018.

Lily grew up in Northumberland but moved to London to train in Contemporary Dance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. This was where she met Charlie who, having previously lived in Shropshire, was also studying on the same programme. After graduating, both continued to work as dancers in London for several years, and during this time Charlie was also an education officer for 2Faced Dance Company.

They founded Meta4 Dance three years ago as a way for them to continue choreographing and performing their own work together. In March 2020, Lily and Charlie moved back to Northumberland, establishing Meta4 Dance as a North East based contemporary dance company. It aims to create thought-provoking, transparent and engaging dance which is performed nationally and internationally in traditional and non-traditional spaces. They also have a youth company for young people with learning disabilities, creating opportunities for members to perform and to raise awareness for disability dance.

During this interview, Lily and Charlie share their experience of both the challenges and rewards of creating accessible dance opportunities in rural areas. There is a sense of true integrity behind the work of Meta4 Dance, placing importance on conversation, connection, and collaboration with people and the places where they are from. Read on to learn more…

Where do you work? What makes this place important for your creative process?

Lily: We don’t have a specific location or a studio where we work. At the moment, we are working from home. However even before the pandemic, we worked from home and travelled to many different locations around the UK. In that sense, where we work is where the work is.

Charlie: We have never had what you might call a “home” for our dance company. We work with people and therefore it doesn’t matter where they are. Although we have recently moved and are now connecting with more people in Northumberland, if someone contacted us from another area of the UK or another country, we would create the work in that specific location. There is no set place. Traveling to connect with others is an important part of what we do.

We aim to make dance accessible for people who wouldn’t normally have access to it. This might be because of disability or rural isolation for example. From our years of experience, we have found that it’s better to go to people rather than to get them to come to you. We make work with people, for people. This is not necessarily with those who have dance experience. An important part of Meta4 is connecting with people who have never danced before and providing them with this collaborative opportunity.

"From our years of experience, we have found that it’s better to go to people rather than to get them to come to you. We make work with people, for people."

How would you describe your creative process? Do you use certain mediums/techniques to develop your creative ideas?

C: Each project is different. We never know what we are going to start with! The process will often start with a conversation, chatting about real-life experiences. There is a key focus of how we interact with each other, or how we interact with our environment. We talk and try to understand these emotions before articulating them into movement. This is how we start every project.

We use a variety of different techniques to help people to begin to move, often through improvisation or using creative tasks to create stories. But this does depend on what is most appropriate to the particular group of people we are working with. Different groups will respond in different ways. The only constant is conversation and making people feel welcome.

L: This was how we started our most recent project, Natural Theatres, including my solo performance of Confluence. This piece started when we were only allowed one walk a day during the first lockdown. We focused on the feelings surrounding this. These conversations grew into tasks, which we would then discuss, leading to new ideas, a new task, and so it continued. It’s about using communication in order to build and create something detailed.

C: This creates something that is authentic and honest, which is why it’s so important to talk at each stage of the process. If we created something that wasn’t true to us, then we would know.

What is the main subject of your inspiration?

L: Connecting people and accessibility are the main things we always strive for. Even for Confluence, where it was only me dancing, we wanted as many people to watch it as possible: we made sure the tickets were low cost; the introductory videos all had sign language and subtitles. When creating work, everything we strive for is inclusive and provides opportunities for those who may not have had them before.

C: Yes, it’s allowing anyone to be involved with our work, whether that’s watching, dancing or reviewing to create an open door into the contemporary dance world.

L: Charlie’s brother has Down’s Syndrome, and after about a year of founding Meta4 dance, he mentioned that although he loved to dance and enjoyed the experience of theatre, there were no opportunities for him. We thought, “Right, we are going to make some for you!”

We created a youth company for people with disabilities. This started us off and we both realised how big a difference this made on our members’ lives. Dance can look nice and be a lovely performance, but it can also make a massive difference. This is how we want to do it. It’s grown from there.

C: Last year, lockdown gave us the opportunity to think about what we wanted to do as a company. Especially with our move to Northumberland, we began to think about ourselves growing up in rural areas. There are often only perhaps one or two rural dance schools available for people to join. We wanted to bring our knowledge and experiences as both adults and as contemporary dancers to these rural areas because we didn’t have this type of opportunity when we were growing up. It’s about offering contemporary dance and showing people what it is.

What are you working on at the moment?

L: We have just finished working on our Natural Theatres work, which was our first Arts Council funded project. This included three livestreams: the first was with Whats That Dance performed on Newcastle castle’s roof; the second was with Pelican Theatre which took place in a field outside our home; and the third was just us with Confluence. The idea behind the first two performances was for us to get a better understanding of how filming, use of cameras and livestreaming worked. The selling point for us was to use our own filming because we are dancers, rather than having someone external come and film. We worked with the two companies in a studio and on location when they were creating their individual pieces, and what we found was that it almost became like a duet between the cameras and the dancers. We continued to explore this relationship in the final performance too.

We now have to do the final report on this, which is our immediate work currently. Also, we have a few projects in the pipeline from other companies leading on from Natural Theatres, including more filming and livestreaming, which is really exciting! We are applying for further Arts Council funding to develop Confluence from a solo into a group piece that has a longer-term process of creation.

What does “sense of place” mean to you? Is this concept present in your work?

C: Sense of place is definitely evident within our work as Meta4 because we are working with people and their places. For example, we worked at an arts centre in Skibbereen in the south west of Ireland where they have a very rural audience base. Our project there was to talk about identity and how when you are a dancer on stage, you take on a different identity. This identity could be personal or it could be the choreographer’s. However for our project, the idea was that the dancers had their own identity on stage, being themselves. This dealt a lot with place and where individuals were from, questioning “Who are you? And, what makes you who you are?”

With Natural Theatres, we worked in the natural environment and what we created was based on our experiences in the specific locations, being outside, and thinking around how people’s relationship with nature has developed in the past year.

For me personally, sense of place is significant in the need for a home. Northumberland is now where I call my home, even though I’m not from here.

L: I think my view of sense of place is slightly different to Charlie’s – I think everyone’s answer is different because of their experiences. My family has a holiday home in Ireland and therefore growing up I felt as though I had two homes. I guess my sense of place changes depending on where I am, and where I feel as though I belong.

"We worked in the natural environment and what we created was based on our experiences in the specific locations, being outside, and thinking around how people’s relationship with nature has developed in the past year."

Are there elements of your work that connect with or are inspired by the natural world?

C: I would say that Natural Theatres has been the most connected to the natural world. Previous pieces haven’t been directly influenced but there has been some indirect influence through people’s experiences of the natural world. For example: the solo Anonymous was influenced by Lily’s experience of being a child in certain places, such as at the beach. All the work we create has some indirect influence of the natural world.

L: When we were in Ireland doing some workshops, there was one man who lived on an island and therefore had to get a ferry every morning to take part. So if he missed the ferry, he wouldn’t be able to come! The natural world directly affected this; it always affects you. Because we are working in rural locations most of the time, the environment subconsciously affects us and we are always aware of it.

Does the natural world have a part to play in your everyday life?

L: Definitely, since we live in the middle of nowhere! We have a dog that we walk twice a day, and we also like to explore to visit lots of different places in Northumberland. Also, we are inherently outdoorsy people; we go kayaking, walking, hiking, swimming… We are very connected to the outdoors.

C: It helps having a dog! Often if myself and Lily are having a chat, we will go outside to sit and talk, and we tend to take breaks in the outdoors.

Do you have a favourite artist or creative individual? Someone who has artistically inspired your work?

L: We spoke about this and decided that we don’t have one individual as we are inspired by everyone. You are always subconsciously inspired by people, from small dance companies, big dance companies, an individual artist, or a person you meet outside!

C: We are influenced by the everyday, whether that’s an advert on TV, another dance company, or even a conversation with someone. We don’t have a particular focus on one choreographer or artist that we aspire to be similar to. Every artist has something to say and has a different influence on your own work. Sometimes you will love a piece, other times you might hate it, but I think this is important within art.

What would your top piece of advice be for creatives navigating their way in the arts industry today?

L: Whenever anyone asks us this, we always say “Be resilient!”

C: You have got to be tough and focus on what it is that you want to do. If something feels right for you then keep going with it and eventually you will find a way of making it work. It might take a while, you might need to take on board other people’s advice and talk to others to find out how they have done things. This collaboration often needs to happen but don’t let your ideas become squashed or ignored. Continue to be passionate about your work.

Also, you might not know exactly what path you want to go down or what subject matter interests you. We didn’t know what we wanted to do when we first started out, and in five years’ time we might want to do something different. At the moment, this is what we want to do and just because there are other people who create dance opportunities for people who live in rural areas, doesn’t mean that we can’t do it too. We have a voice that is equally important. So do what you want to do, don’t let other people tell you what to do!

Do you have a message that you hope to give to the world?

C: Everyone can dance. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you do. With Meta4, the option to dance is there and we want to show people that they can if they want to.

Meta4 Dance's Book List (and Film!):

1. Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

2. Film maker Beau Miles - find his work on YouTube (click for link).

To learn more about Meta4 Dance, visit their website and head over to their Instagram @meta4dance or Facebook

All Images: Artists' Own


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