Creating a Dance About Death
Dance Me To Death is a collaborative project between dancers and choreographers, and social enterprise Advantages of Age
The event seeks to honour those we have lost during the pandemic as well as creating more open conversations about death and dying
One of our talented choreographers was talking to his mother about our project – Dance Me To Death is an Arts Council England-supported collaboration between choreographers FUBUNATION and social enterprise Advantages of Age – and she recoiled at the thought of her 27-year-old son being involved in such a morbid subject. Shock, horror, revulsion – these are still common societal responses to death being brought into our everyday dialogue and activities.
However, he explained that the project was actually a way of us honouring our dead including those who died from Covid-19, and that we were creating a grief ritual in dance. In the end, she was intrigued and wants to come to the performance, which happens to be in Kensal Green Cemetery, one of London’s Magnificent Victorian Seven.
I am the co-founder of Advantages of Age, which challenges the media narrative around ageing but also delves into taboo topics such as death. I am wont to say that we’re all about Sex, Death and Rock n’Roll. We have already created an one-hour Arts Council England-supported film Death Dinner where ten death professionals – from a mortician to a celebrant to an expert on death rituals to a soul midwife – discussed what a good death might look like and their own funerals while partaking in an abundant feast at the Dissenter’s Chapel also in Kensal Green Cemetery. There is a theme to our projects!
I feel passionately that we as a society should be able to bring up the topic of death everywhere from meal times to walks to intimate conversations, that our departure from life shouldn’t be given the cold shoulder. I initiated this dance project as a way of keeping death out there in the open. Of course, our oldest dancer, Anthony Reay, at 73, mentioned that when he’s been dancing for three hours at his 5 Rhythms class – New Yorker Gabrielle Roth created it as a moving prayer for all abilities – he feels in such a blissful place, he’d like to die in that space if he could choose.
We are a group of ten over 60s non-professional dancers and when we – choreographers, Rhys Dennis and Waddah Sinada from FUBUNATION and I – were having the auditions, I insisted on finding out if the potential dancers would be comfortable with the emotional content of the workshops because that felt so important.
And the dancers have been great – open, honest and very willing. The first week, I invited them to bring in objects that represented a loved one who had died. It was very touching, everyone talked about their loved ones with such tenderness. I had brought in a photo of my close friend, Jayne Blackman who decided to end her life three years ago when she could no longer stand the mental pain of daily life. I spoke about her kindness and how hugely important that had been to my wellbeing. Afterwards, we all put our objects on an altar that I make every time, it’s a non-denominational altar, but it feels significant that we have a sacred space in the room. When we walk to it slowly and place our objects on there, it feels like the beginning of a ritual.
Over the last few weeks every Saturday morning, we have talked about grief, imagined what an International Grief Ritual might look like, shared about our ancestors, researched someone we don’t know who died from Covid-19 and built up a deep trust as well as a winsome dark sense of humour. Death and laughter are surely inseparable. At times.
And during the afternoons, we take this emotional weaving into the dance. Somehow a magic is unfolding. Waddah and Rhys are the cooks, Fran Loze on cello and Mark Fisher on guitar and percussion are the spices, the often hauntingly evocative spices. All of us dancers – after a lockdown with only Zoom dance possible – are revelling in the opportunity to move. Everyone talks about what joy dance brings in blue times. One of our dancers was made redundant during this time, she is endlessly full of bubbles on the dancefloor. Even when we’re having to count and keep to time.
During these months, I have been a frequent visitor to Kensal Green Cemetery – planning for this event as well as walking with friends in lockdown. I am aware of how graveyards have become a place of solace and comfort during this sad time. Somehow walking amongst these beautiful graves, amidst the blackbirds tweeting and emergent green, peace has often been located and breathed in. I think similar discoveries have been made all over the country. And soon we will be dancing in ours too.
Tickets can be bought here:
The performance is at 3pm in Kensal Green Cemetery, then there is an after party, an exhibition of portraits of the dancers by Theo Gould, a Q&A, vegan tagines and more dancing for everyone.