Creative Stoke

  FRONTLINEdance in Stoke-on-Trent:

THE CREATIVE STOKE INTERVIEW: we talk to Rachael Lines of FRONTLINEdance -- an integrated company of professional disabled and non- disabled dancers, providing opportunities and access to a range of dance activities to all ages and abilities.

(All photographs © copyright FRONTLINEdance & Mr. Will)

CREATIVE STOKE: How did FRONTLINEdance get started?

RACHAEL LINES: "After seeing candoCo. in my second year at the Northern School of Dance. They're an integrated international dance company; it really excited me, and I thought 'I want to do that!' Following graduation in 1998, I attended candoCo.'s international summer school and other workshops that they offered in London. I met another participant Michael King, who is a wheelchair user, and we decided to experiment more in our own time, especially as we both lived 'up north'! Following a performance at a college in Sheffield, the audience feedback we had was... WOW! Where can we see more?!. So we decided to set up FRONTLINEdance and do the 'more' that people were asking for!"

FRONTLINEdance performance.
Photo: Mr. Will.

CREATIVE STOKE: Why Stoke-on-Trent?

RACHAEL LINES: "I am originally from Stoke-on-Trent, and my family is here. I went to Leeds to train at the Northern School of Dance, and after living in London for a while I decided to return to my home city. Stoke-on-Trent College of F.E.'s Performing Arts department at Burslem has been extremely supportive. It offers the company 'in-kind' workshop, rehearsal and performance space when ever it is available, which is fantastic - we have really appreciated and benefited from their support. St. John's Institute, in Trent Vale, also supports the company with reduced-rate room-hire, and is also very supportive. We have a great deal of support and encouragement from various local council Arts Development officers, so we feel that our work is valued and well supported both in the city and around Staffordshire. We have partnerships and links with other organisations, primarily Planet Sound Community Arts, and these allow us to develop and collaborate and increase our own professional development as artists."

FRONTLINEdance performance.
Photo: Mr. Will.

CREATIVE STOKE: So things are good for you, and Stoke is a space in which you can grow?

RACHAEL LINES: "Things are getting better for all artists in Stoke-on-Trent - which means there is also a greater potential in developing our own work in this region."

CREATIVE STOKE: What are you trying to do with the company?

RACHAEL LINES: "The purpose of our group is to increase self-esteem, confidence, teamwork skills and inspiration and to raise awareness of what is possible and promote positive responses to both disability and to dance. At the same time we are challenging ourselves as professional artists, producing high-quality dance art. By then taking it to community venues as well as more conventional theatres, we ensure that we fully engage with all our audiences."

CREATIVE STOKE: Has it changed from the early days?

RACHAEL LINES: "I was very ambitious, and still am - but in a less naive way. I'm now a lot more experienced and knowledgeable. When I first set up the company, I didn't realise how hard it actually was going to be, and how much you had to prove yourself for even just a little bit of funding. It did take me a long time to build relationships with partners and funders, and prove to people the benefit & value of our work. But that was to be expected. Being in the dance world isn't easy, there isn't a great deal of money around - and so you're competing with hundreds of companies who all want to perform one theatre in one slot."

FRONTLINEdance performance.
Photo: Mr. Will.

CREATIVE STOKE: So how do you differentiate your company from all those others?

RACHAEL LINES: "Creatively I have 'steered off course', towards collaborating with a visual artist and a sculptress and various musicians. This has been such a fruitful and rewarding experience; it has formed strong partnerships and created all sorts of possibilities for collaborative work in the future. Integrity is, and will always be, important to me. Fortunately that's what many people always say that we have. So, the initial aims still remain the same and we are still fulfilling them."

CREATIVE STOKE: And that must be rewarding - to keep your integrity, expand your creative range, but keep meeting the aims you started out to fulfill?

RACHAEL LINES: "Yes! The rewards are plentiful, but they're certainly not financial! It's really hard work and very stressful for a great deal of the time. However, to know that our company has been responsible for having the ideas for a project, finding the funding, then making it happen, performing and choreographing, giving participants a space where they can visibly grow, and then get amazing audience feedback -- it's all truly amazing."

FRONTLINEdance performance.
Photo: Mr. Will.

CREATIVE STOKE: And you're also a performer with the company too.

RACHAEL LINES: "Yes, I adore being a performer. I'm also a teacher for the groups we do our outreach work with. They're fantastic - very inspirational, enthusiastic, and hard working and a joy to teach. And they're all disadvantaged, hard-to-reach and 'at risk' groups. So, at the moment, the rewards of the opportunities and experiences that I am providing are evident to me on a weekly basis. When participants and other dance company members' thank you for the inspiration, support and opportunity that you are providing - it is so rewarding. Reading audience-feedback and participant-feedback, you realise how much of a difference the company is making to society and local communities - again, it is such a fantastic feeling where the rewards spill over as audiences are opening their minds and gaining a clear and more educated understanding."

CREATIVE STOKE: And the performers in the company?

RACHAEL LINES: "Participants benefit from gaining personal and 'people skills', as well as dance skills. Teamwork, self-confidence, respect for others, problem solving, that kind of thing. It's goes beyond just the dancing."

CREATIVE STOKE: Is there an audience here, locally, for the work you make?

RACHAEL LINES: "Yes, there is. All our performances here have had full houses, with many coming to see the work more than once. We're currently delivering a number of workshops. We benefited over 4,000 participants during 2004; most of these were in Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire. We also do a great deal of work in the community and schools, which is part of building and developing new audiences, not only audiences for FRONTLINEdance but for dance in all forms."

CREATIVE STOKE: Do you have any particular audience in mind when you devise a new work?

RACHAEL LINES: "We produce high-quality dance work that is accessible and enjoyed by dance and non-dance audiences. The majority of our audiences have been non-dance, and have given thoughtful and detailed feedback..."

Audience Feedback: Beyond Immediacy and Every Single Breath; 27th March 2004 ...

FRONTLINEdance performance.
Photo: Mr. Will.

"I want to see it all over again - NOW! A truly amazing experience and wonderful performance. Thank you." / "Drew your mind into thinking on a different level. Awesome music." / "A powerful balance of emotions and movement coupled with dance. Very well choreographed and thought out." / "The expression communicated through the bodies and faces brought goose bumps to my arms!" / "Lovely, honest, open, much integrity, fluid, organic." / " Heart-felt portrayal of rewriting painful experiences and the impact they leave in the body/mind/emotions. Use of artwork to anchor the movements in the memory was clever. Use of screen projection was interesting too." / "Exploration of the depth of emotions - love, anger, hurt and the portrayal for destruction or combination. Use of mirrors is interesting - we are all mirrors for one another - The 'scenes' of tenderness between human beings was especially moving - as well as the explosion of frustrations. I liked the fragmented costumes and the '?' containing the person."

FRONTLINEdance performance.
Photo: Mr. Will.

CREATIVE STOKE: Do you relate your work to the wider cultures & movements that have formed around disability/ability issues?

RACHAEL LINES: "To date our work has not been based on disability themes and issues. Our work naturally promotes inclusion due to the different bodies, wheelchairs etc. Dance is physical its about feeling as well as doing. Our work promotes positive responses to disability and to dance, it raises awareness, but in a very natural way. I don't believe people come to see our work because they feel sorry for a person who is disabled; maybe intrigued, interested in the integration, yes. But we certainly don't encourage a 'sympathy vote' - why should we - we are all professionally trained!"

FRONTLINEdance performance.
Photo: Mr. Will.

CREATIVE STOKE: What's the thinking behind having an integrated troupe?

RACHAEL LINES: "Personally, I was and am still very inspired by it. Both visually and practically. It's what I've always wanted to do, and it still excites me as an artist. I enjoy working with different personalities, abilities and characters. I like working with great performers who can interact with the different audience members and make people think and feel. It's about providing opportunities and being open-minded, creating opportunities for those who may often be excluded from this kind of activity. Integrated dance does this. Integrated dance is so exciting; it's different, challenging, inspiring and consistently opens new avenues of creativity. I find working in this way - working with different bodies, with wheelchairs and with people - intriguing and very natural. I believe in integration in society for everyone. I hope that FRONTLINEdance increases understanding and educates society to make people and places more accommodating."

CREATIVE STOKE: What are your plans for the future?

RACHAEL LINES: "We're currently fundraising for an education tour and Autumn Performance Tour. We are delivering outreach work in the meantime. Which has been funded by the local network fund. We've just put out an auditions notice for some funded R&D work we're set to undertake in 2005."

CREATIVE STOKE: What sort of coverage from critics & writers have you had so far?

RACHAEL LINES: "We have had a little coverage so far, but it's all been good. No local critic or writer has seen the company perform, or if they have then they haven't written about it."

CREATIVE STOKE: Let's hope that changes soon! Rachael, thank you!

   Visit the new FRONTLINEdance web-site...


FRONTLINEdance photographs. Click to see a larger version.

(All photographs © copyright FRONTLINEdance & Mr. Will)

(Photos by Mr. Will. Click a thumbnail to launch a larger image.)

Previous Creative Stoke front-page interviews:

Mark Wood...

The Frink School of Sculpture...

DAZED & Benny Browne...




Made in Staffordshire, England.  Updated: March 2005.  © 2005. All rights reserved.