Ahead of its autumn tour, Company Chameleon offered a preview of its brand new piece Witness at a special event in The Lowry Studio to mark World Mental Health Day 2016.
The Manchester-based dance company joined forces with mental health charity 42nd Street to create the event, with the aim of raising awareness and contributing to the broader World Mental Health Day conversation. The afternoon included a dance workshop for young people, a depressed cake shop, a Q and A session and two short performances from Witness.
Directed and choreographed by Company Chameleon artistic director Kevin Edward Turner, Witness focusses on Turner’s own experience of bipolar disorder and the effect it had on his loved ones. "Breakdown", one of the extracts performed, sees a rigidly tense, frenetic main character surrounded by a cast of dancers who take turns physically supporting him—athletic lifts and dynamic breakdance moves abound as each relationship shifts between cooperation and obstruction.
In a second extract, one of the female characters collapses under the strain of caring like a puppet whose strings have been cut—in an echo of the first performance, she is tenderly supported and manipulated by another dancer.
Even in these short bursts, Witness is a highly emotive watch, particularly with Turner dancing the central role—something he later admits he originally didn’t want to do. The choreographic process was informed by interviews with Turner’s friends and family, as he couldn’t remember a lot of the darkest period of his illness.
Seeing an (almost) finished product side by side with the perspective of its creators is always fascinating, but hearing Turner and his team discuss Witness is a particularly moving testament to the potential power of the arts. The announcement from Simone Spray, chief executive of 42nd Street, that the charity is having a performance venue created at its Ancoats site offers hope that the next generation will be able to express themselves creatively, just as Turner has done.
Witness will be performed at The Lowry 29 to 30 November as part of a double bill.