A step towards the performance space

On Tuesday, our base moves from the Manchester Arena to the Upper Campfield Market Hall located on Deansgate where the dance will be held. It has atmosphere but the acoustics are nowhere near as good as the Arena.

We are offered coverings for our footwear to avoid them becoming stained by a surface that is to be applied to the road where we will dance. We anticipate something significant—the road covered in a non-slip or brightly coloured surface. Reality is more modest—the initial spots where we will start the dance are to be marked liberally in the colours of various teams. The concept seems to be along the lines of the Indian Festival of Colours—as the dance progresses, we will splash the puddles of dyes which will stain our clothing, so we move gradually from black and white to rainbow shades. To avoid complaints, MIF even offers to provide suitable clothing.

On the day, I throw myself into the concept, and the puddles of dye, with gusto. Within a short time, look like I’ve escaped from a particularly gory production of Macbeth. Feel superior to those dancers whose pristine clothing suggests a lack of commitment.

During the first rehearsal on Deansgate, we warm-up, run a test of the first two movements and two full circuits of the line. Unlike the Arena where limited space meant the line had be in a rectangle shape, on Deansgate, it runs straight down the road. It has a daunting impact—stretching into the distance. I am not in the starting groups, so the dance is well under way by the time I am directed to leave the Hall by a rear exit and get ready to take part. I get the full dramatic effect of seeing a long (about 350 yards), writhing, shouting line of dancers in action. The only sane thought is: "Stone me—that’s a long way.’’

We are not only dancing in the open air and on a rough road surface but in full view of the public. Some dancers are delighted to engage with the public—encouraging them to join in with the countdown. Have to say I am aware of the irony in miming a political protest in front of a homeless person bedding down in a shop doorway.

To add to the stress, there is a major football match on at the same time and some of the fans are the worse for alcohol and enjoy heckling and even joining in. I go out a lot so am accustomed to ignoring idiots who are looking for trouble. To be honest, I’m more worried about the cyclists speeding close by; but Manchester bye-laws entitle them to ride on pavements and endanger pedestrians (well, I assume that is the case; certainly that is what the cyclists do) so dancers in the middle of the road are safe.

Choreographer Boris Charmatz is mortified by the interruptions and apologises; assuring us the actual event will be open only to people who have applied for tickets. People in the Hall are aware of the significance of this moment and struggle to recall if there has ever been another instance when a French person apologised. Participants are more blasé about the interruptions. After all, if you live in Manchester, you are accustomed to the city being plagued by drunks whenever there is a football match. The concern remains, however, what might have happened as much as what actually occurred. I later find a relative was passing by and watched the rehearsal; he is from Leeds, so probably assumed such displays are commonplace in Manchester.

On the day of the final rehearsal, barriers have been set-up to prevent any intrusions onto the dance floor. Even so, we get the full effect of performing for an audience. Deansgate is a public highway, so there are many passers-by who pause to watch and even film the dance. Surprisingly, find I’m not distracted by their presence and do not experience stage fright. Probably am concentrating too hard on getting the moves right.

The rehearsal has also been shortened. As the rehearsals take place at night, I’ve been going into the office and heading straight to the venue afterwards; which is the pattern I’ve adopted when doing reviews in the distant past. It does not leave much time for housework or food shopping, so when the early finish is announced, my first thought is: ‘’I can buy milk!’’

Participants huddle around posters that have been set up promoting the event and, more importantly, listing our names. Many photos are taken.