TurnAround Dance Theatre are a group created by three sisters Ellen, Lily and Grace who grew up in rural Lancashire and primarily create work for children and families. Their background seeps into their practice. A lot of it is performed outside in the fresh air and is underpinned by a flaring desire to “make memories for families”, mirroring the ones they created growing up together and the ones they create working together now.
We chatted to Grace, who explained that she first came across The Civic whilst studying at Greentop Circus Sheffield. Having already done one round of R&D (Research & Development) for The Thief, the Fox and the Phoenix, they were looking for match funding for an Arts Council bid and that is the initial reason why they decided to apply for CARP in 2017.
She explains, “we really liked the flexibility of the CARP programme, it was really tailored to our needs (…) it was wonderful and really fitted with what we were doing at the time.” She adds, “we were also drawn to the fact The Civic presented a fusion of arts”; they felt we were a good fit having always programmed a lot of family orientated shows.
One of the key pieces of learning that came from this support was working with Movement Director TC Howard. Grace explains that having collaborators is important to them, admitting that working with your family can sometimes mean the “lines become blurred”; having an outsider work through the piece with them, really benefitted it. As well as this, moving from a venue in Lancaster to utilise space at The Civic for a week was eye-opening and helped them build a new strategy for devising work.
The Thief, the Fox and the Phoenix was scheduled as part of our Garden Party, something Grace says they really enjoyed: “we were part of a collection of performances and it was really nice to feel part of a wider group of artists.” Having had a few previous shows cancelled because of bad weather, she also said that the option that the party could be moved inside if it rained was brilliant.
Since Covid-19 struck, the sisters have been working on different projects.
As well as being a performer in their company, Lily also runs TurnAround Therapy and TurnAround Earth. Her expertise are invaluable to TurnAround Dance Theatre to keep them physically healthy and environmentally conscious.
Ellen, who plays the Fox in the show, has been doing socially distanced performances in her local area, as well as online parties for kids. Grace has been delivering Aerial dance classes for adults, as well as working on a piece of dance for film that delves into the connection between nature and well-being. On both accounts engaging the audience in new ways has been a focus point; Ellen sends out gift boxes to all the children involved in the virtual parties to increase interaction and Grace’s film will be converted into a digital map where people can watch videos of different parts of the piece in various locations.
Grace says, “we pride ourselves on making our shows as inclusive as possible” and explains that engagement with the audience is crucial to what they do. Reminiscing about a performance of The Thief, the Fox and the Phoenix, she remembers one child who, when asked to decide between a feather and stick (which represented a friend), enthusiastically shouted “KEEP THE FEATHER”. Grace adds: “it’s so great to know we have created an environment where a child has the confidence to say that out loud in front of so many people.”
Although working independently, the team are also creating a winter show, which still has family audiences at its heart, but delves into the relationship between young children and older adults, in particular grandparents with Alzheimer’s or Dementia. This piece has been influenced highly by Ellen’s work within the care home setting and their collective relationship with their own Grandma who had Alzheimer’s disease.
It is clear to us that any upcoming projects and performances will continue to build on their creative passion and the imaginations of those watching.