This week, we’re thrilled to bring you a guest article from dance artist and choreographer, Kimberley Harvey. Kimberley is a longtime member of the Candoco Dance Company, as well as leading her own group, Subtle Kraft Co. This year, Institute of Imagination are proud to have her on the judging panel for our 2019 Cultural Residency which explore the Imagination Matters theme, Empathy.
In this exclusive article, Kimberley discusses what inspires her practice and how empathy plays a part in her work. Her aim to be inclusive regardless of perceived ability, and explore, through creativity, how we connect with each other. The idea that through self-expression and sharing of experience we can understand each other better, is an integral part of the theme of Empathy which the residency seeks to explore.
We hope you enjoy reading about Kimberly’s work and the power of an artistic approach to empathy.
I can’t quite believe that 2019 will be the ninth year that I have been working professionally in the contemporary dance sector. Although I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a dancer, it was only when I started collecting a variety of experiences through my training years that I began to consider the different elements that can encompass the role of a dance artist.
For me, what unites my work as a freelance performer, teacher and choreographer, as well as in my own company, Subtle Kraft Co., is the forming of (or the desire to form) some kind of human connection through dancing. Therefore, it becomes about the people that are involved and how they use movement to relate to and communicate with one another. These different roles are all an opportunity to share an experience, whether that be with a group of participants in a workshop; as the dancers in a company, or the relationship created with an audience when you are performing.
Making A Connection
My first experience of dance was at the age of 12, when I joined Candoco Dance Company’s youth company, Cando2, which, just like the main performing company, was a contemporary dance company for disabled and non-disabled individuals. Right from the beginning I remember the sense of belonging I felt at being part of Cando2. It was somewhere where I could let my imagination run free and find new ways of expressing who I was. Alongside this, I experienced how being part of a youth dance company is about valuing each other’s contribution and ultimately, about understanding what it means to work together. The Cando2 dance company environment was artistically driven and fundamentally underpinned by values of kindness, listening, a sense of group responsibility and an empathy for each other.
I experienced how being part of a youth dance company is about valuing each other’s contribution and ultimately, about understanding what it means to work together
In dance (as in life!) I am interested in people; the individuals I meet, dance and work with. So, I place great importance on compassion and empathy and am constantly and actively trying to ensure that these qualities are intrinsic to my artistic practice and approach. As a dance artist, I place huge value on play and the need to allow ourselves to be genuinely curious as we explore different creative ideas and movement possibilities. Imagination plays out in our moving bodies, creating and exploring how each of us dances, thereby fuelling imagination even more, and allowing ourselves to ask questions and invite them too. During any creative process that I am facilitating – for Subtle Kraft Co, within an educational setting, or during outreach work – a sense of play is always the starting point.
I have had the privilege of being a GOSH Arts resident artist at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital for the past two years. Our job is to bring dance into the hospital setting to distract, amuse and entertain children (and their families), who may not otherwise get to experience it in this way. This might be through watching an impromptu performance in the outpatients waiting area, or by engaging with us in a direct interaction (i.e. dancing with us, or perhaps choreographing their own dance or a dance for us). This setting requires us, as dance artists, to listen with every ounce of our being and let empathy and ultimately, just being human, guide every dance encounter and every interaction. It is wonderful to witness the different responses that dance can initiate within the hospital setting, and to see that its presence can extend positively to the hospital staff too.
It just so happens that I am a dance artist that has a disability. For me that includes being a wheelchair user. My disability is part of who I am, but it does not define my entire identity. As a choreographer and teacher I aim to always facilitate inclusively.
There may be different parameters applied to a workshop, depending on its aim and the setting (such as early years, youth groups of ages 13-25, or recent graduates and professional artists). Then, following on from that I will work with the individuals present to find the entry points and ways for each person to be part of the experience.
Empathy In Practice
The fact that I am a visibly disabled dancer may serve as a way of helping others with any kind of disability realise that they are welcome in an environment that I’m working in, but I am acutely aware that this isn’t something that can just be assumed. There are some societal perceptions that are so deeply entrenched that we don’t even realise that we are living by them. Therefore, by becoming aware of these we can choose to change how we think and act if we want to. There is often still a need to be explicit about the inclusive nature of the invitation to dance – otherwise some people may automatically believe it doesn’t apply to them.
others with any kind of disability [may] realise that they are welcome in an environment that I’m working in, but I am acutely aware that this isn’t something that can just be assumed
As far as I am concerned, working inclusively means being open and responsive to the needs of the individuals in the room, and adapting how I facilitate accordingly. It means working with individuals to find what works for them and being curious about the possibilities for movement that we each have. In my eyes, part of working inclusively is making sure that every individual is both supported and challenged at whatever stage they are at.
For me, there are so many different facets to our identity and I love the fact that potentially any of these can influence my work as a dance artist. I am curious about others, but I am also curious about who I am, what I’m learning; and how I can continue to embed a genuine sense of care and empathy in my artistic practice.
Header image: From ‘Moments: Revisited’ Photography by Roswitha Chesher