There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2, 4-5 NIV
In the height of the second wave of Covid-19 in 2021, while my family and I were locked down in a flat, the contrasting experiences of the people close to me were intensified by our confinement. The grief of losing loved ones, the joy and celebration of new life, the love, laughter, frustration and anger of the people around me were all shared.
Outside our home, we grasped a new understanding of the importance of social connection and found joy in even the smallest of social interactions. Who could have guessed there would be a time when we would all refrain from embracing our friends and loved ones?!
I have the enormous privilege of leading Springs Dance Company which is the UK’s most prolific and longest established Christian dance company. It is incredibly joyful for me to see how dance can inspire and transform, and therefore it is not surprising that in Ecclesiastes 3 dance is used by the writer to define the opposite state to mourning. It's obvious, isn’t it? Dance is pure joy – unrefined, explosive, human and free!
And yet also, dance can also be intimate and tender, angry and desolate. Dance can be a physical embodiment of anything that we want to communicate – especially when we don’t have the words to say it.
And so, I commissioned two choreographers to create A Time to Mourn, A Time to Dance on five professional dancers.
“Joy” was given to Heather Richmond, director of Heather Walrond Company whose work is internationally influenced with recurring themes of justice, hope, compassion, community, belonging and the celebration of life.
“Grief” was the theme given to choreographer Lizzi-Kew Ross, whose distinctive, meditative work allows the viewer to find their own way to access and engage with the theme.
It became very important early in the rehearsal process that the dance we were creating should not give answers to those grieving, but instead allow people to come together into a safe space where they can reflect on loss and life in a welcome, loving environment. Who after all can say “This is how you should grieve” or “This is how you should find joy”?
Instead, the wonderfully abstract medium of dance provides an open environment where all interpretations are welcome and where everyone watching the production can feel lighter, valued and connected to others – that they no longer feel alone in their own experience.
This has how some have responded already.
Audience member Andrea: 'I wasn't sure what to expect. I guess I was thinking I would just watch something that was nice to see, but instead I found myself looking for resonance and finding it... it is one of the strengths of the performance that it does not offer easy answers or a simplistic message, but relates to universal emotional experiences. That makes it incredibly powerful and accessible to people from any background... it was beautiful!'
One of our performers, Dan: 'I must say, I have never been a part of a show that is so desperately needed. Some people watch the show and enjoy by the artistry and athleticism, and afterwards say, “Great job, thank you!” They are blessed, and we are happy for them.
'But other people... other people come straight up to us... bursting! Struggling to put into words the deepest and profoundest experiences—how they saw their own lives, or their loved ones; how mountains of grief were suddenly understood; how heaviness has been dispelled, and lightness is flowing out of them! It is at once humbling and life-giving to see people share their grief and vibrations of joy.
'When society and the world is in turmoil, I’ve found performing this piece meaningful and timely. It’s been a privilege to hear people’s reactions.
'The woman said, 'I loved the part where the woman picked up the man!'
'The children after the show practised dancing what they had seen (including lifts!). The man who said, 'I felt seen.'
Audience member Alan: 'I've been to loads of modern dance. Last night was easily the best experience, the best performance, the best night. Stunning. Blown away. So grateful.'
There is a time for everything under the sun... a time to mourn and a time to dance.
Watch a documentary about the making of the production here: