I followed up with Zoe and she got me in contact with Paul, the artistic director. Before I knew it, I was on a train to Liverpool, and then on to Chester to meet the Monday group. Warm tea and warm hugs greeted me - it was like being at a kitchen gathering at home in Nova Scotia! After this informal check in, we quickly got down to business. Some of the group had been there for a few months, others only a few weeks, but it was apparent how much this work meant to them - dancing and being with others who wanted to dance. The emphasis was on moving in a way that felt good tempered with encouragement and the keen outside eye of both Claire and Paul planting seeds of performativity. The unity and support of the group was palpable.
After participating and observing about half the session, I was granted the privilege of sitting down with Damian - a key member of Fallen Angels. If you have seen their work, or just taken a glance at their website, you will be familiar with the iconic image of Damian's tatooed self, ethereal wings behind him. A logo, a contradiction, a representation of hope in darkness, Damian's role in performance is that of a silent witness - he does not dance, but his character's presence on stage, cane in hand, is a gravitational force. Audience member's interpretations of his interactions with the dancers in performance shift constantly, from watcher, guide, judge, angel, to addiction itself and everything in between.
The opportunity to talk to Damian and discover not only his journey through Fallen Angels but also his camaraderie and unique working relationship with Paul illuminated a large part of the authenticity and power of the stories Fallen Angels aims to share. Through collaborative exploration, they had found a way to communicate with each other and with an audience that goes beyond words - "It's more than just dance" says Paul matter of factly, tea cup in hand. I hug everyone I have met that day, and a few members promise to see me the next day, as they are also members of Risen - the semi-professional group of dancers who have moved on from the grass roots group in Chester.
This concept of collaboration and team exploration was a common thread that weaved its way into Tuesday. Risen meets in a large open office space with a laid out dance floor. This group had a higher focus on technique and performance building, with a rehearsal full of constructive feedback and a rigurous warm up. Paul starts the rehearsal with a meditation - the idea is to explore the concept of hope today, individually, to film the solo parts and begin to create a performance by taking a bit from everyone. Paul wanders the group, offering suggestions here and there, but the creation and the feedback is a democratic process - everyone discusses what resonates with them. They are not afraid to move, not afraid to ask, not afraid to just sit and take in the music. One member feels particularly shattered and frustrated by his lack of energy - another comes over and they work together. I feel honoured and wholly welcomed into their dialogue.
After rehearsal, we all share a cup of tea together. One member tells me of how this experience has propelled him to study dance at university, another tells me of how she has been clean for 8 years but didn't truly start her recovery until she began with Fallen Angels. We discuss how recovery is a collective process, how everyone in the group has their own thing (meditation, the 12 steps) but the key is that they work together. Spending two days in the collaborative environment of Fallen Angels made me reflect personally on the places where we gather as human beings to feel connected, to feel safe and to combat isolation and anxiety. They taught me that recovery has many contexts, not just that of addiction. It is connected to the physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of us all and how we fight for that every day in our lives. By performing their stories, the members of Fallen Angels Dance Theatre invite us to remember that. I look forward to the day I get to work with them once more.