Endings, happy and sad, are the substance of a new dance show. David Whetstone meets creator Nadia Iftkhar.
Real-life stories from women across the region have been distilled into a new dance show to be premiered at the weekend.
It is called The Sense of an Ending and it is the first full-length production of of Red Road Dance Theatre, set up by dancer and choreographer Nadia Iftkhar who grew up in Walker, Newcastle.
Dance City, where the premiere is to take place on Saturday, describe The Sense of an Ending as “a love letter to women everywhere who have survival stories that may never have been told and a celebration of their strength, intuition and courage”.
Sitting in as dancer Kate Jackson – falling back in love with the North East having recently moved to London, I’m told – rehearses a short excerpt from the hour-long show, it becomes clear that this is not to be an evening of unbridled joie de vivre.
The dancer runs to the back wall of the theatre, as if desperately seeking an escape, and then turns to face us with a pleading expression.
It is intensely moving. This is a women in turmoil, mentally and physically in knots. She speaks, too, and that is to be a feature of this production – it is not averse to text.
Nadia says she put out an open call for stories. “We did work with Tyneside Women’s Health but we wanted it to be open to absolutely everyone. The only criterion was that the stories had to be about an ending.
“Women could write to me or send an email. They could meet me and have their story recorded or they could Skype me, but they could all keep their anonymity.
“I got stories of of loss, of abuse, of grief and what these have in common is that they are all survival stories.
“But the subject matter was varied and some of the stories I got were absolutely joyous. I got stories of holiday romances and one from a woman who ended her lifetime aversion to exercise and started running. She told me what it was like to complete her first 5k race.
“So we have a complete spectrum of stories. As far as I know, the oldest participant was 82 and the youngest was 21.”
The stories – about 60 of them – will not be performed individually. Rather, they have been blended into three distinct solo performances to be danced by Kate and also by Molly Hodkinson and Caroline Reece.
“We have used all the stories,” says Nadia. “It has been a long process and a difficult process. Firstly I had some time on my own when I just worked on the stories and got a feeling for which ones seemed to live in the same place.”
Even the short and engrossing excerpt I see is the distillation of several stories, says Nadia.
It all began, she tells me, with a close relative. “My Nana is my best friend. My first memory is of her taking me and holding my hands and dancing with me in front of the fire. I moved into the flat underneath hers in Byker.
“During her lifetime she has had more than her fair share of traumatic events, starting from childhood, but she doesn’t talk badly about anybody and she really has so much wisdom. She is my moral compass. I listen to her stories because we spend a lot of time together.”
Among those 60-odd stories is one supplied by Nadia’s Nana who will be in the audience on Saturday.
Nadia, who is 32, graduated from Newcastle College in 2007 with an honours degree in contemporary dance. She got her first job at Dance City working on the Dancing the World festival, which brought a host of international dance companies to the region. She has also worked for Zendeh, the Newcastle theatre company known for its diverse and collaborative work.
Earlier this year Nadia was one of 10 artists chosen for an Arts Council-funded project called This Way Up, which teams up artists and producers with a view to creating high quality work capable of being toured nationally.
For Red Road Dance Theatre, The Sense of an Ending could be just the beginning.
Nadia, perhaps feeling the pressure a few days ahead of the premiere, says: “There is a great sense of responsibility that comes with creating a work like this because it involves women’s lives and they have offered their stories so generously and trustingly.”
The piece, commissioned by Dance City and with support from Gem Arts, Arts Council England and Spin Arts Management, is also a collaboration with sound designer Al Orange and film-maker Jamie Korn.
Dance City boss Anthony Baker says: “Commissioning new work and providing support for artists like Nadia is a really important part of our work at Dance City and is just one of the ways we contribute towards a healthy and vibrant dance ecology in the North East.”
The performance at Dance City on Saturday is at 8pm. Box office: 0191 26105050 or via www.dancecity.co.uk . A second performance will take place at Arts Centre Washington on November 27 at 7.30pm – 0191 2193455 or www.artscentrewashington.co.uk