Things gathering pace with partners and creative conversations happening all the time now, like with the brilliant Parvez Qadir. Rochdale to his boots, Parvez is doing some brilliant but also very challenging and thought provoking drama and video art with young people, developing his own practice, and broadening his skills and approach. Hearing his thoughts and responses to this project, knowing that he is with us fills me with hope that we can have a profound and transformative impact on the town and young people especially.
Likewise with Ellie Kelly, a young Rochdalian who is working with us on the project and learning a whole range of producing and development skills on the way. Her passion and pride in her hometown was something I felt first hand during the It’s In The Blood rugby league project where I first met her. In fact it was after that piece ended that Ellie spoke about Cotton Famine Road, said come and do a project on this! Well, it took a while but here we are.
And then just lately we went to meet Mary at the Rochdale Nigerian Community Association and also Nikki at Caring & Sharing, two amazing ladies who exemplify this rich and diverse town. The story of the road was complete news to both Mary and Nikki, so it was lovely to see them so inspired by it, and enthusiastic to be part of it. The conversations about how we can bring their creative forces and voices into the process is just one more revelatory uplifting beat on this journey, as step by step we lay the foundations for our own epic journey.
That everyone we speak to in the town sees the potential of this project, and is so fully behind it is really humbling. It is people such as these, whose town and heritage this is, that inspire me to make this project live up to it’s huge potential.
One of the most rewarding aspects of this process has been sharing the story, our ideas, and looking for ways to collaborate with other creatives, none more so than the brilliant choreographer Gary Clarke! Gary worked with us on The Northern School in Bradford a few years ago and we are delighted he will be not only working with us but undertaking a residency in Rochdale.
If you haven’t seen Gary’s work do so first chance you get, Coal and Wasteland are two of the finest pieces of work we’ve seen in the last 10 years. Anyway, a few weeks ago we took Gary up onto the moors, after all what better place to talk ideas, visions, possibilities and plans for this project than the cotton famine road itself? It was a beautiful day in the middle of lockdown, as we walked and talked so ideas came into focus. We asked ourselves how might we link this lonely spot way up on the hills to the centre of the town below? How could dance and movement capture the story we want to tell?
The epic struggle of a town, of a class of people to maintain their dignity, nay their lives even, in the face of starvation – and for a principle that they believed in. And just as we thought about the people of 1863 who must have toiled and broke their backs in all weathers to lay that road, to feed their loved ones, so pictures, images, ideas for motion and physical storytelling began to percolate.
As the day went on it came to us all just how much working class people at the time of the cotton famine had to endure in their hard and very often short lives for our generations to have things better. By the end of the day we were talking processions, projections, school and community dance projects, a residency with Gary and his core team of ( brilliant) dancers in Rochdale for the duration of the project. It was a good day, and there will be more to follow…