By Siobhan Brewood-Wyatt
Sometimes abstract, sometimes fantastical, contemporary dance is a medium that some people may find difficult to understand.
Caroline Finn, the artistic director of the National Dance Company Wales (NDCWales) is looking to change this. Dedicated to making contemporary dance accessible and inclusive for all, her passion for audience engagement is crucial to her work. And a key to this, for Finn, is making her work relatable to her audience.
Finn herself describes her pieces as containing a “rollercoaster of emotions”, a signature she says helps people find entry points into her works. “You might be laughing at one moment and then close to tears at another moment. I enjoy playing with that contrast,” she says. “For each audience member, [the interpretation] might be very different, but I feel confident that there’s always a way in for everyone to be able to find something that they can hang on to.”
It’s a quality that’s present in two of her works, Animatorium and Folk, both of which will be performed as part of the new ArtisTree opening season programme. Though vastly different stylistically and in message, both works are designed to appeal to people from all walks of life, and of all ages.
Animatorium, for example, brings together both light and dark humour, as well as an intimacy that is aimed at drawing the audience in. “I wanted to break that bridge between dancer and audience, between performer and audience,” says Finn. “So, for example, I didn’t dress them like dancers. I wanted them to almost be incognito when they were surrounded by other people.”
On the other hand, Folk, a work inspired by 17th and 18th-century oil paintings, is based around creating a relatable “microcosm” for the audience.“Folk is largely based on the idea of social dynamics and how people behave when they’re in a group compared to how they behave when they’re on their own,” she says. “It’s about what encourages people or forces people to pass by in a group and what can ostracise them from a group.”
For Finn, an important way of drawing the audience into her works is about creating universal, relatable and engaging stories. “It’s storytelling, but not in the literal sense of the word. I’m creating strong images that can tell stories, a unique world that audiences can enter,” she explains. “I want to produce work that is accessible for audiences, but at the same time, not something that is handed to them on a plate. It’s about the audience finding a way through the ambiguity, through the music, the sets and the costumes.”
Finn is aware that contemporary dance can have the reputation as being impenetrable, too abstract for a broad audience. So what’s her message to those who might be put off by the idea of contemporary dance?