Wandsworth Tandem Ballet project aspires to create lasting legacy


Tandem Ballet is a bicycle dance show involving six blind and partially sighted participants.


By Kimberley Swift

“Spirit in Motion” is the motto of the Paralympic Games.

This summer, 4,200 athletes are preparing to create a legacy in London as they hope to go down in history as medal-winning Paralympians.

Meanwhile, one small project in Wandsworth hopes for a legacy of its own after a brief but innovative research process led to a successful public sharing this week.

Approximately 2m people will attend the Paralympic Games in September.

On Tuesday July 10, around 15 people watched Tandem Ballet, a bicycle dance show involving six blind and partially sighted participants alongside six sighted riders, on borrowed bikes.

The tiny audience consisted mostly of the project’s funders and students of Linden Lodge School, Wandsworth, but it was key to the unlocking of ideas for the future.

Arts Council England were among the funders, following a successful application.

“There was something rather remarkable about watching a blind man dance solo with only a bike as his guide,” said Sally Abbott, Regional Director, South East, Arts Council England.

“The Grants for the arts fund encourages risk, innovation and trying new things out, so to support ground-breaking work on a tandem ballet for visually impaired cyclists in 2012 is a great thing as it ties in with the vision of London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, which celebrates the London 2012 and the Paralympics games. The fusion of sport and art is also still relatively rare so it’s great to see more of this work happening.”

The project’s creative producer, Karen Poley, said the audience was small but perfectly formed, with key people present.

“This whole project was really just to see if we could do anything, because we started and we had no idea, but now we’re all very excited about what we can do,” she said.

While the London 2012 organisers continue to work on ways to increase public support and interest in the Paralympics, it is these kind of low-key, bubbling conceptual projects that can make a difference to people on the other end of the scale.

“I think you could very clearly see the people that got involved changing and developing in their confidence,” said Karen.

“There was one person in particular it made a huge difference to. He was very lacking in confidence physically. By the end of it, he started the show by walking into the space with one of the bikes.

“I think that’s what we saw with everybody – gradually there was a build up of trust and they responded to what we were doing brilliantly.”

Wandsworth resident Bob Broad, a keen cyclist involved with the Wandsworth Cycling Campaign, volunteered to be one of the sighted riders and described the experience as “humbling”.

“I hope there’ll be another one and there can be more awareness among those with influence to include the voices of those who are excluded,” he said.

“It was a different experience. I think it broke down a few prejudices as well that a lot of people don’t know they have. A lot of us take our life for granted and what we have.”

Yet groups like Tandem Ballet, despite counting Wandsworth Council among their funders, must wonder how they can continue to build in an era that sees the council having to slash its spending by £70m.

“Obviously we’re concerned about whether people will be able to continue to present free outdoor works, especially local authorities,” Karen admitted.

One key issue is the cost of the bicycles. Birmingham-based company Dawes Cycles currently has a selection of sleek, compact-looking tandem bikes going for between £799.99 and £1,799.99.

In spite of the challenges, Karen is optimistic about the future, while experiments with audio description gave rise to ideas for a more poetic show with a story.

“I don’t think there’s been a lot of work in terms of performance in this area,” she said. “This would be the first outdoor work.

“I think there’s been a lot of effort put into the arts and the Paralympic opening and closing ceremonies. That means there’s real interest and I think that there could be a real legacy here.”

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