Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist
July 09, 2024

Micro Rainbow Dance Your Freedom Exhibition

As a celebration of the past four years of Micro Rainbow’s Body and Movement Programme for LGBTQI refugees and asylum seekers, we’ve made an exhibition called Dance Your Freedom.  The programme’s history is longer than those four years:  I connected with Micro Rainbow and started ad hoc workshops and classes as part of The Casement Project in 2015.  But the Paul Hamlyn Foundation grant Micro Rainbow received four years ago has allowed a consolidation and expansion of the programme.  What was a series of sessions in London, led by a  small team of artist-facilitators, this grown to twice-monthly sessions in London, Cardiff and Birmingham led by a skilled and caring group of LGBTQIA dance artists who bring a range of dance and lived experience to their work.

For the exhibition, we worked with Brazil-based curator Leonardo Menezes whom I met when he was part of the Clore Leadership Programme in 2023-24.  He has brought his skills to the project by shaping the creative materials we’d gathered into an engaging narrative for visitors to follow. Much of the material has come from Creative Intensives when beneficiaries and members of the Creative Team have worked with invited artists: there are films made with Sam Williams, audio work by Heidi Chiu, photographic art by ….., costumes from the project with drag artist Twiggy as well as testimonials from beneficiaries gathered by Micro Rainbow and by Kate Wakeling as part of her evaluation.  As befits the ethos of our programme, the design of the exhibition has had to be flexible since it had to fit into three very different venues in Birmingham, Cardiff and London.  That flexibility has been made possible a vibrant graphic design by Kevin and sympathetically installed by the production team, led by production managed Bethany Knowles (plus Julia!).

Each of the launch events have allowed us to celebrate the community of beneficiaries and the creative team with short live performances.  We’ve found it a challenge over the years to find the right formats for live performance because we’ve been attentive to the need to safeguard the identities of participants.  Because we invited audiences for these launch events, it meant we could offer the protected space of an extended Micro Rainbow family in which we could dance together safely – as we do in the sessions.  And it was joyful to see beneficiaries take and enjoy their moment in the friendly spotlight.

I’ve also enjoyed seeing beneficiaries recognise themselves and their friends in the exhibition and I hope they feel the exhibition celebrates their right to visibility and inclusion in these public spaces.  It’s been encouraging to hear how visitors have responded to the exhibition.  Thanks to Jerry, one of the Birmingham-based Creative Team, we have these vox pops that share some of the reflections:

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At the launch in London, I met some of the immigration lawyers who provide legal advice and guidance to the beneficiaries.  While I was acknowledging how essential their work is to ensuring beneficiaries find safety in the UK, they talked about how important something like the Body and Movement Programme and other social inclusion activity is, because when faced with a deliberately hostile and dispiriting asylum process, unless an applicant has resilience and a network of support that bolsters confidence and self-esteem, they’ll find it very hard to get through the bureaucratic ordeal.  Finding moments that foster joy, creativity, confidence and connection strengthens people psychologically and emotionally for the challenge of the legal process.  Part of the aim of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation funding this past four years has been to consolidate, expand and also integrate the Body and Movement Programme into Micro Rainbow’s work.  Being able to hear from other experts in the MR community how the programme can fit alongside the elements of legal support and housing has begun to prove how that work of integration is happening.

Photo by Matthew Thompson

Photo by Matthew Thompson

One of my personal highlights from the exhibition was using the track which Alma Kelliher composed for the end of Butterflies and Bones in The Casement Project and that I danced to in the film we made, I’m Roger Casement.  This work with Micro Rainbow originated in an instinct that is artistic and personal.  The resources and framing of The Casement Project helped me practically to get something going, that the help and skill of many others (artists, producers, MR staff)  now sustain and develop.  But in an art form that is so often called ephemeral , Alma’s voice and music on a re-edit of a film Sam Williams made with us last year for a Micro Rainbow Creative Intensive,  confirmed that dancing can and does survive and resonate over time.

Silhouettes of people dancing: some standing, some crouching, some crawling

Micro Rainbow workshop at The Place as part of The Casement Project research 2015

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