TB Agent Jo Cross shares her experience at Age Against the Machine

TB Agent Jo Cross attended Age Against the Machine at the Albany, Deptford in October. Here she recounts her experience.

Based in and around the London Borough of Lewisham, this three-week festival offered a wide range of public realm arts projects celebrating the creative contribution older men and women make; not only to this South London community, but society at large.

I had hoped to attend the Festival over two days and, unable to do so, was gutted to miss performances by the likes of Company of Elders, Sadler’s Wells, the theatre company Ridiculismus at the Albany Theatre,  Deptford  and a range of promenade and street theatre including the internationally acclaimed,  “Bed”. I’d also hoped to meet up with some of the Entelechy Arts team behind the Festival. Check out the entire programme here.

Those two, much anticipated days were contracted into one: the Grand Finale held at the Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Discovering an eclectic mix of exhibitions, music, dance and cabaret I was not disappointed, coming away with a strong sense that when we experience such powerful gatherings and generosity of spirit, all is right with the world.

Here are some of the key players and participants I had the privilege to meet.

First up, I was curious to ask Olly, a post-graduate student of community dance, how she negotiated relationships between herself as expert and her older students who may well be novices.  She described her role as a facilitator of the kind of supportive environment that breaks down barriers and fosters creativity.  As she said, if we can move, we can create.  She then introduced me to Anne and Val, two members of Boundless, the group of older dancers based at Laban.

Anne (on the left) told me about the impact that dance has on her sense of self.  For example, straightening her spine and walking tall as she enters the studio has an immediate effect.  She described how she has a sense of age consciousness in relation to her family, and her life in general, but this disappears with dance. For Anne, creativity transcends age. That there are always young dancers working with Boundless is an added advantage.  Further insight was afforded by a research project – Expose – Anne and Val had been involved in. Led by Ellis Martin-Wylie, this featured in an exhibition of  images resulting from a photo-elicitation exercise affirming the  benefits of dance for older women.

I was so pleased to meet Veronica Jobbins, Head of Learning and Participation (Dance) at Trinity Laban and Lizzi Kew-Ross, Lecturer and Choreographer also at Trinity Laban. Both crystallised the creative imperative underpinning the Festival. There had been a diverse mix of professional performers and community dancers over the course of the Festival and I wondered how a balance had been struck.  Veronica pointed out that there are inevitable hierarchies in the performing arts but these should not set up inappropriate boundaries or false dichotomies between different modes of performance.  Creativity and the excellence of its development is what really matters.

Image: Tas Kyprianou

Lizzi, whose workshop I was to participate in, pointed out that our purpose is to do the best for everyone.  She made an excellent analogy between dancers and the peloton in a road cycling race.  If I am to interpret this correctly, it is to understand the continuous progress dancers make, moving ever forward towards their goals.

So on to the workshop with Lizzi, seen here above.

This included visitors like myself, members of the Boundless group and Laban students. To a beautiful piano accompaniment (another Laban student) Lizzi had us working in groups creating imaginary circles, first with hands, then our whole bodies, as the spirit took us, gifting our creations to each other.  All these participants were strangers to me, but this process immediately established a sense of trust, immediacy and togetherness. Precious in the moment because so much of this is lost in our everyday lives. Our circles were then to form part of the Grand Finale at the end of the afternoon. But before that, completely different food for the soul in the form of the Cabaret of JOY (‘just older youth’).

Image: Tas Kyprianou

A wonderful group of men and women, regular collaborators with all generations, who love sharing their talents. Here (below) are Hanh Lue, Yen and Mung, choreographers of a compelling Tai Chi based performance. Yen (in the middle) explained  how alive being part of JOY made her feel.

“Something inside so Strong” by the Joy Club Choir further consolidated this for me. Just to be there was an absolute delight. Here’s Terry, Lesley and Jane (Chair of JOY) I’d love to see them all again…

And so on to the performance – and premiere – of Finale! that closed the day. This was a commissioned piece in seven parts reflecting different stages of the life course. Lizzi Kew-Ross and composer, Liz Lane had been working with dancers and choirs to develop what resulted in an amazing piece of immersive theatre. Our workshop groups joined in, developing our circles on the immense ramp that extends through the ground floor of the Laban Centre. We then invited members of the audience to join us. At the heart of the performance were the words of the dedicated composition “Rise Up”, sung firstly in different voice and styles and then by everyone. All this with a full scale, orchestral accompaniment.  I felt lucky and grateful to be part of this.

A final reflection. The gerontologist, Simon Biggs [1] recently indicated how society might achieve Intergenerational Sustainability and thus the bedrock of stable communities.  Key, interconnected components include Generational Intelligence and Cultural Innovation. Taking the Festival’s entire programme together with my experience of the Grande Finale event,  I’d suggest that Age Against the Machine did much to achieve that vision for the people of Lewisham and for future generations.

[1] Biggs, s. (2018) Negotiating Ageing: Cultural Adaptation to the Prospect of a Long Life. Routledge, Abingdon, U.K.

Image: Tas Kyprianou