Whitworth on Fire programme is an exciting opportunity for 15-25 year olds in the Manchester area to create a youth-led fire troupe and performance, in conjunction with the Whitworth Young Contemporaries. The programme aims to engage young people with the arts in Manchester, particularly appealing to those who might not usually access the arts easily.
The programme provides participants opportunities to learn fire-dancing skills, such as fire poi, fire staff, fire hula hoop and fire diablo. Such disciplines are rooted in a variety of ancient tribal rituals, but have been co-opted and developed into popular modern art-forms. In developing such skills, young people are also supported in working together to create choreographies, duets and generally investigate the ways in which each prop and its associated movements can interact with others to create scenes that are visually appealing. The young people will showcase their skills in a performance at the grand re-opening ceremony of the Whitworth in February.
Running since October, the group meets on a weekly basis to learn new skills and to develop choreographies. But fire-arts are only one part of what the Whitworth on Fire programme is all about. Developing teamwork, confidence and commitment is the challenge at the core of our activities. While simple hand-eye co-ordination eludes some (myself included!), the former on-going processes has presented the greater obstacle for others, but has been aided by bonding regularly over hot chocolate in our chilly outdoor rehearsal space at Castlefield Arena.
Importantly, Whitworth on Fire attempts to provide an avenue for not only creative expression for its members, but also of a sense of personal ownership and agency in the programme’s output. As youth participant Jahmillah explained, “In other groups run by adults, they are more worried about what they want you to do. Here, we make decisions and choose how we would like things to be.”
Whitworth on Fire have spent their final session of the year finalising plans for the theme of their performance at the reopening of the Whitworth. The group were keen to link their performance piece with some of the artwork featured in the reopening, including Cornelia Parker’s ‘Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View’. They were also interested in capturing the Whitworth’s aim to connect the gallery with outdoor spaces and the wider community.
The young people talked about how, while part of a wider community, we often participate in activity in isolation. They explained that while we are all aware we are part of something bigger, we can sometimes have a tendency to feel disconnected. They discussed how being part of Whitworth on Fire has offered them a shared experience that allows them to develop their skills in areas such as team building, self-confidence, and challenging their self-esteem with performance. As a result, the theme of the performance centers around what the participants feel they get out of the programme.
Cornelia Parker, talking about her piece ‘Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View’ explained that, upon blowing up the shed for this piece, each of the fragments remained distressed, and without pathos. By suspending them in the air as she did, she aimed to re-animate them. The young people felt that this metaphor worked to explain that same feeling of isolation within a community that becomes animated and full of life when people join together for a common aim.
It is our hope that the movements and choreographies within the performance at the Whitworth capture the depth of knowledge and investigation the young people have committed to learning about the Whitworth’s collection. Please stay tuned for the next update as this fun and exciting project continues.