In 2017 we embarked on an exciting project with artist in residence, choreographer and dancer Catherine Young entitled Welcoming the Stranger.
Catherine worked with people from throughout Longford, locals to the area and those from overseas who have come to call Longford their home including members of the Direct Provision Centre from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Africa. She brought both communities together through a series of workshops and rehearsals throughout October and November, culminating in a performance in Backstage on Fri 15th December alongside a group of world-class professional dancers and musicians.
Through these workshops and rehearsals the Irish and migrant communities in Longford came together to move and be moved, sharing their stories, their culture, their music, their food, their language as Catherine gently guided the group towards the creation of a work for performance. Kids dancing alongside adults. A multi-generational, multi-ethnic work where rhythm – not English – is the common language.
This true coming together of people and cultures, through their music, dance and song inspired audiences locally to embrace cultural difference and provided an opportunity for new migrants to engage with people from the local community, encouraging them to become involved with arts activities and arts organisations on a long-term basis. Welcoming The Stranger has been overwhelming for both participants and audiences alike. It has moved people profoundly and is a real testament to social inclusion and the value and richness of cultural diversity, showing that we are more similar than we are different and that there is much to share with and learn from each other. Projects like this break down barriers and bring people together in a very close and real way through the creation of art, allowing participants to form strong bonds of friendship and solidarity with each other by dispensing with preconceived notions and biases.
The Arts, and dance in particular, transcends politics, religion and language and can work to bring people together by encouraging a sense of community integration. In present times, we need more art and projects like these to forge a way forward through the negativity and shine a light on how things could (and should) be.
Backstage Theatre joined forces with Shawbrook Dance in Legan Co. Longford, who provided accommodation and technical supports and expertise. The project was also supported by Co. Longford Arts Office, Longford County Council and the Department of Justice Integration Fund.