Freedom of movement: politics expert joins Brexit dance project

New work attempts to address aspects of politics difficult to capture in words

March 30, 2018
Students perform Taking a Position
Source: Drazen Priganica

A politics expert and a choreographer have joined forces to produce a contemporary dance work inspired by Brexit.

Stephen Coleman, professor of political communication at the University of Leeds, worked with Sharon Watson, artistic director of Phoenix Dance Theatre, to generate material for Taking a Position, which premiered recently at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds.

The pair drew inspiration from the phrases “taking a position” and “taking back control” – terms that were used heavily in the run-up to the referendum, in which voters backed the UK’s leaving the European Union – and from the fact that Leeds was split almost 50:50 in that poll.

Ahead of rehearsals, Professor Coleman conducted interviews with six local Remain supporters and six local Brexiteers who were willing to talk “at an impressionistic and affective level”.

The performers listened to some of the interviews, some excerpts of which were woven into a soundscape created by Christella Litras.

“I wanted to find a way of talking about politics without using the traditional language of politics,” Professor Coleman told Times Higher Education. “Emotive issues in politics are hard to quantify, despite a whole spurious industry around trying to do so,” he said, citing the recent scandal about Cambridge Analytica. “It is difficult to talk about moods and emotions in politics at a level of seriousness similar to the quantitative stuff.”

Political scientists, Professor Coleman continued, lacked a vocabulary for dealing with feelings such as shame or the kinds of visceral reactions that, for example, led voters to turn against former Labour leader Ed Miliband after he was photographed eating a bacon sandwich.

In his interviews, Professor Coleman explored what it was like for Brexiteers to be “accused of narrowness”, “arguments about how others had interpreted their position” and “how you deal with disagreement at an emotional level”.

Ms Watson said that she hoped that “people find a way of connecting with it because it’s a story that resonates and will be with us for a very long time”.

Their experimental collaboration had proved “immensely rewarding”, added Professor Coleman, in addressing “a different dimension of political communication – one that can help us to understand raw feelings that are too easily neglected in our political discourse”.

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