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Social Arts for Human Rights

Updated: Apr 29, 2019

I've kept in touch over the past couple years with a coach I met through Virgin Active Joanna Puchala. My acrobat friend Louisa Harris had taken me to my first ever barre class with her.

In October Louisa and Joanna performed together to help raise awareness and money for human rights and related social issues. It sounded like an amazing project and I wanted to find out more so reached out to Joanna.


Joanna, you are the brains behind the Social Arts Festival, what made you want to kick off this new venture?


Since I founded LCP Dance Theatre back in 2006 I've worked with many artists and choreographers to raise awareness about human rights violations through art. I've never produced anything just for the sake of beautiful movement, instead always trying to do something more meaningful that can help bring about change. We've performed all over, including for the past few years at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We've been twice nominated for Amnesty International's Freedom of Expression Award and won a BBC Performing Arts Award for our human rights choreography by choreographer and dancer Mimmo Miccolis.

Over these years, it became clear there is a huge demand from other artists to take part in socially impactful performances but that most artists don't have the business and marketing skills I have from my past corporate life to be able to turn these desires into reality.

So I decided to build a platform to give other artists opportunities to perform their own pieces and express their own needs for making change in the world. This October, for two sold-out performances at the Lodge Space in Bermondsey, we held the first annual Social Arts Festival, convening artists to raise awareness about human rights, refugee issues and other social topics.


Tell me a little more about why you work with refugee and human rights issues?


I used to travel frequently to underdeveloped and developing countries and was exposed to the problems of refugees and also victims of human trafficking. As a movement therapist it's been a part of my journey working with movement as an alternative form of therapy. Bringing awareness of injustice and violation of human rights through performing arts can aid both healing and education. I want to share my experiences with the world and give an opportunity to other artists to do the same.

For many performances, I've worked from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, highlighting where current events result in violations of these principles. So as refugees have been a hot topic for the past few years, I thought it would be a timely theme for exploration. I remember my own feelings when I first left Poland and didn't have legal rights where I was living and these memories helped me relate to some of what the refugees were going through.

We try to mirror what's happening in the world, so in the past this led us to human trafficking, then this year to refugee issues, maybe next year we'll take on another hot topic.


And how did it go? I'm so sad to have missed it this year. You had I think roundabout 10 pieces?


We had more than 10 pieces over the two evenings of the performance and they were very diverse. Most were contemporary dance with different form of movements so some with hip hop, some with pole dancing, some with aerial dance and some with modern ballet. We had also theatre, some drama, some musicals, some comedy, and some live musicians.

One of the highlights for me was one of my own company's performances (LCP Dance Theatre), Escape2, We initially developed it three years ago and have performed it twice at Fringe Festival, once with aerial dancers and a second time with pole dancers, both times also combining dance with video projection. The piece is strong and powerful physically and was very moving, even bringing some audience members to tears. This is the kind of piece I love and it's been great collaborating with among others the amazing aerial artist and choreographer Natalie Taylor to bring it to the stage.

Another piece I really liked was the one by Victoria Howden. She's a singer and musical theatre performer and contributed an wonderful comedic and musical theatre piece about gender diversity. There was also Deliah Seefluth's incredible contemporary dance performance with video projection, The Assumptions We Make, and the audience loved Pretty Mess on the second day, choreographed by Natasha Lee. All of the pieces were excellent and I'm proud to have helped to bring them together.


You partnered with a lot of great organisations for the festival. How was that?


First and foremost among our partners this year was our charity partner, Room to Heal. They organise therapy for for refugees and asylum seekers and we were thrilled with the opportunity to help support them in this endeavour.

Then there were our donors like The Minded Institute, founded by world leader in yoga therapy Heather Mason. She gave an award for best performance to Natalie [Taylor] for her work on LCP's piece Escape2 which will allow her to get further training in Yoga for Mental Health.

For my part besides via LCP Dance Theatre I also sponsored the event myself via my own company FlowMove, which has been organising yoga, aerial, pilates and dance retreats and workshops and is building up an online movement academy.


Were your artists and partners all pleased with the results?


Yes, definitely. We were fully sold out both nights and reached capacity for the venue so exceeded our fundraising targets. Both the Lodge Space and the Minded Institute were also pleased that the event had brought together so many like-minded individuals, not just among the performers and audience, but also in the organisation of the event where we worked together with lawyers, accountants, IT experts and more. It was an inspiring collaboration.

We're self-funded so are trying to survive as a nonprofit project and also in raising money for charities and giving performing opportunities to other artists. We're already excited to be working towards the 2019 festival.


And what's next for you?


Next February we're going to hold a St Valentine's performance gathering artists around the theme of Love. We've got already martial artists, contemporary dancers, pole dancers, contemporary ballet dancers and musical theatre artists contributing pieces and I can't wait to see it become a reality. We're also planning another event next June about self-love. And then of course the next Social Arts Festival will be in October 2019, again all about human rights and social issues. All of these we're organising together with the Lodge Space and I want to end giving a huge thank you to them and to all the volunteers who make these events happen.


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