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Express yourself

A dance performance exploring aspects of modern life is now a resource pack for PE and citizenship. Tom Deveson reports

Chains Resource Pack including video, workbook and CD, pound;35 UNICEF, Unit 1, Rignal's Lane, Galleywood, Chelmsford CM2 8TU Tel: 0870 606 3377 (order code: 35342)

Last July, 40 talented young people gathered at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London. They came from Merseyside and East Anglia, and from Nottingham and Surrey, with one common purpose - to perform the world premi re of a new 25-minute dance called Chains. Their bodies sometimes massed in determined phalanxes, sometimes drooped in desolation. For a few minutes they exploded into colour like a jiving rainbow. The music switched from a driving beat to a languorous calm.

Now the vibrant experience of the fortunate audience on that summer evening can be shared in schools throughout the country. Any class can have a go.

The Chains pack combines practical guidance on how to mount a version of the performance and how to bring critical thought to bear on the vital ethical and social issues it embodies.

Chains was devised by UNICEF UK, working in partnership with the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing. It appeals most of all to students at key stage 3, although older and younger pupils will find much to enjoy and consider. Thirteen-year-olds are beginning to form their own decisive tastes in dance and music, and are starting to realise that much of what they like historically stems from other cultures or forms part of a global youth culture. Expressive dance is becoming a medium for reflecting on troubling aspects of modern life and Chains is built on this growing awareness.

The story is framed in six episodes: "Dollar A Day" traces the hidden connection between fashionably expensive clothes and the sweatshop conditions inflicted on those who make them.

"Freedom" illustrates the right of protest among the world's poorest people, whether their oppression is economic or political, and the courage needed to express it.

"The Leaving" illustrates the plight of refugees and asylum-seekers. It shows how countless people leave their homes for frightening reasons that would overwhelm most of us.

"Carnival" compares the partying of the rich with the subsistence living of the poor. It makes a polemical statement about the unsustainability of unfettered consumption.

"Origins" shows how "traditional" ways of expressing ourselves, through song, speech or movement, are always changing and are part of a constant exchange between peoples.

"One Fine Day" - like the aria in Madam Butterfly but without the tragic denouement - expresses optimism for the future; for a new world that the dancers themselves can help shape.

A two-hour video shows the entire performance, then through each section in a series of dance workshops led by the choreographer Chris Baldock. Leading small groups of young dancers, Chris breaks the show down into series of steps, demonstrating how different styles and themes come together. He talks as he dances, bringing out the metaphors implicit in the movements - reaching for the sky and bowing down in weariness - then repeats step-counts and specific advice as the music is added.

This puts the whole of Chains, or any permutation of episodes, within reach of a PE or dance class. Judicious use of "rewind" will make it possible for even the more complex actions to be learned. This particularly applies to "Origins". The choreography draws on Chinese, Indian (bhangra) and Hispanic (pasa doble) models, weaving them into a smoothly flowing routine. A CD of all the catchy music by Greg Snape - the writer and composer of Chains - is available for rehearsals.

Heather Jarvis, who is head of education at UNICEF UK, has written an excellent 60-part workbook that's full of ideas for bringing citizenship lessons to life. They involve research, debate, role-play, decision-making and the inventive application of ideas. Background information about children in Bangladesh, Colombia, Afghanistan and Brazil reminds students that the issues given symbolic form in the dances are the daily concerns of their contemporaries.

Pupils are invited to examine their own effect on the world. An investigation traces the story of a sports shoe, looking at the supply of raw materials, the costs of manufacture, the wages of factory workers, the price paid for "branding" and the profits and losses made by high-street retailers.

Similar activities explore the effects of how we house ourselves, how we travel and how we consume energy. Some of the suggestions involve serious moral questions, such as the rights involved in peaceful protest or the different viewpoints shaping arguments about fair trade.

Others concentrate on gathering facts, such as a quiz on the subject of refugees. Mapping the different places that have meant "home" to members of the class and plotting their movements across the world brings newspaper headlines to life, substituting clarity for confusion. This will need careful handling in class. The handbook's advice is consistently sensible.

The "chains" of the dance's title are deliberately ambiguous. They can be the ties of oppression; they can be the binding desires for new commodities, or they can be the links that join us all. This pack begins with young people's enthusiasm for free and energetic movement, but helps lead them to a greater understanding of how their ideals can be connected to a practical concern for the rest of humanity.

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