Now Lambeth learns to walk like an Egyptian

12th April 1996 at 01:00
Norma Cohen finds dance swirling into ancient shapes. Friezes of slow-moving dancers walk carefully on heels and toes, hands splayed like fins. Year 3 Zebras from Herbert Morrison primary school, in Lambeth, south London, practise their Egypt dance, scooping the air in undulating curves to Jean-Michel Jarre's watery piece Equinox.

This is their seventh workshop with Dance Junction, a two-woman dance company initiating dance projects for London primary schools and the community, drawing from dance syllabus material and wider curricular themes.

Past residencies have focused on Passion Plays, conservation issues including weather disturbance and recycling, solar systems, graffiti, and mechanical toys, providing performance-based work for one class, workshops for others and an end-of-residency performance choreographed for young audiences.

With enthusiastic funding from the Sir John Cass foundation ("They're moving children forward to achieve. It's good value for money") and the Walcott foundation, the focus here is on hieroglyphics: "writing in pictures".

Elizabeth Spink and Odette Battarel get down on their hands and knees to provide grassroots teaching. "Don't wriggle on the side or daydream!" urges Elizabeth. "Stay alert and concentrate on the instructions. Let's practise skipping into two circles one more time."

"Yes! I like that," shouts Otis, sideskipping back with wavy arms as Liam flaps like a Catherine wheel.

Taking photos and encouraging from the sidelines, class teacher Jo Rawson enthuses about the company. "On this tough, inner-city estate, Dance Junction are reactive to local need. They understand what's necessary, get in and provide it. Apart from a focused warm-up, their input has given them poise, concentration and a sense of team work with quite complicated, interactive sections and an understanding of different movement qualities."

"Excellent, brilliant," add her pupils. "Are you coming to the 'formance?" Applause from a packed audience of mothers, toddlers and the occasional father greets the class as they frame the stage.

The two dancers warm up with the splits and explain the creative process of looking at distinctive shapes Egyptians drew to resemble birds and statues. "The letter A looked like a triangle or a shoe. We turned it into a wellington boot. N had zigzags looking like waves."

"Or a side of a hill, slide, clump of sand, chair, piece of bread, train, piano," comes back the chorus.

"Remember to use your brains, Zebras!" says Odette, squatting behind a tabla drum, beckoning the dancers with calm instructions. They tiptoe earnestly into hieroglyphic friezes, arms crossed like statues, hands outstretched, moving through complex floor pathways into pyramid shapes.

There's an intent silence as they stretch into balances with partners. One couple becomes an upturned wheelbarrow, a boy's head resting on his kneeling partner's shoulder, his upstretched arms catching the other's bending body. Dancers jump across the stage, arms flapping like seagulls.

Elizabeth and Odette announce their "clockwork" dance incorporating elements of recent classwork. "It's the result of dancing for a long time. We practise every day."

A reverent silence greets their dynamic parody of a courtly dance, all cartwheels, shuttle swings and smacking palms, to a Bach concerto for violin and strings.

In a different initiative, Dance Junction also set up the Hounslow Youth Dance group and a Brent secondary schools dance project, with support from the London Borough Grants Unit and local funding. called Dancing in the Streets, it was based on the lives of Brazilian street children, in which workshops and lunchtime performances culminated in an all-day workshopperformance. Projects continue next term.

Dance Junction: 0171 735 4958.

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