One Last Dance – An Chéad Damhsa

A Portuguese, a French, an Austrian, a Lithuanian and an English walk into Hull… and say 68% really? Travelling from Barton upon Humber across the Humber Bridge, along the bank of the Humber and into Hull. Along the way the four will discuss issues relating to identity, rights, referendum questions and Brexit.

One Last Dance –  An Chéad Damhsa: a perambulating dance between Guildford (the location I lived in when I first arrived in the UK as an Erasmus student in 1994) and Cloughjordan (the rural Irish village that I am moving to post-Brexit) Rita Marcalo  Instant Dissidence

For the Hull leg of the journey Rita Marcalo and Juliette (camera woman) were joined by Agne (Lit) Barbara (Aus) and Michelle (Brit) From these only one had the power to influence the Brexit vote: That person being Michelle Dee, Humber Mouth festival blogger (me).

Rita Marcalo. One Last Dance Picture: Jerome Whittingham @Photomoments

We set off in good spirits at 9.30am and by time we reached the base of the bridge were deep into the Brexit debate. Agne ever the pragmatist, suggested that Britain should just get on with it and what ever happens will happen. “So Michelle which way did you vote?” asked Rita. ‘I voted to remain,’ I say suddenly struck by the sense that had I voted otherwise, some mysterious accident might have occurred during the crossing, sending me hurtling into the water below.

To keep the mood jovial I found puns, wordplay and satire to amuse myself and the others, for the first hour of the journey: the ticking of the clock, the deadline, the cliff edge… all these ideas and more were shoehorned in (Timpsons backed Brexit did you know that?)

The walk was glorious bathed in early autumn sunshine, the wind on the bridge bracing, the estuary sparkling, the cool shade of Little Switzerland offering respite before emerging through the tunnel, to the water’s edge.

A brief snack and we set off once more taking the path that runs alongside the estuary, excitedly talking about how we might go about devising a performance piece, that would be shown later the same day: namely at 6pm in front of the audience at Hull Central Library.

I found a pile of millstones and decided these were as good a metaphor for Brexit as any. Brexit currently being the millstone around Britain’s neck.

I ran through a field of ‘fake’ wheat and picked 27 stalks representing the 27 nation states who rejected the Checkers Deal: then promptly got wedged in the fence. We did a celebratory dance in front of the Humber Bridge because it too was putting on a show in the mid-morning sun.

Barbara described PM Teresa May’s announcement for a Festival of Britain in 2022 as bread and circuses comparing this latest act of superficial appeasement from No 10 to the way Govt. kept the Roman populace happy by distributing free food and staging huge spectacles. The 2012 Olympics the perfect example, held in the U.K. during the financial crisis.

We discussed the possibility of Bojo getting in power: his bridge being akin to Trump’s wall. How he’d need a lot of European labour to get it built. How it will never be built. How he will never get in power. We also explored the rise of binary positioning in society across the board. The deliberately divisive arguments that don’t allow any room for nuance or discussion. The rise of opinion and commentary, the demise of facts, the rise of populism and the misplaced faith in capitalism.

We touched upon the politicisation of Brexit, the way it is tied up with macho politicians all vying for power, the playground politics of the Westminster bubble more concerned with point scoring. We talked about how there has been little or no real focus placed on the pending crisis in procurement, whether that be in medicines or building materials for example, and of course the sweeping changes that are already adversely affecting workforces.

We learn from Agne how she came to the UK, first to Scotland and then England Kent, to pick strawberries, to earn money to pay for her tuition fees so she could put herself through her degree in Business Management.

In this seemingly simple narrative: we are sharply reminded that crops will go unpicked and food stocks will perish as farmers struggle to attract the casual workers from Europe. We Brits will be the first to complain, when the supermarket shelves are empty of fresh produce. We will have brought it upon ourselves when there are no strawberries for Wimbledon.

“Cornish Pasties are under threat too,” I remind everyone, whilst thinking about lunch. Cornish Pasties became protected under the European Commission in 2011 along with Champagne and Jersey Royals : post-brexit they could lose their protected status. Nobody put that on the ballot paper did they?     

We talked about how the referendum question was flawed right from the start, how it was a lie wrapped up in deception and sold to the public as something else. How Project Fear made an enemy of the other and how some of the other One Last Dance –  An Chéad Damhsa (The First Dance) participants had experienced anti-European feeling in the run up and after the vote.

While Brexit is the only topic on the table there are others who are more concerned with just putting food on the table. For them that is the priority. When I see the debates raging all over social media and that is where much of the debate is being held. I switch off. I am tired of seeing virtue signalling from those in positions of privilege. It’s so very easy to care about something if you are not paying the price.

We also had a sobering discussion over the cyclical nature of history and previous instances of political uncertainty, where an inability to adequately deal with dramatic changes in direction, led to political and social upheaval: conditions where the threat of war became all too real.    

The Performance

Rita builds relationships with people, finds ways to connect and encourages them to explore social issues through movement and text. We arrived at the library and immediately began devising sifting through the ideas, rejecting some out right including the parodying of the Maybot. I believe making fun of anyone’s dancing is wrong – dancing can never be wrong – it’s that kind of thinking that promotes elitism in dance and leads to people who go through life thinking they are not good enough to join in. So Maybot was out as was a recreation complete with skirt pulling, of the UK’S only Eurovison-winning entry Making your Mind up. Also out was the rather academic discussion of borders. Although the different experience of borders and how policies made in one country effect another had been looked at during the walk, we decided trying to name all 28 – for now – EU countries, would be more fun for us and the audience.

We stuck with the clock is ticking motiff, introducing ourselves in each others’ languages. For me labas, mano vardas Michelle. (Hello my name is Michelle in Lithuanian)

Thinking about the way this generation are so intrenched in the nostalgic and conservative values of a 1950s Britopia we decided to walk backwards whilst being pulled down by the weight of the millstone of Brexit around our necks. Around and around. Dragged lower and lower to the floor. Now crawling almost to a stand still, movement hindered, nigh on impossible for the Brit currently pre-occupied by the ticking of the clock… we stopped.

The footage from our journey in One Last Dance –  An Chéad Damhsa will be edited together with that of the other participants’ journeys across the UK, creating a unique picture of EU citizens (for now at any rate) responding to Brexit.

I am left still wondering whether grassroots activist movements are worth their salt. Are they not, in their own way, just bread and circuses too? What good do they do except serve as ammunition to respond to the inevitable question, “What did you do?”

After all we are leaving Europe on a lie. We went to war on a lie. Governments trade on lies, big businesses’ stock in trade are lies: the thin veil of democracy can be used to cover every crime and lie.

The Brexit machine is seemingly unstoppable and we will all have to pay the price for – as Barbara is keen to remind us –  a thirty year old Thatcher clause that allowed this to happen in the first place.

One Last Dance –  An Chéad Damhsa by Rita Marcalo is funded by Arts Council England and supported by Hull Dance as part of Humber Mouth Literature Festival.

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Artist’s site instantdissidence