Imagine the sounds of birds chirping, crunch of autumn leaves, smell of scented spring flowers, shared songs and an impulse to move.
Beyond the Walls is a multi-sensory interactive arts performance created in 2016/2017 which brings to life cutting- edge research into improving life with dementia. It creates an evocative journey using dance, objects and music. Memories and relationships move through the space, evoking the lives, histories and experiences of those within care homes. A poignant piece of contemporary dance, performed by Trinity Laban Dance Artists, set to an original live and interactive music score by Eliot Lloyd Short.
Beyond the Walls is a collaboration between Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and reminiscence arts organisation Age Exchange. From 2012-2015, Age Exchange worked closely with researchers from Royal Holloway University of London to explore the impact of their work in care homes on the well-being of participants with dementia. At the close of this research, Age Exchange wanted to find an alternative way to demonstrate the impact of their work to funders and other parties – but in a more dynamic, immersive and multi-sensory way than the customary end-of-project report. So, Age Exchange commissioned Trinity Laban’s Learning and Participation (Dance) team to work on a performance that encapsulated the impact of Age Exchange’s practice.
Trinity Laban Dance Artists Stella Howard and Lucy Evans spent 3 months embedded in one of Age Exchange’s care home arts projects, acting as ‘participant-observers’ while Age Exchange facilitators worked with residents on a range of dance and visual arts activities. From here Stella and Lucy devised a piece of choreography and a live music score, working with musician Elliot Lloyd-Short, which distilled and expressed their findings.
Beyond the Walls: The artist-research and performative dissemination, published in Applied Arts and Health (Prior, Kossak & Fischer, 2022) draws accounts from the project’s artist-researchers to investigate how the work offers an alternative, person-centred and democratised means of generating and disseminating research data, notably through the performance’s capacity to spark various modes of empathy and to enact the idea of ‘embodied selfhood’. The authors reflect on how such an approach to research and evaluation might be applied more broadly to other arts in health programmes.
The piece has been performed to great acclaim at the Battersea Arts Centre, at the Laban Building as part of the London Arts and Health Forum’s ‘Creativity and Well-Being Week’ and at the 2017 People Dancing conference in Glasgow.