Art+Christianity
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Coventry Cathedral

 

Coventry Cathedral


 
 

Performance Piece 

The contemporary dance performance, ‘Lost’ by the dance company Motionhouse tackles the experience of being physically and emotionally lost. The choreography of the duet sees the dancers combine complex lifts with emotive communication through movement. This work was performed at Coventry Cathedral in May of 2018 as part of the Diocese’s Centenary Festival celebrations. Two performances took place in the nave as part of a service, followed by a performance in the old Cathedral ruins later in the day for the general public. Lost premiered at Motus Dance Festival, Milton Keynes in June 2014, and has since it has toured to festivals as well as a range of corporate and other events. 

Objectives and outcomes

The Dean of Coventry Cathedral, John Witcombe, remarked on how positive reactions were to the performance:

‘I was absolutely delighted the way people responded, they were mesmerised. I talked to as many as I could afterwards and did not have a single person that had not loved it, youngest to oldest.’ The Very Rev’d John Witcombe 

Those who witnessed the performance were intrigued by the artists and wanted to know more. This curiosity, along with the general success of the performances, has built an audience for and the company will be performing again in the old Cathedral ruins in September. Rev’d Witcombe also felt that a positive idea of the Cathedral’s potential had been formed in the eyes of the community because of the performance. 

‘It was clear to me that the event had done what I wanted it to do, it has raised expectations and imagination about the Cathedral’s possibilities.’ The Very Rev’d John Witcombe

Context

Coventry has known three Cathedral buildings since the 12thCentury. What is now referred to as Coventry Cathedral comprises two buildings in the centre of the city of Coventry: the ‘old Cathedral’ ruins and the ‘new Cathedral’ building. The ruins are those of the medieval parish church, consecrated as the Cathedral of the Diocese in 1918 and destroyed by air attack during the Second World War. Today these ruins are a memorial and sacred space for the City and provide a dramatic backdrop to open air events. The new Cathedral was consecrated in 1962 and is an impressive modernist construction designed by Sir Basil Spence and Arup.

Description

After the Cathedral’s Dean had seen and been captivated by a performance of ‘Lost’ elsewhere, he discussed with the company the possibility of performing the piece at the Cathedral. When considering opportunities for scheduling the performance Witcombe always envisioned the piece in the context of worship, and the Cathedral’s programming team for worship was involved in planning the event as well as the arts and events team. Identifying a date which suited all schedules was a challenge. Once a date was agreed, a rate was negotiated with Motionhouse that was realistic for the company yet not prohibitively expensive for the Cathedral. These preparations and other planning took place over the course of 2017. The opportunity to showcase ‘Lost’ within the context of the centenary celebrations seemed appropriate and so it was decided to incorporate the performance into a day-long service when there would be a large congregation attending the Cathedral. This context also opened up funding possibilities because the cost of the performance could be included in the budget for the overarching festivities. 

The performance was discussed with several clergy members to ensure that it held to the values of the Cathedral, while the Cathedral’s arts and events team was also consulted to ensure the quality of the work and to meet PA requirements for the music. No interpretive text was provided for this piece but the Dean felt this was appropriate considering that Motionhouse chose not to provide interpretation. Although interpretation might have helped to direct the viewer’s thoughts while engaging with the performance, Rev’d Witcombe felt that the piece inherently corresponded to the Christian values of the Cathedral without specific explanation. 

The centenary event benefitted from a concerted marketing campaign, which was managed by the Diocese. Posters, newsletters and other advertisements were widely distributed. 

There was no consultation with the Fabric Advisory Committee on the subject of this performance because it was a singular event and did not involve any fixings to the fabric of the building. 

Appraisal

The values of the Cathedral were safeguarded as a result of regular consultation with clergy and with the Cathedral’s professional staff, which resulted in a successful event. The Bishop was also consulted to ensure that the performance complemented the larger Diocesan event of which it was a part. 

Coventry Cathedral is working hard to develop its standing as a professional arts venue. The aspiration towards that goal, dedication of those working on related projects and the assistance of those who have built a relationship with the Cathedral through these events has allowed for overall success. 

‘[the performance has] become part of the overall narrative of building, the sense of the Cathedral as a place that offers a venue for high quality arts and events.’ The Very Rev’d John Witcombe

The Dean remarked that if he were to offer advice to someone wishing to mount a similar event he would encourage them to,

‘be true to yourself… what happened here was that… my passion for the arts correlated with the possibilities of the building. I have done things that excite and energise me and I have discovered that they also excite and energise others.’ The Very Revd John Witcombe

 

Artist: Motionhouse Dance Company
Date: 2018
Location: Coventry Cathedral

 


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