Collaborative Commissions: Tango Unchained – HQ Arts and Wakefield Jazz

HQ Arts, established in 2003, is a professional arts company based in Featherstone. HQ Arts specialise in participatory arts projects and have worked locally, regionally and nationally, delivering high quality projects for and with people who would not ordinarily access the arts.

Wakefield Jazz is a not-for-profit organisation run by volunteers, in its 31st year. It presents high quality live jazz weekly with local (North of England), national and international musicians who are keen to visit.   We present a wide range of styles and group sizes with limits excluding New Orleans or Freely Improvised music.   Our setup and membership has made our outward-facing activities limited so far and we hope to capitalise on this project to do more.

Tango Unchained is a short performance project bringing together Stuart Hawkes and Karen Quigley from HQ Arts together with musician Pete Rosser to work with older residents from across the district to create an original performance. Tango Unchained will explore the passion and stories behind the tango to reveal the hidden depths, hidden stories and hidden talents of Wakefield.

It’s Thursday 22 February 2018, I’m travelling with Pete Rosser to Castleford, to meet with our Tango Unchained group. This will be our second meeting with them. We have a plan, an accordion and the means to make tea and coffee.

They are already waiting for us in the William Street Working Men’s Club, the kettle is on.

William Street Working Men’s Club overlooks the rugby pitch where Lock Lane Amateurs play. We rehearse in front of the stage on the wooden dance floor. The bar staff are busy cleaning.

We start with a warm up: physical stretches to make sure that everybody’s parts are moving and drama games to test their reactions.

In our first three hour session together we deconstructed the tango and agreed key physical movements and gestures. We explored the stories and imagery behind the dance and worked with music to find the essence of the tango and the physicality of the piece.

With Pete at the accordion we rehearse our Tango moves. We add some Tango attitude and punctuate with moments of stillness. We ask them to work out a route across the space. They have an agreed starting point and finishing point. We repeat. We add a tango gesture, a moment of stillness, the essence of tango. We repeat. We build and add another gesture; more tango and more passion. We repeat until we have a sequence. They have now walked about four miles! They need tea and cake.

In the second part of the session we facilitate a writing exercise. They are happy to be sitting down. We all laugh a lot. We share what we have written, we laugh some more.

I gather up the stories that Karen and I will shape before our final devising session.

A quick reminder of the dance moves we’d learned earlier and there is just time to check everyone’s availability for the next rehearsal before we are off.

We have to finish on time, there is a funeral tea at two o’clock.

Stuart Hawkes is the Artistic Director at HQ Arts

“The music helped enormously with Pete leading us in on the squeeze box with that special tango rhythm and that made it much easier to image ourselves in the role.   – it had to be all sleek , smooth then staccato moves, so with a bit of practice we began to feel like dancers, when we weren’t laughing our socks off anyway, and not a wobble in sight. ” Bren, Tango Unchained participant.

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