Finding a home for dance in London
“Of all the organisations I visited, Chisenhale alone felt like it might be the
‘secret way forward’.”
‘Spirit of the underground’ John O’Mahony – The Guardian, 30 January 2011
At that time, 1976, virtually no facilities or structures existed for dancers outside the mainstream of ballet and contemporary dance companies. In order to pursue their own ideas they found their own space in which to work – a disused warehouse in Butlers Wharf, which was known as the X6 Dance Space. “It was all about living and working together,” says founder Fergus Early. “We wanted to forge a fundamentally new approach, to fuse dance with politics and performance art.” Pieces such as Bleeding Fairies in 1977 deconstructed the ballet stereo-types of swans, nymphs, sylphs and earth mothers in a menstrual riot of radical feminism. Other works, such as By River and Wharf, took the audience on a queasy journey through the dance undergrowth: “We brought them on a tour of the derelict dockland,” says Early, “including part of the river and the surrounding housing estates. We performed on the roof and in the park. The audience didn’t passively watch – the dance happened to them.”
After five years, during which time X6 became the focus for the emerging “New Dance” scene, the collective were forced to leave the building due to redevelopment. In 1980 the evicted artists found new premises at the Chisenhale works in Bow, a derelict varnish factory. They surgically removed their magnificent old maple floor, on which they had created so many iconic underground works, and grafted it onto the new location, where it still remains – transferring that experimental spirit up through the feet of a new generation.
Artists such Michael Clark, Lea Anderson, Sue MacLennan , Phil Jeck, Jacky Lansley, Anna Furse, Sally Potter, Yolanda Snaith, Javier De Frutos, Emilyn Claid, Fergus Early, Gaby Agis and Rosemary Lee have been in residence, made work, performed, passed through and actively supported the growth of Chisenhale Dance Space. Early work made at Chisenhale by these artists and the co-operative that set up Chisenhale hugely influenced other artist at this time, and many hugely influential teachers. The theatre Director Milly Still took workshops at Chisenhale. Mona Hatoum joined the resident collective here for a number of years.
Since its beginnings Chisenhale has had many forms but its focus has always been in artist development, experimentation, research and the creation of new and exciting dance and movement works. Naturally this work has spilled into experimental theatre and live art over the past few years and the space is now a hub of artist activity across many genres.
Its impact on British new dance is evident in the book ‘Out of Line’ written by Judith Mackrell, 1992.
For more on our history visit Unbound for texts by Judith Mackrell (1992), Stephanie Jordan (1992) and X6 Founding member Emilyn Claid (2006).