Case Study
  • Posted on December 1st, 2022

Inspiring proactive responses to the climate crisis with Balbir Singh Dance Company

Balbir Singh dance company. Person mid dance move, arms raised

Billed as a winter tale for our times, The Boy with the Rollerblades offers a delightful, poetic tale of a boy whose magical talent (ice skating) is put to the test when all of the ice in the world begins to melt.

It follows Gary on a thrilling and inspiring journey as he navigated the world on rollerblades, encountering endangered species and ever-changing weather along the way.  It is a tale of resilience and strength with timely emphasis on climate change that asks audiences to think about what we can all do to make a difference.

Featuring Balbir’s signature mix of classical north Indian Kathak and contemporary dance styles, The Boy with the Rollerblades was performed to live music that blends traditional Indian sounds with jazz.  The original music was composed by Jesse Bannister.

The show performed by Gary Beacom premiered at Magna as part of a 2-year project with primary schools in Rotherham to engage children from widely diverse backgrounds in the town with arts and culture. It also showcased how the arts are invaluable to raise complex and pressing issues using imaginative, thought-provoking, intercultural, engaging storytelling, including through the universal language of music and dance. 

The children in the audience were mesmerised by the piece and their families equally delighted by the show. Teachers recognised the potential to further develop environmentally themed conversations and work with young children. They better understood the value of a gentle and fun approach that placed children’s imagination at its core in enabling empowered, positive responses. 

Indeed, the company’s renowned intercultural, cross artform storytelling performances had all the ingredients to win hearts and minds and inspire proactive responses to the climate crisis. And it is the company’s mission to take audiences and artists on an unexpected journey of the senses that fires their imagination and leaves them feeling exhilarated. This time, we were also committed to developing environment and climate justice as creative themes, inspiring work that seeks to support people of all generations to imagine a different, hopeful future.

A series of  searching conversations, research and studio exploration was undertaken by the Artistic Director, connecting with collaborators across sectors including specialists in sustainability and a then partnership project with Children & The Arts (CATA), Magna Science Adventure Centre and four Rotherham primary schools. But key to the Company’s first work with a climate crisis focus, was former world figure skating champion, Gary Beacom. The Boy with the Rollerblades is a fantastical work for children showcasing his mesmerising talents, whilst gently introducing children and families to environmental themes. 

We performed the show three times in summer 2019 reaching 875 children and their families and a further 150 as a street show at Billingham International Folk Festival. For most of the children and their families, it was their first experience of a theatre show and certainly one that combined such different disciplines and global cultural influences.  

“Delivery was very good, and the children loved it. Accessible for all children” teacher at Roughwood Primary School.

“The dance was challenging in a good way for the children, but I think this was very beneficial and made the children enjoy what they were working towards” teacher at Rockingham Junior & Infant School”

BSDC maintained a connection with the Academy during the pandemic offering some on-line resources and delivery and in autumn 2022. the company became dance artist in residence for the 2022/23 academic year, to help with post Covid recovery, sparking joy into the schools curricula post the pandemic. The new programme develops the environmental theme of The Boy with the Rollerblades with a focus on co-creating outdoor mile walks with children and teachers that respond to nature and the environment. Work created in response by the children will culminate in a mass performance in July 2023. 

The evolution of thinking for Balbir from an abstract concept to engaging narrative through a collaborative and exploratory creative process has led the company to better understand and define its creative practice in response to the climate crisis. He recognised that empathy can be one of the most effective factors in connecting people with the planet and global communities most impacted by the climate crisis. This has led Balbir to think about how the stories that we tell can connect people across continents, tapping into common experiences of humanity with our audiences. 

It also means that we are now considering how we deepen this aspect of our work as a way of affecting policy-makers, encouraging them to connect with the plight of the planet through eyes of compassion, regeneration and recognising the essential task of respecting and replenishing the very source of life. Balbir attended Julie’s Bicycle The Colour Green Lab soon after completing The Boy with the Rollerblades, where he gained further insight and thinking into how to confidently frame and articulate working as an arts sector organisation in the areas of environmental responsibility, sustainability and inspiring change.

BSDC continues to integrate and develop these creative themes and evolved practice across its artistic programme and regularly complements its now extensive repertoire inspired by environmental themes. This has seen a whole new programme of creative walks, connecting people to nature in their locality and new partnerships with organisations like The Conservation Volunteers and Friends of Gledhow Valley Woods in Leeds.

This case study is part of the Culture, Climate and Environmental Responsibility: Annual Report 2021 – 22.