Getting a new business, arts organization or any new initiative off of the ground can be challenging during the best of times, but even more so during a global pandemic. It requires equal amounts grit and creativity, hard work and resilience. Fortunately, that’s something that Untellable Movement Theatre has in spades.
Officially launched on October 5, Untellable is a non-profit company that aims to promote movement in unconventional spaces and make dance accessible, while breaking down barriers between art and the community by creating opportunities for the public to engage with the form.
“Of course, there’s lots of time to brainstorm during the pandemic…and it became really apparent to me that traditional theatre settings were something that would have to be modified,” says Lynn Panting, Artistic Director and Producer of Untellable.
“And I’ve always really enjoyed, as a performer, unconventional spaces…and just thought, wow, so we could just do a performance in someone’s kitchen or in someone’s back garden at a safe distance, or you can do little pop-up things…more of a grassroots idea of how the art can meet the public.”
As a movement theatre company, says Panting, they’re not strictly defined as dance, but rather, want to expand upon the idea of what dance can be both for the arts community and the audience.
“I think sometimes, things can be intimidating if they’re new. And if we just think about movement, I mean, everyone moves. So we’re just trying to be accessible and meet people where they are. So then they could start with us and then maybe enjoy organizations like Kittiwake or the Festival of New Dance. So it’s kind of like a stepping stone into other related projects.”
Through what has been a tumultuous year, the team at Untellable Movement Theatre has hit the ground running, launching their inaugural project “Mayflies” in tandem with the company’s launch. Inspired by Al Pittman’s poem “Dance of the Mayflies,” the project consists of 50, one-minute dance solos performed by different dancers in various locations. A new solo was released on Instagram every weekday for 10 weeks, starting on October 5. On December 8, ArtsNL released a compilation of the solos as part of their “Art in the Time of COVID” series on their YouTube channel.
“The idea is they’re just one minute, they’re here and they’re gone again. And they’re available at the most accessible place, your phone…and what I love about them is all the different settings. Someone’s dancing in their living room or a new apartment kitchen, someone’s outside, or in between the two houses on (their) street. It’s just really fun to see all these very different locations and very different production qualities,” Panting says.
And there are also some ambitious plans in the works. In the new year, Untellable will launch “Starting Point,” a support program that matches emerging artists from underrepresented communities with mid-career or established artists to help build connections and share knowledge, whether it be career or creative advice. To help support their programming, the company will also launch their “$21 in Twenty One” fundraising campaign in January. The idea for the campaign, Panting says, takes into account what an event ticket often usually costs, “and what is actually manageable for people in these economically challenging times.” Also coming in the new year are two new productions: “Four Parts,” a collaboration with Strong Harbour Strings Collective, and “Eli and the Death Curse,” a shadow play.
While launching a new company during a pandemic isn’t ideal, it seems that Untellable Movement Theatre has certainly started off on the right foot.
“I’m sure people think that we’re foolish,” Panting laughs “but I think there’s so much energy built up over quarantine and it gave a lot of artists time to reconsider, to pause…and to be honest, just a really supportive team made it easy,” she says.
“I’m very lucky to have people that support the project and are so invested and contribute because it’s not one person’s vision, it takes a community.”