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College in a Rush to perform

Sunderland College dance students are put through their paces

More than 40 Sunderland College students are rehearsing their parts in an Easter Day dance spectacular.

The dance students have been rehearsing for weeks for the culmination of Rush, a six-month project looking at mass action and how arts and culture can provide an alternative to violent protest. The project ends in a live show against the iconic background of the Engine House of St Hilda’s Colliery in South Shields.

Rush is the latest commission from The Cultural Spring, a three-year Arts Council-funded initiative aiming to encourage and increase participation in the Arts in ten wards on South Tyneside and Wearside.

Forty-five students studying dance at Sunderland College will be some of the 120 dancers taking part in the performance.

Emma Kernohan, the college’s Associate Programme Leader for its Foundation Degree in dance explained: “It’s a wonderful opportunity for our Foundation Degree students and our BTEC students to be involved in a large-scale, professional performance.

“Rush will be part of a module for the Foundation Degree students and they’ll be formally assessed on their performance, so it’s a great opportunity for them.”

Durham-based Event International are working with Southpaw Dance Company and animation specialists Novak to deliver Rush. Workshops for other dancers have been taking place throughout Sunderland and South Tyneside for weeks.

Robby Graham, Director at Southpaw, said he was delighted at the college’s response to the project: “The students have been so positive and ready to learn. We’ve been rehearsing them twice a week and it’s great to see their performances coming together.

“I’ve also been really impressed by the college’s new dance facilities – it’s a great environment in which to learn.”

Rush follows the stories of three people who feel disenfranchised and isolated from society – a homeless man; a factory labourer on a zero-hours contract and a young, single mum.

Robby added: “Rush will be visually stunning, with choreographed mass movement, breakdancing, free-running and set pieces involving prams and water cannon. There’ll be plenty of colour too as we’ll be using masses of coloured dust.”

While the rehearsals are continuing, writer Ellen Pheathean is working in local communities to gather local stories and research local examples of struggle and protest to help shape the key themes and overarching narrative of the live performance.

Nineteen-year-old dance student Kate Maffin said she and her fellow degree students were looking forward to the performance and had learned a great deal from Robby and his fellow Southpaw professionals: “The rehearsals have been quite tough, but enjoyable and we’ve learned a lot in a short space of time.”

Fellow student Rebecca Oxnard, 21, said she was a bit nervous about performing in front of what is expected to be an audience of up to 2,000: “I’m a bit nervous, but it’s great working on such a large-scale production.”

Rush will be performed at 8.30pm on Easter Sunday (April 5) at St Hilda’s Engine Shed. Admission will be free.  If you’re interested in performing in Rush, sign-up here http://southpawdancecompany.co.uk/rush/ or for a taster of the performance log on to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJF9vrJHjg8

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