The El Camino review

Welcome back to another one of my blog posts. This time my post is going to be on another event I attended some time ago. I had actually meant to write up about my experience at this event much sooner, but unfortunately I fell unwell due to a nasty cold. However never mind about that, I feel much better now and to be honest one of the reasons I felt a lot better was my experience at the El Camino performance provide by the Alchemy Project.

So before I move on to my experience at the event, I want to present just a little background of what brought the performance of El Camino together. There are many tried and tested methods out there in order to show what people can do giving the chance, some as based on telling stories, volunteering or even providing art, but what about expression and confidence building within the use of movement? What about being given the chance to prove that people can perform at a high level even though they have come from a difficult period within their lives?


Photo by Pari Naderi

Well the El Camino performance came about through a collaboration which was established by “Dance United Yorkshire” in association with “Cultural Utilities and Enterprises“. This collaboration led to The Alchemy Project. The Alchemy Project believes in dance-led interventions, which uses the power of dance to express peoples abilities to overcome mental health crisis or difficult periods within their lives.

The performance was provided by those using the psychosis service through South London and Maudsley mental health foundation trust. There was also other organisations lending their support to this collaboration, these being Guys and St Thomas Charity, Maudsley Charity, Hyde Plus, Arts Council England and many others. For around a 4 week period the project director Carly Annable-Coop and Dance Director Ellen Steinmuller worked hard with those using the services to perform the choreographed dance for the 20th of July 2015.

The Alchemy Project

Photo by Pari Naderi

As I entered the Lilian Baylis Studio, I was not sure how the performance would turn out. In fact to be honest, it was the first choreographed dance routine I have ever seen live. I felt a little groggy though because I just came back from Scotland and the coach was delayed so I could not head home for a little rest. In fact I was a little worried that I may fall asleep during the performance.

Still, when entering the studio to check in to view the performance, the staff were polite and friendly even though I could feel some nervous excitement. After greeting Helen Shearn who also helped support the project. I sat down to watch the performance.

The El Camino performance begins

When the dancers appeared, the first thing I noticed was the expression on the performers faces. The thing is with dance, even though many are watching how the body moves, I always feel how it is important to see the expression on the dancers faces. I noticed how determined everyone was and the concentration levels were fairly high.


Photo by Pari Naderi

The music added to the performance as it kept my interest from the start, I kept looking for the story of the performance, perhaps I could not help it, but the movement from the dancers was absolutely mesmerising. As mentioned before, I have never really seen a choreographed dance live and what I saw certainly caught my attention. The level of skill and movement was set at a high professional pace as I observed timing and synchronisation of the dancers.

One part of the performance which I enjoyed was how the dancers used their arms to reach up as if to grab or touch something high up. The movement of the dancers was not too fast or too slow, the pace was just right and pleasing to the eye.


Photo by Pari Naderi

The use of lightning also caught my attention and how the dancers moved in, around and between the shades of light while making full use of the props laid out before them. I enjoyed the scene where the dancers used a rope along the floor as a form of expression while being very inventive and creative.

To find out that such a dance took only 4 weeks to prepare seemed almost quite hard to believe, but it just goes to show what can be achieved with the right support, determination and environment. If there is anything that encompasses intervention it should be its results, its impact and its legacy.

At the end of the performance the audience gave a standing ovation to the dancers, which was well deserved. As a compliment, you might even think that the performers were not going through a difficult period in their lives and that they were just expert professional dancers, but in the back of everyone’s minds we knew the performers had to push past all their difficulties and provide such exceptional entertainment on a Monday evening.

The Q and A panel session

After the performance the Alchemy Project team provide the audience with a Q&A answer session. I can just barely remember who was on the panel, but I believe the project leads were there, plus several members who took part in the dance performance along with several consultants from the psychosis services.

We had some interesting questions from the audience, one particular question was directed at the partnership for Morley College in which the audience member was interested if support will be provided to harness the talents of the dancers. Morley college based in Southwark is offering dance courses for those who participated if they wish to develop more on their skills.

Some audience members were interested if there were more dance shows or performances to come in the future, but this really goes down to the right support, funding and energy. There also was tough questions ask on how dance intervention has changed the view within psychology. I was interested to hear how dance can be a way of forgetting the chaos within someone’s mind, how just being able to move in rhythm can be a healing factor and that its possible to dance our worries away.

I asked a question which was centred on if carers and families were in support or understood the idea of the project and how dance was used as intervention. The service users stated that their carers and families were in support of them being able to have an interest in something and being able to do more while increasing their confidence.

Overall I was pleased to be able to view and review the dance choreography. Unfortunately so many people collaborated on this project, I just could not mention them all. What pleased me is how people suffering through difficult periods in their lives picked themselves up and were able to produce an astounding performance. I often wonder how difficult mental health can be for others and it can be so easy to spiral out of control without such support, but given the chance, some people can really make a difference in their lives and provide a great example that there is still some hope.

Dancers - The Alchemy Project

Photo by Pari Naderi

Thanks for checking out my latest blog and hope to see you again soon.