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Piece of Mind

On January 17, 2018, mindyourmind attended the annual show produced by the South Dance Company (SDC), a company of students attending South Collegiate Institute in London, ON. This year’s show, titled Piece of Mind, was the product of dance teacher Allison Gamble’s ambitious idea to tackle the theme of mental illness.

Earlier this semester, she invited mindyourmind in to lead a workshop on mental health for the SDC dancers, where we played Reach Out 8-Bit  and had good conversations about mental health issues. She also solicited the expertise of other mental health experts and champions from the community to help develop the content for her students. It was gratifying to be invited back to see how the dancers and choreographers explored the theme and embraced a challenging subject in their final performance.

The show followed four characters, each dealing with a different type of mental illness: anorexia, general anxiety disorder, psychosis, and depression. Danced by June Park, Noah Johns, Claire Swift, and Sam Lake respectively, the characters were cleverly distinguished by their casting and colour-coded wardrobe. Surrounded by dancers in black, these four characters guided the audience along a captivating narrative arc of introductions, moments of distress, and treatment. This was encouraging, because going into the performance, we had some worries that the subject matter would make it really heavy and bleak, so we were glad to see that the show dealt with its mental health theme in such a nuanced and realistic, yet hopeful way.

That said, the standout pieces were found in the darkest periods of crisis. In particular, two pieces that were danced without music were grippingly evocative portrayals of the turmoil experienced by characters dealing with anxiety and psychosis. The choreography was inventive, using repetition, rhythm, and sound (spoken by the performers and the sound of tap shoes) to suck the audience into the characters’ minds. Shows like this and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which recently came to Toronto, demonstrate the potential for performing arts to express mental health issues in a way that’s distinctly sensory, immediate, and human.

The music used in the rest of the show was chosen well to express a spectrum of mental health. The dancers were remarkably talented, compelling performers who carried the show’s narrative. The show as a whole was a thrilling and cohesive story of youth mental health, as polished a production as you’ll see from any school show, and a labour of love from the entire SDC team.

For more on how youth can use dance to express and engage with mental health issues, check out our Dance Section and the Dance Curriculum we developed on myToolKit.ca