Alan Lyddiard: Older voices are lost and forgotten but deserve to be heard

The director Alan Lyddiard on ”Anniversary” his new dance-theatre piece for a group of older performers

© Anthony Roblin

Director Alan Lyddiard has created Anniversary, a piece of contemporary dance-theatre for a group of older performers. Here he explains why he decided to put older performers in the spotlight.

When I left Northern Stage I struggled for a long time trying to find my way. I’d brought the best directors in the world to create new works in the north, developed an influential company, made theatre that toured the world, but as an "older person", feeling vibrant and not yet 70, I found there aren’t many opportunities to be creative on a professional platform. I found many who felt the same – voices who are lost, forgotten and deserve to be heard.

Theatre in the main is made by younger bodies. It carries young emotions. But the world is changing. The fastest growing sector of the UK population is people over 85. Where are their concerns expressed on stage?
Trying to find a theatrical language to capture the experience of becoming older is equally challenging. I’ve read a lot of plays. They give us limited options. Most days I don’t feel as mad as King Lear. Like everyone I’ve my Krapp days. More often I feel like Uncle Vanya asking "How long have we know each other?"

Seeking inspiration, I came the work of the Saitama Gold Theatre in Japan. In his 80s, world famous director Yukio Ninagawa started new troupe of performers aged 50-plus to create original works explaining "Old age is a proof that you experienced deep emotions and many days of ordinary lives. Physical expression using this personal history might help one to discover one’s new prospective."

© Anthony Roblin

Now I’m developing a company, The Performance Ensemble, to tell the stories of growing older. They’re funny, happy, sometimes sad, often hilarious, uncertain, sometimes a bit bonkers, and they carry nuanced emotions. We grow grumpy, and stiff, but we also grow richer in emotional texture. Maybe we grow bitter-sweet?

We’ve been using dance, song, music and storytelling to find our way. In some ways this feels like a very old way of making theatre and very traditional reasons for doing it. People are creative given the opportunity, and Anniversary is about the importance of being able to express yourself. This most extreme, brilliant and powerful theatre comes from giving people the opportunity to tell their own story in a way that is captivating and extraordinary.

Anniversary features professional dancers such as Namron (71), a leading member of London Contemporary Dance Company and the first black dancer to join a professional contemporary dance company in Britain and Sally Owen (60s), a principal dancer with Ballet Rambert, performer, and renowned choreographer. They perform alongside five members of West Yorkshire Playhouse’s long-standing creative programme for over 55s, Heydays, including Hum Crawshaw (85), a retired antiques dealer, who has the memorable line "We are not over the hill, we are on top of it."

We’re at the beginning of a journey, taking a toddlers’ steps on the edge of older age. We’re trying to make a Generous Theatre. Now we need to complete the magical circle of theatrical performance. We are preparing to stand, older, before a generous audience.

Anniversary runs at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 17 September.

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