Yard Theatre’s SWAGGA hopes to prove any age, shape or size can pull off a dance show

Kay Hyatt and Charlotte Cooper. Picture: Guido Mencari

Kay Hyatt and Charlotte Cooper. Picture: Guido Mencari - Credit: Archant

Charlotte Cooper and Kay Hyatt may not look like dancers, but this hasn’t stopped them from taking to the stage, finds Sanya Ali.

In a 2013 blog post, psychoterapist Dr Charlotte Cooper responded to a performance by dance company Project O that spoke to her deeply.

“I want to dance so much,” the Stratford resident wrote. “Oh God, there’s so much vulnerability and regret in that statement. There are so many things getting in the way of how I want to move: with fluency, without fear, with power and aggression, as a fat dyke, a working class woman of total wrongness aged 45.”

Two years later, Cooper’s dream is in motion. Slowly Without Angst Giant Goddess Attack, or SWAGGA, is a dance-driven performance piece created by Project O and features Cooper alongside girlfriend Kay Hyatt.

Dance professionals Alexandrina Hemsley and Jamila Johnson-Small, co-creators of Project O, decided to collaborate with Cooper and Hyatt after reading the former’s blog post.

Trading on the various intersections between the four of them, the show is about finding self-awareness and harnessing the potential movement every body has to offer .

“The project began through an exploration of ideas and feelings,” says Cooper. “We spent a lot of time improvising and developing a kind of SWAGGA sensibility, sometimes tough, sometimes emotional, sometimes really ambiguous.”

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Performing is important to Cooper, both on a personal and professional level. As a psychotherapist, she counsels people dealing with anxiety and body related issues.

“Dancing helps me connect with these feelings and think about how I might better support my clients. Dancing has reminded me what it’s like to do something difficult but longed-for.

“Why would I encourage others to challenge themselves if I’m not prepared to know what that feels like myself?”

Hyatt says the performance is different from her job as a social worker, though it draws on some emotions from her work life.

“I work in an environment where I see the impact of austerity policies on the most vulnerable on a daily basis and I have a lot of anger about that. Some of the dances I do in SWAGGA connect with some of that anger.”

The process was not how she imagined it would be, but she has appreciated the amount of input she and Cooper had in the planning.

“The show has been devised through hours and hours of experimentation and improvisation. Our choreographers have taught us many ways to discover our own dances through various exercises and devices,” says Hyatt.

Hemsley and Johnson-Small have helped Cooper overcome some of the challenges of body shame and “the usual creaks and groans that come with being in your forties”.

“The challenges become a lot easier once you get past the initial self-consciousness of seeing your own body moving around,” she adds.

“I’ve ended up really appreciating what I have and enjoying my own idiosyncrasies. It’s been a great way of developing self-confidence and self-acceptance.”

The obstacles, Hyatt says, do not diminish from her experience.

“The fears and difficulties are still there but the project and the opportunity is so wonderful there is no way I would not keep on doing it.

“The four of us involved trust each other and keep talking about our difficulties as they arise and we work our way around them.

“I hope that people get something out of seeing dance performed by people that you would not normally see dancing and that people will be inspired to take chances in their own lives, too.

“I hope people see that life is precious and to grab opportunities where they can.”

SWAGGA comes to The Yard Theatre June 16 through 20. Visit theyardtheatre.co.uk