Young people in red tops, one in a wheelchair dance

The Birmingham 2022 Cultural Festival has received a £1 million funding award from Spirit of 2012, the London 2012 legacy charity, to enable 300 young people from across the West Midlands to co-create a series of major dance performances, and take centre stage at the Commonwealth Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

The mass participation project – entitled Critical Mass – will form a new dance company of disabled and non-disabled young people to show how genuine inclusion can be achieved in mega events such as the Commonwealth Games.

At least one third of the 300 participants will be disabled people, and 40% will come from an Asian, black or minority ethnic background, reflecting the diversity of Birmingham and the West Midlands’ young population. Participants will have the opportunity to take part in approximately 400 dance and movement workshops and creative sessions across a 14-month journey.

Critical Mass will perform at the Birmingham 2022 Opening and Closing Ceremonies, as well as the opening show of the Birmingham 2022 Cultural Festival in March 2022, the Birmingham International Dance Festival in June 2022, Welcome Ceremonies for athletes arriving for the Games in July 2022, and at Live Sites around the city during the Games.

The project is a unique collaboration between Arts Connect, Birmingham 2022, DanceXchange and the Dance Development Leaders Group (DDLG), a dedicated network of 70+ dance organisations across the West Midlands who are passionate about developing dance participation.

Convened and facilitated by Arts Connect, DDLG members include small to large scale companies such as ACE Dance & Music, Ascension Dance, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Autin Dance, Motionhouse, Dancefest, and Sonia Sabri as well as independent dance artists at all levels of experience.

Together, the partners will harness community cohesion and inclusion, and use their expertise in inclusive dance and mass choreography to build the skills and confidence of the young people as they work and play together to create lasting performance moments that will be seen locally by thousands, and broadcast globally to an audience of one billion.

The project will engage with SEN schools and colleges, community arts groups, youth clubs, job centres, care leaver referral teams and refugee and asylum seeker advice centres to ensure young people from underrepresented backgrounds are given an opportunity to take part. This will be supplemented by a public call out for participants during the summer of 2021.

Critical Mass performances will be right at the heart of the Birmingham 2022 Cultural Festival, a world-class programme of art and culture running from March to September 2022. The festival will reach 2.5 million people as audiences and participants, and will include new work, installations, exhibitions, performances and major events taking place in the heart of West Midlands communities.

The £1 million funding award is the second collaboration between Spirit of 2012 and Birmingham 2022. In 2020, the London Olympic and Paralympic Games Legacy Funder awarded a total of £600,000 to three West Midlands arts organisations (Caudwell Children, Warwick Arts Centre and Creative Black Country) to create inclusive arts and cultural projects linked to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, the Black Country and Coventry.

The latest £1 million funding boost comes after £6 million was awarded to Birmingham 2022 by Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund in January 2021.

Critical Mass aims to become a blueprint for future mass performance opportunities, ensuring young people with a wider spectrum of needs can contribute and benefit equally alongside their peers. It is hoped that the project will grow the region’s reputation for world-class dance, encouraging more young people from diverse backgrounds to participate in regular dance sessions and pursue careers in dance.

“We are excited by the audacious ambition of this project which places young people from all backgrounds at the heart of the creative development of high profile, globally significant celebrations. It is an unprecedented opportunity for young people in the region and will fuel a shared vision for future ambitious youth led dance.Susan Goodwin, Associate Director:  

Dance Development Leaders Groups
DDLG comprises dance professionals from core funded and project funded organisations as well as independents, working in all parts of the West Midlands. A membership of 70+ meet twice a year to explore the potential for collaboration, shared ambition and mutual support. With a collective history of delivering high quality participatory dance projects successful in reaching large audiences, the impact of our work across the region has inspired many young people to seek further training and development in dance with significant numbers going on to work professionally.