Hats Off To Hand Of

Hand Of is the community based arts platform that brings innovative, experimental and fresh thinking art projects to Sheffield, hoping to manifest a sense of pride and belonging in the city.

Their latest project “The Illustrious One”, a contemporary ballet based on Bertolt Brecht’s “The Good Person Of Szechwan” and performed to live electronics, premiered at S1 Artspace earlier this summer.

Text, photo, video: Bella Qvist

The queue is long outside Sheffield S1 art gallery and there is a certain shimmer in the air this early evening in May when an excited Louise Snape greets me at the door.

Louise, a second year university student who set up, launched and now runs Hand Of, has been looking forward to this evening ever since the idea was born at Fringe Festival last year. There Louise played the trumpet – to live electronics.

”I know little about ballet and electronic music and thought [that] bringing new media to a new audience would be interesting and worthwhile,” she says.

The project, initially scheduled to perform in an old Victorian house in Burngreave, was forced to change plans when the council said health and safety standards were not met.

“The idea was to have more of an interactive installation rather than a straight up performance,” she says and it is clear she is happy with the way things turned out.

I get my hand stamped and walk up the stairs where a minimally decorated room with high ceilings, wine-sipping guests and an anticipating, almost electric, vibe greets me. I feel like I have walked into a hip Berlin establishment.

Art lovers, academics and a variety of other cool looking locals have gathered.

After a bit of mingling, composers Tom Rozwadowski and Alex Wright begin the performance, pushing buttons and spinning turn tables.

They set the mood with crackling, sparkling, humming and sometimes almost numbing tones when dancers, as in slow motion, move onto the sparsely decorated stage.

Dressed in black and white and with masks covering their faces, the ballet dancers perform a piece choreographed by performers Deniz Atli and David Kam, telling the story of a young prostitute in China. She is struggling to live the good life set out by the god whilst the town’s residents steal her things, harass and tease her throughout.

Silver spoons are hanging off a tree branch, the only prop used on stage, and a bold, beautiful and highly captivating dance takes shape around it.

During the final act, where the god has cast a spell on the town’s people, putting them all into a state of trance, I feel myself wanting to sway along with the people on stage.

Time flies as the bodies before me move to the elaborate music performed on laptops, synthesizers, guitars and scratch tables and before I know it half an hour has passed.

The enchantment is dissolved by a roaring applause and it is well deserved. Louise and her team have achieved a highly professional and innovative production executed with sheer class, beauty and excellence.

Minutes after the performance, hard working Louise has only one comment:

“I’m really happy but now all of a sudden everything hurts,” she laughs.

Hands together for Hand Of who may be taking the production on tour in the new year.

Louise Snape together with writer Jack Browne who adapted the piece from the original play.

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