In and around the neighbourhoods of Deptford where the company is based, Entelechy’s 21st Century Tea Dance programme has become an important and re-occurring event in the lives of many lonely and isolated people. For many, for whom the pattern of one day very much resembles the next, it has become something to look forward to, something to make plans for. It has become a place to be recognized, valued and understood: a place to sing and gossip and be taken to by surprise.
“It’s something that I look forward to. I’ve decided what I’ll be wearing for the next one. Not sure what I’m going to sing.”
Jesse Thompson, Tea Dance Participant
The Tea Dance Programme comprises of a loose confederation of about 150 individuals; about a quarter of that number experience loneliness. They may be living in an institutional setting where no one really knows who they are; they may be living on their own. The life stories that bought them to this situation include the familiar onset of chronic illness or loss of a partner. Many find it impossible to leave their homes without the help of others. Lonely participants get to know about the work through a complex interwoven programme of small-scale interventions, events and activities. Entelechy artists are working in hospital wards, alongside adult social care teams, in sheltered housing units, care homes and with small voluntary run clubs in church halls and other community settings. Poets, weavers, film-makers, dancers and musicians build creative relationships through a process of ‘deep hanging out’: listening, gossiping, reflecting, making. The individual threads of people’s pre-occupations, uncovered skills and experiences are woven into the creation of a broader tapestry reflecting new possibilities of community. The shared act of creating large scale performance events brings isolated individuals into contact with many others: active older people, young people, artists and performers an exciting scoop of people who reflect the diversity of south London streets. The Tea Dance network is about the size of a medieval village community, maybe the optimal size of a social group; the number of people that you can have a reciprocal relationship with involving some kind of trust and obligation.
The programme works with the idea of porous walls. It involves a re-imagining of spaces and places. Events happen in large art houses, local theatres and community centres. In a residential care home, residents and staff to co-curate a Dance. There is a big marquee directly outside the home with performances and live music, open to the general public: care home as local theatre. Double bass players, trumpeters and residents are singing in lifts, corridors and peoples bedrooms.
‘There are not many people who have visitors there. It really shocked me. Only arts projects like Entelechy lighten the load”. Family carer Pauline Noble