Make Your Own Entertainment

Video documentation of dialogical artwork, Olympus Engineering, Stoke-on-Trent (2015)

"Entertaining" troupes—characterised by heavily embellished dresses, high kicks and precise, synchronised moves to pop music—have a long and under-recognised history in Stoke-on-Trent. Once integral to the street parades that were a key feature of the popular town carnival movement in the North of England, today’s troupes compete weekly in private sports halls and community centres across Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Greater Manchester; the performance is rarely seen in public.

My KULES residency (supported by the Airspace Gallery in Hanley) celebrated this vibrant, but frequently overlooked aspect of un-institutionalised British culture, via a relational process of research and collaboration within the troupe dancing community. In particular, my work contemplates the relationships between material practice and contemporary tradition-making; “entertaining” communicates a powerful, localised identity, via a distinctive and evolving aesthetic, fostered through ongoing material practices conducted by the troupes, such as making dresses, team-wear and accessories, and other commemorative items.

The culmination of this residency were performances by Eternity Entertainers and Lightwood Crystals on specially-made dance-floor in the KULES factory basement. This post-industrial, subterranean setting both reinforces and subverts this often hidden performance that prizes flawless execution and pristine uniform and appearance.