Centring children’s agency in Mission Earth

Words by Francesca Matthys.

Mission Earth is a vibrant new work that centres children at the heart of its storytelling and mission. As shared by co-choreographer Ania Straczynska, the work was birthed during Lockdown from a collaborative exploration that brought performances to families right on their doorsteps. This personal touch is threaded throughout Mission Earth in its gentle child centred audience interaction. 

The work is conceived by the wider collective that Straczynska is part of with choreographer Greta Gauhe: SE19DanceProject which is a company based in South-East London committed to creating a caring and creative community through dance.

Performed at Stanley Arts, as the work begins we are welcomed into the world through the telling of a story that serves as a prologue for what is to be embodied. In our conversation after the event, Straczynska shared that the work was initially made in collaboration and for library spaces and thus the use of traditional storytelling is a reflection on this process. 

The work was originally made for libraries but has expanded to the stage. Images by Zoe Manders.

The rich saxophone music composed and performed by Lara Jones in the stage version of Mission Earth creates an intriguing environment for the work to begin. The soundscape is dynamic and unexpected, exploring complex and even sombre and dark qualities that reflect the plight of the world. ‘Things have changed and earth has gotten hotter, much hotter!’ A simple and familiar sentiment that we all understand. 

We are currently saturated with artistic expressions about climate change, especially urging children to be brave and be the change to save their futures. I do however appreciate Mission Earth as its layers of abstract movement vocabulary, expansive music and divine costumes allow for an alternative and optimistic exploration of a familiar issue. 

The costumes that are oversized and almost boisterous in their energy, created by Sophie Donaldson and Nef McHenry are constructed from 100% recycled materials. Their multilayers, resilient textures and bold colours embody a mission that is to be had, that is to be prepared for and become brave for. One that can happen at any time. 

These characters in their warm shades of earthy orange and burnt sienna become our brave guides that we can draw courage from!

Straczynska emphasises that the work exists to empower the children so that they can have confidence and agency. Centring children’s voices is also held through the process of creation as the movement vocabulary was inspired by workshop collaboration with children in Croydon based schools. ‘Children’s voices are present in the work’ she says. 

The work uses an effective piece of poetry that correlates with a gestural sequence that the audience are encouraged to engage with. This, accompanied by an infectious beat and quirky grooves serves for a memorable experience for all.

The distilled nature of the movement vocabulary is appropriate storytelling for children as an accessible entry into the narrative. The moments of clear unison are satisfying for anyone watching the work. As the performers play with lifting and resting on one another, I can imagine that the children watching may find this game fascinating as something they too might want to explore. Work that has the potential to ignite movement and play in young people is so valuable today. Offering the wisdom of the body to even our littlest of audience members! 

Children are well considered as the priority audience in this work in its playful nature and focused details, through the use of props such as boxes of mysteries that attract their attention. Having recently watched current dance offerings for children, specifically early years, one of my only wishes for this work is to trust the capacity of the children more and allow them to play a larger role in solving the problem in an extended period of time. 

Mission Earth has thus far had a successful run in four libraries across Croydon, as well as their run at Stanley Arts. The company intends to find more sustainable ways of working in order to give the work a further life. 

To find out more visit: https://www.se19dance.co.uk