MAKE A DIFFERENCE | workplace culture / mental health / wellbeing

Dance Company Celebrates 10 Years On The Road To Recovery From Addiction

Fallen Angels Dance Theatre rehearsing at Garret Theatre Storyhouse.

=September is Recovery Month—meet Fallen Angels Dance Theatre and their unique movement-based practice for people in recovery from addiction.

Relationships were put to the test during lockdown as homeschooling, working from home and ever-changing social bubbles stretched not only our organisational skills and technical ability but also our patience.

But it is our relationship with alcohol that has hit the headlines this summer. Even though pubs, clubs and restaurants were closed for months during national and local lockdowns alcoholic liver deaths in England and Scotland have risen sharply and more people are reporting drinking at high-risk levels (50 units per week for a man, 35 units per week for a woman).

According to the charity FAVOR UK, recovery from addiction is never out of reach and September, known as Recovery Month celebrates all those people who are on that journey, whether it’s through rehab, psychotherapy, talking therapies or other routes.

A dance company in the northwest of England is celebrating 10 years of working with people on such a journey.  With a unique combination of ballet and contemporary dance, Fallen Angels Dance Theatre allows people to explore their recovery in a non-verbal way.

Who Is Fallen Angels Dance Theatre?

Paul Bayes Kitcher and Claire Morris of Fallen Angels Dance Theatre. Credit: Brian Slater.

Founded in 2011 by professional ballet dancer and recovering addict Paul Bayes Kitcher and dance artist Claire Morris, the company has helped more than 500 people on their journey from addiction with recovery workshops, community projects and professional performance.  Their recovery dancers have performed at the Royal Opera House in London, danced for The Queen and Paul’s story has been the subject of a BBC documentary.

Claire says: “Less than 12 years ago addiction was something hidden behind closed doors, invisible, anonymous.

“The people we work with now are proud about their recovery.”

Maybe people have become more aware of addiction in its many guises.  We all now rely on our mobile phones too much or can’t stop checking our Instagram likes.   People talk openly now about binge-watching a TV series.

Claire believes that addiction is an illness. She says: “It doesn’t discriminate and it can affect anyone from any walk of life.”

The people who participate in Paul and Claire’s workshops are from all sorts of backgrounds—a hairdresser, a research assistant and an occupational therapist.  Successes include returning to work, embracing voluntary work or becoming a peer mentor within the company.

Claire adds: “Our work is based on a progressional pathway which builds self-esteem and confidence.  Some people take years to overcome an addiction problem but others can see a difference in just six weeks and regain enough confidence to go back to work.

“In our 10 years of working with people in recovery, we have only had one person that we had to admit was not right for the group.” 

How Did Dance Help People In Recovery During Lockdown?

Example of Paradigm, a dance project by Fallen Angels Dance Theatre. Credit FADT.

Lockdown was a challenging time for people in recovery with social isolation and increased levels of anxiety so Paul and Claire moved swiftly to move their workshops online.  

While many of us were glued to our TV screens, Fallen Angels were dancing in their bedrooms, their kitchens and their living rooms, creating original, thought-provoking work.

Inspired by one of the participant’s observations of life on Zoom, Paul created Paradigm—a dance piece centred around the game of chess.

Paul says: “One of our dancers thought that our Zoom sessions looked like we were all trapped inside our own boxes—just like on a chessboard.

“This got me thinking about ballet terms that fit within a box-like “en Croix”, “en face”, “arabesque”.  We started working with upwards, downwards and diagonal movements—just like chess pieces.” 

Supported by Arts Council England and one-off grants from foundations and trusts, the challenges brought by the coronavirus pandemic spurred the company to develop its giving strategy to offer individuals and businesses the chance to support their work. Regular givers can become a Guardian Angel and businesses are invited to talk about collaboration.

September is an exciting time for Fallen Angels Dance Theatre.  They have appointed a patron—the film, TV and theatre producer Robert Fox—and they are about to launch their latest project which is a triptych of films based on the addict’s journey to recovery.  Transfiguration, supported by Arts Council England, is directed by Paul with a creative team that includes writer and actor Eve Steele, director John Young and film director and producer Dan Thorburn.

But the most important thing about the films is that they couldn’t have been made without the recovery dancers, the “Angels”.