French choreographer Julie Nioche and Artistic Director of Migrations, Karine Décorne talk about Touch and NSH70 Festival

NHS70 - National Theatre Wales -Touch

National Theatre Wales celebrates the National Health Service’s 70th birthday in July 2018 with a month-long, multi-artform NHS70 Festival, inspired by the staff and patients of this unique institution.

Multi-artform NHS70 Festival includes new writing, contemporary dance, music, comedy, immersive and sensory theatre
Events and productions to be performed all over Wales, including hospitals, schools and arts venues in Carmarthen, Welshpool, Wrexham, Bangor and Tredegar, the birthplace of the NHS’ founder, Aneurin “Nye” Bevan.

One of the highlights of the festival, Touch, is an interactive, contemplative dance piece created by powerhouses  National Theatre Wales, Llanwrst-based Migrations, French choreographer and dancer Julie Nioche, Turkish choreographers Filiz Sizanli and Mustafa Kapalan, and a cast of dancers from across the UK.

Touch draws on the Artistic Director of Migrations, Karine Décorne’s personal experience following rehabilitative physio in the NHS following an accident, during which time her physiotherapist was the only person who touched her.

We were happy to talk with Julie and Karine about their work on Touch and more!

The multi-artform festival includes contemporary dance alongside writing, music, comedy and theatre acts. How do you think dance uniquely contributes to the line up?

Julie: I am looking for dance that starts with sensations:

The physical sensations that we are experiencing by our bodies subjected to gravity with our potential to go against it.

The sensations in response to a physical space with its own history.

The sensations linked to our encounters with other people.

I work to create a dance mixing these sensations to our imaginations, our stories, our fictions…

What this dance proposes specifically is probably an artistic space where the spectator is invited to feel from their own history and sensitivity.

I aim for empathy and a sharing located in the kinesthetic sphere.

In what ways do you think dance can be therapeutic for dancers – and for audience members?

Julie: I don’t know if dance is therapeutic, I think it surely has secondary effects which sometimes can be therapeutic. I only practice dance in the artistic sphere and it is primarily for me an artistic space, offering ways of expression, ways of sharing, ways of being which can be a support but not its aim.

For a dancer, on one hand, dancing is physically demanding and maybe psychologically too… and is therefore not really therapeutic.

On the other hand, this practice enhance a capacity to feel sensations, develop imagination from these and to translate them in movements in creation.

Karine: I have worked in community dance and in this instance, I have witnessed the therapeutic benefits of dance on various occasions on the health and well-being of the various participants. For example, when setting up activities for people suffering from Parkinson or Dementia we really saw a transformation occurring among them, their relatives and carers.


There are many different creators and performers in the piece, Touch. Was it difficult to find a cohesive theme in order to unify the piece?

Karine: When National Theatre Wales (NTW) first contacted me about this possible collaboration I was enchanted to work with them again. They were really keen to include an international contemporary dance element into the NHS70 Festival. I very quickly thought of Julie Nioche having been really interested in her work for many years and aware of her being a trained osteopath. It had been on my mind to work with her for a while but I had not quite found the right context or project to do so. Her practice is very sensitive, versatile, contemporary and close to the people. She has a real ability to embrace very different contexts and create beautiful encounters between people. She had also created work in hospital settings. It felt like this was the opportunity I had been looking for.

When we started conversations I realised that she was developing a project with choreographers Filiz Sizanli and Mustafa Kaplan with whom I have had a special relationship, having worked together on several occasions over the past 20 years in Geneva and north Wales. The research and processes they were exploring together seemed completely relevant to the themes we wanted to explore with NTW for NHS70.

The thought of working with this particular team of international choreographers was extremely inspiring.

NTW and Migrations also put a team together of Wales based dancers. Beyond their skills as performers, we gave a lot of consideration to their own affinities and experience of the central themes: touch and the NHS.

Instead of running standard auditions, we had conversations, the human of this project being essential. We invited people with great care, considering very carefully the dynamics of the group as this would have a real impact on the ability of unifying the processes and result.

I can’t tell you how excited I am about the creative team we brought together. When they first met back in May, it was obvious how quickly they bonded and were inspired by each other.

Julie: The stakes of TOUCH remain high as the process has already started but the final week leading to the shows and bringing the whole team together, will be crucial in finalizing the work.

Karine Décorne’s invite to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the NHS made me think of 2 existing processes that I wanted to reinvestigate and push in a new direction for this specific occasion with other artists.

The first one is ‘Sensationalle’ in which the audience will feel the dance as well as watching it. A work based on touching the spectator seemed relevant; dance of tactility and empathy.

The second one, a work on the ritual, about the way to encounter ‘the other’ in their difference. How to build a ritual to share on questions about care, sharing, and welcoming.

I wanted to share these questions with two choreographers and friends Filiz Sizanli and Mustafa Kaplan and the musician Alexandre Meyer.

The rest of the performance team was put together with ingenuity by Karine Décorne (of Migrations) and National Theatre Wales; Laura Dannequin, Angharad Harrop, Cai Tomos and Simon Whitehead.

The themes being touch, sensitivity and encounter, I am sure we will create them with the curiosity to get to know each other better.

Migrations Karine Décorne. Photo by Dan Green
Migrations Karine Décorne. Photo by Dan Green

There are performers from the UK and from other countries. How were performers from other countries able to relate to Touch as a part of the NHS70 Festival?

Julie: I can only answer for myself. I understand that the healthcare system in Wales is similar to the one in France.

I am aware of how an organization which is subsidized and supported by the government enables equality and access to care.

In the face of illness, accidents, old age we should all be taken care of with the same attention.

Being the daughter of hospital doctors, I am also aware of what this works means for the staff and carers.

The challenge is enormous and I am simply trying to create times where quality of attention is close to an offered dance and treatment, the listening of the other.

Karine: Encounter, sharing, listening is core to Julie’s practice.

We have fully integrated this in our thinking to support the creative process of the piece by bringing on board a team of performers who fully embrace these values as well as having direct experiences of touch and the NHS themselves, either as patients or practitioners. Some of them have been working as dancers in hospitals with patients, others gone through long recoveries following injuries for example. A willingness to be open to sharing personal stories as part of the process is a key element.

Touch is also a universal notion in relation to care, and healing, enabling international artists to equally engage with the piece.

Furthermore, we were keen to bring a variety of perspectives on the notion of touch and worked with artist Lisa Heledd Jones to collect testimonies from various members of staff of the NHS, a GP, a midwife, an anesthetis, and patients.  These are particularly moving and thought provoking.

How is Touch an interactive piece, and what can observers expect?

Julie: Touch will take 2 forms:

An intimate version for 5 people at a time:

A spectator seats on a chair and the same time watches a dance and is being touched by another dancer. Moves are choreographed directly on the body in a respect and listening of the dance which is instantly created.

The spectator forms a full part of the piece, there is no observer.

The second is for a larger group or about 50 people and is an intriguing mixture of installation, performance and audience connection. This new work draws inspiration from my work as the osteopath and the testimonies of NHS staff members and patients.

Utilising a minimalistic set consisting of a large piece of paper covering a wall and stage, it is an invitation for people to connect through words. As the performers create a network of evocative words, the bare space is slowly transformed. The audience is invited to respond in turn with their own words, creating a unique piece of work for each performance.

Karine: We considered carefully where to place these performances.

The larger version will be in Pontio Art Centre and the intimate, outside of the Art Centre in small community space in the art of the community. We were looking for space which would offer a sense of calm and healing.

Wales NHS employees and patients may feel especially touched by the NHS70 programme. Will you be recording and sharing their feedback throughout (or at the end of) the festival?

Julie: Little by little I have realized the importance of this event and of its impact.

We are exploring ways to gather responses after the experience of the audiences.

This is a group process, not only dependent on me and still in development.

Karine: The intimate performance includes a short period of time in the end to enable conversation between the audience member and the ‘toucher’. After such an intimate connection this is essential and people do feel the need to talk.

As part of the process, Julie is asking each ‘touch’er to keep a diary so there can be a trace of these conversations.

We are still working on the meaningful way of doing this for the large group performance.

Touch will be performed at Bangor University on 27 -28 July. For tickets and more information check here