When lockdown temporarily closed the studio doors of Bridport Youth Dance, the students took their dance outside into the West Dorset coast and countryside. This resulted in an exciting new outdoor performance venture.

As a creative producer and choreographer, my aim is to enable children and young people to become change makers. Over the decades I have taught thousands of young people the value of the arts and given them the opportunity to experience the joy and magic of dance; to build their confidence and encourage them to become self-empowered creators. For many, this has been life changing.

Brought up in Dorset, I studied dance and dance education at Roehampton and Surrey University. I then led something of a double life: teaching in London dance schools as well as creating various artistic, creative and performance opportunities in West Dorset. This included founding Summerthing, a children’s art festival which ran in Bridport from 1994 to 2012; and in 2001 I developed Bridport Youth Dance, an after-school dance programme. One element of this was a summer school, Summer Dance Scene, which brought top choreographers and dancers from across the UK to Bridport, including artists from Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures company. This led to the creation of high-quality annual productions in local theatres.

Great British Life: Nikki Northover, director of Bridport Youth Dance. (Photo: Brendan Buesnel)Nikki Northover, director of Bridport Youth Dance. (Photo: Brendan Buesnel)

After 16 years of working in London, and following the birth of my second child, I decided to concentrate all my creative energy here in Dorset, where I was bringing up my young family.

In 2020, however, my artistic journey took an interesting turn and subsequently reset the direction of Bridport Youth Dance (BYD). In March 2020, the company put on a production of Orpheus and Eurydice: The Power of Love, at Bridport's Electric Palace. The show, which I wrote and directed, involved 90 young dancers, aged 5 to 19 years, from the Bridport area, with music by the award-winning local composer Andrew Dickson. The following week BYD closed its doors for nearly a year as the country went into lockdown. Orpheus and Eurydice became the last live theatre many of the audience were to see for quite some time.

In retrospect, this hiatus greatly enriched Bridport Youth Dance by enabling a change of direction. With the studio closed, we stepped out into the spectacular landscape on our Dorset doorstep to continue dancing.

Great British Life: BYD dancer Daisy dancing at Eype Beach for one of The Dance Weavers films. (Photo: Brendan Buesnel)BYD dancer Daisy dancing at Eype Beach for one of The Dance Weavers films. (Photo: Brendan Buesnel)

During the first lockdown, BYD established a remote programme; but it soon became clear that the dancers really needed to connect with each other in real time. Dance is an important form of release for young people and has a significant impact on positive mental health as well as physical and emotional wellbeing. Following each lockdown, when we were allowed to meet outdoors, the company emerged with outdoor dance classes in a beautiful local garden with live music led by Andrew Dickson and former LSO musician and double bass player Nic Worters. BYD’s students also made short dance films which became known as The Dance Weavers, with dancers responding to the local landscape through movement and dance.

Simultaneously, they began to create site-specific work, including Cloud Nine on Charmouth Beach, where the dancers moved in the water and on the sand against a backdrop of sea and sky; and, more recently, Choreography Geography on the spectacular ancient hillfort site of Eggardon Hill. BYD relaunched with an outdoor education programme - ART and DANCE in the LANDscape – which fuses movement, dance, nature and land.

By creating this outdoor programme of dance, I was in some ways returning to my own roots. My father was a dairyman at Lower Eype Farm, and I often walked the fields with him as a child. Together, we created footprints in the earth as the cows were moved from field to field. I have fond memories of long summer holidays, watching him and observing the beautiful natural world. After 32 years of promoting the arts in Dorset, BYD's outdoor programme is taking me back to the land, but this time for a new and exciting beginning.

Great British Life: BYD dancer Ethel performing on Eggardon Hill last September. (Photo: Brendan Buesnel)BYD dancer Ethel performing on Eggardon Hill last September. (Photo: Brendan Buesnel)

The site-specific performances BYD produce are developed through improvisation and creative work, interwoven with choreography. Much of the movement is created in response to the landscape, with the young dancers connecting to and honouring the land. The natural landscape creates a mood and atmosphere – an air of mystery and history. Choreography Geography moves with the Dorset landscape. The audience walk and watch, listen and absorb. Just as I did in my childhood.

Last year's inaugural performance of Choreography Geography took place on Eggardon Hill, a place where past, present and future intertwine. The audience observed vast cloud-filled sky and the undulating land with its panoramic views over the Marshwood Vale and the Jurassic Coast as the sun set. They were reminded of two powerful things by the dancers: spirit and earth.

Rachelle Green, whose three boys have been a part of BYD, recalls the event. ‘The choreography took us on a journey from high views to flat spaces, with hilltop dancers improvising and framing the performance. The choreographers presented a tableau of work: intense dark choreography, improvised butterfly puppetry, intimate, playful duets, beautifully framed by the pink sky.’

Great British Life: Some of the BYD students performing on Eggardon Hill in Choreography Geography. (Photo: Dan Tucker)Some of the BYD students performing on Eggardon Hill in Choreography Geography. (Photo: Dan Tucker)

The Dance Weavers films were created in collaboration with former Bridport Boys dancer and award-winning cinematographer Elliot Millson. The first and second films (Emerging and Freedom/Connection) were selected to represent South West England at U Dance, a celebration of youth dance across the UK. Freedom/Connection was selected as a part of the U Dance National Festival and was screened at selected cinemas, including a première at the British Film Institute. The third film in the series, From the Boards to the Earth, focuses on BYD's new work in the land but also gives a nod to its work in the theatre. The fourth film, Choreography Geography, which I described earlier, is a six-minute glimpse of the hour-long performance on Eggardon Hill last year.

Choreography Geography II will take place on September 9 and 10, at Chapel Hill in Abbotsbury, thanks to permission granted by The Ilchester Estate. Once again, young dancers from the BYD will lead the audience through a tale of light versus dark.

Great British Life: Photos taken of last year's performance of Choreography Geography at Eggardon Hill. (Photo: Dan Tucker)Photos taken of last year's performance of Choreography Geography at Eggardon Hill. (Photo: Dan Tucker)

Abbotsbury is a magical location, with a deep spiritual connection. It is known as a place of pilgrimage and retreat. And, like Eggardon, it is another spectacular site of ancient heritage. It is the perfect backdrop for Choreography Geography II.

Time has flown by. I am now a mother of three, and I have recently celebrated 21 years of Bridport Youth Dance. Its alumni have become filmmakers, theatre directors, dancers, dance academics, artists and lovers of the arts. Students have gained places at various universities to study dance; recent graduates have gained places at Circomedia, Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Italia Conti, London Studio Centre, London College of Dance and London Contemporary Dance School.

Great British Life: BYD tap dancer Louis Donovan who has just graduated from London College of Dance and is starting at Itali Conti in September. Tap is also integral to BYD. (Photo: Brendan Buesnel)BYD tap dancer Louis Donovan who has just graduated from London College of Dance and is starting at Itali Conti in September. Tap is also integral to BYD. (Photo: Brendan Buesnel)

Looking to the future, BYD will continue doing outreach work based around the theme of connecting to nature and the land through dance in diverse contexts: local primary schools, a Forest School, Sidney Gale care home, and local Parkinson’s groups. Funding from The Arts Council helped BYD enormously in this shift to working in the land. We have also forged partnerships with the Local Authority and with Children's Services, Activate Performing Arts and The National Trust. National and local support – including from the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Bridport Town Council, The Walbridge Trust and Dorset Council – has ensured that BYD can keep inspiring local children and young people to dance and experience its many benefits.

With BYD’s outdoor work an integral part of its future vision, the aim is to continue empowering young dancers to follow their hearts, to do in life what lights them up, what makes their heart sing. I am also expanding the dance programme to include classes for adults, and specifically dance classes for wellbeing.

I believe that dance is incredibly healing; and there is no better time to experience the joy and the healing powers of dance than right here and right now in the beautiful Dorset landscape. 


Choreography Geography II is on September 9 & 10 at 5.30pm at Chapel Hill, Abbotsbury. Tickets from the Bridport Tourist Information Centre. Box office: 01308 424901

For details about Bridport Youth Dance or to enrol on the youth dance or adult dance programme, contact Nikki Northover at bridportyouthdance.org.uk.