Performance of Cotton by About Time Dance Company

Cotton – About Time Dance Company

Case Studies

Cotton is a site-responsive dance work for 3 professional dancers and a community cast; a captivating exploration through dance and sound, illuminating processes of cotton production in Lancashire.

Performance of Cotton by Jenny Reeves
Photo Andy Ford

This new work responds to the working conditions in Lancashire's Satanic mills and the lives of mill workers at the turn of the century. It brings together traditional Lancashire clog dancing, mesmerizing sound design and intricate choreography. The work has been developed through 3 phases from December 2016 to the present, with the support of funding from Arts Council England. The initial research was supported by the Harris Museum (Preston), Ludus Dance and Cardinal Newman College, integrating source material gathered from visits to Helmshore Spinning Mill, Queen Street Weaving Mill and Quarry Bank Mill.

The piece was then developed with further support from partners UCLan and Preston City Council for a Lancashire tour in the summer of 2017 which included Clitheroe, Nelson, Burnley, Preston and Lancaster, and then the Lakes Alive Festival in Kendal and the National Festival of Making in Blackburn:

Most recently Cotton has been shared at Quarry Bank Mill (National Trust) as part of their Arts and Wonders Season and at Helmshore and Queen Street Museums (Lancashire County Council) as part of a special museums dance event:


Choreographer Jenny Reeves describes her inspiration for the work:

Cotton was inspired by my fascination with my family history and their working lives in the mills. My great grandmother Ada was born in 1901 and lived in Great Harwood. She was a piecer and as such she would have been responsible for piecing together the cotton roving on enormous spinning mules. My Grandmother Winnifred also worked as a weaver. This sparked my interest in the continuous rhythms of the looms.

Jenny Reeves

About Time Dance Company

Performance of Cotton by Jenny Reeves
Photo Andy Ford
Performance of Cotton by Jenny Reeves
Photo Andy Ford

Key learning

Jenny Reeves formed About Time Dance Company with the aim of sharing forgotten stories and celebrating the rich local heritage in the North West through dance and song, and especially, of course, clog dancing.  

Cotton was Jenny's first self-created project under About Time Dance Company, and indicated the way in which heritage could act as an access point for a new audience to see and enjoy dance. All local audiences were able to connect to some areas of the subject matter and all wanted to share their experiences of Lancashire and the mills.

After a performance, wherever we are, the work makes the audience speak up and want to share their stories. It’s as though the piece transports the audience back in time to a great sense of togetherness.

Jenny Reeves

About Time Dance Company

Another very important part of the project is the community participation. On tour, local community dancers are recruited to become part of the performance. They create a giant human loom, as well as emotive tableaux and joyous song. It’s so important that this special creation is performed by the community, for the community and about the community, and many special friendships have been made in the process.

Cotton – About Time Dance Company

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Performance credits

Choreography Jenny Reeves

Performers Lucy Starkey, Ellen Turner, Aimee Williamson

Costume by Katie Duxbury

Music by Lee Affen

Poetry by Sid Calderbank, a Lancashire dialect historian

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