The Shopkeeper Project
A thought-provoking short film that uses contemporary dance and comedy to explore one man’s struggle between his outward-facing persona and his inner-battle with depression.
Sandrine Monin, Choreographer
The seed of project originated from my experience of living with someone suffering from depression; observing its impact on everyday tasks and how physical and almost tangible it could feel at times. Hence, the idea of creating depression as a character; an entity in itself.
From one conversation to another, testimonies started multiplying and I was stunned by the amount of people I knew who suffered from depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. What struck me the most was the number of men and their initial reluctance to talk about it, but also the immediate relief felt once they started opening up!
That’s how I started the original research for a show, reading stories, filling surveys, interviewing people, researching in the studio. We shared our findings and collated feedback which were extremely encouraging: people recognised themselves in the performance, felt understood and less alone, they thought dance was a very eloquent way of depicting depression.
We were ready to take on the next stage of the research, when Covid-19 hit.
Lockdown and the pandemic have been particularly tough on people and we saw mental health issues increase dramatically. Small businesses have been heavily affected and we’ve seen significant inequality in the way different communities have been impacted.
During the previous stage of research, we had already identified our main character as a struggling independent business owner. Little did we know how prophetic it would be.
Furthermore, I had been looking into intersectionality in mental health: how differently communities were affected, but also how their perception of the issue was, how opened or stigmatised it could be, making it sometimes difficult to reach out for help.
These are the reasons why I had to find a way to further the project within the restrictions imposed by the current context. That is why, we will be going into communities, interviewing small independent business owners and transforming their personal stories into a short film where everyone can recognise themselves, as well as offering movement-based workshops that in themselves contribute to better mental health.
The work is too relevant, too necessary, not to be happening.
Sandrine began her training at the C.N.S.M.D. de Lyon (Fr), then continued her studies in Germany with the D.A.N.C.E. programme lead by W. Forsythe, W. McGregor, A. Preljocaj and F. Flamand and graduated from the Palucca Hochshule für Tanz in 2010 with a Master's Degree.
As professional dancer, she worked with varied choreographers and performed for renowned companies (Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz, Phoenix Dance Theatre).
In parallel of her performing career, she has developed her own choreographic work as well as teaching classes and workshops.
In 2017, she was selected artist for the Mentoring Programme and the Choreographer's Observership from One Dance UK.
She is now freelance choreographer, dancer and teacher based in Leeds.
Always looking to further her practice, she has validated a Business and Finance course (2019), a Mental Health course (2020) both with the Open University, a Leadership and Fundraising in the Arts with the Leeds University and is studying a MA in Choreography with Central School of Ballet.
Often wrapped in poetic and surrealistic atmospheres, her unique choreographic signature is visceral, marrying strong physicality, sophisticated technique and human sensitivity. Tackling brave subjects with generosity, integrity and humour, her work empowers and brings people together.
Sandrine uses dance as a channel for deeper connections.
About the project...
The project revolves around three ambitions.
Firstly, the investigation of a collaboration between contemporary dance and comedy.
Secondly, the desire to create work touching on mental health issues - specifically depression to raise awareness and reduce the stigma around the topic.
To finish, the work takes a look at the precarious situation of many independent business owners - situation exacerbated this year by Covid-19.
The creative questions will explore how the two media, can complement each other; how spoken words and movements can be combined to create a unique language to raise the issue, engage with the audience and open a dialogue on a topic that needs to be openly discussed.
In this intent, the project will explore the development of a poignant short film, where one actor and one dancer give life to funny and relatable characters through comedy and dance, while underlying some darker societal problems.
The narrative starting point sees two characters at the back of a store. Everything appears normal, but the relationship looks increasingly toxic…
Only at the end, the audience will realise that the man has been on his own all along and the woman only a personification of the depression that he suffers from; portraying the silent, solitary, relentless battle happening in his head.
About the outreach...
This exciting project will make a priority to reach out and engage with a wide and diverse audience.
Throughout the research and development of the film, the artists will organise outreach visits and interview independent business owners in diverse local communities, talking dance and theatre in new fields. This process will be supported by mental health charities and a mental health nurse, allowing conversations to happen within a safe environment, ensuring safeguarding measures and offering assistance for anyone in need.
Workshops, conversations and streaming will be put in place, gathering feedback and making sure the work remains relatable and accessible to a broad audience.
About the project R&D in 2019-20
The project had a first phase of research in 2019-20:
- 4 weeks studio research with actor Paul Dunphy and mentors to established story, characters and dramaturgy.
- Over 100 people took part in a survey on their experience with mental health
- Workshops & Classes
- New partnerships with venues, programmers, mental health charities
- Performance in front of an audience to gather feedback
Principle and CEO of NSCD
The concept is unique and new. What I loved about it was the sensitivity around the relationship. I think it was cleverly done in terms of working the body, the individual as a metaphor.
The fact that it is with a non-dancer tells us that we can create art in a way that has a message for all of us.
Writer and performer
The Shopkeeper did an exceptional job, already, in conveying the experience of depression, what it feels like, the weight of it.
I am really excited to see narratively where it ends.
I haven't thought about depression being expressed physically. Seeing it manifested in a physical way really gets the point across better than trying to explain it.
It's an eloquent way of getting across what depression feels like.
Technique class - Creative and Choreographic workshops
Phoenix Dance Theatre
Phoenix Dance Theatre – GCSE Shadows
Phoenix Youth Academy
Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures
Wayne McGregor Studio
Scottish Dance Theatre
Tutti Frutti Productions
ACE Dance and Music
James Cousins – GCSE Within Her Eye
Northern Ballet - Postgraduate and CAT
NSCD - BA, postgraduate and CAT
Elmhurst Ballet School
Central School of Ballet
CAT Schemes (Swindon, Exeter, Birmingham, Leeds)
Leeds City College
Phoenix Dance Theatre (Dance company)
Tutti Frutti Productions (Theatre company)
Clearwater Collective (Theatre company)
Roberto D. Rusconi (Composer)
Kristian Steffes (Composer)
Intrasonus (Trans-disciplinary producing company)
Centres for Advanced Training CAT schemes
(NSCD, Exeter, Swindon, Birmingham)
Central School of Ballet - London
Emma James (Costume Designer)
Luke Haywood (Lighting Designer)
Marcos Mariz (Dramaturg)
Lou Cope (Dramaturg)
Hughboy Condor (Set designer)
Paul Dunphy (Actor)
Andy Wood (film maker)
Ashley Karrell (videographer)
Simon K. Allen (photographer)