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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA


previews, reviews, interviews, and recommendations with Steve Cooke



REVIEW By Steve Cooke

PHOTOGRAPHY By Oluwatosin Daniju

Manchester international festival: Benji Reid: Find Your Eyes at Manchester Academy - 90 minutes of exhilarating, moving, stunning originality in the form of a combination of photography, dance, theatre, and music.

As Benji Reid and his team left the stage and the rapturous applause died down the person next to me said ‘I have been coming to the festival since 2009 and that was the best thing I have seen!’

Like most of the full-house I was initially unsure about what Find Your Eyes would offer. What is a ‘choreo-photolist’ as Benji Reid describes himself? Apparently, someone who combines photography, dance, and theatre. What we were treated to was 90 minutes of exhilarating, moving, stunning originality.

Benji Reid sat centre stage about to embark on a photoshoot, flanked by two huge screens, his back lit by a single spotlight. With camera in hand, he looks intently at the figures posing under his instructions in front of him. A bell announces Act one, he presses the shutter, a pause, the image he has captured appears in sharp focus on the screens, he glances at it, then on with the next, we are witnessing instant creativity.

Benji Reid has been a famous dancer, a leading member of Soul II Soul, and an early pioneer of hip-hop theatre. Turning away from performance he has taken up photography. MIF Director, John McGrath, now has encouraged and coaxed him back to the stage with this sensational outcome.

Find Your Eyes is a quotation borrowed from the American photographer Alec Soth, interpreted by Benji Reid in this show as about finding different ways to frame and cope with life’s complex challenges, about seeing differently.

His models are three stunningly exceptional dancers – Slate Hemedi (AKA Crazy), founder of Alliance Crew; pole dance champion Yvonne Smink; and Salomé Pressac, who works with Studio Wayne McGregor.

Benji Reid meticulously poses each shot with the dancers using their exceptional physical abilities to shape his vision.

His narrative of battles with mental health told through traumatic personal episodes is soundtracked by dramaturg Keisha Thompson’s varied music from hip-hop beats to John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme.

Sequences of portraits take us through a rollercoaster of emotions such as Slate Hemedi and Salomé Pressac depicting joy to resistance, anger, and sorrow, as Benji Reid choreographs with almost whispered, but clearly heard instructions.

Each meticulously-set image is immediately delivered in magnification on Ty Green’s set, complemented by Tupac Martir’s atmospheric lighting, with props precisely placed by choreographed studio assistants.

Three acts and 90 minutes fly by with each scene becoming more elaborate, the donning of fantastical, futuristic costumes, Salomé Smink as a human kite, breathtakingly holding position as a wind machine blows around her, Salomé Pressac, uncannily communicating sadness, lying on a light box, racked with pain, the heartbreaking story of his stroke-inflicted mother, tapping out her messages to the gods: “Come and save me” a god appears; she is resurrected.

In Find Your Eyes Benji Reid has transmuted his personal vulnerabilities into stunning art.

We have been privileged to see this engrossingly moving metamorphosis unfold before our eyes.

I hope that this is just the beginning of choreo-photalist Benji Reid’s work and that opportunities are created for many more people to experience what we have just witnessed.

Thanks to John McGrath and MIF for making Find Your Eyes possible.


REVIEW By Dr Joe Dawson

The TLC audience was delighted to welcome back pianist Duncan Glenday in a typically elegant and moving recital. Incidentally, the vintage 1933 Challen grand piano was the very same instrument he had played as a promising young teenager back at the old Art Gallery’s ‘Music at Lunchtime’ before it moved here to St Mary in the Baum. He subsequently developed the enormous potential he displayed by graduating first class from the prestigious joint course of the RNCM and Manchester University. As well as diplomas in professional performance, his competition successes included First Prizes in the John Ireland Competition and the Proctor-Gregg Recital Prize.

Duncan returned today in a busy schedule as an accomplished recitalist, concerto soloist, chamber musician and teacher. He has performed over 300 concerts throughout the UK. He is a piano teacher at the University of Manchester and the Founder and Artistic Director of the annual Uppermill Summer Music Festival.

We began with Schumann’s Novellette, followed by four of his Waldscenen (Woodland scenes). Duncan summoned up warm, descriptive tones from the vintage instrument through these charming pieces with their hints of hidden depths.

We then went on to tour other musical places with Guernsey for John Ireland’s ‘In a May Morning’ from “Sarnia,” then to sunnier climes with Andaluza by Granados, and Granada by Albeniz, their exciting strong Iberian rhythms ringing out.

Maxwell Davies’ solidly Scottish ‘Farewell to Stromness’ brought us back to the British Isles. This live performance and vital interpretation proved why it has remained a Classic FM favourite for many years. Finally, a commanding rendition of Chopin’s Barcarolle left the audience wanting more.

The Queen’s Award-winning Toad Lane Concerts are every Wednesday at 12.30pm at the Grade 1 listed church of St Mary in the Baum, Toad Lane, Rochdale, OL16 1DZ. Entrance fee is £6. No refreshments available now, but the venue is Covid-19 compliant. Contact 01706 648872 for further information.

How art, music and dance affect your brain and body

REVIEW By Steve Cooke

The creative arts are not a luxury for our downtime, but an important contributor to physical and mental well-being, says Susan Magsamen, co-author of a book on the new field of neuroaesthetics, which studies the brain’s responses to art.

“I need it for my soul and my health and my survival,” she says. “It’s not a nice to have, it’s a have to have.”

Susan Magsamen gardens, knits, and crochets. She writes prose and poems and sings and hums daily “to the chagrin of my husband,” she says. Every Friday night, she and her husband get together in their living room and dance.

Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us, co-written with Ivy Ross, is an authoritative guide to how neuroaesthetics can help us transform traditional medicine and build healthier communities.

The book weaves a tapestry of breakthrough research, insights from multidisciplinary pioneers and compelling stories from people who are using the arts to enhance their lives.

The arts can deliver potent, accessible, and proven solutions for the well-being of everyone. Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross offer compelling research that shows how engaging in an art project - from painting and dancing to expressive writing, architecture and more - for as little as forty-five minutes reduces the stress hormone cortisol, no matter your skill level, and just one art experience per month can extend your life by ten years.

Susan Magsamen – “Most people think about the arts or about health, but they don’t really think about arts and health together. There are some similarities to mindfulness and meditation, and to a flow state. Part of what’s happening in those kinds of very focused spaces where you’re not thinking about 100 other things is that you’re letting your mind go, and that brings you to a stress-free state.”

“We get a lot of really positive benefits from exercise. But when you think about dance, dance is a very social activity. Cultural dances have specific uses and meanings, including ceremonies and rituals (weddings, births, rites of passage) as well as pleasure.

Cultural dances often have a story to tell and a message to be expressed, and they are passed down generation to generation. These stories through dances are told to us when we are young, and they have great meaning for us individually and as a culture.

And that meaning is important for memory and for being able to do something that feels good. Also, there is an aspect of community-building that’s different from exercise.”

“A: Every week, my husband and I spend an hour or so with our cousin who has frontotemporal dementia. And it’s extraordinary how when we sing “You Are My Sunshine” or “Amazing Grace,” she comes right back. It’s the closest thing to magic I have seen.”

“Scientists know that music is processed in many different areas of the brain. There’s repetition in the way that music is encoded; the hippocampus is the region of the brain that stores short-term memory, which is often the first region to fail for people with dementia. Over time, memories are consolidated and are stored in a distributed manner in the cerebral cortex. It’s fascinating that somehow our brains have figured out how to duplicate knowledge, especially information that’s really important.”

“We misunderstand the arts and aesthetics and their role in our lives. I hope that this book pulls us back, and allows us to have more of a conversation about the fact that we’re wired for art. We are physiologically wired for art; our brains respond to it without needing to be taught.”

“It really makes sense to understand the neurobiology, physiology, and psychology of our responses to art and how that can inform practice that we do every day. I’m really hoping that the book starts a conversation about how this work, these arts and aesthetics, can change our lives in little and big ways.”

In Your Brain on Art offers a vision of what a life lived with an aesthetic mind-set could look like.

Susan Magsamen suggests bringing more art into our lives:

Develop an arts practice: We hope that people start to think about 20 minutes of an arts practice, whatever that is, throughout the day. This could be music, dancing, colouring, sculpting, or knitting,

Appreciate art in your daily life: It doesn’t have to be an art work out — it can be an effort to appreciate the art in your daily activities. Preparing food or gardening can both be artistic pursuits.

Be creative about living with art: Other ways to live with the arts include waking up to smells that make you happy. Embrace the sheer joy of singing in the shower. Gaze at the clouds and find new images. Bring flowers indoors.

The point, Susan Magsamen says, is to allow an appreciation of art and what it can do for us back into our lives. “These are tools that are available to you right now.”

Canongate Books; Main edition (30 Mar. 2023)

Susan Magsamen is the founder and director of the International Arts + Mind Lab, Center for Applied Neuroaesthetics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where she is a faculty member. She is also the co-director of the NeuroArts Blueprint. Susan works with both the public and private sectors using arts and culture evidence-based approaches in areas including health, child development, education, workforce innovation, rehabilitation, and social equity.

Ivy Ross is the Vice President of Design for hardware product area at Google, where she leads a team that has won over 225 design awards. She is a National Endowment for Arts grant recipient and was ninth on Fast Company’s list of the one hundred Most Creative People in Business in 2019. Ross believes that the intersection of arts and sciences is where the most engaging and creative ideas are found.


Saturday 29th July


An afternoon of music, poetry dance and song.


Pioneers Museum, Toad Lane. Rochdale

Email: eileen

Wednesday 02 August

Toad Lane Concerts - Rochdale's Weekly Music at Lunchtime

This week we have Edane Ng piano (Malaysia & RNCM).

The concert series has been held at St Mary’s since 2001 and was granted the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2020… during the pandemic!

Running every Wednesday, Music at Lunchtime is a weekly live classical music concert series that has been going since the 1960s. The sessions were initially run at the old Rochdale Art Gallery by the local authority, but since May 2001 have been run by volunteer-enthusiasts and artistic director, Dr Joe Dawson.


Phone: Dr Joe Dawson 01706 648872

Doors open 12noon, concert starts 12.30pm - 1.30pm

St Mary in the Baum, Toad Lane/St Mary's Gate, Rochdale OL16 1DZ

Wednesday 02 August

Rochdale Photographic Society

Tonight's session - Mini print competition 6x4.

We meet every Wednesday at Rochdale Unitarian Church, starting at 7.30pm prompt (doors open from 7.15pm). The door is kept locked so please ring the bell on arrival.

If you would like to see the club for yourself and meet our members, you are welcome to attend as our guest for up to 3 weeks before committing to membership. Annual subscription is £36 for single or £46 for joint membership.

A weekly room fee of £2.50 is also payable on arrival at the meeting. Refreshments are 50p.

Visit the link below for a full 2023 syllabus.

£2.50 for room fee

Rochdale Unitarian Church, Clover Street, Rochdale OL12 6TP

Thursday 03 August - Saturday 05 August

Visit Fireground Museum

Join us at Fireground this week to discover Greater Manchester's firefighting story.

Fire museum attractions are on show inside the museum including our collection of historic firefighting artefacts from the 18th century to present day, plus home-made refreshments in the new Fireground Café, and souvenirs from our fantastic new gift shop! We have a wide choice ranging from toddler to collector.

Fireground is open to visitors on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, 10am - 4pm.

Under 4s are free, Children (aged 4-15) and Concessions £5, Adults £7, and Family (4 people) £20.

Phone: Fireground 01706 341219


celebrating creative arts and artists - an oasis of positivity supporting individual and community wellbeing.

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