Songs from the Other Side by Fuora Dance Project will premiere online in partnership with the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, in association with Platform, this November. This new show combines dance with live music to find a new language for exploring mental health challenges.

Andrew Eaton-Lewis, Arts Programme Officer at the Mental Health Foundation, spoke to director and choreographer Giulia Montalbano about making a project about mental health for the first time, the personal stories that inspired its development, and how it has been adapted for online audiences. 

Can you explain why you wanted to make a project about mental health?

In every show I do I want to find new ways to connect with the audience that are not necessarily coming from the theatre world. I try my best to search for things that make connections with people who are curious to discover, through art, daily life experiences, topics not touched, issues, stigmas, arguments that people do not know or get information from the usual media. Perhaps with my art, I can create more connections and reflections of our daily life. This is why I wanted to explore mental health. Not just from a personal experience (due to my previous illness) but a way to share what it can be or means to live with mental health and being provoking for those who still believes that it doesn’t exist.

What does the title, Songs from the Other Side, refer to?

The other side of us. My entire life I searched for and believed in another Giulia. When I realised that I suffered PTSD and depression, I made a new connection with myself. The key was not to search for the Giulia I was but to have compassion for the other side of Giulia that was always there but I never listened to before. This is why I gave a more personal title to the show. I always used the word Songs instead of Thoughts. Through music I can understand more things than words.

Is mental health something you’ve explored in your previous work?

This is my first time exploring my personal experience with mental health. I always insert in my shows a personal touch of my own life experience. But this one was a challenge with myself and I did it.

What has the experience been like for the cast?

I learnt in these years of making that it is important to choose the right people for the right project. I wanted to be surrounded by people who had a similar vision. I focus a lot on finding the right person and then I look at him/her/them as artists. I need to feel comfortable working with people that share respect for me, themselves and for the topic. I cannot talk on their behalf. But what I can say is that we created a new family through our passion of making artworks. Somehow, we are all linked with mental health and this was already a great start to creating Songs From the Other Side.

The show is a mix of spoken word, music, and movement. Can you talk about how you struck a balance between those elements? And did it involve the cast trying things they hadn’t done before? How was that?

The show has a gig-theatre imprint. I wanted to create something different from a traditional version of making a dance show. I like exploring new ways of involving artists from different art forms. And I want to reach a different variety of audience that doesn’t necessarily come from the dance world but also from the gig world. I like exploring new ways to bring audiences to my artistic world. Also, when I create I always think as an audience member. I search for innovations, clarity and easy connections with my own daily life experiences. Something that can be understood in the most efficient and clear way. This is why bringing a variety of artforms in this work was essential to create an unique and intimate atmosphere.

How has lockdown been for you? What have been the biggest challenges? And were there any positives?

I gave birth to my first child on the first day of lockdown in March 2020. My life evolved with my new addition to my family. I had ups and downs as everyone else did but after two weeks, from the best event of my life, I was writing an application to make this show. The urgency to share this now shows that the world is even stronger than before. Mental health is important and we need to protect us, and everyone should know about this. It was also about my other collaborators. A project is not done by one person and I felt worried for the others that needed to work and pay bills too as with myself – we have finally made it after almost two years.

How does making dance on film compare to live performance?

We made the choice of recording the show due to the circumstances and the health of our team. Somehow, I believe everything happens for a reason. Perhaps making a filmed show will be more intimate for everyone who is still struggling to step out from their house or who cannot have opportunity to go out and see live performances. Also, it is a great way to connect with an international audience. But of course, I hope next summer to bring live the concept of a gig performance where we can dance and sing together with our audience. I am pleased with the result and looking forward to next year when, if possible, we will present a live tour.

What are you planning to do next?

With this show captured on camera we aim to reach digital festivals. And hopefully a new live tour starting in Summer 2022.

Songs from the Other Side will premiere online with the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival from Monday 29 November to Monday 6 December. Tickets are pay what you can, from £2 to £8. Book here to receive a viewing link when the show opens.