Troed-y-rhiw Lido lies hidden in the overgrown shrubbery in the South Wales Valleys, seemingly lost to time. In this film, I dance in and around the ruins of this once bustling community space.
Troed-y-rhiw Lido in Merthyr Tydfil is quite a surprise when you stumble upon it. It literally pops out from behind of the shrubbery, with no signposts or clues as to where it might be. At one point in time, the concrete-lined cavity in the ground made up the main swimming pool at this lido. Now, it has sadly fallen into disrepair.
The lido was built in the 1930s, which appears to have been a popular time for building Lidos across Britain. Wales Online notes that there were once 57 outdoor pools in Wales, but that only one of them remains in operation. Needless to say, Troed-y-rhiw lido isn't one of them. The ruins that remain here are both strangely beautiful and also rather mournful, given the circumstances in which the lido was built and has since fallen into ruin. You see, this lido was in fact built by unemployed miners during a particularly difficult economic period in South Wales. But after all of their hard work, by the mid-1960s, the lido was no longer in use.
DISCLAIMER: dancing through abandoned buildings can be quite dangerous. I am a professional dancer and myself and Ian (footSTEPS Director of Photography) seek out safe routes through these kinds of buildings before we film our videos. Any exploration of abandoned buildings that you undertake should be done at your own risk.
There are lots of circles in this film. There's a repeated motif of me moving my arms in restricted circles around me, holding my shoulders stiffly in place. This was inspired simply by the restrictions of the overhead camera angle that we used at the beginning of the film. There was something quite interesting in viewing the green of the grass first, and my white shirt set against that. The overhead camera angle allowed for this, but also presented some movement restrictions too. As I moved my arms around me to check for what would be visible and what would not, the movement stuck in my mind, and I found myself drawn into repeating it throughout the film.
There's a certain kind of visual quality that I like in this film - I'm particularly enamoured by the way that the very green space gives way to a slightly more urban setting, especially when the graffiti-ed concrete building comes into view behind me.
I enjoyed experimenting with moving my hands across the concrete wall - I think this is the first film in which I began to touch the site in this way. I feel that I've been wary of touching anything because of COVID-19, but perhaps I'm becoming more comfortable with that now. It was interesting to have something tactile to play with, but it also allowed me to draw the camera's attention to the textures of the concrete beneath my fingers.
I vividly remember scraping ash and the burnt remains of something-or-other underneath my feet as I walked into that small concrete building, wondering what on earth had occurred in the space that could leave so much ash behind.
It's worth noting here that the act of dancing without music throughout all of these dance films is quite a departure for me. I usually respond to words, music and other kinds of rhythms in my improvisations - moving simply to the soundscapes provided by each location is new to me. I think this is the first time in my dancing career where I have not been able to listen to and respond to rhythms, and so the focus of my movement has been split between my surroundings and how I am feeling that day.
Stories of the Welsh Valleys
Writing this blog has brought a particular set of thoughts to the forefront of my mind. In the time I've been living and working in Wales, I've noticed just how little the rest of the UK and the world knows about life in Wales. Wales is home to some significantly economically deprived areas, and the South Wales Valleys in which the Troed-y-rhiw Lido sits is just one of them. Researching the story of the lido, and the community which built it, sent my mind on a journey of reflection about the industry that I work in: the performing arts.
During the global COVID-19 pandemic, I have witnessed many parts of the performing arts industry in the UK moving their content online. This is in some ways really great - because it has the potential to make performance more accessible to those who aren't able to physically get to theatre venues, for example. However, the assumption that moving all performances online makes them more accessible is completely false. I want to draw attention to this, because there is an assumption that everyone in the UK has internet access in 2020.
Some areas of the UK have much less internet users than others. In their most recent update, the ONS (Office for National Statistics) recorded 96% of households in the UK as having internet access. However, the Welsh Government suggested in 2019 that only 87% of households in Wales had internet access. My reading of this is that Wales has a lower percentage of the population than the UK average. The South Wales Valleys is one of the areas where this is a particular problem.
Now, I'm not a statistician by any stretch of the imagination, and I can't tell you which of these statistics are more accurate, but simply hearing about these statistics really makes me consider the assumptions we, and the rest of the world, have about life in the UK.
I mention this because, I've spent a lot of time reminding people lately not to think of 'online as accessible for all' because not everyone has internet access. (There are a plethora of other reasons why online work isn't accessible to everyone, but I'd argue that the first barrier is whether or not you have access to the internet).
Whilst the facts and figures on UK internet access are not directly related to the story of this lido, my research into the lido's history in tandem with my current 'new normal' working life has certainly got me thinking about it. I think it's important to consider how stories like the one of the Troed-y-rhiw lido and the South Wales Valleys can help us thing about life post-lockdown - think about what assumptions we may have about our own country, and seek to create a better world for everyone.
Introducing The Seasons...
You may have noticed that this is dance film number 10 (congrats on joining us for so long!). It's the penultimate film in our first series - "Season 1: Wales." In my next post, I'll be showcasing the season finale, a slightly longer video which will cap off the season. This is how each season will work, with Season 2 seeing us venture a little further afield - into England, and we've already got some very interesting films in the bag from across the border. Stay tuned!
Intrigued by my dance videos in urban exploration sites? The following posts might be for you: