Diversity is about more for everyone – it’s not a service for those who have been marginalised.

So says Krystal S Lowe, a dancer, choreographer and writer who has been involved in the arts in Wales for almost a decade.

She is pleased “more people want to do better in disability arts” – and adds: “Let’s put it like this, people have [recently] taken more interest in diversity in terms of ethnicity.

“But the difficulty for someone who is disabled and from an ethnic minority, and also a Welsh-speaker, is that you are forced to choose which identity you want to focus on – and it’s often not you who gets to make the choice.”

Now a project called ‘Intersectional Identities/Hunaniaethau Croestoriadol’, funded by Arts Council Wales, Welsh Government and the National Dance Foundation of Bermuda will ‘develop new audiences, participants, and artists, with specific focus on the intersections of D/deaf, Black, and Welsh speaking people.’

The 18-month long project will reprise ‘Whimsy’, a dance-theatre piece Krystal originally had commissioned by Articulture Wales, about a girl who struggles to see how she compares to nature, but finds beauty in herself.

Dancer Krystal S Lowe. Picture: Sleepy RobotKrystal S Lowe. Picture: Sleepy Robot

For a number of reasons, the original piece could not be created in English, Welsh and British Sign Language (BSL) as the writer intended. But a stabilisation grant from Arts Council Wales allowed her to collaborate with theatre artists Stephanie Back and Jonny Cotsen, who through their lived and professional experience, enabled Krystal to explore better ways to connect and engage Deaf audiences and artists.

Krystal explains: “It is written as a children’s story, so is heavily narrated with music and very descriptive text... I felt Deaf audiences were not getting an equal experience.”

Now this new grant will allow ‘Whimsy’ to be developed into a multilingual work – Welsh, English, BSL – exploring intersectional methods of creating.

Deaf Hub Wales will work with Krystal and partners including Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru, Taking Flight (a theatre company with a track record of making work with Deaf artists and for Deaf audiences), National Dance Company Wales and the RSPB, ‘who want to offer more arts in their beautiful green spaces’.

Krystal emphasises the collaborative nature of the project and the ‘really beautiful way of working’ that will involve co-creation with communities. But she also says Intersectional Identities will be about ‘decolonising green spaces, which have a history of being for the few’.

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Part of this will involve Krystal, as producer and performer, linking Wales with Bermuda, the tiny island in the north Atlantic where she was born and raised.

Although she says ‘there is definitely systemic racism’ on the island, the difference between the two places she calls home is representation.

“In Bermuda, you don’t have to worry about representation. Everywhere you go there is a diversity of ethnicities. When I was growing up, the Premier was a black woman with the same last name as me.

“And in the arts, you’d never get an advert saying ‘Seeking diverse candidates’, for example, because the population is so diverse.”

So when she arrived in Newport – a small Welsh city that is nevertheless three times the size of Bermuda – to take up the opportunity of an apprenticeship with Ballet Cymru in 2012, Krystal says: “I abruptly realised that here was a world that was not made for me.”

But she is at pains to explain that a true understanding of diversity in the arts means more for everyone, rather than some individuals or groups missing out at the expense of others.

Krystal’s humility is striking, and perhaps that owes much to her upbringing – and a somewhat unorthodox route into dance.

Dancer Krystal S Lowe. Picture: Sleepy RobotKrystal during her time as a dancer in Bermuda.

Her passion began as the result of a chance encounter her mother had while Krystal was a child. Working as a freelance journalist for the Bermuda Sun, her mother wrote a news story about a woman who was opening a dance school, and so warmed to the subject of the piece that she enrolled all eight of her children.

“She was hoping she would get at least one dancer out of it,” laughs Krystal, the third of her mother’s eight – and indeed the only one to have become a professional dancer.

She says ‘dance was the only thing I really loved to do’ – and remains glad to have rejected the advice of some to become a secretary. Dancing professionally is not a viable career path in Bermuda – something Krystal says she would like to play her part in changing – and so her passion to pursue her dream career led first to a series of summer schools in the United States, and then eventually to Wales.

But she explains that, at the age of 18, it was more important that she stayed at home to be a support to her family than to leave Bermuda for a prohibitively expensive conservatoire.

“At 18 and 19 I would attend all the classes at my local dance school,” she recalls. “From 3pm right into the evening I would train with every age group. Five-year-olds, seven-year-olds, 10-year-olds, 15-year-olds.

“There’s no such thing as feeling like you’re too good for a certain level, because it’s about technique, it’s about learning the basics again – and you can find something new each time.”

Krystal says she appreciates the perspectives gained through this meticulous learning process – and what is also clear is her resolute commitment to extend her passion for dance to everyone, regardless of their background.

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