Ground-breaking dance performance to be held at city's newest arts venue

Dancers will utilise digital technology for a ground-breaking performance in the very building where inventor Joseph Swan attended photography lectures.

Wednesday, 18th August 2021, 3:17 pm
Acedia will launch the new arts venue

The Athenaeum building in Fawcett Street has had many uses over the years, including once hosting lectures attended by one of the city’s most famous sons, lightbulb inventor Joseph Swan.

Now it’s starting a new chapter as an arts venue, and Southpaw Dance Company will be launching the venue with a performance of Acedia, an inventive performance which fuses live dance with ground-breaking digital technology.

Acedia will start with one live dancer, and four other dancers, whose performances will feature on iPads provided for the audience, will then expand the show.

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Southpaw Dance rehearsing in the Athenaeum Building, Fawcett Street, Sunderland.

Robby Graham, artistic director of award-winning Southpaw, explained: “We’ve worked with digital artist Rupert Stamp on a bespoke Acedia app and the show is going to be a bit special, something really different.

"We’re using live performance and innovative technology to create a unique experience in a wonderful, historic space – Acedia will be the first live performance in the recently restored Athenaeum.

“Acedia is a word we’re using to describe the combination of listlessness, anxiety, and the inability to concentrate so many of us experienced during Covid lockdowns.

“In Acedia, we see many different versions of the same character, layered and overlapped, creating a sense of pandemic isolation. In a prolonged time-lapse of their time in lockdown, we see the contrasting versions of our performer and their means of coping in a confined environment. As the days and weeks pass and isolation sets in, our performer’s repetitive routine slips and further versions of our performer appear, evidently struggling with prolonged isolation.

The Athenaeum building is being turned into an arts venue.

"Our story, scripted by Lee Mattinson, examines the possibilities and the optimism of re-connecting with friends and family, and finding ourselves once again as we emerge from lockdown restrictions.”

Acedia is the last of three Sunderland Culture commissions awarded through Arts Council England’s National Lottery Project Grants aimed at capturing the hopes and anticipation of audiences as pandemic restrictions are eased.

Helen Green, head of performance at Sunderland Culture, added: “Sunderland audiences may remember Southpaw’s performance of Faust on top of the St Mary’s Car Park back in 2016. Acedia, using ground-breaking technology, promises to be just as special and tickets will go very quickly – Southpaw has a national reputation for its indoor and outdoor spectaculars.”

Originally opened in 1843, The Athenaeum building was an important cultural hub for Sunderland, playing an important role in the development of culture, design, engineering and photography in the region.

Southpaw Dance rehearsing in the Athenaeum Building, Fawcett Street, Sunderland.

The building has been brought back to life by visual arts organisation Breeze Creatives who have opened up the building to the public after extensive investment in the creation of studios, creative workspace and office space alongside a new gallery.

The Acedia performances will be over the August Bank Holiday weekend - Friday, August 27 to Sunday, August 29. Tickets costing £8 are available from Sunderland Culture’s website ( but are limited to 15 per show and are expected to sell out quickly.

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Southpaw Dance rehearsing in the Athenaeum Building, Fawcett Street, Sunderland.