Through the IWM 14-18 NOW Legacy Fund, IWM is working in partnership with cultural organisations from across the UK to commission over 20 ambitious new artworks inspired by the heritage of conflict and created by world-leading and emerging contemporary artists. 

Inspired by collections at Nottinghamshire Archives and the Imperial War Museum,  The Mother of Tension featured a group of talented young dancers from across the Midlands in a ground-breaking new Hip Hop dance theatre performance exploring themes of conflict through lived experiences. Working in partnership with Inspire Youth Arts and Xzibit Young Creatives, choreographers Jasmine Eccles and Gareth Woodward, composer Jimmy Power and creative technologist Rebecca Smith, the performance was a unique reflection of the multi-faceted experiences of conflict. The project culminated in a performance at the Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham on 5 March 2023. 

Dancers performing on stage
Courtesy of Inspire: Culture, Learning and Libraries
Performance at the Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham, 5 March 2023

The gripping and atmospheric dance performance captured the lived experiences of the men and women who lived through the tension and tragedy of war during the twentieth century. As a part of the project the young performers had the opportunity to visit Nottinghamshire Archives to explore the hidden stories in the documents on which their performance was based. Being able to engage with the original documents, to hold and read the first-hand accounts gave them a powerful insight into the impact of conflict on individuals and communities, with a relevance still felt in the present day.

Original archives spanning the 20th century from the First World onwards were explored. Diaries of soldiers including Billy Richards and Joseph Bodill provided a vivid description of the true horrors of war as witnessed by so many, whilst the drawings of teenager Raymond Pegg provided a fascinating insight into a school boy’s notion of war. 

Hand drawn illustrations of a gas mask and a cross section of a trench
Nottinghamshire Archives document refs: DD/1280/1-3
Extracts from the notebooks of teenager Raymond Pegg, who documented every aspect of the First World War.

Captain Albert Ball VC was Britain’s leading flying ace, and born in Lenton, Nottingham in 1896. He died on active service aged just 20 and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest and most prestigious award. He wrote in one of his final letters “I do get tired of always living to kill, & am really beginning to feel like a murderer. Shall be so pleased when I have finished.” (Nottinghamshire Archives document ref: DD/1180/4)

A young pilot holding an aircraft spinner
© IWM Q 107324
Captain Albert Ball VC, holding an aircraft spinner.
I think it was really important to highlight the unheard voices, from the perspective that is relatable from people that were in the peace [movement] too. People talk about diversity and things like that, and back then we always championed a certain type of person, or a certain type of characteristic.
- A member of the dance company

The performers also explored women's experiences of conflict including the diary of Elizabeth Calladine, entertainer to the troops, and ‘land girl’ Hilda Jackson.  Hilda was posted to farms in Ashford and Dover, where she worked in place of labourers who had been conscripted into the armed forces.

A group of six women working in a field
Nottinghamshire Archives document ref: DD/2726/11
Hilda Jackson and other members of the Women’s Land Army during the Second World War.

Giving an alternative perspective to the theme was John Edward Hammill of Forest Town, Mansfield who was one of over 60,000 men and 1,000 women who applied to register as a conscientious objector during the Second World War. His papers provide a personal insight into the Tribunal process, as well as his life and relationships with German Prisoners of War both during and after the war. He told the tribunal that he “cannot take up arms against my brothers, black, brown or white." (Nottinghamshire Archives document ref: DD/2733)

A man's passport photograph from the Second World War
Nottinghamshire Archives document ref: DD/2733
John Edward Hammill
There were specific stories from people who had lived through this and had gone through different degrees of torture and imprisonment in order to fight for what they truly believed in. I feel that Krump [a style of street dance] has been the perfect dance style to express and show this, through storytelling in movement.
- Member of the dance company

Find out more about the IWM 14-18 NOW Legacy Fund commissions here