The Strategists

Where do I want to get the ball and how do I get it there?

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Photo: Nick Greenwood

The Strategists is the sister piece to Full Contact that was commissioned by Leeds Inspired to celebrate the Rugby League world cup a few years ago with performances in Leeds Library.

Commissioned by Barnsley Civic, The Strategists sought to explore the game from a different angle – that of its female players.

Balbir Singh invited input from former rugby player turned dancer Jon Beney and the first female rugby referee Julia Lee. Their expertise added to the mix of talent alongside a multicultural cast of dancers, musicians and actors.

The title of The Strategists came about from looking at the female game and the thinking behind how it is played. Speaking with female rugby players it became clear to Balbir Singh that the female game has a strategic mindset, thinking about ‘where do I want to get the ball and how do I get it there?’ Hence the title.

Balbir describes the process of developing the concept further:

“Initially the research looked at the challenges faced by female rugby players. This was by default the approach I was taking. But when I thought deeper about the concept, it became a piece about challenges we all face in life. I wanted an audience to come out of it feeling inspired and confident in themselves: to believe in who they are and to face their own challenges whatever they may be. So the female game became a vehicle for this much broader theme and audience accessibility and resonance, and so it did not matter if you had any knowledge or experience of rugby as an audience to enjoy it.”

“The work became a celebration of the female game and I began to look at different cultural mindsets around how it is played. Italy – a team spirit approach; South Africa – a streetwise sense of play; India – a rhythmic aspect. I met with head coach of the top Indian female team the Delhi Hurricanes, Kuldeep Singh Bist, whilst he was in the country on a programme through the Leicester Tigers. I was pleasantly surprised to find out how popular female rugby is in India. His insight was invaluable both as a player and also having two daughters that he has coached. There was an element of this that became part of the work.”

The piece looks at the team almost as an octopus with different tentacles as players that have different approaches to the playing of the game and how they make up the whole. The framing device for the work is two commentators on the day of the final match, looking back at ‘how we got there.’

More about The Strategists

The Strategists started out exploring challenges faced by female rugby players. It became a piece about the challenges we all face in life.

Balbir Singh

BSDC: The work