a summing up for now…of sorts

I am left with a resounding feeling that the research period – both in and outside of the studio time has been incredibly rich and revealing. The conversations and expansion of the ideas that the research was built on have reached far beyond what I could have conceived. I feel that there is potential for several new pieces of work to emerge from this seed of investigation.

I arrived to the first rehearsal with a clear series of tasks to complete – an experiment to undertake. I was specific and precise about the order in which tasks took place – I wanted each dancer to work separately for the first two weeks; each would choose 4 journey maps; interpretations of them would be used to develop a body of movements ideas/material; we would gather these together into a long phrase and insert them into walked pathways that each dancer had also developed from their maps adhering to the proportionality of the sine wave. That was my remit. And we did it. But of course I had little clue in advance of what kind of movement material would emerge, or the huge plethora of other material and ideas that would come and which did not neatly ‘fit’ into my plan!

I also came to realise through the process of working that the discussions that the work threw up in terms of the context of the work were important and couldn’t be contained within the parameters that I had initially set up for the project. Some ideas we realised were best communicated in other formats – through written articles for the blog, or visuals that the photographer worked on. The dance work which is unfolding  does seek to embed some of the larger concerns of our ideas around journey, presence, time and timing both in its structure, its interplay with the musical score and the development of the movement material, particularly in relation to the manner in which it is performed.

feedback sharings

I think that holding a feedback sharing as an integral part of the project is a good and important element. It provides both the artist an opportunity to share their experience of the work they have been doing with an audience, but also allows all interested parties with the chance to see what the supported artists have been investigating. ‘Research’ projects, with no finite outcomes can often become fairly ‘closed door’ adventures, and I think that it is good and refreshing to keep opening up the doors even if the work is in a fairly vulnerable and young incarnation. Other pairs of eyes and ears coming to the work with different perspectives and experiences bring new wisdom, questions and challenges.

One thing that came out strongly through the showing in London and continued to be discussed the following week in Dublin was ideas around how the work would be viewed. In the lead up to the showing in London, I had been working with one frontal surface, with the idea that this would be shown in a theatre space. This was partly a practical measure – Studio 4 at Jerwood Space is long and narrow and it is much easier to have some perspective on the work looking at it end on; also it was in my mind the types of possible venues and platforms to show the work in, and I thought that it might be more possible to have the work programmed in theatre spaces rather than alternative/gallery spaces at this point in my career. However, in light of the questions thrown up in London, I started to give the viewing perspective much more consideration, and realised that the possibility of viewing from all 4 sides might sit more readily with the ideas and the aesthetics of the work.

In Dublin we had a much more square rehearsal space and began trying out how it felt to take away the frontal surface, and have a feeling of the work having many fronts. Instantly the material became much more 3-dimensional and the relationships in terms of perspective, space and timing more intriguing. Changing this understanding of the work suddenly made the whole read differently, and many of the earlier structural problems with the piece seemed to drop away. One idea that benefited hugely from this change was the thought that the dance extends beyond the parameters of the space – in this form of many fronts there is now a feeling that the boundary between ‘in’ and ‘out’ of the performance space is much more permeable. This enables us to create a truer sense that the piece indeed extends beyond the confines of the space. Indeed I like to use the metaphor that the work is a rectangular piece of paper /or cuboid (to incorporate volume as well) that is larger than the space we are in. The idea then is not to squash the work into the space we have, but rather that it doesn’t end at the walls. Imbedded in this image is that this rectangle or cuboid is not fixed – it is floating and we can shift it to reveal different portions of the dance, depending on what we want to be visible or not. I particularly enjoyed playing with these ideas when working with Jennifer on her pathways – which bits are seen which are not, in repetitions has the paper shifted and we see a different portion?

One observation I made, particularly during the final week in Dublin is that the piece is continuously in process. The project – a research project is meant to be focused on process rather than product, and the subject matter of the research also largely concerned itself with being in process, being in the present, and yet somehow I am surprised when I see this in the dance that has unfolded! There are not really any arrivals or departures, the piece has a feeling that it has already begun, and certainly closes feeling that it never ends (with Jennifer in the mountain material which is definitely on a different time clock), instead for me the sensation of the piece is that it is in a continuous field of presence that reminds me of something from Jennifer’s first article:

Nearest past and nearest future – the ripples moving away from NOW

“The particular immediately present realization of any content of experience…constitutes the ‘core’ of perception; yet, pertaining to it as horizonal environs are the nearest future in its arriving and the nearest past in its departing.” (Intro, Phenomenology of ‘Authentic Time’ in Husserl and Heidegger by, Klaus Held a)

I’m liking this bit too – I’m imagining a small indefinite nugget of present/now thrown into a pond and the ripples of nearest future/past arriving and departing simultaneously somehow, that they both emanate from the same nugget – the difficulty with the image is that we are stuck in an idea that time only goes forward, but I feel the now is verging both on nearest future and nearest past, so they are both equally there in the circularity of the ripple from now.”

working with Tom
I have realised the luxury of working with the composer in the room throughout the rehearsal process. I also realised that this is really important if you want to truly collaborate. Having Tom and the sound he produced in the studio throughout the process really supported the dancers and their creative process, as well as gelling together the group as a whole – Tom felt like an integral part of the group, and in no way separated from the process. Initially Tom and I had thought that we would end up with CD of the music that would then be played for any subsequent performances or showings of the work. However, increasingly it became clear through the process of working together that this didn’t ‘fit’ the way in which the dance was being brought together. As we as a group became more involved in the subject matter and as ideas around triggers, feedback loops and cycles emerged, it became clear that part of the subtlety of the choreography was in the openings that were available to the performance. Opening to make choices in the moment of performance, choices about timing and relationship to space and to each other. These were clearly defined by choreographic structures that we put in place, but nevertheless the openings were there. In view of this we realised that the sound shouldn’t be separated from the ideas that were governing the work. The result is that Tom is the 4th performer. He has hundreds of sound files all programmed in clever techno ways to his computer and his mixing things, and he live manipulates the whole piece. In this way he can respond more absolutely to what he sees in that unique performance, and in turn the dancers can respond to his particular choices on that day also. Like the dance, his score is very detailed and he has different bodies of sound for different sections of the work. The result is that the sound feels very much married to the movement. Tom has been in the studio every day throughout the project, and I think this is clear.

my collaborators
I feel that through the project, the group of artists involved became increasingly committed to the work and its outcomes. I have realised that the chemistry between the individuals I collaborate with is absolutely essential to the quality and productivity of the outcomes. I feel that in the process of this research I have found a core group of artists that I can foresee working with on a long term basis.

Looking back at my original project proposal, I realise that I have indeed moved a long way from my initial departure points. This body of work has grown from a more rigorous, detailed and in depth choreographic process than any of my previous works. In this way, I see that my ideas have more weight and clarity to them, and that my maturity as a choreographer has developed significantly.

Early on in the project, Amy suggested that I read ‘The Art of Travel’ by Alain de Botton. I would indeed recommend it to everyone. It is simultaneously unnervingly accurate, and incredibly entertaining in describing our tendency to yearn to leave our homes for a warmer, greener grass, another place that will make us happier, whilst actually forgetting that wherever we go we takes ourselves, and usually it is ourselves that prevent the happiness rather than the location. Wonderfully written, it is an insight into travel and journey, the difficult pleasure of the present tense, and ease with which we fall back on seeking the future and being nostalgic for the past. In my next piece of writing I will endeavour to relate more of this reading into the context of my work and thoughts.

In this busy world in which we live, we are constantly surrounded by people moving, migrating, journeying. A new story starting. The volcanic ash from Iceland put some of that pace on hold, and I was intrigued to see the response. One aspect of this project was to lose sight a little bit on the western world’s impatience to arrive – we were examining process. And in line with this comes an acknowledgement that perhaps things should take a little longer. I was keen not to fly to Dublin and back, and indeed half the group travelled with me by train and ferry. Tom even took his bike and cycled all the way back to Manchester from Holyhead (the Western most tip of Wales) such was his commitment to subject of the project!

In many ways I feel that in our attempt to be more efficient, tick more boxes more quickly, not lose a ‘moment’ of life, we in fact miss out on all the ‘in betweens’ – all the means of getting to anywhere….we want to arrive more quickly to do what? Spend more time on our computers having virtual interactions, friendships, lives? Where is the ‘living’ in this? And of course I am a part of that too – it is indeed hard to avoid. But it doesn’t rest with me well and I am uneasy with the general trajectory in which our world seems to be moving.

Close friends of mine, Pietro and Isla are about to embark on a mammoth journey. In less than 2 weeks they are leaving their home in Brighton and cycling to Japan. They envisage that the journey will take them in the region of 12 –  18 months, covering something around 15,000 miles. They have of course have spent a considerable amount of time over the last few years planning their route, saving up money and buying equipment. They will carry all that they need with them on their bikes – tent, sleeping bags, cooking stuff…and so on…and they will travel through the extreme heat of Turkey in August and the extreme cold of Siberia and Mongolia through winter. But the exciting thing is that they will be traveling at a pace that means they will experience the land and the people and the cultures surrounding them gradually changing and they will be a part of that change. In the exertion of cycling, pitching their home each night, finding food and washing on the road, much of their energy will be taken up with the activities of living/surviving, but with no doubt plenty of space in their heads. (To see details of their adventures, take a look at their blog: www.oiooio.cc)

My experience of being in Ghana was that I did indeed have a lot more time. A lot more quietness. This was in part because I spoke the language little and therefore understood little around me, and in part because I was outside of the daily business of emails, work, the chaotic and overwhelming bureaucratic, paper filled, capitalist machine that we are governed by. And this situation makes me feel increasingly that we are missing out – missing out on the actual activities of living; instead preoccupying ourselves and our time with paper and stuff and ever more intricate ways of separating ourselves from the natural rhythms of living. This reminds me of another book that I recently read which bares huge contrast to this disconnected society that I see developing: “Just a little run around the world” is the remarkable story of Rosie Swale Pope who between 2003 and 2008 ran 20,000 miles around the world through the wildness of Russia, Siberia and Alaska. She left her home in Wales in October 2003 aged 57, and returned at the end of August 2008. Yes this woman is pretty crazy, and I’m not suggesting that we all go out and do that, but somehow reading her book extends my thoughts on journey and its purpose beyond the parameters of this particular project, and that is part of the interesting thing for me – that the work I make extends out into the rest of my world, my thoughts and preoccupations, that it doesn’t remain in the studio.

Daghdha Mentoring Programme – a note of thanks
Throughout the project, I realise I am increasingly appreciative of the time I had at Daghdha Dance Company – I was there on Artistic Residency through their mentoring programme from 2007 – 8. I know that the programme which still exists in Limerick, Ireland is currently under-going a number of changes, but I believe that it has produced a remarkable legacy in the development of a significant number of independent artists and their choreographic work in Ireland and beyond. I really feel that the clarity I have now and the development and integrity of my practice comes from the space and questions that arose through that experience together with the perspective that artistic director, Michael Klien shared. Of course I have my own take on it all, and my own experiences, the flavour of having been in Ghana for 7 months and other influences, but I notice the Daghdha and the Michael in my questioning, and that seems to be a blessing – so thank you!

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