After thoughts – ‘The Nature of Things’: what happened? what did I make?

I’ve been wanting to write  something about ‘The Nature of Things’ for the past month. Longer in fact. And i’ve been avoiding it. Sometimes in spare moments I arrange a few sentences of thoughts in my head, but then I never put them down on paper, or find enough of an order for them. How did the work start? What did it become? How did it take the shape that it did and why? Was I satisfied in the end and if so, what was I satisfied by? A lot of questions! And a struggle to find a linear, linguistic form that gives just credit to what I think the project created: both in terms of the process and at the final product.

And perhaps this struggle comes in part because ‘The Nature of Things’ is circular, cyclical, interwoven. I like lines, and we played with them a lot, indeed there is whole section that looks at this idea of line – departing from, returning to, falling out of, launching back into, re-organising, re-finding this line. And yet the work as a whole, as a being, as an organism, as an illustration of Time, presents an understanding that is far from linear . No start or end points. More being. And so this dilemma, but desire to write, reminds me of Jennifer’s difficulty with starting. And in the end I realise I can enter almost anywhere!

I return to the programme notes that I wrote for the Premiere in Eastleigh, because I think they provide a context, and an invitation to the viewing that I encouraged:

‘I invite you to let the performance seep into you – to engage with how it makes you feel. Whatever your experience is, it is the right experience – however similar or radically different it might be to the person next to you.

The initial impetus for this work came from a book called ‘Li’ by David Wade that Jennifer gave me on a train on our way back from rehearsals in Dublin in 2010. It takes the Chinese term ‘li’ (‘form’) and applies it to naturally occurring living patterns, such as branching and spiral forms; erosion and aggregation processes. I knew immediately that I wanted to work with this – to investigate choreographic structures that create these patterns – how are they established? what happens when they are put under pressure? how does change happen?

In order to present the alive nature of these ideas about patterning, I felt it was necessary for the performers to make live choices about how the piece unfolds. And so I recognised how important it was for them to communicate clearly with each other. I was also keen for the work to be personal and relational; not solely caught up in mathematics, so that the performers can embody these concepts, not to represent, but to re-encounter the natural world through dance and sound. As the work developed, it became increasingly about the individuals themselves: about how they share the space, and the ideas; about how they negotiate these patterns and structures as human, feeling people, rather than artificial simulation.

For me, The Nature of Things is full of circles and spirals, wind blowing across long grass in open fields, birds flying. It is about Jennifer, Tom, Petra, Gavin and Tom working together to organise and re-organise themselves in an expansive landscape of movement and sound.’

So, let me unpack a little further: I started with maps and tasks and formulas that I wanted to use as choreography. I started mostly in the head but with a desire to move into the heart. I think that the head thoughts provided a ‘way in’, a reason to move and a place to return to if we felt we were losing our way – gave us something concrete to talk about. Natural patterns, organisation and re-organisation, spirals and branches. This eroding, transforming, becoming something else. Systems. Orders. New orders. maths and logic. And then comes chaos, complexity theories, fractals and scale and realising that anyways these patterns are in us and with us because we are part of (not separate from) these universal systems.  Perhaps what we create exposes them more (or less), makes them more visible, a more direct commentary. But even when this is not the case, I enjoyed realising that this patterning was always going to be present/inherent on a macro (and actually micro!) scale.

Jennifer recently sent me some new notes on chaos and scale and so there will be more on this later (the next entry I think). .. In very general terms, The Nature of Things aligns itself much more readily with current understandings of natural patterns emerging, transforming, erupting by ordered disorder – the governance of chaos and complexity theory: “Over and over again, the world displays a regular irregularity”  James Gleick

And so as the programme notes imply,  I moved/we all moved away from the head and more towards the heart. The Nature of Things became as much as anything about Jennifer and Tom and Petra and Gavin and Tom. Their relationships with each other, with the space, with me. Was that enough? I think so. And still the spirals and the birds and the circles, cycles, morphing, transforming, alive decisions were tightly embedded/ woven into the fabric of the heart of the work and I think that the people who saw it shared in that.

They felt part of the world. Part of the outdoors. They felt that it was light and white. Spacious. They could feel the wind and the circles and the great flapping of wings. What more could I ask than that they felt these wonderful things.

It is always tricky to quantify the reach of any work. How much did it change things for the people that it touched? If part of the aim of the project was to make a contribution towards the breadth of work that raises awareness about the environment, climate change and our engagement with the natural world around us, how far did it manage that? I am inclined not to try and analyse this too deeply in terms of absolute numbers. What I do know (from people who wrote to me personally, spoke to me, spoke to others), is that the work did touch and continues to touch and to live.

I continue to be surprised by people approaching me to say how much they were touched by the piece. It is encouraging. I like to view this touch like a rain drop falling into a large lake – the water it touches ripples out to the next spaces of water and the next and the next until that ever expanding ripple is absorbed into and has contributed to the whole.

The process touched the people who engaged with it directly. That changes their interactions with other people that they meet and touch and so on and so on, and this is how the world changes!  And yes, it is both small and simple and absolutely huge and totally epic!

The quotes that follow are here not to big up me and what I /we did, but rather to give a flavour of the range of (written) responses that I have received from colleagues, audience members, collaborators. In moments when I lose the energy and conviction to push for the work to be seen more, to share it with more people, these comments remind me that we have something important (dare I even say crucial?!) to share.

‘I heard sea, sand, wind, breeze, clouds, waterfalls, rustling of leaves, things growing up and wilting down.’

‘What I love about your work is that you hold me in the moment. Give me long enough to see inside the dancers and want to know more. To be engaged in them as individuals and their relationships between each other.’

‘I saw something beautiful and elemental. Made you want to join in. With the breath and the wind. Stillness rushing, swirling – closeness – apartness – wonderful sounds.’

“the connection between dancers and space is really seamless, they´re somehow of the space rather than in it. And of each other somehow too. Integration is happening. It´s smooth. In a thick way that´s also transparent. I want to see more. I want to know what happens next. They´re beautiful movers, really, but you see the integrity of the work – they´re in the same place. They look like the way I want my relationships to be.” Alex Swain

“I felt inspired to see beautiful dancers moving with a coolness that in my opinion comes with being at a place where you are beyond impressing or finding tricks (not that they weren’t impressive). It was a real treat to see and feel…it made me feel in my own body…” Carrie Whittaker – Lila Dance

Jennifer: ‘From my situated perspective as a mover, I find it difficult to imagine, and indeed, have had little experience of, a richer environment.  This has a great deal to do with the particular resonance and chemistry Charlotte and I share, whereby much of the communication takes place intuitively.  Still, the atmosphere is one in which I thrive.  Mutual trust, shared ethos and aesthetics and a valuing of process inside and as product all contribute to this.  I feel that my particular talents and skills are both respected and challenged in a very vital way, that my sensibility and perception as a mover is woven into the work that emerges and is itself changed over the course of it.  In a highly changeable and disposable global economy, I feel my worth as an individual artist through the work, both as it is created and in the performances of what is created.’

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