Corby in April, Glasgow in May and now London in October

It has now been many months since the flurry of activity that surrounded the creation of Is this a Waste Land? in March, April and May of this year. This project has been epic in every dimension – it took three years to bring to fruition, countless conversations, sites, interruptions and unexpected complications, but Is this a Waste Land? now exists.

We rehearsed for 5 weeks on a site in the heart of Corby in March and April. As expected we gradually fell in love with it. We had almost no rain until the final week of rehearsals and so the land completely transformed from muddy boggy to hard, cracked, almost desert like. The grasses grew and flowers bloomed as the days got longer. Slowly the town became more curious about us and what we were doing. We had the JobCentre befriend us on twitter, and the teenagers who work in the cinema came along, and brought their friends with them. Quite a few audience members from the first night came back the next night and brought their friends and their families with them – it was quite extraordinary.

image by Kate Dyer

As we sat around the fire after the show drinking tea and eating biscuits, we heard so many amazing stories about people’s memories and experiences of the land when it used to be a college. It was incredibly moving.

And then we moved on to Glasgow where the site was vast and covered in broken glass and large holes and steel rebar sticking out of the ground from all sorts of angles…and the headphones absolutely didn’t work which was hilarious (not). Keren (wonderful producer) and Sam (wonderful production manager) spent hour after hour trying out different possibilities. Transmitters on roof of van, transmitters on roof of cabin, transmitters in middle of site, transmitters on borrowed scaff pole from Tramway theatre (bingo!)….after 20 hours – phew and big relief all round.

images by Emily Jenkins

The site manager, Peter was an absolute saint, as was Daisy Douglas the producer from Dance International Glasgow, who just quietly got on with making it all possible. So when Friday came and the first audience arrived we were somehow ready and so was the enormous Glasgow sky.

images by Beth Chalmers

We worked too many hours, and too many nights, and by the end of it all I think I was too tired to know much about what we had made or achieved! But I think it was quite wild and quite beautiful.

I am looking forward to Dance Umbrella – to re-visit the show after some months away from it. We are on another remarkable site nestled between London City Airport and an historic Flour Mill – Millenium Mills that seems to be of huge interest to Urban Explorers and such like. There are all kinds of curiosities dotted around close by – Charing Cross Pier, various boats, and an old silo. It is also the site of the ill-fated London Pleasure Gardens which were set up in 2012 as part of the Olympic activity: this initiative was designed to see the transformation of the derelict, ex-industrial Pontoon Dock into a pleasure garden featuring round-the-clock music, arts, cafés and bars. Events scheduled over the 2012 summer included firework displays, music festivals and promenade performances. Unfortunately the venue was closed in its opening weekend amidst organisational chaos and never re-opened. It has remained empty ever since.

So, we are working amongst a rich and vibrant history and we very much hope that you will join us there. The site is literally opposite Pontoon Dock DLR station and the show runs for six nights across two weekends:

13th – 15th October 5pm
20th – 22nd October 5pm

For tickets and further information: www.danceumbrella.co.uk/event/is-this-a-waste-land/

images by Charlotte Spencer

Today I went walking in the rain

This month has been more home based than most of the rest of the year. Re-grouping following the Dance Umbrella stint in London and doing some groundwork for new initiatives. At this point it’s hard to know what will take flight and what will never quite become visible. The precious hours of daylight continue shrinking and mostly I find that I want to curl up and knit…or something…

I realised that I had been missing dancing, and living in the countryside, it’s not possible to walk out the door and straight into a class…but there is always the village hall, so perhaps I should try that. Anyway, I had the pleasure of joining Robbie Synge’s Material Matters workshop at Independent Dance a couple of weeks ago. Robbie’s home is far more isolated than mine, in the Highlands of Scotland, so really I should be able to find a way through this in East Sussex. It was wonderful to have the space to explore my own physical practice alongside peers. I was reminded (yet again) that working ‘in conversation’ is good for me. But not any conversation. I’m rubbish at idle chat. It’s the same when I’m dancing. I easily lose interest if the connection with those that I’m moving alongside doesn’t feel fruitful. Luckily on this occasion it did, and I came away full of nourishment and a body that was so glad I’d dragged it to London on a Saturday in the tipping rain.

I want to keep working through the winter (and not just admin), although we are in-between project funding, which means there isn’t really money to pay anyone. I can manage with not paying myself, but I can’t manage not paying other people. So there I am: acknowledging that I work best in conversation, determined to work, to make new work, to dance more, but without the finance to bring in those others. I don’t think I’m unusual – many (dance) artists face the same dilemmas. There are so many of us independent artists, each on our little isolated islands. Perhaps it’s suits some people. I get the impression that it suits Robbie (but maybe I’m wrong – our perception of how other people are operating is quite wonky a lot of the time. The likes of facebook don’t help much with that). But I also know that for many people, working alone for long periods of time, is far from ideal. Finding ways to come together, to exchange and support is, for me at least essential and generative. It extends my thinking; stretching, questioning, confirming. It keeps me sane. It makes me want to get back to work.

Today, despite the rain, I was decided I would spend much of the day walking. A body in motion. In fairly constant motion. My thoughts cluttered and emptied and cleared and cluttered and emptied. I enjoyed the rhythm of my walking. I enjoyed being alone and not talking. Briefly in one stint of particularly heavy rain I wondered why I’d decided this was a good idea. But then the cloud lifted a little, and a soft blue light opened. Colours became more vibrant. I found that I was singing, my legs kept their regular swinging beat and my arms had begun to dance. Really to dance. It just happened. Spontaneously. From nowhere. No, from the 3 hours of walking that had come before and allowed my body to take flight. I returned muddy and wet and hungry, but fresh faced and wide eyed from the cool winter air. Whatever the weather, get walking.

Reflections on Dance Umbrella

Harking on about Walking Stories is, I promise coming to a close. Our presence in Dance Umbrella in London last month was a beautiful marathon. I felt very privileged to have the opportunity to spend 15 consecutive days in some of London’s finest parks and witness the seasons changing. The colours grew in intensity and gradually the leaves dropped from the trees. When we finished, it was November and the rain came.

A few things I noticed. I was struck by how many people came who I didn’t know. I was struck that relatively few of my peers and colleagues from the dance community came. Initially I wondered why they didn’t come. Did the work not feel relevant to them? Was it because they were busy? Were the tickets too expensive? Self doubt rising, it reminded me of being a small child, worried that no one liked me, and no one will turn up to my birthday party… But gradually I came to realise, that we had made Walking Stories to try and appeal to people beyond dance centric communities. The fact that I didn’t know the people who were coming, was surely something to celebrate!

WalkingStoriesWaterlow

In the final week, after the clocks had gone back, the last walk of each day was in the twilight zone. Starting in daylight and ending in the dark. And each day palpably darker. I never anticipated what a beautiful staging that would provide. I felt a closer connection to small details of changes in the natural environment which often pass me by in the busy, largely indoor life that is normal for many of us. I watched the moon rise and fall. We all loved the huge pink full moon rising whilst we were in Springfield Park.

Mostly the reviews were good. Except one, that was extremely bad. Reviews are strange. I was left wondering for days about the hatred one; trying to work out what I could take away from such a torrent of dislike, that might be somehow useful or generative for me. I still haven’t found an answer. Reviews are so very public, and in this digital, online age, I have little control over who writes, and who reads. They don’t disappear either, just get slightly buried.

On a more positive note, if you feel you aren’t completely sick to death of reading about Walking Stories, I was invited to write something for Julie’s Bicycle last month. Julie’s Bicycle are a global charity bridging the gap between environmental sustainability and the creative industries, and if you don’t know about them, then look them up, they do loads of great stuff. Anyway, if your curious, have a read of the article that I wrote for them →

Many many thanks to Emma Gladstone at Dance Umbrella for coming to Walking Stories in Brighton Festival back in May 2014 and programming it on the spot. Her enthusiasm and commitment to this project, has been truly amazing, and I am very grateful. Thanks also to all of the CSP team and Dance Umbrella team for making it happen so smoothly. The next post will be about something else – I promise!

WSDUfinal.3

Walking Stories in Dance Umbrella 2015

Walking Stories DU

Dance Umbrella is London’s international festival for Dance. It has been running for almost 40 years and in that time built up huge reputation and international profile. It is therefore an absolute pleasure to have been invited to bring Walking Stories to this years festival with 35 shows no less across 15 days in 4 London Parks!

It will be somewhat of a marathon and I’m praying daily to the weather gods already, but I’m totally up for it! In several of our planning meetings, Artistic Director, Emma Gladstone offered that we had one day off a week or something – ‘won’t you get tired?’ she kept saying. We both loved the idea that Walking Stories would be happening somewhere every day of the festival and that the question would not be ‘when’ but ‘where’. And so there we have it, from the first Saturday of the festival – 17th October until 31st October we will be there, come rain or shine. I will sleep for several days in early November…

For those of you who don’t know, Walking Stories, it is an hour long audio walk for parks. You don’t come to watch Walking Stories: you live it, breathe it, build and dismantle it. Suppled with an mp3 players and headphones, this audio walk for parks gives you a completely immersive experience that removes you from the clutter of everyday life. Moving between watching, listening and following instructions, this piece take you on a journey with yourself and your companions. Almost before realising it, you will be absorbed into a spontaneous walking dance.

We look forward to sharing this work with you in October. All bookings are through the Dance Umbrella Website

The whole festival programme is really exciting – in particular I’m looking forward to catching Dan Canham’s new work, Of Riders and Running Horses.

image by Kimbal Bumstead.