by Petra Söör

One morning on the way into rehearsals on site, I sit in the back of the car with Mary Oliver’s “Dream Work” in my hand and randomly open a page. My eyes fall on the following lines midway through a poem –

The god of dirt
came up to me many times and said
so many wise and delectable things, I lay
on the grass listening
to his dog voice,
crow voice,
frog voice, now,
he said, and now,
and never once mentioned forever,


which has nevertheless always been,
like a sharp iron hoof,
at the center of my mind.

(Extract from the poem One or two things by Mary Oliver)

It’s Monday and we’re just about to begin our last creation week of Is this a Waste Land? on site in Corby.

After more than a month spent on site I feel like writing some kind of postcard with a few words related to parts of my experience of this place.

This last creation phase of ITAWL after two years of R&D has in my freelancer’s life been a quite substantial amount of time of being in one place. I have gradually experienced this place moving up into my body through my feet and under my skin and it’s beginning to feel strange that I’m about to come to the cut off point where our access to this site and this place will return to no longer be legitimate as we’re not on common land.

As I navigate the topography of this place, every day, my feet are in conversation with this ground – negotiating hard and softer areas of the site, stones and rubble – and feeding information up through the ankles and the whole of my body – changing it and living inside of it. Through my soft and connective tissues, my joints and nervous system I feel like I’ve come to know this place, intimately and differently than through my cognitive and rational brain. But what has become a way of being here, a corporeal relationship of intimacy will soon be a law breaking thing so I have a sense of privilege in sharing some time with this “boarded off place”, tucked away in between the recognised and the wanted. Through this spring time and period of change I’ve been surprised, as in many of these places, witnessing a surging vitality expressed in the unexpected amounts of flowers and green growth coming through the rubble. What and who finds a space and a way to be here?

It is Tuesday and it is snowing. For the first time in these five weeks we make use of the offer to spend time in the cinema next door to our site. I realise that all the way through we’ve been outside and in the middle of it all, of this place, morning to evening, our bodies and faces changing as we’ve been here, in this meeting – growing the work and working things out, orientating ourselves weathered by wind, light, place.

People watch us as we rehearse, from the bus stop, from windows in the buildings next to the site, passing by, whilst entering and exiting the Euro Market off license shop across the road. On the other side, towards the woods where there is no opening in the fence we must also be heard even though we can’t be seen. What surrounds the edges of these kinds of spaces? What are the conditions and who knows the edges of this site as part of their daily life and on what terms? The threshold of the border is so clear and yet so thin. A few centimetres can make such distinct difference in the embodied sense of place. Where and in what kind of spaces do we feel safe and can act with a sense of agency? Thrive in basic relationships of giving and taking, just being? Where can we have the relationship to place that enables a sense of rest when we’re exhausted? I’m thinking about what permits or enables us to experientially inhabit this space differently, about different forms of cultures of behaviour and about the permitted. (I’m often lying down on the ground here, a place where we’ve been exploring, playing, imagining, attending and interacting, together and alone, expanding what is ordinary behaviour and permissible on these sites under normal circumstances. At some point I find myself lying down on the ground with my arm reaching out through a gap in the fence resting on the pavement by the bus stop, the threshold of this edge is so palpable and I feel aware of what we include as acceptable ways of being here and how outside of it – lying down on the ground is being vulnerable as well as potentially questioned. Along the way during the research and making of this work we’re coming across the presence and traces of people with a very different relationship to the conditions of these liminal spaces, visible and invisible.)

Later in the day, steel grey clouds pass over and around us, the winds are high and we’re back outside working with the sail deliberately to learn more about how we find ourselves in it in these conditions when the winds are strong and changing direction. Someone says they feel such an enhanced sensation of being so immediately there, more responsive and connected in their body when the winds pick up and we’re working with this material, moving and anchoring. I feel similarly. It’s often a challenging effort involved but it’s also kind of thrilling with immediate feedback in this constant physical negotiation and conversation – within and as extension of the group, with ground, wind and a wider sense place.

These days there is work happening late into the night and the early hours of the morning, gigabytes and gigabytes of sound files being minutely arranged, people have been repairing the sail and its meters of fabric have been spreading across the kitchen table and floor in the shared space where we’re staying. Sticks, pieces of wood and unwanted stuff sourced out of skips is collected and carried – collectively and by individual muscle fibres and the rumour that something is happening seem to have reached the local recycling center.

It’s Wednesday and it’s hailing. In my body I have a sense of how we’re weathered and tethered in different ways by (this) place and one another, on goingly and always, with greater or less distance whether aware or unaware. I have a feeling I’ll miss this time in Corby and our site here but I’m looking forward to meeting and spending time with people and new places through the rehearsal periods on other sites and through time in performances.

Last week we gathered to do a test run with an invited audience and whilst they waited at the entrance of the site people started talking to one another I overheard a conversation where a Corby resident was telling a non Corby resident about people walking from Scotland to Corby in the 1930’s to find work here in the steelworks, sleeping in the hedges along the way. We’re about to start and I have a list of things in my head having to do with the real time practicalities of the “here and now” of this piece with the intricacies of the choreographic matrix of the work, but I’m also standing there with a whisper of how the work as it begins to tour might come to encounter more and more stories of people and communities.

As we end the work on site for the day and do the usual bringing in of materials back into our container, this reoccurring collecting, gathering, carrying, wheeling in of stuff feels familiar. A tired but vivid and dynamic sense of gratitude is humming in me and my end-of-the-day-body for being part of this with an inspiring team of hard working people making this happen in their different ways and contributions. Kite and crow circling each other seems to be a daily reoccurrence. The EuroMarket across the road seem to have a lot of customers. The rowan at the Job Centre Plus side of the fence in bloom.

Friday. We stay on site until the time the performances will take place in the evening and we’re able to listen to the amazing sound world that Tom and James have been working on creating. Tomorrow is time to welcome the first public audience into Is this a Waste Land? which feels exciting. I enjoy being outdoors as the light shifts into dusk and twilight in general but this place is particularly beautiful to experience in this transition hour. Hope to see you and spend time together in a waste land somewhere sometime soon. Bring an object.


























Natures and Natures

by Petra Söör

It is a morning in October 2016 and I’m in Corby working with Charlotte Spencer and a great team of people on the project Is this a Waste Land?  For two weeks we have been working on a site of some demolished buildings, flattened many years ago to what is now a bare piece of land with debris and green growth coexisting and creating new forms of ecosystems. This morning as many before we start the day, I’m sitting on the ground between young birch saplings looking at different materials sticking up through the surface layers of moss and grass; metal, concrete rubble, bits of what might have been old plastic flooring and carpeting. These days we’ve spoken of wilderness as a process inherent everywhere and anywhere, and here it is.

In this piece of plastic, with its atoms bound in a form slowly eroding and transforming, biochemical processes slow yet fast, I feel inherent wilderness exposed and alive. Yet the bound is actually not really bound. It’s full of space and hovering.

The I, me that is holding and perceiving it, also eroding, transforming and becoming, suddenly experience a strange and warm feeling of curiosity and love like sense of infinity with this unknown material of a different nature. I’m becoming aware of my own previous judgement about what is or isn’t ‘natural’.

Natures and Natures (on falling in love with a piece of plastic) is a work reflecting on poetics of time and materiality, wilderness and love – dedicated to a site in Corby, UK. It is currently evolving both independently of and also within the context of Is this a Waste Land? 


eroding transforming bodies
of matter differently bound in time
I salute you
for teaching me about love
and natures and natures

Where are we with the Waste Lands?

Wasteland KIngsWoods feature

Our research for Is this A Waste Land? has been continuing and has proved both fascinating and frustrating. It feels entirely possible to attach this title/this question to any space or place and the conversation is an interesting one. How do we decide what is a useful use of space or not? Who decides and by what criteria? When I was first envisaging this project, I imagined it for two quite specific sites – an urban industrial wasteland and an industrial forest. The main stumbling block so far has been gaining permission to access an urban site in London. Redevelopment is happening at an enormously rapid rate in London and every plot of land is allocated. This together with anxieties around security and the enormous health and safety red tape in the UK has led many interesting conversations with property developers and site owners to result in a refusal of permission for our request to access their site for 3 days. It is frustrating. These spaces are standing empty and we are asking to use them for 3 days. 3 DAYS!!! It feels a little like banging our heads against the wall. But hey, we are continuing to hunt and to talk and to ask questions.

The common notion still remains that wastelands are of no value until developed. Artistically I want to work in these places to acknowledge what thrives; to participate in conversation about how we might imagine and animate our future spaces. The questions and the subject feel important, so we aren’t giving up. We are looking for new ways to allow this project to continue living and breathing, and with that I feel excited and optimistic.

In the middle of June we were meant to be working on an industrial site for 3 days with all the creative team, preparing to share our work so far with an invited audience. The refusal of access to our desired sites meant we had to postpone. Instead Keren Kossow (my fantastic new producer!) and I joined an incredibly inspiring project, Refugee Tales a pilgrimage from Dover to Crawley via Canterbury, that reflected on the long and dangerous journeys that many refugees make fleeing war and persecution, seeking a safe place to live. Organised by the Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group, hundreds of people joined the walk across 9 days in solidarity for and with all those detained in the UK whilst seeking asylum. With film-screenings, talks and performances, the whole event became a political carnival, a reclaiming of the landscape in the name of human solidarity. It was an artistic, political, activist, engaged project.

It was inspiring and challenging to be part of and made me reflect deeply on my own artistic work and the contribution it might make in political, social and ecological processes. This experience also highlighted to me the increasing relevance of land and space in the politics of migration and those who are landless. The very fact that a group of migrants were camping under the bridge of the North Circular less than 200m from the site in North London that we were trying to gain access to sits heavily with me. The first time I visited the site, they were there. The next time I went they had ‘disappeared’. Meanwhile a large space next door is left empty. And we are not granted access to that space for fear that we may be travellers or squatters. Most people would not choose to camp under the North circular. Probably most people would not choose to camp on the derelict concrete site that we were looking at. And still our country closes its borders and refuses entry. Is this a Waste Land? is also in part an ode to all those migrants seeking a safe place to call home. 

Despite not being granted space on an urban site, we did manage to work for 3 days in the Kings Wood. A Forestry Commission site, where the wonderful Stour Valley Arts used to be based. We had hot hot sunny weather. We worked long days and shared the work so far with a willing testing audience on the final day. It was great to bring in some people from outside our process for the first time and gather their responses. I have the distinct feeling that we are moving on new territory and it is both un-nerving and delightful.


We have also started to explore possible sites in other cities in the UK and are interested to widen the conversation beyond the borders of the UK. I will keep you posted with our progress. I am exceptionally grateful to all of my collaborators for their wonderful generous thoughts and contributions: Tom Spencer, Petra Soor, Ben Ash, Kip Johnson, Kirsty Arnold, Jennifer-Lynn Crawford and Keren Kossow. It is wonderful embarking on this journey with you all.


all images by Pari Naderi

Touring around

We’ve been dashing around the country(ies) this past month. I’ve got very good at untangling headphones and charging mp3 players, checking weather forecasts and examining google maps. Two of our destinations were in Brittany, France. We were invited first to Brest and then to Sarzeau on the Rhys Peninsula and I felt extremely privileged to be there. Laure Bachelot was a wonderful and quite frankly essential translation and artistic support, given that my French is embarrassingly terrible (MUST do something about that!) The equally wonderful Petra Soor also joined us in Sarzeau where we presented Embodied Drawing as well as Walking Stories. The sun shone, the walks were received with delight, the French appeared to make sense (well done Anne-Gaelle Thiriot!) and we adventured Walking Stories onto a white sand beach, the grounds of a Castle and a lost garden. Thank you to Dansce Dialogues 2 for supporting the tour and making the initial connections.

Here are a little collection of photos from the trip to the Rhys Peninsula care of Petra Soor.

In the meantime, if you are Yorkshire/Northern based, then we are in Roundhay Park, Leeds this coming weekend 14/15th June. If you haven’t already experienced Walking Stories, then now’s your chance! Roundhay Park is huge and beautiful – come and join us for a  walk in the park. Booking HERE!