This short study was created during the Covid-19 lockdown. Reflecting on my own isolation and need to reach out and touch the world, I created this duet with a Mirror, building on my research with Mirror in 2017. I was initially drawn to the way the mirror created an external ‘partner’, with the crop of my arm seeming both connected and disconnected from my body. In the final section I play with the perspective and framing of the camera, which mirrored that of the mirror itself creating a double dialogue and commentary on the ways we are contained and ‘enframed’ by our real and virtual spaces.
The question I’ve been asking myself recently is this: Where does my work fit?
And the reason for the question has been both a frustration at two years worth of rejection emails coupled with, and perhaps also resulting in, an overwhelming sense of creative nomad-ness.
It’s not so much a problem of my ego being wounded, but more a feeling of not being within a community, a movement, a shared energy and feeling lost on the edges of a profession. And I think all this is slightly compounded by the fact that I now chose to work solo, providing all the more isolation.
And like my decision to work solo, I also acknowledge that the nomad-ness is also partly a result of my resistance to fit in, and a desire to really know who I am, to really excavate my own creative identity without the persuasions of audience and programming expectations muddying the water. I think sometimes you just have to be alone to know yourself.
Being alone does not mean being lonely or isolated.
Which is why another area of interest for me, alongside the aesthetics of my compositional practice, is the notion of working alongside others, in parallel.
Whilst developing this idea for my PhD application, someone recommended I looked up the work of the philosopher Jean Luc Nancy. Nancy talks about the notion of singular / plural, a situation where there is no individual outside of our relationships, and that there is no community without our singular identities.
“Existing never means just being, but ek-sisting or being-toward. The I is not a self that is immediately present to itself. Existing is always a being-exposed to, being-outside-oneself,…” pp97
If I apply this to how I work in the studio, then somehow even if I am working completely alone, I am always working “with” or “toward”. I just have to notice how this is. For example, I work in a studio run by artists, so each time I show up and work there I am “with” the historical and current community of artists who form that space. When I bring resources into the space with me, I am “with” the originators of that resource, be it an author, artist, poet etc. When I move, I move “with” the knowledge of movement that has already been imprinted into my soma. And when I make creative choices I do so “with” the socio-historical and cultural legacy of modern and postmoderen dance that is so deeply ingrained in me I am absolutely not separable from them.
The notion of being with or being toward has given me a new sense of empowerment around my nomadic state. Being a creative nomad allows me to pitch my tent wherever the resources are most nourishing. I have the option of being toward any artist, resource or idea I find interesting. And I have the option of framing those encounters in whatever way feels right, authentic rather than through some kind of mechanised process.
‘Hands’ is a short dance film that can also be performed live with real-time projection. The work explores dialogue and form through hand gestures that reach, curve, invite and retreat. Hands is a soliloquy about loneliness and longing, drawn out through a dialogue between the artist’s right and left hands.
Today was my first day of Residency at Dance City in Newcastle. Once again, I’m developing ‘Fold’, or some iteration of it.
Working solo has become a natural thing for me. As has schlepping around a whole suitcase packed with projector, laptop, computer, tripod, cameras, a lot of postcards and other miscellaneous gadgets. Whilst preparing for this residency, I recalled an idea that Andrew Morrish taught during his solo improvisation workshop: if you build your own architecture in the space, then you’re not alone. By architecture he meant both real and imagined props, prompts, ideas that hang in the space with you. Frames?
So far, ‘Fold’ has been a visual piece. Last year I worked with camera and projector to create three versions of my movement that ‘conversed’ with each other. ‘Hands’ became the most clear image of this. But today things started on a different page. Rather than working with physical ‘frames’ I started by working with words. I created audio scripts to lead me into movement, ending up with a word score.
Score is the S in RSPV, the iterative cycle that I’m working within: collecting Resources, developing Scores, performing them (to camera), evaluating them (without judgement) in order to refine the Resources and Score that feeds into the next cycle etc.
RSVP is a system that I’ve adopted to support the making process. It’s another architecture in the space, and one that I have used for the last year. But this year, wanting to explore movement again, I’ve drawn on a second architecture: Josiah Hinks’ 5 facets process. If RSVP is the meta-structure, then 5 Facets offers different kinds of resources, questions. It’s a supportive, soft structure that feels more pertinent to the creation of movement material.
It begins with Delving.
In Delving the situation is already given and allowed, we enter and play there. We are like a child exploring within givens it would never stop to think about. This is the space, this is the size of the paper, these are the colours we have, this is the body I have and this is the situation I am in. – Josiah Hinks
I wrote this post before the start of my recent project, but never got round to publishing it! So here it is. Just imagine it’s still July 2016 when you read it…
“Excuse my ignorance, but what exactly is a dramaturg?”
The process through which I came to be working with Chris was such a fluid one that I never stopped to pose this question myself. It was obvious to me that I would be working with a dramaturg on my next project. At the beginning of the year I had no idea what a dramaturg was either. I just had a hunch that a workshop being run by South East Dance was exactly what I needed to do. And so, by a series of coincidences, I had landed myself an incredibly generous and patient Chris who had already, in a few sessions, got me back into thinking of myself as a maker again. “He’s like an outside eye who’s also an inside eye” I said. “He listens and teases out what I’m after, suggesting ways of getting there and then suggesting ways of not getting there in case they might actually get us there anyway.” Tom, my collaborator, looked confused.
My first meeting with Chris was at the British Library cafe, or the echoing lobby area where you literally have to pounce like a vulture on a free table. I had no notes from the session. Chris wrote loads. What was I doing? Where was I going with it? What did I want to do? By the end of the two hours Chris pinned me down on one thing: “One of the conversations we need to have is around ‘Everything you hate about dance'”. I had no idea that I’d said that. I guess I was talking about the contemporary dance cliches, but the reference stuck. We now have a number of shorthand references like this.
In a second meeting Chris tried a technique that Lou Cope spoke about: he reeled off a list of words asking me to chose between two similar but different options. “Green or Grey?” he asked, “Grey” I answered. These are our oblique questions. We’re talking about the piece without talking about the piece. The result is a list of words that actually feel very connected to the work: close, lines, restless, shoulder, fact, held, grey, violin, made. There are also a number of words that don’t have anything to do with it, like “toast” and “lemon”.
By this point we were lucky enough to be able to shift our conversation into a studio. On our first day in a studio space, Chris came prepared with stuff: an elasticated string, paper, postcards, objects, wool. It’s kind of a relief, I thought, when someone else has thought about things. We stuck a long piece of blank paper up on the wall of the studio, sharpie at the ready. It’s our key questions board. This has been religiously rolled up and re-posted for each rehearsal. Even now, at the end of the project, it’s remained mostly empty, but then there’s a lot more to come I guess…
I’m making a piece about control and freedom that involves a dancer pulling a string that’s attached to a record player, playing an old relaxation record that’s telling her to relax. So our first question was: What else might it be? We had no sound to work with, which was a good thing. We tied the elasticated string to the ballet barre in the studio and began improvising movement informed by the string. At some point in our earlier discussions we had thought of using a dog leash to replicate the gadget my collaborator had built for me last year, a kind of retractable string. But it just didn’t give me any impetus. Apart from this, Channel 4 had just aired a documentary about adults who dress up as dogs. “Is this about control and freedom, or is it just a piece about dogs?”, Chris asked. Of course he wasn’t just talking about the dog-people, he was talking about seeing what we’re actually doing, rather than what we think we’re doing. We discarded the dog leash, but now Amazon thinks I own one…
We attached one line, then two lines to the Ballet Barre. We worked on facings, different uses of the line/s. My problem is that I often get a bit stuck in my head. I worry about creating movement just for its sake. I need a reason to move. I tried “just moving”. My “Suspending Judgement” sign was hung up on the door handle. To take my mind away from my movement Chris tries to get me to relate a story. He begins and then he says he doesn’t know what happens next, which is my cue to pick up and continue until I decide to hand the story back to him and so on. “He keeps hi-jacking the story!” I think. I bet he thinks my story telling is just as crap. The good news is that I’m so hung up on how terrible this story is that I have absolutely no idea how I’m moving. This is good, because it gives my body time to warm up to the string, to absorb something from it unconsciously.
We then try to give the movement a little more shape. Chris throws out random lines from a collection of poetry. “It never let up until morning”, “I melt for the first time”, ‘A formal line through beach and open ground..” I answer each line through movement, allowing myself to get stuck, to repeat, to try to embody something from that line. It’s not a literal translation (it can never be in movement). At one point I shake my head “everything I hate about dance” I say, referring to something I was doing. Chris gently encourages me to keep going. Just beyond that block something else happens. In our discussion afterwards Chris wonders if my fear of falling into cliche is stopping me from moving, and maybe if I suspend judgement and allow the cliche to happen, maybe just beyond that, there’s the gold.
What I’ve realised about working with Chris in the space is that it’s like having a clearer headed (and kinder) version of me on the outside. Chris is absolutely there with me through each improvisation. He knows what I’m after and luckily has none of my baggage to colour what he sees. So when he says there was something there, I know what he means. My experience is an embodied one, his is a visual one, but we’re still talking the same language.
Our second session in the studio. Chris hangs some postcards up on the wall. I pick three images to work with. Again we use one string attached to the barre. In the next improvisation I work through the images. Again, I’m creating an embodiment rather than mimicking. I feel the license to use the images however I feel. What comes out of this improvisation is the following realisation: “When you create movement with purpose, it has meaning.” (Chris’ words).
Our third studio session is with another dancer Joel. Two strings, two movers, multiple relationships start to unfold. Joel’s physicality is totally different to mine, but his playfulness and attentiveness to the string is exactly why I want to work with him. In a later discussion with Chris we talk about how to work with this difference without flattening it out. I don’t want Joel to move like me. Somehow I feel that if we both attend to the task, the physicality for this work will come out of that.
Our last studio session is with the sound artist Tom. All these sessions have been a preparation for our actual project which starts in August. We talk about the technical aspect of the work and put together some ideas for the string which Tom now needs to find a way to incorporate into the build. Then we start working with sound and movement in the same space. We don’t have any interactive stuff yet, so Tom just improvises via his laptop whilst I attempt to use his sound as a score for my improvisation. This time my movement just isn’t as fluid. It’s been three weeks since the last session, during which time I’ve been to San Francisco for Anna Halprin’s workshop, returned to a Brexit vote and sleep walked through a week of teaching on jet lag. But Chris is supportive and stops me hitting the self destruct button. At the end of the session we walk to Gordon Square to talk about collaboration and brainstorm some ideas about how to structure the process.
At some point in that last rehearsal Chris had brought up a question he had asked me to keep thinking about whilst I was away in California: “What moves you?” I hated the question. When Chris asked me to have this at the back of my mind during my last improv with Tom I dismissed it almost immediately. It doesn’t really fit. I almost wanted to cross it off our “key questions” board. Well I’m not in the business of making sentimental crap, I thought. It wasn’t until a few weeks later, when I was in Malta for a fleeting visit home to celebrate my parents 40th wedding anniversary, that the answer hit me. My mother stands up half way through the meal and gives an unexpected, unprepared little speech, the kind that’s so heartfelt and messy round the edges that its rawness is palpable. She has us all in floods of tears. And then I realise that what moves me isn’t something dressed up to be dramatic. It’s something that’s just so real it hits you in the gut. And this realisation is such a relief, because it means I can make something that might move people and all I have to do is be absolutely real.
I’d like to thank Lou Cope for inspiring us to work like this and for creating the ground work for our discussions to grow from, South East Dance for hosting the Doing Dramaturgy workshop and The Place Artist Development for giving us access to a studio space during this time.
I think it must have been some time in 2007 or 2008, during ID’s crossing borders series of talks, that I heard this story from Heather Ackroyd. She had been going through a difficult time and withdrew into a comforting process that she had often turned to in her artistic work: planting patches of grass. The story is that at the same time an artist named Dan Harvey had begun making work using grass and was told by an associate that there was this artist, Heather, who was copying his work! The duo became Ackroyd and Harvey, sharing both a personal and artistic partnership and creating work using grass, such as their chlorophyll images ‘Mother and Child’.
Today I was supposed to complete and publish a post about the importance of glut balance for lower back health. But on the last day of work for this term, I felt the need for something more reflective.
A number of conversations that I’ve had in the last 3 months have prompted me to think about the idea of control. I think it’s easy to feel that we can have no control over events in our lives, in our relationships, in our profession, in our country, in the world. So much so that we resign ourselves to just taking what ever is tossed in our direction. Rather than being pro-active, we get stuck in re-activeness. Re-activeness is pretty safe. There will always be something to complain about, and as long as it’s someone else’s fault, at least our abilities, drive and focus are never brought into question. But if the ball is always stuck on someone else’s side of the court, then how will you ever serve an Ace?
In January I was scheduled to meet with a programmer who runs one of the major production venues in the UK. The meeting had been planned from two months before, so I was well aware of the need to be prepared to get the most out of the event. Naturally I was after some kind of commitment towards my next project. (It’s an irony that as artists we’ve clearly put the need to make money secondary to our drive to create, and yet we always seem to be asking for money…) I don’t know if I really achieved my aim. Asking someone to support you is very much like leaving things up to them, again placing the likelihood of my next project in their hands. But what I did receive was some extremely insightful advice. He said that opportunities are great and always worth applying for if they suit your needs. But you cannot build a sustainable practice on the back of opportunities alone.
We all know that selection processes are highly competitive. We moan about how closed or un-transparent these processes seem. How is it that some artists are always supported by certain institutions? The truth is that success is often down to an underlying relationship that has already been established and this is a good thing! In the past I’ve submitted tonnes of applications (I still do), carefully scrutinising the guidelines. I felt as though I was always answering everyone else’s questions and then getting genuinely upset when applications fell through (which I also still do). When I look back at the perfectly planned schedule that I set myself on leaving college back in 2003, I realise, now, how flawed it was. Almost every goal I had set myself relied on my success in open auditions and application calls. Each one placed the ball squarely on the other side of the fence, I was at the mercy of the elements, totally disempowered. No wonder I was so disgruntled!
I’m writing from the perspective of a dance artist, but it applies to a much wider community. I think we can become so desperate to prove ourselves, to gain validation and recognition or to find security through regular income, that we hurl ourselves all over the place, never stopping to think: what are my questions? Who do I want to work with? Where do I want my work to go? I think we could all do with tending to our own little patch of grass, sowing the seeds, watering, pulling out the weeds and watching it grow.
I’m writing this on the back of many fresh disappointments, and one surprising achievement in the last few weeks. It’s a frustrating business building a project from scratch. But as I retreat away from it all to rest, my aim is to re-focus the compass inwards on this little patch of grass that’s under my feet.
‘Strange Loop’ resulted from research carried out as a bursary artist at DanceDigital. It was supported by DanceDigital, Arts Council England and a number of Individuals who contributed to the project through the crowd funding platform WeDidThis.
‘Strange Loop’ uses live video projection in performance. The work was inspired by MC Escher’s Impossible Buildings. The first section is a play on perspective. It shows the translation of space from the real three-dimensional space to the flattened two-dimensional projection. The dancers interact with the tape lines as though they are the lines of a square. In the second section the dancers are caught up in a dialogue with the projection, which is a delayed video of their live movement. They appear to be instructing each other, instructing the projection and then taking instructions from their projection. The aim of this section was to create a loop whereby the projection could appear to be interacting with the live dancers in the present even though the movement was captured in the past. It is an attempt to re-dress the question of control, so that the projection isn’t merely a reaction to the dancer’s actions, but is actively engaged and, to some extent, in control of the live action.
Where to start… On Monday the 10th August I finally get to walk into a studio again to begin making a new dance work. This project feels particularly significant to me because it’s the first time I have been accepted into Choreodrome at The Place, and I can tell you quite honestly, that has been a massive achievement in itself. I’ve decided to use this blog to document my process, not because I said I would on my GforA to the Arts Council (which I did, but is irrelevant since I didn’t receive a GforA), but because I need you all to hold me accountable to my thoughts, whims and ideas and since I’m in the business of ‘putting it all out there’ (not my phrase) I decided I may as well start putting it out there already. The idea: to use analogue sound devices to playback text audio which the dancer manipulates and (here’s the word I’ve started to hate) ‘interacts’ with (sorry). Some years ago I heard a sound recording of three record players, playing the same lines of text in precise canon. (So, the idea is semi-stolen.) The image evolved in my head to a mangle of lines and movement (like a bowl of spaghetti) both clearly identifiable, but also pleasingly complicated. The idea stuck and is now six months down the line of visualizing due to become real by the end of August. Interestingly: In the past I would never have admitted to visualising what a work could look like. I only realised this a few months ago when one of my collaborators asked me to describe how the set up would look: are the turntables all in a row, side by side, in the centre of the stage, on different levels? I instantly hit back with “does it matter?” to which he responded that he wanted to ‘see’ it in his head. The funny thing is that it did matter to me, and yes I did know where the devices would be because I already had some image in my mind. I wonder if I’ve been so overly obsessed with the idea of ‘process led work’ that I’ve actually denied my own actual process for years. Interesting… I’ve spent the last 6 months looking for a collaborator (Tom Richards), applying for Arts Council Funding (which failed), creating two possible cash flows, two possible schedules etc in case we didn’t get the funding (just as well), and applying for Arts Council Funding again (which also failed). I have to say that apart from the fact that I won’t be able to pay myself and my collaborator, I’m quite relieved that this project will be a small one. And now I don’t have to manage a budget I can just focus on what I’m here to do: make something. It means I’ll also be forced to perform this myself which is significantly more pressure than just sitting on my choreographer’s chair and telling someone else what to do. I have to be both dancer and director and I have to embody those two different roles if I’m going to survive working in a studio for 5 hours on my own, everyday, for three weeks… So to help me shift into a new head space I spent the last few weeks going into my ‘drift’ mode. Naturally I’m still teaching and studying around all this creative ‘stuff’, but the lighter summer schedule has given me a bit of space to roam. To focus my brain and keep the fear and sheer dread of falling flat on my face at bay, I’ve been working with different meditations. To bring that focus into movement I’ve upped my Feldenkrais routines and, thanks to Caroline Scott‘s classes at ID the other week, I found a way of extending that internal conversation into dancing. I spent two hours playing make-shift instruments while wearing a blindfold in Michael Picknett’s Lab at Tripspace, and I had a semi-conversation with Amy Bell in the reading room at the Wellcome Trust where she danced out my thoughts on gender and movement. Looking for some affirmation that even the best of us find it tough, I watched ‘Strictly Bolshoi‘, the Ballet Boys’ documentary on Christopher Wheeldon’s experience of choreographing on the Bolshoi. He was 33 at the time (as old as I am now), and he’d aimed to create a ballet around Hamlet (which featured in my last piece, ‘Where am I?’) and, like me, he too came to the realization that “Hamlet is Dead”. The similarities end there. Those all seem like very oblique strategies to me, they’re nothing really to do with the actual work I’m making, just ways of entering into the space I need to be in to make. My more direct research involved spending hours in Tom’s small studio surrounded by all things analogue, listening to the same lines of text over and over whilst Tom patiently tried to explain the difference between an echo and a reverb. I re-read Mrs Dalloway to find the lines that I was using, (they’re not quite the way I remembered, but I think I prefer my version to the original so we’ll probably keep that) and I listened to a podcast about the book. I have one more week to go before the most feared moment of any process: walking into an empty studio with nothing, to begin making something. Our starting point is this rough sketch that came out of my meeting with Tom. I can tell you that it’s about endings and beginnings and it will have circles in it (a big departure for me as I normally make dances in squares). Oh and it may include the following slightly adulterated lines from Virginia Wolf’s Mrs Dalloway: “Still the sun shines. Still one gets over things. Still life has a way of putting one day in front of another.” Follow my process here and you can even make a donation to the work by clicking on the “DONATION” button on the side column. This will help me cover the costs of buying and transporting equipment throughout the project. Thank You!
We’re back in Bedford for the final rehearsals of ‘Where am I?’ which will be premiered at dancedigital’s Mobilities Festival on the 26th April. A full performance schedule can be found here. Rachel Cherry joined us last Friday to capture the weird and wonderful process of making a dance piece about brains in vats, disembodied Dan’s and the problem of consciousness.
‘Where am I?’ is a dancedigital commission, created by Marguerite Galizia in collaboration with Simon Katan and performed by Daniel Watson. The project was funded by the National Lottery through the Arts Council England.
When starting this project, we really didn’t think that retrieving and inputing data would be the main issue we would come across. But of course, what you don’t think will go wrong, will go wrong. The main problem is around translating data into Open Sound Control (OSC) so it can be sent to Isadora where we are triggering sound clips that give instructions (the score). We want this to happen in real time and use a score of data where the information is updated regularly.
One idea in the beginning was to try to use Temboo, which is a website that has a library of APIs and will actually write code for you to use that API in a number of coding languages (SDK). One SDK is Processing, which in turn could then turn that API into OSC data. Or at least that was the hope. But the problem with Temboo is that most of the available APIs are not updated in real time or regularly or the ones that are require permissions. For example, one idea was to use Google Analytics and use the amount of traffic on a specific site as way of generating a number that would in turn play an instruction in the dance. However, getting permissions for Google Analytics actually prevents using this as a system. We would need to find a heavily trafficked sight that would be willing for us to use there data. Some of the Temboo APIs which are available and update in real time just don’t send enough data. One of these is the weather (temperature or severe weather warnings). But there is just not enough information coming in to change the score of a 15 minute dance piece. This data might work in other contexts such as determining something about the piece before it starts, or perhaps in a longer durational work. But in the process of changing a score in real time it is not as useful.
Other forms of data
Another approach we considered was GPS and how location of a person could change the score. However, GPS trackers tend to have a 60-200 feet of distance from the actual location. This means that location in a small space, such as a dance studio or theatre would not be tracked. But if someone was to get on a bus or travel around another place in the world, their information may be useful. But then there is a question of what these numbers are and if they are just slightly increasing and decreasing, would this make an interesting dance?
We found a source of satellite data from NASA that tracks the location and speed of various satellites. This site actually takes a list of data (http://science.nasa.gov/media/sot/tle/SMD.txt) and then calculates where the satellites are based on this data. It’s not real time but a real time simulator. So we found this data and we see how it changes on the website (the real time aspect is a seperate issue that we will need to address) but now we need to take this information and find a way to produce OSC data with it in order to create (trigger) the score within Isadora.
When it all works
Once we have this bridge from the web to OSC then we can open up more explorations of data sources. For example, there is a txt of Solar Wind from NOAA (http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/ftpdir/lists/ace/ace_swepam_1m.txt) that updates every minute. This could use the same technical set up but send a different data set (this is also the data used in Helen White’s piece Solar Wind Chime http://blogs.wcode.org/2013/08/solar-wind-chime-listening-to-the-sun-using-spacecraft-electromagnets-and-x-osc/). But of course, this leads us back to one of our original questions in this work – what kind of data do we need? And how will that data effect our score?