Friday Night? Dance for Glory!

Tonight we got started on the nitty gritty of going through movements in the performance space. We practised getting houses on and off, filling the space during transitions and making sure NO-ONE steps on the talismans! The space is much larger than either of the rehearsal spaces, so we had to push ourselves to own a large area. We are now working in costume to let us experiment with how the different clothing affects movement.

There has been an importance on being comfortable and happy in your costume, which I find quite bizarre. I have been used to being giving costumes and being told that is that, you are wearing it. In Glory, we are encouraged to speak up if we feel our costumes aren’t ‘us’. This underlines the whole ethos of Glory, where the individual human-ness of each dancer is valued and shared with the audience. However, this doesn’t mean that the artistic quality of the final product is compromised. I feel that Glory is a perfect example that community art doesn’t mean bad art; it is testament to the skill of the project leaders that both community and artistic interest have been balanced so well.

Another strength of the project is the way in which people with all experiences of dance have been catered for and challenged. The group range from proffesional, experienced dancers to people who have never danced in their lives, but it feels as if everyone has gained from the process.

As for me, past worries began to sneak in. My journey with anorexia and low body confidence began in my early teens and although I am no longer anorexic every now again unhelpful thoughts rear their ugly heads. I find that dance is the perfect opportunity to re-write the social readings of the body and promote body positive attitudes but, as a performer, it can be a hot bed for body doubts. I began to notice the lumps, the bumps, the flat chest, the wide ankles and suddenly began to feel slightly ill. Although getting these feelings isn’t pleasant, it is encouraging to notice how alien they now seem.

After much deliberation I confessed my worries to our wonderful costume manager who said she’d be happy to re-think my costume to make me feel more comfortable. I was embarrassed but relieved that I could be open with other people in the project.

Tomorrow sees the beginning of the technical rehearsals, a notoriously slow process, especially with such a large cast and complex set. However, I have faith that we will get through!! (Even if it is dependant on the prospect of a free lunch.)

Our first glimpse of Tramway

This evenings rehearsal was excellent for a whole bunch of reasons. The most obvious was that it was the group’s first time in Tramway as a collective, and we got a chance to see the space we would be performing in. Not only that, but some of the houses were being set up,meaning that we could begin to get a feel for the landscape.

After finding our dressing room (I’m in a large spacious one with a sofa – luxury!) and meeting the tramway staff we started working through movement pieces in our costumes. It was wonderful to dance with a full group for the first time, especially with all the colours of the costumes coming together to create a very striking image.

During the rehearsal I got a chance to talk to some of the dancers who had offered to help me with my dissertation. I have been bowled over with people’s generosity, as I have had lots of people email me to meet up. It’s reminded me how common invisible disabilities are, something I didn’t realise when I began my research.

I had a very interesting discussion about the placing of invisably-disabled performance. It isn’t ‘mainstream’ classical or contemporary dance, but it doesn’t fit into what is seen as ‘disability dance’ either. There is a gap here where non able-bodied, non visibly disabled dancers fit into neither group. The more I investigate for my dissertation the more I see potential to use my research as a springboard for practice research and performance work. I would love to create work with an ensemble of invisably disabled performers.

I have arrived home hungry for more movement, more dance, more conversations. Glory has provided a safe space and community for me to rediscover my connection to dance on a personal and professional level, and taking this journey into the final few weeks is daunting but exciting. Ultimately I know the questions I am asking now will be with me long after Glory is over, but it is such a rich space to explore the I am nervous of letting it go!

For now I am determined to enjoy each moment and be present for the process. By savouring the rest of the process I hope to learn as much from the experience as possible.

Finding my body, Finding my Dance

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This is where my dancing started. I went to classes at my local community hall from age 3, studying ballet and then tap, modern and jazz.

As I grew older the classes started to shrink as other people found better things to do on Saturday mornings. I persisted, gaining a lot of pleasure from the rare chance to find physical release (that wasn’t the humiliation of the school cross country run).

Then the exams started to take over, slowly but surely. I tried to hang on to my dancing time, but no-one else seemed that keen … I was an A* student, and an A* student studies. Dance didn’t come in to it.

So, having lost my precious dance classes I became engulfed by the stress and pressures of the education system. It was around this time that my depression really got going, meaning that I often found it difficult to get into college or socialise with friends. I continued produce A*s which, unfortunately meant that everyone assumed I was happy and fine.

I tried to go back to dance during my final year of college, as I missed it massively. However, when I danced now I was constantly aware of my weight, shape, height, hair. I felt too fat, too frumpy and nowhere near graceful. I couldn’t go on pointe, I couldn’t pick up routines quick enough, I didn’t bend the right way.

I wasn’t a dancer, I knew that.

At the end of college I decided to ditch the Cambridge offer I had received and go to Glasgow to study performance. This received mixed responses; my family were thrilled, my tutors disbelieving and my friends concerned. A lot of people were very worried that I’d regret this decision …. I can honestly say that in the three years since moving to Glasgow I haven’t regretted my choice for a second.

It is only now that I am accept that my body can move and that it’s movements may be of interest to an audience. I am still under-confident about my body, but the ethos I have developed from working both with Caroline Bowditch and Janice Parker is one of valuing ALL movement. This was revolutionary to me – I assumed there was right and wrong, better and worse, and that it you didn’t practice enough and cause your body enough pain you wouldn’t be good enough and that was that.

I am beginning to see the beauty of the body moving, but I am reluctant to call this ‘dance’. Maybe it is because I still have sore joints from forcing myself into the splits when I was yonder, but ‘dance’ feels far more rigid and disciplined than I want to feel. Bodies are an endless wonder to me, and I love to see bodies moving in all different ways. On the subway it isn’t rare for me to be staring intently at someone’s hand because it rests in their lap at an interesting angle. Bodies are a human unifier because we ALL have one, and as someone who values accessibility and equality it feels like the perfect place to start.

I am beginning to rediscover the joy both in my body and in movement, and gain confidence. Glory has helped this massively, as I feel like I am given the freedom to move as me, safe within the knowledge that an artistic eye is creating a bigger piece of work and that my movement isn’t just boring flail. It’s a bizarre feeling, but an excellent one.

These are my first, wobbly steps back on the path of movement, and I hope the path continues for a long, long time.

The Commonwealth and The British Empire

When I started working on Glory, the first issue that arose for me was the role of the ‘Commonwealth’.

Glory is part of the Commonwealth Culture Festival (a part of The Commonwealth Games) and a lot of the choreography is influenced by the history and potential future of the Commonwealth. It is impossible not to think about and question it.

Before I started investigating properly, my impressions of the Commonwealth were;

  •  White, western countries travelling to other places and dominating lands and people by force
  • Claiming to have ‘discovered’ them (despite there being indigenous people who had lived there for many years)
  • Stealing all of the resources they could find
  • Causing massive, long lasting damage to environments and societies
  • Leaving again, and taking no responsibility for the damage they caused
  • Celebrating the men who started these processes as heroic ‘discoverers’
  • Teaching children to this day about these men without criticism, whilst no-one mentions great leaders such as Ghandi

In my home town of Bristol, there is a statue and a new shopping centre named after John Cabot.

This irritates me.

As I began my research and gained a better understanding of the history and context of the commonwealth, my views were altered. I still hold the above views of the British Empire but there is a difference between the Empire and the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth was created at the decolonization of the British Empire, forming officially in 1949. The current 53 members are mostly old colonies of Britain, with a few exceptions. According to The London Declaration signed in 1949, the countries are united as “free and equal members of the Commonwealth of Nations, freely co-operating in the pursuit of peace, liberty and progress”.

There is a commonwealth Charter, explaining the “values and aspirations” of the commonwealth countries. These include:

  1.               Democracy

2.               Human rights

  1.               International peace and security

  2.               Tolerance, respect and understanding

  3.               Freedom of Expression

  4.               Separation of Powers

  5.               Rule of Law

  6.               Good Governance

  7.               Sustainable Development

  8.               Protecting the Environment

  9.               Access to Health, Education, Food and Shelter

  10.               Gender Equality

  11.               Importance of Young People in the Commonwealth

  12.               Recognition of the Needs of Small States

  13.               Recognition of the Needs of Vulnerable States

  14.               The Role of Civil Society

This was all sounding a lot more promising than I had predicted. As well as being a collective, the Commonwealth aids development across  its members, from “helping countries with trade negotiations to encouraging women’s leadership, building the small business sector, supporting youth participation at all levels of society and providing experts to write laws”.

The Commonwealth Games now host disabled and non-disabled athletes, as opposed to holding separate games for disabled athletes as they once did. This integration happened first in 2002 at the Manchester Games, and the Glasgow Games now have “the biggest-ever number of Para-Sports medal events in Commonwealth Games history”.

It seems that the Commonwealth and Commonwealth Games have shifted massively in outlook since the days of the Empire. Despite this, it seems important not to let the uncomfortable history of the British Empire be forgotten. I still feel it is wrong to describe Cabot and Columbus and heroic adventurers and I still think Britain should do more to apologise to those countries it injured. However, the Commonwealth could be an opportunity to learn from the wrongs of the past and celebrate diversity, equality and our shared humanity.

For me, Glory is a dance piece about exactly that. It is performed by a group of diverse dancers with all movement and aesthetics valued equally. the mixture of individual movement and ensemble phrases speak to me of a shared experience of being alive as humans in this world. I am excited to see how audiences respond to the piece, and whether it resonates with their experience of the commonwealth.

My First Day of Puppetry …. ever

So, here are some tips I’ve picked up …

  • Eye contact is everything. If an audience cannot connect with your puppet’s gaze, they won’t connect with your puppet
  • If you want to make your puppet look as if it is thinking, hold a 45 degree eye line at the floor and keep it still
  • Break up each movement with stillness: move, hold, move, hold, move, hold ….
  • In this way, it’s very similar to stop-frame animation.
  • An audience’s eyes will ALWAYS go to the movement – if you want something to be looked at, make it move (and visa versa)
  • Structure your scene with action, reaction, action, reaction. If your puppet notices everything, it becomes aware and believable
  • Where a movement initiates the will make the audience believe it is the puppet moving itself, or the puppeteer moving the puppet
  • To engage audience, let puppet make eye contact with them, and then lean forward slightly.
  • Puppets SURVIVE – they are animal, they react to their immediate surrounding
  • Keep the body language clear. What would look melodramatic on a human looks ‘natural’ on a puppet
  • When a puppet thinks, it builds tensions as the audience anticipate what will happen next
  • Trust the image you create and let it be … constant unnecessary movement can detract from an image
  • A puppet is always being PUSHED/PULLED, SHRINKING/EXPANDING
  • Know how you puppet thinks, survives, breaths
  • The communication of an event happens in the silence after the event – holds moments, don’t rush on with the next action in your piece
  • When an audience is engaged in a puppet, they will breath with it
  • It’s vital you find the RHYTHM of your puppet / character
  • It’s stronger to finish on a strong image / pose
  • Movement initiates from the puppets eyes – it looks at it’s hand and the table before it moves it’s hand to the table.
  • use puppet to cover the face/mouth of the puppeteer for big noises or sounds
  • invest time. clarity of image is key.

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As you can see … it was quite an intense first day!