My connection with the Glory project …. On film!

http://www.janiceparker.co.uk/glory/bel-pye/

 

go to Janice Parker’s website to see more people talk about Glory, and what it meant to them.

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The Opening Night

Yesterday I felt like I was performing on the opening night. How wrong could I be? Tonight the audience seemed to fill the venue, and the atmosphere had cranked up another notch.

I was reminded of my interest in invisible disability as my own personal plague of mental health problems started to play up. Despite arriving early, I felt panicked, anxious and simultaneously ‘out of it’. As I dressed, my self confidence dropped to the bottom of my (admittedly excellent) gold high top trainers, and my mood began to follow suit. My head tried shouting “this is not a convenient time!! CAN’T WE DO THIS NEXT WEEK???” although I’m not entirely sure why it bothered, that tactic has never worked before.

Last year I performed in the show Red Line, directed by Caroline Bowditch, and comparing that performance to this one it is astonishing the difference in my movement. Then, I was between medications and felt totally disconnected from the world around me. I tried to engage in rehearsals, but my energy dipped constantly, meaning that any movement I created showed a minimal amount of the movement I am really capable of. I am now on a new gang of medications that seem to be doing a good job, and the development in my movement has been significant. People who had worked on Red Line with me for 15 weeks were genuinely surprised to see me perform in Glory… I can’t pretend I wasn’t chuffed.

The links between mood and movement are inextricable for anyone in my experience. Someone who is terrified moves very differently to someone experiencing joy or anger or grief. In this sense, mental illness can be very visible on the body. However, it is worth remembering that like light or air we can only see the effects, not the force itself.

This show went well, although I felt much more shaky as I entered the stage. My balance felt off, and my limbs felt as much in control as if I was operating them with complex pulley systems. I did OK, and only the ‘solo groove’ proved challenging. I had previously sent his phrase as a chance to really indulge in movement your body loves. It is this, but I underestimated how vulnerable this can be. To offer my authentically moving body up to the eyes of the audience felt for a split second impossible, but I managed to combat this fear with two things; eye line and breath. Eye line – I don’t need to stare at the audience if I don’t want to! I can keep them directed in to the world of the movement I was creating. Breath – this feels like the source of authenticity for this movement, and it also allowed me to remain calm and grounded. I found that after experimenting with breath yesterday I gained a lot by brining it into this performance. I managed to find my breath and the soles of my feet a various times throughout the performance, which not only kept me calm but allowed me to really be in the moment.

I feel slightly bizarre having performed with the company in front of a paying audience, it seems so recently that we were meeting for the first time in Govan! What a journey it has been for everyone involved. I hope that we can continue to raise the focus and energy of the piece over the coming nights, and continue to find joy in sharing our movement with others.

Breathing Body Moving

Tuesday was our chance to run the show in front of an audience whilst still in rehearsal period. Included in the audience were a team of social media gurus who would help market the work across the twitter- and blogo- spheres.

I was in positive mood as I stepped (wearing my new trousers) into T4 to go over notes from the previous rehearsals. As I listened to the notes, it felt that they were all about the breath and intention of each movement. A voice tutor of mine once explained her technique of “breath mapping” every performance before she did it. By tracing the journey her breath was taking, she became more mindful of her breathing during that performance making sure that she was performing sustainable and that she was constantly resourced.

In a mini-rehearsal of some movement phrases before our main run through, I tried to return my attention to my breath. Noticing breath was difficult, as more often then not I was out of it. I became horribly aware of my lack of fitness and stamina, and began to panic and tense up. However, by trying to remain with the breath I found it began to come more easily, as I wasn’t holding my chest rigid and was relaxed. More air came in, the breath was easier, the movements flowed easily. This felt particularly relevant in the ‘try and try again’ movement phrase, where I discovered that I was unknowingly holding my breath during the pauses.
Forgetting breathing is rarely helpful in performance.

After the performance I had a chance to question people about their experience of the show. One audience member observed that the installation type start was a lovely way for someone who rarely went to theatres to get an idea of the mechanism of a show; how it works, who is involved and what the process is like. They also commented on how seeing the performers in this way reminded them of the human-ness of everyone involved, we weren’t gods or mythical spirits or apparitions, just normal everyday people.

This performance felt more like an opening night than a rehearsal, the atmosphere felt as electric as it would have been for a full audience. I sometimes feel that performing for close friends and family can be more daunting than a packed theatre … maybe that says something about my friends and family!! I enjoyed the feeling of sharing in the movement,, of inviting the audience to see and experience our work and process and joy in what we were doing. Another audience member commented on how connected as a community we all seemed, and I was delighted to tell him that we were a vibrant community of our very own.

Sweaty Saturday – going all out

Today we spent the day securing our spacing within the choreography and doing technical runs. Despite my previous pessimism the technical run was incredibly smooth, with minimal hiccups and no stops! This is definitely a first for me. Working without tape markers on the floor was also far easier than I had expected. In fact, the whole piece flowed incredibly well and there was a boyant atmosphere within the group.

During breaks I have had the pleasure of talking other members of the company about disability within dance, especially ‘invisible’ disability. There is a reoccurring theme of the need to take responsibility for you own body, something that many people struggle with. With an invisible disability it is incredibly tempting to try and ‘pass’ as able bodied, pushing yourself to work beyond your limits and comparing yourself to others. It is also very hard for a lot of people to disclose their disability to a teacher or choreographer, for fear of being treated differently. This can lead to all sorts of problems, as you begin to over strain your body, but don’t feel you can tell anyone or stop straining. Eek!!!

For me it is often a lack of energy that is my limitation. I want to give everything to every exercise, be stretching and practicing in every spare moment and do every run with 100% energy. This is probably unrealistic for the most able of able bodies, but for me with often severe fatigue it is destined to failure. When we start to perform our personal dances during the piece, starting from the feet and working through the body, I often want to move much more but within 30secs every bone doubles in weight and I’m desperate for a lie down.

It is only slowly that I am allowing myself to work more gently and take more rests. One of the problems with invisible disability is that often people don’t understand why you aren’t doing the movements ‘properly’, and put it down to laziness. Having been accused of this in the past I am reluctant to allow my body rest in case it is rad this way. However, I know I am doing no-one any favours my exhausting myself, and that if my body is healthy it will feel, look and dance far better.

Tomorrow we have a day off to rest and recoupeate before we start what will be an intense, but exciting, week. I cannot wait to get back to Tramway, let alone start to share our work with audiences.

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.