letter to the cottage

I spent 10 days in rural west Wales in February 2017 in a village called Abercych, home to Simon Whitehead and Stirling Steward. They had invited me to connect with local people in the hope we might seed the beginnings of something for the future. Later I tried to capture my thoughts from this time spent alone, with Fran, Jenny, Stephen, Tom and Anna. This is what came out….

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Mostly I’m thinking about what it can mean to be with someone. To giving attention to each particular process with a person and seeing where it goes. Taking proper time to listen. Bringing a focus to the body perhaps. Being responsive to possibilities, trusting in the idea of possibility that connections can and will come. Something could go further than might appear possible at first. But it’s here in these spaces, in these places of discovery with someone that I like to be. It’s scary too and it’s hard to explain what might happen. Time and again I struggle to describe it. But I keep asking myself the questions around how and why, and who I am through all of this, and it keeps me here.

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Thank you fire, chair, bed, blanket, hot water bottle, window

Cord from the light, reminder of a distant home

Preparing to leave

Casting a net over moments caught

Supermarket café, choreography of shoppers through the panoramic aperture between two spaces

Stirling in the moonlight – Timeless

Teddy folded, squashed inside the coils of cable, pushed hard under the chest

Daring to touch each other

Water pouring out of the land – hands carrying

Late night man thinks into his funeral

‘Lambing is as close to birth as you can get’

Cold feet on stone, reposition sitting reposition sitting

The Witness Tree – horses, outlaws, night into day

Horseshoe curves in the road. Valleys rolling. Medieval Castle, stonewalls stacked layered, angles over angles. Tower circle, winding staircase. Up down just me. No visitors inside these damp walls. Just me

Motorbike in pieces, over sloping grass

Hair splayed out in sundials

Guitar rock loud from the graffiti hole – Mouth and body mimicking sound

Black notes, colony of ants, pouring into the grand piano

Leaving a life behind – starting anew

Talking to people

Tremor of emotion – his every word

Love love for the animals

Reading to a child, missing mine

The gift of gingerbread

Time is what we have

And invitations to a possible other place

If only I could reach you

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A response to ‘choreography of the every day’

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I have a long history collaborating with Quarantine, most recently on WallflowerIn the lead up to Dance Umbrella and Juncture festivals Wallflower is part of, the company asked each of the team to respond to a slightly different provocation for the Wallflower NOTEBOOK, this was mine…

 

I remember the image of a man standing close to my then home in Brockley in SE London, during the late summer of 1996. He was stood on the edge of a curb, facing into the sloping leafy road, his body unusually still. Leaning forwards with one hand on the lamppost for balance (or maybe not) his steep angle appearing suspended, a sustained stillness at odds with the daylight activity around him. At the same time his body in this position seemed to bring everything else; street, buildings into sharp relief, engraving itself on my memory in ways I cannot explain.

Some years later, on a pedestrian street in Birmingham I was drawn to the man walking in front of me. His weight delicately tilted forwards with the shallow incline of the street, his arms floating, enlarged fluttering in slow motion behind him. I slowed not wanting to overtake, going more slowly than was comfortable, creating an invisible duet between us as my own rhythms became stretched to stay close. The movement of his arms was so articulate, so clear, that even now concentrating on the memory I can feel my own muscles twitching.

The difficulty, sense of falling and precariousness of the men’s movement created qualities that weren’t really so far from the everyday yet were heightened in small but significant ways to become something quite different, indescribable and lasting. I’ve never forgotten these particular images, possibly because I was so focused and active in observing them, but also because my feelings and empathy were stirred. In many ways this happens quite often, in all sorts of places at all kinds of times. I can notice a person’s way of moving and find myself pausing, lingering, it slows me down for a moment before continuing.

In this quiet observing of a person moving I feel I see them. Working choreographically, I am trying to make something of a person visible and to sensitively share that somehow. Drawing on simple everyday actions is useful to help reveal how a person moves as themselves; sitting, lying, falling, walking, holding hands etc… these infinite recognisable choreographies either developed for performance or existing in everyday life can be just as powerful to me as more elaborate patterns, the untrained body just as sophisticated as the highly trained dancer.

I’ve developed a genuine valuing and interest in small things (not exclusively) but I don’t tire of the small, the detail within a movement can seem so full if I really attend to it and create space around it. Working with different physical histories and revisiting them live is an important essence of Wallflower. The muscular process of retrieval is fascinating to watch and to explore, it seems whole worlds open up in and around the impossibility and uncertainty the performers negotiate, the rediscovery and joy and the inevitable loss that is also present.

It’s taken me some time to ponder this provocation from Quarantine of ‘Choreography of the everyday’, it could be a thesis, I wouldn’t know how to write it if it was! But I know I need to keep moving. Feelings, thoughts, ideas and sensations come to the surface when I do and I can be with myself and other people through moving in ways I couldn’t in any other way. The attention I give is a relief from the clutter of my mind and when I see somebody moving, if I pause, stay with it, taking in the fullness of it, then whole stretches of imagination and feeling open up in me.

 

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a quiet example of clarity

I’ve been thoughtful about my work for the past weeks, particularly in the last few days.

I went to see three things last week; Mark Bruce’s work, Odyssey, for 11 dancers with maximum visual impact of set and props, to a rich soundtrack of multiple musical influences. A TEDx Exeter event; a day of talks, discovering the work of war photographer Giles Duley, buying his book, One Second of Light, being reminded of the power of a single gift, he described being given a book of war photography and a camera as a child, forming foundational and lasting direction for his life. His tenacity and commitment, humanity and intense dedication moved me enormously. Two days later, I watched short films, set to music, with exquisitely economically written introductions, made by Peter Hulton, a man who I met a few years ago, who I barely know. Each time I see him he is smiling, like a child’s smile stretched and perfectly fitting his mature face. During the work and afterwards I was in tears. I watched them alone, in his ‘Cart Shed’, the films timed to come on every hour on the hour, ‘open and close the door when you leave’. There was such simplicity and clarity, poetry, a direct invitation to experience the work with beautifully composed elements.  A grass stem with seed head blowing in the breezing, bowed, with mention of a man and a stroke, the introduction to the art of drawing, shadows burnt into stone, the portrait of a fading face fading on a pebble in a zen garden closeup to the music of John Cage. I thought cycling home ,when does one thing end and another begin. How connections are revealed but not over-stated, yet so present, not weighted but present, unashamedly referred to, humbly, with honesty. I felt, the kind of experience that either spurs us on or makes us give up.

I’m at the beginning of a new process, working with Astrid Schrader from the University of Exeter. She has written about care and responsibility, and time. These areas interest me too. I’ve been worrying about it. I find the early part of a process hard and lonely. I can become easily paralysed by what I don’t know, feeling inadequate at how to talk about things, how to frame an enquiry, how to ask or write clear questions. At the same time, I know I’m not supposed to know. It’s about how I organise my time, how I give shape and colour to a process that legitimises the finding a way through.

The reminder that simplicity is all I have do, frame what it is I’m interested in, make that clear and available to others and resource what I’m sensitive about. I’m interested in movement. Today I was helped again by Deborah Hay’s teaching, she says:

‘I’m looking for their attention, moment to moment to moment to moment..’

‘I want to see their dance’

A dancer says, ‘she’s asked me to be in touch with my own passion, that’s a lot of work’

I say to myself, don’t dilute it because of fear others will say I’m too earnest or too serious.

It doesn’t have to be terrifying all the time. Sitting in Peter’s ‘Cart Shed’ I felt like I don’t want to give up. I want to make things. I want to connect with others. I want to open up spaces to be with thoughts and feelings. I don’t have to pretend to have all the answers, or be gifted with the big questions. Sometimes, certainly after listening to many talks during TEDx back to back, I value opening up a different way of thinking and processing, and art, poetry and dance can do this.

 

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Here with You

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‘Here with you’

During September and October I worked with classes from five schools to make a performance that took place on 21st October 2015.

I worked with 114 children from age 10 – 15, spending one day in each school, one day to put the materials together and finally one day giving two performances to audiences made up of pupils, staff and family.

Following the performances and during them, I had a strong feeling this work was important. My friend Isabelle encouraged me to write it down so I could remember how I felt later. I scribbled things down in a speedy rush full of spelling mistakes and only now revisiting the hurried felt writing that came out at the time, while it still churning around in my head and heart.

The quality I had seen from the children, the growth in a short time, the enthusiasm, vibrancy, desire to push themselves, wanting to offer me things to include in the show, the rush of excitement and push to dance more strongly, with more confidence growing all the time, was profound. They were giving towards each other and to the process and I felt strongly ‘this work matters’.

When they are working they are listening, they are engaged, they are watching, they are sensitive, they are supporting each other, observing each other, taking risks, trying, working together, lifting and holding each other, giving themselves to something. Trusting me.

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I felt sadness, that I wouldn’t see them again. That I had begun through the process to really see some of them, to make a connection, to observe how they each were developing. I felt upset that it seemed so hard to convince people of the value of this work. How can it not be valued? I don’t understand it. I know the children can do it, can cope with being asked a lot of, can cope with remembering things, can cope with change, with the layering of information, that they interpret things and have ideas and feelings.

I aim high. I have high standards. I felt the work I made was strong, had range in it, had personal stories, had artistic merit, was educational, was developing all kinds of skills and the physical ones could be useful for PE. But more than that, how to work with other people’s bodies safely and to experience touch in a positive way, these are powerful tools. To work as a team, to rejoice in someone else’s difference, to celebrate difference, to allow unexpected people to shine, to re-establish a potentially different hierarchy in the room and to value the small contributions. I felt all of this was happening.

To give focus to someone who may not see themselves as physically skilled or confident. The dance framework is not a competitive one it is about stretching people, about pushing them and that ‘push’ being a good thing.

I wanted the work to be valued and recognised, to be bringing attention to many important qualities of how to work together with others. I wanted to create a supportive atmosphere where everyone’s part is important at the same time as striving, demanding that something has to be good. It’s not enough just to remember and repeat the material sometimes, judging when to give someone something more, open up a greater challenge just by a small interjection, letting them know they are capable of more.

I felt strongly, determined that this work shouldn’t be the poor relation to other subjects. Why is it perceived the poor relation? I work with structures in ways to grow and generate materials where the pupils are having to learn a lot in a short amount of time. This can be related to so many different things, patterns in maths, science of the body, human relationships, geography of space, story telling, PE and strength, art and feeling.

 

I’m not always good at articulating I’ve been good at something. It seems boastful which is contrary to how I am in the world. But because I wrote this in the immediate wake of the experience I wrote it for myself to remember what had happened. I do think I was good at this because I was focused on the art as well as the teaching. I want the work I create to be good in relation to my own sensibility of attention, interest, curiosity and imagination. It’s about how we can push the imagination and visceral response to people moving in complex ways no matter who they are, how old they are or how physically skilled. Every body is an interesting one. I want to challenge people to read and interpret physical communication in different ways, whether participants in the dance or audience witnessing it.

As an artist, I am good at working quickly and at working/responding with what someone gives me. At manipulating/stretching/extending initial movement behaviour and creating a context for it quickly, for something to be held, to be read, and to hold attention.

Schools project 2I write this to remind myself this is my strength. All the work I’ve done in community and educational settings where I respond and build quickly from simple structures by creating frameworks, where I change course, can work effectively to create opportunities for contrast, learn about the materials I’m building, it’s all useful for me to consider. I look closely at what I see and can transform small beginnings, turn them into something new that holds meaning in some way, by working closely with timing, rhythm, space and the body.

 

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Life Forces Workshop

Phil and I have been developing a workshop mapping the story of making the performance of Life Forces.

We work with objects and materials we use in the show as well as objects we previously worked with and discarded.

We explore scale, collaboration, dramaturgy and composition with space to work with the voice and free writing in response to tasks. 
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Reflections on ‘A Dance At Home’

 

Mark

Mark

 

In December 2013 Dance4 asked me if I’d be interested in a new commission working with the Commission Collective – a group of ten people who were coming together to co-commission a new piece of work. The idea was to make a dance in people’s homes. I was full of imaginings about what the work could be.

My work often grows out of the relationships with the people I’m working with and from the stories that emerge through conversation. The physical detail, however this is expressed, is shaped with people’s bodies in relation to the particular spaces and materials we’re working with. My process is very much about closely responding, mining and transposing connections collaboratively with the people I’m creating with.

I lean towards work that is patient, that lets the viewer in. I try to strip away, juxtapose the familiar with the abstract and the unexpected to make something that is heightened and which ‘suspends’, enabling the feeling of time and space to slow down somehow. For me this is choreographic and is about valuing the detail of small things and finding ways to make this visible.

I met the Collective at one of their homes later in the year. It was difficult to articulate my process. I noticed it seemed hard for the Collective to picture something so non-specific, so open to so many variables. I didn’t have one clear idea so it was suggested I return to meet each of them individually and propose something more concrete.

I proposed the idea of three different events being held over three different nights in four different homes with specific combinations of people. Each event would have a different overarching feel, be created directly with the people involved and be directly informed and inspired by these first meetings.

The experience of these final pieces could only really come alive with an audience present, each bringing their own experiences and histories to bear on our explorations of home.

A ritual of coffee beans, threading wool into a frame to step into, colour, collections of shells from childhood to matchbox cars in adulthood, the camping candle, an elaborate hand holding, an invitation to ‘have a look around’, tending the fire, the twig house, sailing, a ‘home’ dance for three, don’t you want me dance, painting large, when someone dies poem, knitting, the miniature theatre, Kris Kristofferson, I see an abandoned place, travel books, the layers and layers in this room, sleeping, the snowdrop story, my son’s boots, little house big house, holding, measuring to get it all in, elephant mountain, knowing everybody in this street, leaving, this is home….

The three performances happened on 8, 9, 10, March as part of the NottDance Festival.

Now I’m home. There’s the feeling of something missing. The people. The bringing something of ideas, effort, to a point of focus to be able to truly see it with others present, is a wonderful profound thing.

It’s been a privilege to work so closely with the Collective, to hear their stories and share in their memories of home.

A little part of me is still in Nottingham.

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Moon

After the Washington experience, I tried to write a story. I couldn’t, this is what came out instead.

Moon 

He was a girl

Running, twirling, folding, diving, leaping, creeping, flailing, crashing, rolling

Holding

He was a girl

And

She was a boy

———————————————-

The road wasn’t flat

Crying from the top of the stairs – ‘I forgot to go!’

But it was long

The same width all the way, not seeming the same, feeling different all the time, because of the hidden houses, because of the car parks and the outside industrial looking square shapes, because of the traffic lights with arm-like roads veering off left and right

Gripping her trousers – ‘My private parts!’

Holding

Into her toes

———————————————-

Up ahead, the shape of someone… crossing, in the middle of the road, no… not crossing, waving… sort of waving…the afterglow of a wave, very softly

Alone

He was wearing, She was wearing a long coat, brown coloured, short hair, dark glasses, carrying something… a bag? Still. As though looking. Nowhere…

Cars stopped, hazards flashing, slowed right down, red lights beating in and out of focus, in the distance

Legs bare. Hands protecting

‘Don’t look!’

From the top of the stairs

———————————————-

Sometimes

When
A
Person
In
An
Unexpected
Place
Still
Not moving
Is
Sort of
There
And
Not
And
People
Watching
In
Public
Maybe
Are
Staring
Hard
But not
Saying
Anything
Or
Saying
Lots
It makes
Me
Feel

Uncomfortable

———————————————-

She moves to the edge, one hand on the lamppost.

Cars move

Steadying. Surefooted.

Leaning into

Rocks

Pavement

Darkness

Leaning into

Moon

———————————————-

Holding

Under the road, deep ground is squashed. Concrete smothered soil crushed. Poured over brown earth and moisture particles. Gripping

Smoothed and rough

No name

———————————————–

‘I had an accident!’

———————————————–

In a circle
In a room
In a street named after a tree
In a place where people talk to each other
In a far away country
Nobody spoke

———————————————-

Warpretting
Screlching
Bawlking

Tulprerning
Tannowerring
Graiengling

Chuurpookling
Plaeentsing
Yavoyazing

———————————————–

He was a girl
And
She was a boy

Rise and fall
Uneven

Giddy

Not balancing

Awkward And Alive

———————————————-

Say something

 

 

 

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