The voices in my head need to come out.
It’s Thursday 20th November 2014.
On Tuesday we did a performance of Life Forces in a theatre in Exeter, at The Phoenix, with lights and a nearly full house.
After months and hours of preparation this was the moment, an hour and 10 of intense focus and trying to be in the present. The ‘one off’ gigs are highly pressured, ridiculously so. Trying to get an audience. Trying to gather responses afterwards. Trying to arrive at greater awareness of what we have in our hands having just performed it, learning more about how it’s being received, and what it’s giving or might mean for other people.
I’ve been so busy trying to sell and promote the work these last months that it’s easy, very easy to lose sight of the living breathing work itself, the thing that plays out real time, with people witnessing, attending and very much a vital part of the act of a performance taking place. The thing that I invest in so much, that I put myself into, that draws on my history, on my sense of connection and wonder in moving and in touch and relationships and the imagination is a fragile thing. It is carefully and painstakingly put together, and needs to be performed in sync with Phil, after great intervals not being together we have work to find each other again.
There was a short conversation with the audience afterwards and people gave impressions. Some very wonderful and affecting things were spoken. But I can’t help but be tuned into the things not said. As if I was sat where the audience were sitting. I rarely speak in those situations, I usually listen, I wish I was more able to speak but mostly in those moments I say little if at all.
It’s like having a birthday, lots of attention all at once, how to hold it, how to ‘hear’ it. Noticing how when someone came up to me afterwards to share thoughts, I sometimes said, ‘will you write it down for me please?’ we had a book for thoughts outside, for the first time ever! And it’s a lovely book prepared by a dear artist friend Jane Cope, and this meant a lot to me, that it arrived with its pen attached with a piece of wool and some illustrations of Phil and I inside the book. The person talking to me didn’t really want to write things down I think, although she kindly did a bit, they wanted to tell it, relive it, make sure I heard it, not aware that the way I might really have the best chance to absorb it was if there was another record of their precious thought too, that in the moment I was just too ‘in the mixed around state of post performance’ to really make much sense at all.
The next day, in the school playground ‘were you pleased?’ a group of mums had gone together, were excited, alerted to something ‘other’ that they wouldn’t have discovered were it not for my gentle ‘trying to build an audience’ on home turf. I can answer the question; we had a good audience, people came, a sign that the event took place at all. People stayed to talk, described experiences of felt moments, feelings, spiralling thoughts, some questions. Words like ‘mesmerised, intrigued. curious, absorbed, moved’. Of course yes yes, someone is thinking that they didn’t have that experience who maybe don’t want to dampen the glow of others who did but it’s important that I can hear both somehow, without always so acutely aware of the difficulty of making opportunities to perform the work possible. It’s a privilege to be able to actually talk to an audience, to be able to hear what they say. I wanted to hear the more difficult stuff too, it gradually came, some of it did, in after thoughts or people reflecting on the parts that were less effective. The next day, emails either to Phil or me that we would forward on to the other. Emailed thoughts generously and thoroughly written, with committed intent to try and explain things that are not always easily formed with words, a lot of thank you’s; that someone feels they received something that merits a ‘thank you’ is very special somehow.
But I felt broken the day after. I didnt want to get out of bed. The ‘come down’ this time was rather brutal and an almost merciless one. I’d had a fitful night too, and I wanted to be comforted, maybe a kind of baring all feeling, quite exposed from it, not sure what had happened and typically hard on myself, why couldn’t I do better? Again it’s the disproportionate pressure of the single performance. There’s isn’t the chance to think ‘I’ll try that suggestion in the next performance in 2/3 weeks time”, I have to wait two months, and this time two months is a short gap!
The relationship between people being moved and transported to say ‘this was good’ is a difficult marriage with the reality of the process of trying to get performance dates. So often the work is rejected. I’m told not to take it personally but I cannot help it. I want the work to be seen, to have a life, so I can complete some kind of a satisfactory process, knowing that it was performed, maybe 8 times, and that’s not even very ambitious is it? Not three or four, no that’s just not good enough, not after years and months of work and not enough time to live with something and then be alright to move out of those clothes.
I try to be centred and to think it’s alright, things are moving even if they feel like they’re not moving fast enough, that I can only do what I can… but I know this not entirely true. The last two pieces I laboured over, the leaving to one side was painful. Knowing I could do no more, that the performances I had managed to generate were the most I could do and that it was kinder to my spirit to move onto something new. Of course it’s necessary to move on, vital! But harder to do that fully if you know that the thing you are deeply invested in will most likely quietly fade away, unlikely to be picked up again if it’s not held onto tightly, kept close and kept living.
The bereft feeling eased away. I cannot explain the desert. The emotion of it. I grow to love the details within the work, the territory of this space of encounters and meetings and ways of being, I want to get better at it and to reach people and to spend more time ‘performing’ it from somewhere on the inside, communicating what i’ve been working so hard to try to do. What tends to happen is that I lose confidence, doubt creeps in the lengthy spaces in-between and I often find myself on the outside again.
I want to bring my passion to a conversation with a potential programmer, be brave. Yet it feels dangerous to do that, I know it can spill over into slight desperation and self pity and I cannot bare it, I need to feel there is something quietly dignified in my approach even if the coward in me twinges.
People said they were moved and didn’t know why. I feel like that sometimes too. It’s a wonderful thing about the theatre. A place for those moments to happen.
Recently I was teaching some students at Plymouth University. It was so lovely to be in a room with people. The specialness of reinvigorating convictions in ways to approach working with bodies in space and language. One student, Simon, the name has come up three times in a few months, my brother was called Simon and the name cannot be heard without a thought for him, he was 18 when he died. Student Simon from Sweden, had a fire in his belly, eyes glistening, the charge of potential. I take it seriously wanting to give, encourage, push them push them to try something, to think in the moment, to be panicked by a layered up instruction, it’s powerful, everybody notices when a person puts themselves on the edge the whole room changes, because of course they always do it, and it works, something happens then everyone has the chance for change.
There’s more. There’s always more.
The next performance for Life Forces is on 14th January and then I’m going to Washington. I will reconsider timing, reconsider ‘choreography’, how I walk from place to place, how I speak. The projector sequence is not quite working, from feedback given, so what can I do to improve that, maybe I can speak about the beautiful bulb inside it? That when I first turned it on after 30 years it worked but the next time, when I had taken it to Bournemouth, proudly wanting to share it’s glow with David it was dead.
Oh and Phonic FM will review the work next month live on air in a panel discussion, now that’s a first!
I’m working with SW playwright Natalie McGrath on R&D for a new project inspired by the banning of Gay Pride in Russia for 100 years. We’re working with Sophia Clist, a sculptor/designer who I’ve also been collaborating with for Life Forces. Natalie’s desire to write a love story spanning 100 years has permeated my thinking and through our conversations around love and the serious dangerous obstacles to same sex relationships globally my awareness has heightened in how for some, it really is a matter of life and death.
In March we worked with two actors, Zelda Tinska and Joey Haldon where through a range of physical tasks and explorations I wanted to see how we could evoke the beginnings of a love story between them. How it might be possible to believe in their intimacy, their strong connection and the different sides of their love.
The culmination of this R&D takes place in June as part of Exeter’s Ignite Festival.
Falling in love has a very good reputation but I have seen kind and noble people behave very badly because they are in love. Javier Maris
To burn with desire and keep quiet about it is the greatest punishment we can bring on ourselves. Lorca
i want everything to last
at the sky’s edge
at the lowest temperature imaginable
in my lowest moments
Torment – a state of paralysis.
It’s been a long time since I’ve written here. I can’t put everything into words. I wish I could focus on the artistic considerations more but am often struggling for headspace trying to vision ways forward, as the money has nearly run out and time is passing.
Life Forces has progressed considerably. After a week at Exeter University in December supported by Kaleider, a few days at Emmanuel Hall in January, a performance of a short excerpt of the work in a work in progress platform at Exeter Northcott on 23rd January, it’s now time to start contacting venues to try and ‘get the work out there’.
My head has been full with the task of administrating a plan, thinking strategically how to market this work, it’s clear we are straddling disciplines in a new and interesting way so imperative to find good and appropriate contexts for it.
I’ve been working with new collaborators performer/writer Phil Smith and sculptor/designer Sophia Clist as well as David Williams, these very rich meetings have been hugely stimulating for me and rewarding.
My heart is in this. I’m just overwhelmed at times with how to do it. I’m talking to a few producers to help me, this I hope will give the energetic boost to keep moving forwards. The territory is a rich combination of materials and relational meetings with Phil in the space. He’s had a big influence on the flowing of new thoughts and explorations and I’ve appreciated these prompts. After the studio sharing in July at The Place Theatre working with Gerard Bell who was a very gentle and thoughtful presence, I knew the work needed developing. It was too thin somehow, a kind of puzzle the audience needed to work out, underdeveloped, I knew it but I was stuck. The process of arriving at the studio on Monday 16th December to work with Phil for the first time alone, bringing everything I had so far and sharing that with him with him was useful, to see what was there and to see there was a lot. From this we built further, the thematic threads becoming clearer, deepening and becoming interdependent. The straws have become more straws that we draw and sculpt with, leading to long white pipes that we move with, then standing them all up to become an environment to move within and project Magali’s projections into. Additional objects of hammer, nails, wood, mirror, suit that we need to filter.
I’m conscious we need to maintain a balance between the intertwining of ideas and materials and the danced expression. Not to be too driven by tying things together, by overarching meanings needing to be explicit, making sure there is a sense of whole and cohesion where images can exist and ‘do’ something rather than inviting too many ‘whys’. I think, I hope we are nearly there. I must trust in that.
Phil Sophia and I will work again next week to share what we developed in January with David, the aim is to filter the ideas down. It’s very helpful for me to have a witness, we too easily get lost on our own in the explorations although very useful to have material to share and shape and work from.
Monday 7th October.
Edited for a Lunch Time Talk at Kaleider on 11 October.
I wrote something to steer a pathway for myself. The idea of ‘doubt’ was the trigger for the writing and for the talk. I could deviate and lift my focus to the room but the writing was there to follow, to see me through.
After a general introduction I began to read to the people around the table with my props for Life Forces laid out in front of me.
I said I would reflect on doubt.
After the Kaleider commission interview, I wrote to Nicki Tomlinson post the interview to say thank you for her generosity and support in the room. Part of her response:
‘I found your honesty and openness refreshing and to be honest am more drawn to that kind of approach than to being steam-rollered by swish marketing or a very sharp presentation. And all the good artists I know have doubt right at the centre of their practice. ‘
So I started to think about doubt and how doubt might be okay.
I’ve written 5 or six applications in the last 6 months that haven’t materialized into a structured opportunity.
‘I am so sorry to have to inform you that you have not been successful this year. My colleagues on the interview panel wanted to let you know, however that they appreciated the honesty in your approach and particularly the way in which your research is so embedded in your practice.’ Bonnie Bird Choreographic Research Fund.
‘Unfortunately we are unable to offer you a place on the Dancers’ Mentoring Programme this year. The panel needed to see more concrete examples of how you have assumed a leadership role in your dance career so far. Your application showed that you are a very experienced artist but we would suggest that you clarify clear objectives for what you would want to gain from having a mentor. The panel also wanted to encourage you to have more confidence in your writing and to avoid sentences such as; “I do not immediately think of myself as a leader”. Dance UK
‘I know this will be disappointing news but wanted you to know your application was considered to be amongst the stronger applications in such a competitive field. Unfortunately, we are not able to give feedback on individual applications.’ Jerwood Choreographic Research Fund
This isn’t unusual or even bad. It’s part of my job; to conceive ideas, to practice articulating them and to, in the process of dreaming them up, begin to care and to want to realize the thing one writes about. For me the work I make, that interests me, has movement at the centre of it but it’s not really about dancing. I’m interested in atmospheres and charged spaces, narrative threads that weave but that are not dominant. Interested in the detail in the movement of the body.
There is always an element of unknown, in the process, in my planning, in the work and in my being surrounding it.
The unknown is there in the work because there’s no script to follow. It’s about the people in the room, the process, about excercising my intuitions and about the responsive and organic building and trusting that even when it’s very hard and I’m lost it is still deliberate.
The truth is that the work I make starts with me. I am at the core of it, there is a personal thrust, an urge as Melanie Wilson said several times on Tuesday night at her performance o Landscape II, for me I’m not sure it’s an urge, more of an unrest. Something grows in my mind, usually images, and I begin to think it, to become restless, write thoughts that don’t hang together, but the important thing is the whirring, if it starts then it grows. What is important is that it grows not with the centre being about ‘me’, it’s about something becoming wider, broader, more universal, not political even, but about trying to carve out a vision that is clear, economical, ultimately poetic and that is available for others to grasp somehow and to reach.
And as the Images grow my feelings come closer to the surface.
For the last few months I’ve been working on a new piece Life Forces in various residencies around the SW and SE. Lastly in London in July through a research process called Choreodrome. I’m part way through a process, have a territory and a conviction but the work still needs development. ‘It’s a duet, with a man, an older man I hope, using still images from my father’s archive of slides, his camera, and digital projections and eventually scattered utterances spoken. I work collaboratively, my collaborators are: (talk about my collaborators).
I haven’t seen these pictures since July. They’re part of my current research. I’m interested in photographs captured in time in relation to projections, animations not rooted in time in the same way.
I’m interested in light. In Ways of seeing.
This is the bulb from the 60s. It worked when I first took the machine from the attic and then it blew. The new ones are hard to find and not as beautiful.
Show slides. X 6 on the projector, talk about them and let myself be guided by the revisiting.
The being in the moment, in the room, it’s the seeing, listening, responding, being alive to the process that matters. How to make a good piece of work is another thing.
Pausing because it doesn’t quite flow here, I’m repeating myself and from the reading aloud I know I am.
Now I’m practicing relying on my liveness of attention, I’m also cheating because I’m reading.
It’s the process of looking of seeing, of perceiving, it’s how I work out how to make choices. I have to keep opening, keep opening myself up to the noticing even if it’s uncomfortable.
So why is doubt so present. because I’m nearly always scared. The fluctuating of trusting my instincts, knowledge of certain routes traced, knowledges aquired, what I do and do not know, tastes I’ve developed, there is some ground here but still… it’s the process of ‘doing’ that reveals the questions, reveals the points of tension, it has to be ‘in the doing’.
The doing reveals what is not known, reveals the questions, how to do something I don’t know how to do. It isn’t the same process as writing a pitch, learning the words, being certain when mostly I am not certain. And as artists we have to convince people. To learn how to convince them.
Ideas for the future. Because they asked me to consider this
I don’t have lots of ideas. I grow little things sometimes slowly sometimes not. I get excited about trying this with this, that with this. What things ‘do’ when coming together. The unexpected connections. Taking the time to see what things do. Not rushing. The simple act of attention is what I value.
I don’t have a long list of projects I want to make in 30 years time. When I’ve seen Life Forces through, made a piece of work I can look someone in the eye and say ‘I’ve explored this, I’ve done the work’ ‘it’s the best I can do right now’ then I want to make a film again. The last film I made was in 2010.
The work, when it’s made can then go and meet people traveling in an envelope and not need to be taken on a trolley or carried hurting my back which happened recently meaning I lost the first two days rehearsing from wrestling with a precarious travel on the train.
In the future… If I am to be truthful, I don’t think I will live until I’m old, this is what I sense.
But if there is a 30 years time I hope I will still feel the unrest, the intensity of concentration and powerful immersion I feel when I place my body directly in question with my moving, It is the most I can wish for that I will still want to try to do it, here, with people. Maybe my work will get smaller and smaller, this is an instinct, I am drawn to small things, yet it’s as much about the organic journey, one piece of work being re-explored in different ways for a few years, then a new obsession. I am glad I cannot predict the obsession.
Show music box. Talk about this is a present from my dear friend Jules Maxwell. How I’ve never used it. We pass the paper around, punch holes and make a piece of music. I read the below passage during this because I realize it takes time to punch the holes.
It’s the liveness of moving, of being sensitisesd to my surroundings, my body in relation to space and surface, my emotions softly rising under my skin, my skin aware of touch, the awareness of acheing, stiffer limbs, ageing, of the task to interrupt the patterns, to disarm myself, to test myself, to tease my preferences somewhere new, how lazy am I in this physical searching, or not.
When I move, I am no longer me, at the same time I am more of me. I do not care about the whys I follow many different tuggings of provocation. I do not doubt myself here. I understand that it is all alright.
To lift it into the permanent, translate it into something, or talk about the state of this immersion this is once again difficult for me.
I lost my confidence here.. things started to fall away, I don’t think I spoke it. I chose not to.
The depth is hard to translate, and I am apologetic once more, unsure how to turn these mutterings of my instincts into passages to organise in space and time and what about the desire to speak about the fleetingness, I always want to talk about the fleetingness? that’s hard too, but it’s really what underpins everything. Somehow it seems maybe it’s all that there is.
For Life forces it started with the garden wall.
Slowly falling down. And there’s nothing I can do about it.
The photos captured in time. The light. Ways of seeing. Juxtapositions that open up a new imaginative space. I want to finish this piece, perform it, grow from it and then move onto the next thing.
Doubt is always there.
Because what is good? What does matter?
And anyway, the whys don’t go away.
Returning to a theatre and to the work of research for Life Forces.
My head’s a muddle. Some useful things. The process of Jonathan and Mateo, make one thing and make something else that continues from it, make another thing. It made sense to me, a continuity, forms of continuity. Taking the time to talk and not force moving into action. David’s memory of my thoughts around movement scores, working with another body, holding hands, walking, sitting, looking. We did some. We moved in relationship to eachother other, slowly, carefully noticing what came up. We talked about the recurrance of familiar patterns in the moving from up to down. We moved just doing going to the floor and back up again together, then observing eachother individually. I noticed when he was in the attempt it was interesting, the bit of a struggle, legs in the air, the continuation of a collapse. He talked of me drawing out the collapse to the floor, the stages. How different it is to move alone and with another person even if the task is a solitary one.
We talked that David could be the other person. The trying to visualize me in the space in relationship to these materials alone, and the possible logistical difficulties of doing everything. He said he would be open for being on the inside, whatever served the work the best whatever was most helpful for me. I was very excited. I am very excited. This feels fruitful and going in an interesting direction. It could take a year, that’s fine. I’m ok with that. We looked at slides, I moved in the slide of the tree and we stayed with it for sometime, me falling out of it, like waking, but maybe not.
I’d wanted to do something with an older man, this feels right, wherever it leads.
5th March 2013
Looking at the partner metal slider, something about the human eye can see a naked flame 14 miles away David said.
The projector case on my head. Melancholic image.
Walking into the light shape, dancing in light, taking information from pictures of slides in my head and moving through them.
Falling down and back up.
Sitting at the bottom of the steps slide, I’m in it.
Moving with David in relation to each other and to slides projected by Sophia. A new collaborator joined us, Sophia Clist.
Jumping over the channel of light.
6th March with Sophia.
Looking at slides again. Erosion, Smooth wood on beach with sand. Harsh rock against the sky. Made structures letting through light, from straws, with shadows, the angle, the particularity of the view, my dad’s view, the frame, what his eye has chosen to see. Sea and sand and sky and land and perspective, direction, scale. Monochrome, silhouette, light, reflection, mirror, camera in its leather case, the slider, the mechanical simplicity making a shape to see through, to reveal something, The frame of light is best white, the thought of a colour filter interested me too, the white frame striking Sophia said.
I don’t manage to write in the blog much.
Here are some traces.
It takes a little time to make a personal connection with a space even if it’s a familiar one.
So, yesterday I went back to the hotel up the road and got the projector from the car and the big plastic lidl shopping bag of slide boxes. Opening the box It took me a while to figure out how to place the sliding slide viewer piece, eventually I managed. I turn it on with a lovely old light switch that’s pleasurable to use. The bulb is bright, the beam lighting a clear square on the back white wall of the theatre, bordered by the blacks that I’d pulled in to make a frame. I spent several hours looking at old black and white slides. Many of Exeter, of Topsham, of buildings, trees and skies, some of our family. It became a charged quiet space of concentration. Looking at still pictures, imagining them moving, thinking how to animate them potentially, how to work from the still pictures as a solid root. Repositioning myself occasionally to sit in the audience seats to see how visual it might be objectively.
The practical process of sliding one in then the other. It takes two at a time. The white aperture a sort of wipe clean after the image. As an artefact it’s an object that evokes past time, the 60’s, in the dark and lit it’s something else, it comes alive and is a warm presence, it’s steely metal frame and shape softened by the glow and the directness of it’s nose beam feels purposeful. I felt an atmosphere. The tree spread comforting, the quality of the black and white skies, the reflection of water, both past and present.
The memory of old cameras in their leather cases I’d found in the attic when I went looking for the projector. A camera amongst them that would have been the one taking the images. Attics. The dust, dirt, decay, the wonder, the holding of so much that’s stored in the memory that comes rushing back. I recognise that book, a torn cover, from my childhood, I recognise it instantly. instantly, whereas I did not recognise the same one looked at only very recently on amazon for my son. Why is this?
Attics. Full of what was. In the second attic, dropping an old plastic bad with blouses to retry. From when I was 12. I do try them on. In the bathroom. A strange reflection of someone who fits into the clothes, they fit but don’t fit at the same time. In a way it’s obvious but the process is still interesting. It’s indescribable.
On my mind. Pink Floyd. Dissolving the tree with the paper. Blurring the edges. A soft golden glow. I haven’t got the stick for my ribbons. I bought gold, pink and turquoise. A circle. Homage to a life. The male and the female. The sewing machine was my mother’s, the projector my father’s, both in cases that lift over the head.
Time to make a dance before David comes tomorrow and I spill out to him while he sits and attends to the focus in a room, while I fumble and make efforts not to waste his time, where I search to find temporary methods to collect and organise thought and action in space to see how the impulses behave with each other.
Recently I had an email from a dear friend.
good morning special one
i’m eight hours ahead of you – so you’ll get this when you wake (or check your e mails)
been reading your very wonderful writings on your blog
at least every two days
it could be a very important document of struggle and the solitary nature of process for lots of artists
I was grateful for the words. I don’t ever imagine a reader really. I just think about the commitment of doing. Sitting up in my chair, giving attention, pressing ‘Publish Post’. It’s not the same as adding to the long document Life Forces, the un-edited part diary/testimony, kind of proof that there are questions and attempts at getting organised.
I write mini stories sometimes. On purpose. Dive in and see what happens.
There’s a story about a man who goes for a walk. He never comes back. He keeps on walking. A pilgramidge of sorts except he’s not following any known path, it’s unknown and neverending and he’s thinner and thinner as he walks and lighter and lighter and one day his feet are no longer touching the ground and his strides have given way to freeflowing atoms and molecules and probably dust although you can’t see it and he’s not thinking anymore, or maybe he is and then and then I don’t know what happens…
It’s about the process of trying to find something unexpectedly. I can’t just walk towards it. Well maybe I could but I feel like I can’t.
The stirring for Life Forces started in France last summer because of the garden wall.
In the garden, by the what used to be the shaded part, which is now from trees cut and gone, no longer so. There is a stone wall. Part of an old old dwelling that’s slowly falling down..
One by one I balance the stones, the rocks, finding smaller ones for the grooves.
I want things to stay just as they are.
Because people are getting old and I can’t stop it from happening. Things are changing and I can’t slow it down. I know change is inevitable, it’s not a surprise to me only I’m troubled by it. I’m thinking about will, about purpose, about identity, about love, about connecting and being connected, about impermanence and not being able to embrace all the positives of change right now because it frightens me to really think about it. Maybe it’s heightened because I need to live long enough to raise my son. I’m thinking about stopping and thinking about doing. I’ve had some life, I’ve had a lot of life. Can I find a way to distill something? just for a moment, something about ‘how to be alright’.
Because everything seems to be ever so slowly disappearing.
Practically I’ve four residencies this Spring to start the foundations for a new piece. A performance. Maybe with talking, dancing, slides, projections, animation, smoke, music, water. I’m comforted by the image of a little water feature just bubbling gurgling away.
I plan who will be with me in the studio, I book hotels, train tickets, let people know I have residencies in the partner venues; Swindon Dance, Pavilion Dance Bournemouth, The Point Eastleigh. I formalise the shape of the process in my mind as ‘leading somewhere’ because I know that it has to. I have to reach mid March having found something I can fight for. If I can’t fight for it I know it won’t grow into anything.
One by one I balance the stones, the rocks, finding smaller ones for the grooves.
I want things to stay just as they are.