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


He was a girl

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


He was a girl


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!’


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


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



Not moving
Sort of
But not
It makes



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

Cars move

Steadying. Surefooted.

Leaning into




Leaning into




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






He was a girl
She was a boy

Rise and fall


Not balancing

Awkward And Alive


Say something




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Reflections from the final day of the Winer Institute

January 19th, Washington DC.

It was interesting to observe how the team steered the last two days. I could feel them trying to address as many needs as possible, adapting their structure accordingly. The slightly tight structure of the first two days I felt softened and in the bleeding of edges the space seemed to charge with the inaudible sound of people’s minds whirring. On Saturday we broke into smaller groups to discuss these main areas that had come up:

The Role of Storytelling.

Using the tools.

Partners/strategies for building a project in the community.

The Role of the Facilitator.

Role of storytelling notes from small group discussion
Role of storytelling notes from small group discussion

Then, in the afternoon we had a wonderful session with Liz Lerman; nimbleness, having multiple names for things, multiple categories to organise and catalyse thought, reframing thinking and on and on…. It’s not easy (for me) to describe how Liz works in the moment, much of what we did she’d done with us at The Point last year but it feels as fresh as ever and her focus, speed, generosity is simply astounding and responsive to anything that comes up.

Liz Lerman
Liz Lerman













After goodbyes to all the participants, Sacha and I had a quick lunch with Iana, a lovely person working as a mediator, wanting to try and build community classes where she lives on Deer Isle in Maine a 14 hour drive north. Her use of language was very interesting for me to listen to. She described the importance of reflective listening for children, how through story telling with the listening child reflecting back what they had heard from the story told, children can learn early that it’s ok for our stories to be misunderstood and then corrected and in doing so they learn that each other can be corrected, that it’s alright, we’re not wrong.

On the final day Iana had given me some feedback following a trio exercise the ‘moving interview’; two people interrupt the storyteller/mover with rapid fire questions as well as providing physical contact/interruption simultaneously, to give the moving person lots to negotiate towards releasing/surfacing unexpected thought and feeling. She said kindly, ‘I shouldn’t work so hard to be accurate in what I wanted to say…..’

I had been gradually noticing how once again, I was not speaking much or easily in the group circle situations. This is a recurring issue for me, but in this particular context a reminder of how I get overwhelmed sometimes with simplifying what is in my mind to be able to express it. This began to unsettle me, and when asked to re-find our ‘buddies’ from day one, lovely Emily, I faced away from the other pairs talking in the room as I welled up with the fear of having to talk and share in the circle at closing time, which I knew was coming.

I was asking myself the question about contribution. Did it mean that if I don’t speak even when I am thinking – I assess/judge whether it’s clear/important enough to speak aloud, is there something potentially more important about ‘supporting the group effort’ that makes someone a good contributor in a group? Something to do with the responsibility of supporting the navigating of the groups learning by contributing verbally to be more fully present for others than deciding whether what I’m saying is vital and necessary enough. I wondered again whether this was a cultural difference. The people in the room were largely American and articulate in their communication. I could feel the ground of their education requiring this to be the case, whereas even at 43 I don’t feel particularly articulate in describing difficult processes. Of course the wonderful session with Liz Lerman on Saturday afternoon brought into sharp focus again how we can learn these skills and demonstrates in quite extraordinary ways how complex ideas can multiply/co-exist/be reframed, particularly by naming what is being thought/felt/struggled with.

I’m not sure of the answer to my concerns about ‘speaking out’. It’s not new by any means. I do speak but not much, mostly when each person is invited to or when I have something clear to say.

During the last circle, Cassie put forward a new idea they have been working with ‘the circle of possibility’ a visioning tool. We were asked to imagine a challenge we faced, that we’d distilled in our ‘buddy’ pairs, then express it within a structure of, having already done/overcome this challenge in the future… ‘When I left the Winter Institute I did ….. ‘

So, I began to speak, slowly, in the moment, not knowing where it would lead and feeling very uncomfortable. I described a conversation in a café near where I live in Topsham, with a new producer friend I’ve been working with called Rae. I asked her to help me by having a conversation, because I wanted to work out how to identify a new group I might begin to work with (Dance Exchange does a lot of work in Care Homes for example) – a group I’d not worked with before.

Imagining this fictional conversation slowly stirred some quiet resolve. And I do feel now, that some thinking has subtly shifted.

I already work on various projects, in the community and professionally not making any large distinction between them, more I attempt to bring the same rigour to everything I do without assuming I know how to do the things before I start.

I do want to broaden the kinds of projects I’m involved in and to take my approaches/and ME into new contexts where I might be able to create some meaningful exchange between people. I think that despite my difficulties of talking about what I do/can do, I do trust that I do/can create from small things and that I do/can hold a space for things to happen and that, I’m good at this.

I realise as I’m writing here that maybe this is my own personal answer to the question of; ‘The Role of Artists working to build Community’. In a way I’m not sure we directly tackled it, but my responsibility maybe is to honour new curiosities when they arise, to see where they lead and to keep going. And to keep trying to imagine new ways to do things to share and build understanding, in a range of ways, with different people, where I can possibly make a difference in their lives and by doing so in mine too.


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Winter Institute, Washington DC

So here I am in Washington DC, in a B&B In Woodley Park.

This wonderful opportunity to accompany Sacha Lee (Creative Producer at The Point) to attend Dance Exchange’s Winter Institute, looking at the overarching question ‘What is the Role of Artists in Building Community?’ was one I was very much looking forward to. Dance in Devon have also kindly supported this trip and I wish to thank both The Point and DID for this invaluable support.

One of my impressions from Thursday (my arrival day) and Friday was to do with the reminder of how familiar the language of dance is, how universal it is. Even within a different cultural context and there certainly seems to be different emphasis on the kind of language used to describe processes, ways of thinking and the giving of instructions etc, yet there is so much commonality drawing this diverse group of people together, in this space of dance that we all share.


On Saturday we took part in a community workshop for seniors from a nearby residential centre, in the Rec Centre on New Hampshire Avenue. This long stretch of road has been undergoing a lot of change in recent years, Cassie the artistic director explained how for about 10 years the company had been largely on tour and so the impulse for this particular project was rooted in a need and desire to work more closely to home. ‘This is a Place To…’ will work at various sites and with various residents along the New Hampshire Avenue. It’s a project about ‘home’ and about where people come from asking how they feel connected to home and place. There will be varying degrees of involvement from participants and a remounting of Liz’s 1986 site-specific work ‘Still Crossing’ will form part of the culmination of the performance project.
At the workshop I sat next to a Sun Li, a woman in her late 70’s from South Korea. There was very minimal language between us, so it was through the exercises of mirroring seated on chairs, building to moving in turns around the chair, that we found a way to build a connection between us. The power of touch comes into rapid focus in a moment like this. The first real touch of hands, I had been anticipating it! Led to touches of reassurance, of thanks, of reciprocal acknowledgement of what we were doing together and this was very special. At the end of the workshop we hugged when saying goodbye and I was reminded again of the intimate connection between strangers where the language is formed through a physically moving together and how powerful this can be.

Storytelling features heavily in the work that Dance Exchange does to find ways to reveal and generate movement, for example noticing the physical behaviour a person involuntarily makes when telling a story is called ‘spontaneous gesture’. Ways of working are not so different from processes I have been involved in or might try to create myself. Yet here there is clearly a system of named and articulated tools that underpin the ways of working. I have been extremely fortunate to attend a week long workshop at The Point with Liz Lerman (founder of Dance Exchange) that Sacha initiated in Summer 2014, so have witnessed through her teaching, the years of work refined into these tools now past onto the team here who are taking this work and legacy forward. They are clearly doing this with real care, commitment, dedication and passion. On reflection, I think I use multiple tools frequently in an artistic process but so useful to be able to articulate what I’m doing, and see ways to unlock, catalyse or ‘course correct’ a process in order to be responsive and adapt to the specifics of a new situation or group, to gain deeper awareness of preferences or habits that could be limiting.

This far in though, I have found myself missing a kind of space which perhaps could be a little less managed and organised. The team are very well prepared and this is to their credit. There is a clearly thought out plan and rigorous shared delivery between the whole team which is lovely to watch; each member of the team integrated into the sharing of the ideas proposed in a very respectful way. However, I do sense that I’m personally drawn to the idea of a space where ‘the unexpected in the group thinking’ is perhaps slightly more able to surface. I’m not sure how this would happen but it’s something to do with giving a little more time for conversations to allow them to go deeper without being too directed for a little while. I’m really interested in this central question of ‘The role of artists in Community’, and am also grappling with how I might attempt answering it for myself in ways that feel relevant. So far we’ve not dug deep into this but there’s time still! I’ve been thinking more widely about purpose, value, responsibility and what happens when things don’t quite work and I’d like us to touch on these themes too, within a broader awareness of responsibility as artists when we are seeking a close connection with others.

This question of the role of artists drew me in, and has sensitised me to consider more closely and re-examine what it is that I do as an artist and how might I do things differently.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to be here and maybe it’s a chance for me to try and speak these reflections more openly in the room rather than just thinking them to myself through this writing.

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Finding the spaces between us

Phil hand on my hip Jane buildng straw pyre Jane in nest Jane plmbline on floor Jane plumbline sitting Jane lying on plastic bag Jane and phil pipes Jane and phil dancing US Phil holding jane

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bird nest head


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!

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We’ll Meet in Moscow

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.

DSC_0470 DSC_0471 DSC_0472 DSC_0473 DSC_0342 DSC_0344 DSC_0349 DSC_0351DSC_0283 DSC_0286

DSC_0336Some of the inspirations have stayed with me…

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 

to last

Natalie McGrath

Torment – a state of paralysis.

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2014 Life Forces update

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.

DSC_9274 jane an dphil dancing Jane and boys on slide Jane Phil wall Phil reading alternative future phil throwing straws Scarf on projector DSC_2162

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