Exchanges of Practice are one-off studio sessions led by LOCUS group members. Since this is a postcode collective of experienced makers, a common artistic focus or approach is neither expected nor desired. Each individual artist shares what is most relevant to them in their current practice, overlaps are coincidental. The documentation below is my own recording of these ongoing sessions. It aims to provide some snapshots of the dialogues that took place between the participants as a way to strengthen, emphasise and value the voices of artists and of the knowledge that emerges in the creative process.
May 18, 2016
This workshop was led by Debbie Watkins Jones. Her research interest is choreographed movement in relation to the drawn mark and/or other visual art work. Debbie is interested in questions about how we relate to objects in space, whether they are everyday objects or art works. How does the response to the presence or sight (or memory) of an object affect our movement and become dance? Through a series of short movement tasks we explored our response to known/imagined/created visual stimuli. We started off with quick doodle drawings, which became scores for movement. We then tried a group improvisation with 'post it' notes, before we worked with a more crafted artefact.
Debbie also presented a work-in-progress which has been made with her performance group 'Dance From the Heart''. The piece captures the dancers' responses to photography of August Sander, 1876 - 1964.
OCTOBER 26, 2015
The workshop was led by dance artist Divya Kasturi, who trained in South Asian dance styles Bharatanatyam and Kathak. Besides creating her own work she is also a classical vocalist with credits including Sir Paul McCartney and Nitin Sawhney in the UK, and has performed with Theatre de Complicite. Her workshop began with an introduction to her current performance piece Forgot Your Password, which is a response to her personal experience of her email being hacked. The work deals with emotional experiences of virtual realities and significance of the virtual identities we need to create of ourselves to be able to enter into those immaterial worlds. Through experimentation with new technologies, tactics of coping with the multiplicity of events in our daily lives are explored. Divya’s artistic practice includes working with complex film projections and with 3D holograms (in collaboration with MUSION).
Following Divya's introduction to her current process, some points around creating with new technologies were discussed with the group:
The workshop moved onto two main practical explorations that currently are a focus in Divya’s process:
1. How can South Asian dance vocabulary manifest itself in a contemporary dancer’s body?
Divya taught us a short phrase that was rich in gestures and rhythmically precise. She then invited us to interpret it freely. The group members presented their versions of the material, having made a range of modifications to the original, such as:
- making it more internal
- introducing level changes and turns
- using gestures as a way of initiating a movement flow through the whole body
- replacing set rhythms with continuous flow
- changing stomps into steps
- listening to the feelings that are evoked by the images and rhythms of the original and responding to these with a personal theatrical answer
- responding to the fragmentation and layering of the original phrase by finding own way of doing several things at the same time
Someone asked Divya: ‘Is it a very different experience for you to perform classical South Asian dance compared to a contemporary dance performance?’
Divya answered: ‘Yes it’s completely different. In traditional Indian dance performance, the preparation is very important, even just putting on the costume and make up. The whole event is very long, and the performance is just one part of it.’ Divya explained that she has even performed in situations where she was unaware of any audience being there with the exception of just a few who might have briefly passed by. Still it was a worthwhile experience for her having to find the mental and physical stamina to sustain her event without audience.
2. How do Western contemporary choreographers access and express emotions?
Emotions were not something that most of us had worked with so specifically as a starting point. Working from memory, stories and with breathing were mentioned, before Divya started to explain the 8 Rasas (disgust, wonder, anger, fear, love, laughter, energy, grief) as a key element in classical Indian dance. Divya demonstrated three variations of laughter, which all appeared so authentic. She seemed to be able to pull this off without any obvious warm up. Some of us tried to experiment but it was difficult to find an entry point.
Divya referred to Richard Schechner’s writings as a resource. In his essay entitled ‘Rasaesthetics’ he states that
“emotions in the Indian aesthetic performance system, far from being personal – based on individual experience, or locked up and accessible only by means of an emotional memory exercise or a private moment (Stanislavski and his disciples) – are to some degree objective, residing in the public or social sphere” (in Banes, S., Lepecki, A. ed (2007) Senses in Performance. Routledge: USA, p.15)
Someone asked Divya if she felt the emotions she was performing. Divya left this quite open, saying that ‘you must feel something’. She explained that the aim was that the audience can ‘taste the flavour’ of the performed emotion, which requires a lot of concentration.
MAY 27, 2015
The workshop was led by dance artist Lucy Blazheva. In collaboration with other dance and visual artists Lucy is currently working towards an exhibition which will take place in a disused library, now a gallery, next May. She has some concerns about how she will be able to attract and engage an audience in this event. Her concerns overlap with her recent personal experience of moving to a new place. In her new environment she seems to be encountering difficulties to explain to people what contemporary dance is and more specifically what she does. So her workshop was a way of sharing and exploring this with the group through conversation and movement.
We started in pairs, imagining hypothetical scenarios, where artists would need to introduce themselves. Taking turns one would talk, the other listen. Lucy gave the listener instructions of how to react to prompt more articulate explanations from their partners.
We discussed what we observed in each other when we tried to explain or sell an idea. This was then translated into a movement duet.
Lucy then gave us some words she had taken from dance job descriptions, like ‘act the part’, ‘problem solving’, ‘thought-provoking’ or ‘detailed’. These were interpreted and incorporated in some way into the emerging duets.
The group reflected on some questions that had emerged in this process and to which different people had quite individual responses to:
- Was there any pleasure in this kind of conversation?
- What sort of relationship are you seeking?
- Does your personal voice come through and how?
- Is time pressure an important factor in this?
- Does how you talk reflect how you create?
- How did you feel about transitioning from a conversation into movement?
- Did it clarify some things you discovered about ourselves or was it forced?
Contemporary dance still seems a mystery to a lot of people, requiring its practitioners to be attentive and explain things that might be common knowledge in other art forms.
APRIL 8, 20
This session was led by choreographer Laura McGill. She codirects ‘Glasshouse’ with fellow choreographer Sarah Lewis, a dance company based in Norwich. Laura and Sarah are interested in making work that is performed in the street and other non-conventional locations. They are concerned with human issues, inviting their audiences to recognise the familiar and to connect with the individual performers through telling stories. They are less interested in spectacle.
The workshop was an opportunity for Laura to revisit the process of making their first site-specific work entitled ‘You, Me and Everybody Else’. This piece has a cast of performers of different age groups, jointly telling the story of a couple’s journey. Laura explained that she likes to use the same creative tasks with professional dancers, actors or untrained performers:
1) Moving around in a group, shake hands, say ‘I really like you’, then repeat and develop without words
2) In partners, one is trying to look away, while the other is trying to catch their partner’s attention
3) In partners, both are trying to touch each other, but they can’t, then they try to pull away from each other but they can’t
Some reflections that came up in the group:
- I really enjoyed being unselfconsciously physical, not thinking about my movements
- It was nice to be able to make choices of how physical to be
- I most enjoyed the pauses, when people took a moment to think about what to do next
- I really liked to slow down to create some intense energy between two body parts without touching
- There were moments where we needed to break away otherwise we got to a standstill
Laura explained that during the performances of ‘You, Me and Everybody Else’, she felt that the middle section, a part where the couple is going through a crisis, didn’t communicate with the audience as well as the first section danced by the youngest and the last section danced by the older couple. Laura wondered whether the darker side of the troubled relationship was something that the audience perhaps recognised but not enjoyed watching. The humour that they had created in the studio didn’t seem to translate so well in the real performance.
We started to talk about complexity and nuance, and how that might be counter-productive in a site-specific context. It might be more powerful to stick to simplicity when naturally there is so much competition from what else is happening in the environment.
‘Glasshouse’ has also just been commissioned by Suffolk Art Link to create a new performance piece for residential care homes. The work will have a participatory element, and it is anticipated that some of the audience members might have dementia. This is a new challenge for Laura, so she also wanted to run a few of her initial ideas and concerns by us. Some shared some of their own experiences of working with people with learning disabilities and physical impairments:
- Keep things simple and direct
- Resist the temptation to wanting to refine and craft the work in detail, when it might not be beneficial to the work and distract from the performers
- Think about how performers will remember or might not remember material. The suggestion was made to always spend some time sharing the material created by individual performers with the whole group. This would be a way to build a common body of knowledge that also allows the choreographer to hold onto and develop materials when working in unpredictable conditions; people might not attend regularly, or physically not be able to repeat what they did before. Or become very frustrated with their changing health conditions.
- Stay open to what is happening in the moment
- Develop some strategies to shape the overall composition that keeps the performers’ own stories at its centre.
FEBRUARY 18, 2015:
Filmmaker Kate Flurrie and choreographer Tom Hobden led the second workshop. We were also joined by two young boys from his dance group Boys United and Di Gooding and Alexandra Carter from DanceEast's Elderberries project for older dancers.
Tom and Kate are in the process of setting up a new dance company whose members belong to different age groups and have differing levels of experiences with dance. They are keen to question conventional assumptions related to 'intergenerational dance', and have taken inspiration from Candoco, one of the UK's leading contemporary dance companies, for placing disabled dancers firmly on the map. They have also been influenced by 'Kiss & Cry', a performance by Belgium based Charleroi Danses at the Barbican last year.
Tom and Kate began the workshop by asking us to observe the relationships that emerge when people dance together. And to question whether these were all just down to the individuals' personalities or whether we might fall into typical roles when we work with someone older or younger?
Sharing a point of contact: Connecting forearms, one is leading the other through the space, than swapping roles, then swapping partners
Finding empty spaces: One dancing freely, the other moving into the empty spaces in between the first dancer's movements, staying closely together, then swapping roles
After participating in and watching each other initial observations emerged:
- Some felt they fell at times into expected roles such as ‘looking after’, ‘slowing down for the other’, ‘ being careful with giving weight’, others didn't feel that way, ‘we connected and took off’
- Some enjoyed simply watching different people’s physicalities working together, i.e. a tall man and young boy, 'something you don't get to see very often'
- Some enjoyed making up their own interpretations of relationships, i.e. between a young boy and an older women, making connections with their own emotional lives, ‘I knew what this was about as soon as I saw it'
- More questions emerged about the influence of music in this process, most thought music contributed a lot to how people responded to the tasks
- Questions emerged about how to introduce a narrative, whether this could create a better entry point for the dancers and audiences or whether it could be counter-productive
- Other discussions developed about how to establish a more intensive creative process when working with a group of people who all have mixed experiences with dance, and about the importance of paying and contracting all dancers
DECEMBER 17, 2014:
Fine artist Juan Guearra-Valiente and choreographer Stephanie Schober led this first workshop for the group, exploring portraiture through movement and drawing.
Filling in: Outline your partner who is filling in his or her own outline
Wrapping: Share a piece of paper to wrap around body parts and trace 3D outlines
Capturing: Record the movements and outlines of people dancing on paper
Exchanges of practice