So I joined wordpress one year ago today. Happy Birthday little blog.
I started off strong, with regular blogs but definitely tailed off and got distracted, probably by a nice telly programme. But what have I been up to in actual life?
I have created a duet with Hannah Pickett that I am proud of. We have performed ALL THIS TALK twice and it definitely has the potential to develop further, we just need a spot of time and cash (those very old chestnuts). We had some lovely feedback at the two events we performed at, the BDN PRESENTS… scratch event in July and the MOTUS dance scratch event in October.
See below for more photos from this event.
In April I did a wonderful week’s residency at Halsway Manor in Somerset, learning folk dance and performing some gorgeous folk-contemporary works with emerging artists Daisy Farris and Zoe Francis, along with course leaders Clare Parker and Kerry Fletcher. It’s definitely something I’d like to pick up again, but sadly the old men with beards stereotype has slightly hampered its popularity and so classes are rather scarce. The beards though, Brighton? You know you’d love it.
2014 was a brilliant year for seeing dance, courtesy of a new position as a dance reviewer for bachtrack.com. Particular highlights were watching Les SlovaKs: Opening Night, which was so unashamedly joyful I ended up in tears and whooping at the end. Another excellent experience was watching the legendary Louise Lecavalier perform So Blue, the first work she has fully choreographed. My GOD, that woman can do a good headstand.
Another exciting thing I’ve been up to is learning Acroyoga. Taught in Brighton by the lovely Eugene and Pip, I’ve never had so much fun on a Friday night. And I am learning to do real handstands, not just the go-upside-down-and-hope type that I learnt when I was four. Turns out learning the proper technique for something ACTUALLY WORKS! Incredible. If this sounds exciting, check them out on facebook.
So, 2015, what have you got in store?
I’ll get back to you on that one, hopefully sooner than in a year’s time. In the meantime, if you got to the end of this rather self-indulgent post, thanks!
As a cash-strapped, overdraft-ridden postgrad, keeping up dance training seems to become increasingly tricky as time and money continue to be elusive little blighters. So to address this pretty common problem for arts people everywhere, here are five ways that I cheat the system and keep dancing for cheap…
1. Collaborate Creating work is hard as an artist on your own, so find a friend to share the load – and split the cash… I recently worked with Richard Hames, a composer from the Royal Academy of Music on a dance/music collaborative work. It was great to work with a composer, as I got a new insight into how choreography can be influenced by artists from other fields. Working outside the normal dance community, with a non-dancer as my outside eye, gave me a fresh perspective on my choreography and challenged me in new ways. Rehearsing at the academy also meant fantastic resources for free, and a beautiful performance venue – always handy. The work was performed in a couple of locations and I really enjoyed the process – creating a solo could have been a very lonely pursuit but collaborating gave me much-needed support and lots of new ideas.
2. Commit yourself It’s hard sometimes to drag yourself to class. Excuses like, too tired, too busy, too poor, can very easily make going to a regular class seem like an impossible task. I decided this term that to get the most out of the classes available (run by Brighton Dance Network) I’d book a bunch in advance and pay up front. It hurts just a little, then after that there are weekly classes that you absolutely must go to because if you don’t you are LOSING MONEY. I don’t really need to say any more.
3. Audition Auditions sometimes suck, and sometimes they get you a job. But they are always free classes with challenging material to get your limbs around, and challenge the synapses in picking it up on the spot. Admittedly, depending on location, the free class can cost a hefty sum in travel expenses; but getting a day return to Amsterdam is one hell of an adventure, so why not just try it. Disclaimer: I’ve never actually done that. But maybe I will…
4. Don’t save it for the studio One of the big issues with dance, whether in an established company or not, is that good rehearsal space is hard to come by. Even successful companies have to improvise, with harlequin dance floor on top of playmats being the most ingenious solution I’ve heard of (Vincent Dance Theatre, I salute you). Because of this, we can’t afford to be choosy with when and where dance has to happen.
I practise arabesques in my kitchen, improvise in front of the bedroom mirror and have solo headphone discos while walking to work. It probably looks a bit weird, but as a contemporary dancer, isn’t that the dream?
5. And if you can’t dance… Write. Draw. Watch. Discuss. I sometimes realise I get so caught up on finding the next performance or rehearsal opportunity, I forget that dance is a spectator art, and I can be a spectator too. So I blog about it, I go to performances, I choreograph with words and create in my head. It is so satisfying to be engaged in this way, and it is a reminder that to be a dancer is a way of thinking, not just of moving. Try it, it’s lovely.
Sunday was the first rehearsal in a while in creating our piece currently titled Ready/Everything. It was a productive session that provoked a few thoughts on the nature of choreographic processes.
“Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something” – Thomas Edison
After having some briefer rehearsal periods of an hour or so, working quickly on just one or two ideas, it was refreshing to get down to a meaty 4 hour session. The idea was to come up with lots of material and see where that could take us; coming into the studio I think our brains had all been a bit stuck in the previous thought processes from other rehearsals. A bit of an overview about the piece: we are working with ideas of text as a way of creating scores and material. These can be in the form of spatial orientation, rhythms, instructions or a feeling explored. In my experience, creating work with scores and rules can be very sticky and halting, until somehow the rules either finally make sense or are thrown out completely.
From here onwards the creative process feels a bit like the second half of a Shakespeare comedy; all the loose ends and misunderstandings are resolved, and it all falls into place in lightning speed.
In our piece, we are definitely still in the chaos of Act One.
So on Sunday, chance played a part slightly as the maps and written rules were left on a bed by accident, meaning we had to start from a different angle. Instead of being beholden to certain structures and fixed text, we rolled a couple of words around our bodies and picked the most interesting ones to play with. Sometimes you have to just be kind to yourself. It is quite a provoking question really – when you allow yourself to break these self-imposed rules in order to get some movement created quickly and relatively easily, does that compromise your original artistic idea? Or is it simply a way of shaking off tension and coming at it from another angle? I don’t know, but just for the sake of my own sanity I’m going to say it’s probably OK.
The Power of Three
To add to the slightly confusing creative process, we are creating this work as a collective effort with no lead choreographer. In case you missed the very subtle clue in the company title, there are three of us involved. This has created a slightly odd balance in terms of decision-making; while three people seems rather a lot when each of us has a slightly conflicting view on something, it’s really not quite enough for one of us to assume leadership and become the decision maker. This often results in lots of “Oh your idea is very lovely but maybe we could do it like this….if you want?” which is not the most productive way of working.
Thankfully, Chloe took direct action this week and suggested that we split the rehearsal into three, giving us a chance to each make the decisions and direct for a while. If you take quantity as a sign of success, it worked pretty well, as we created nearly 7 minutes of completely new material and managed to edit this into a roughstructure. This is certainly a way to continue working for future rehearsals as it makes much more efficient use of time. In the present arts world where a dancer is also choreographer, director and administrator for their company, it is a lovely thing just to find a small way of making things run a little smoother.
Have you faced similar problems in the studio, and how have you overcome them? Let me know in the comments section below!
Last night I went to see a new dance theatre work, 2:1, by Kansaze Dance. Created by company director Rachael Nanyonjo and writer Emma Dennis-Edwards, 2:1 is a part play, part contemporary dance work that explores themes of gender, power and relationships from the perspective of arts graduates Alex (girl) and Alex (boy). The work follows the two characters from graduation, through job interviews, relationship worries and doubts about the future; the parallel paths show how many of their actions are shaped and influenced by gender stereotyping and traditional expectations of men and women. The piece is written from a feminist perspective, using real stories and experiences from the lives of the two female writers.
2:1 is a funny and touching work which highlights problems young people encounter in the struggle to fulfil ambitions of being rich, or to be “the woman my parents always wanted me to be”. These ambitions, often said straight to the audience, start the work off, and recur throughout, getting steadily less ambitious until at the end of the work Alex hopes that in the future she’ll be “living, not just surviving”. This constant redressing of hopes and dreams was a painfully accurate portrayal of the thoughts many graduates go through, and a recognition of what gets left behind when life isn’t witnessed through semesters and grade boundaries any more. While this was often quite uncomfortable (particularly watching the piece as a twenty-something arts graduate, I suppose I am their target market), it was often painfully funny. A particularly simple but beautifully realised idea was a solo section where dancer Chloe Bishop read a ridiculously lengthy and demanding person specification for an unpaid arts internship, with a slightly frantic dance solo to accompany. The fact that almost every audience member seemed to be laughing in recognition highlighted the sad fact that arts graduates are too used to doing work for free, and accepting it as an essential part of building experience. This alone, without the themes of gender, is a weighty topic which while approached lightly, gets under the skin and hasn’t quite left yet.
While some sections of the piece are light, the tone is straightforward and serious when dealing with issues of gender and the treatment of women. In a scene describing an incident where Alex is spiked by a stranger and blacks out on a night out, the text and movement becomes fragmented, showing an outer appearance of being grateful “nothing really happened”, and also highlighting the inner feeling that actually, feeling lucky about not being sexually assaulted on a night out is not acceptable. The portrayal of Alex all but apologising for even being shaken by this behaviour highlights its everyday presence in student and nightclub culture, making it so much more shocking.
The piece as a whole manages to span the genres of theatre and dance comfortably without compromising either; however occasionally I felt there was a lot of text where movement could have demonstrated the same idea in a shorter time and in a subtler fashion. The inner feelings of the characters, for example, were often fairly obvious and didn’t need to be made explicit in words. A moment where a simple statement is then contradicted and torn apart by a long, tense dance solo shows where the relationship between text and movement can really work. The creators of 2:1 want to tour the work in the future; I hope they are able to continue to develop what is already a very strong piece into a great one.
I recently attended a Contact Improvisation jam in Brighton, and I must admit it was my first real experience of contact improv without being in university. It was a noticeably different experience, one that provoked thoughts of how this particular dance should be arrived at.
I began to take regular contact classes at MA level, having previously learnt it as part of other improvisation workshops but never as its own entity, I found it an exciting but challenging skill to develop.
For me, classes were fraught with a tension that I could never really get past; that of apparently having the freedom to let go of the idea of “right or wrong” movements, but still being aware that I was being marked and assessed on technical ability. I always felt like I was just missing out on some tantalising, deep discovery that the form seemed to promise.
Skipping forward what feels like a horribly long time, I finally find myself in a room where all participants are here to enjoy the practice for what it is: a playful, relaxing and energising dance that emphasises the importance of caring and looking after one another, and not just in the confines of the studio.
I went with a friend and fellow dancer, Hannah, and the jam allowed us to explore our first real contact duet together. As well as being a space to get to know how our bodies move together (answer: on that particular day, lots of jumping on each other and falling over), it was a way of communicating and just enjoying each others’ company. This element of contact improv was really highlighted by the presence of a mother and son (aged around four), who had never done any contact before but came as it seemed like a nice Sunday afternoon activity! Everyone welcomed this young member of the group and he spent a lot of time being thrown in the air – not quite literally – and brought a feeling of warmth and a lot of giggling to the session.
This combination of a supportive atmosphere and the opportunity to see the session through a child’s perspective made me think that, despite my own occasionally stressful experience of contact classes, it is a practice that would be welcomed in education much earlier than university. Contact improvisation can be seen as a conversation where listening and responding to each other is of vital importance. We all need to be cared for and carried once in a while; why not introduce this as an everyday activity in education? A lunchtime jam with optional jam sandwiches. I definitely think that when a dance can be so much fun, it’s a shame to save it for university when every action is taken with the words continual assessment in the back of everyone’s minds. Or was that just me…