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Probe in rehearsal for Running On Empty. Image © Zoe Manders

Blog

The Hiccup Project - Snap Shot

Wednesday, 01 July 2015 16:12

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Image from MAY-WE-GO-ROUND? by The Hiccup Project © Jamie Christos.

We selected this image from our debut work MAY-WE-GO-ROUND? because it shouts 'energy'. In this image, we are exploding around the stage as alpha-males, in a section we call 'Lads'. This image captures some of the high energy and impact we deliver in this piece, as we fling ourselves around the space. This is one of many short 'sketches' that weave together to make the work.

MAY-WE-GO-ROUND? is a collision of fiercely energetic dance and comedic theatre. Chess recently discovered her diary from the age of 10, devoted entirely to the detailed records of her many loves. Years later, the ones we lust after still take a dis-proportionately large chunk of our talking time and mental space (even if we don't like to admit it!). We jangle through the merry-go-round of romance, taking audiences along for the bitter-sweet ride. The work is an insight into our romantic encounters, swinging wildly between hilarious truths and intimate vulnerabilities. We open a window into being a 20-something female - relaying our enthralling, sometimes heart-wrenching anecdotes and experiences. The piece is playing out the idea that it's also important to step back, take these romantic encounters with a pinch of salt and resort to that safe harbour of friendship.

The very nature of the work poses exciting risks and challenges for us as performers. We are presenting ourselves on stage, delivering and sharing these real situations to an audience. We are aiming to create dance-theatre that doesn't compromise the quality and integrity of either art form, but communicates, stimulates and excites audiences using a potent fusion of both mediums. We are keen to not be pinned to either category, and are hoping our work is helping create a new genre. We are ambitious in wanting to create innovative work that treads on this precarious line between the genres.

After our five-night sell out at Emporium Theatre as part of Brighton Fringe, we were delighted to win the South East Dance 'Space To Dance' Award, it was such a brilliant recognition of our work and has given us real excitement and belief for the future of MAY-WE-GO-ROUND? and our development as a company. The work also won the Fringe Review Award for Outstanding Theatre.

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The Hiccup Project comprises Chess Dillon-Reams and Cristina MacKerron, originally from and now based in Brighton, currently planning a tour for MAY-WE-GO-ROUND? this autumn.

Website: www.thehiccupproject.com
Facebook: /thehiccupproject
Twitter: @thehiccupproj
 

A Critical Friend

Wednesday, 01 July 2015 16:11

Portrait of Lou Cope
Image © Zoe Manders.

Written by Lou Cope and Becky Edmunds

We have launched our new Dramaturg in Residence (DiR) Programme - a first for us, a pioneering project in the UK dance world, and an extremely exciting development.

While dance houses and agencies in Europe and the US have long been committed to the benefit and value of working with dramaturgs, the UK is only now just beginning to fully embrace the potential.

A number of new schemes and collaborations are springing up in various parts of the UK, and South East Dance hopes to lead and support these developments with this bold and innovative new initiative.

The DiR Programme has four main objectives:

1. To ensure that all dance artists in the South East and beyond understand the role of dramaturgy and the dramaturg

2. To enable more and more artists, whether emerging or established, to work with a dramaturg, embrace dramaturgical thinking and investigate its potential value to their own practice

3. To explore the concept of bringing dramaturgical practice to South East Dance, as an organisation and as a team of artist supporters

4. To champion and advocate for dramaturgy as a valuable creative practice

Funded by Jerwood Charitable Foundation, this programme will be able to be accessed by artists in a variety of ways. Firstly, we will be running two TEST weekend intensives, where artists will be able to join our first resident dramaturg, Lou Cope, in exploring methodologies, consider how best to collaborate with a dramaturg and to experience hands on dramaturgical coaching. Artists will gain a better understanding of the impact dramaturgy might have on their work and gain confidence in the principles of 'self-dramaturgy' that can be applied beyond the intensive weekend.

In the COLLABORATE strand, artists will be able to apply for between two and ten days of dramaturgical support during the creation of new work for national/international distribution. Artists will have the option of applying to work with the Dramaturg in Residence or a dramaturg of their choice. We would like this strand to remain as flexible as possible, responding directly to need.

In addition to these outputs, there is a further strand called EMBED. Within this part of the programme Lou will be working directly within South East Dance, supporting not only the artists that we will be working with through our ChoreoLABs, scratch nights, commissions and supported artist programmes, but also working with our programming team to clarify, research and interpret curatorial themes and choices, and collaborate with our communications team to help us better frame the way we communicate with audiences and participants.

Our hope is that EMBED will instigate change within the organisation, but change can be difficult, upending and risky. So much will be changing at South East Dance over the coming years with the opening of The Dance Space. A new building will enable us to significantly increase our offer to artists and the local community and to engage with people in new and inventive ways. The support of an outside voice, who will enable us to consider all of the potential that this new stage in the life of South East Dance has to offer, will be invaluable in helping us to push the boundaries of what is expected of this organisation. We are looking forward to Lou questioning the work that we do, with all of the characteristic rigour that she brings to the dramaturgical process, and we hope that the inevitable change that the process will bring will benefit all who come into contact with South East Dance, whether they be artist, audience or participant.

A word from Dramaturg In Residence Lou Cope:

As a performance dramaturg, I've worked with artists at all stages of their careers. From artists whose award winning shows tour globally for years, to fresh graduates just beginning to explore their signature and find their way in the industry.

And though there is enormous and endless variety in the ways people work, the shows they create and their requirements of me – there are a few basic beliefs that I guess we all share.

We all believe that articulating a vision, intuition or idea leads to clarity that can be useful to the maker, their performers, their producers and their audiences.

We believe that having 'a critical friend' on the outside of the inside, someone who's made it their business to understand process, structure and how art is made and received, can help an artist see the work they are making for what it is, rather than what they meant it to be.

We believe that work should be tested and that audiences should be vocal in rehearsal processes.

We believe that attempts at objectivity, in the personal, fragile and subjective world of making art, can keep us on our toes, and that our audiences deserve that.

And we believe that having someone 'onside' to support, challenge and extend both process and product, to offer honest and sometimes uncomfortable feedback, always with the aim of 'helping a show be all it can be'- is a GOOD THING.

Getting it right while not playing it safe is more important than ever in these times of cuts and cash-strapped audiences, and offering artists dramaturgical support is a fantastic way to try to ensure that happens.

The establishment of the Dramaturg in Residence programme is an act of belief. Belief in the choreographers active both regionally and nationally, and their ability to engage critically and openly in the development of their own practice, and a belief that together – SED, the artist and the dramaturg - we can consolidate our work, push forward and make some truly great shows!

It's an incredibly exciting time for dance in the region as this and a number of other SED initiatives take off, and the much-needed, long-awaited Dance Space becomes a reality. I'm hugely excited to be a part of it all and I look forward to working with many of you along the way.
 

Edinburgh Fringe - What Do You Risk?

Wednesday, 01 July 2015 16:08

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Image from Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me) by Lost Dog © Zoe Manders.

Written by Ben Duke, Artistic Director of Lost Dog


This August I am performing a one man show I have created at the Edinburgh festival. It is called Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me). It is an attempt at staging Milton's epic 80,000 word poem in 70 minutes.

What do you risk?

I risk failure. In this case I think failure would look like this – a slightly desperate, financially ruined, middle aged man dressed like God performing to a crowd of three people who came in hoping I was in some way connected to Paradise Lost, the UK gothic rock band. Success looks surprisingly similar only there are more people watching.

But actually that image of failure is not so frightening. I am used to small audiences, an ever present feeling of desperation and financial embarrassment. I think what scares me is that these symptoms trigger something more profound, something biblical. It is a large disembodied hand which writes on the wall of the dressing room 'You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting'. I think most performers have a version of this hand, some are probably more modest, a note on a napkin maybe that just says, 'has anyone found you out yet?'. They both amount to the same thing, a sense that out there, there is some kind of universal authority that knows you are not good enough. The psychotherapist would say my sense of inadequacy comes from within. Either way, be it a disembodied hand or a microbe in my gut, it is hard to fight, and usually I would choose not to. If I saw the hand preparing to write that phrase I would enter into a series of deflecting tactics that would make it disappear. My two favourites are to blame the performers or to blame the lack of time. Or both. The excuses not only deflect - they also make me feel better. They build up this idea that my process is so complicated that it is only with a few incredibly gifted people and months of time to spare that I am able to create anything half decent. But for this show my excuses are worthless. I am the only performer and if I can't make sense of my own contradictory choreographic instructions then no one can and also I've had plenty of time. Plenty. So this is why Edinburgh is risky. Because if it goes badly there are no excuses. There is no one else to blame. This is all about me.

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Image from Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me) by Lost Dog © Zoe Manders.

I am choosing to express myself. But the medium in which I am choosing to do that means I am asking for judgement. Today there are much easier ways to publicly express oneself. The internet for example. It is so easy to express yourself publicly that there is no time to consider the world's need for what it is you are expressing. The picture of your dog licking its balls is sent before you really considered the pros and cons of sharing that with the world. Were I the owner of that dog, and I wanted to share that particular moment with the world, I would be considering how to turn it into a piece of theatre. And because it would take me a great deal of time and money to create that piece of theatre, (rehearsal space, performers, designers to design and build the animatronic dog, or maybe a highly trained dog that could perform the licking at a precise moment, but then that dog would come with a dog wrangler who would be expensive to tour with... etc) I would have plenty of time to consider if this was a piece of theatre the world needed to see. And if I decided that it was I am making a presumption that other people should see this. If I'd just sent the picture via Instagram the presumption is a lot less. Non-existent even because it was done so quickly. And so if people abuse me and my picture I am immune to their criticism because I just did it for a laugh, it doesn't say anything about me, if you hate it what do I care? But the piece of theatre is not done so easily; it is a commitment and because of that it is saying 'This is me, and my dog, and I want you to see it because I think it has the potential to make your day better than it would otherwise have been'. And so if then people hate it I cannot deflect their criticism by saying it's not me, I don't care, because it is me, and I do care.

So that is the end of my risk assessment. I feel better for it. I have outlined the worst case scenario and it looks like this... It is August 30th and I am sitting in a makeshift dressing room in Summerhall, there is a disembodied hand writing on the dressing room wall and I am setting up an Instagram account and trying to buy a dog. It could be much worse.

You can catch Ben Duke in Lost Dog's Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me) from 5 – 30 August at Summerhall, as part of Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Website: www.lostdogdance.co.uk
Facebook: /lostdogdance
Twitter: @lostdogdance


 

Q&A with Dick Knight

Wednesday, 01 July 2015 16:06

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Image © Paul Hazlewood.

To many people in Brighton & Hove, Dick Knight is a 'legend'. He was Chairman of Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club between 1997 and 2009, and was instrumental in turning around the fortunes of the club. Against all the odds, he oversaw the creation and led the long and ultimately successful campaign for the American Express Community Stadium in Falmer; an invaluable asset to the city and local community, and a sure sign of his steadfast belief in taking risks to achieve something worthwhile. Dick is a champion of South East Dance and our ambitions to create The Dance Space in his home town of Brighton & Hove.

If you could describe yourself in three words, what would they be?

Enthusiastic. Determined. Risk-taker (the latest example being that I'm using four words).

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

A Spitfire pilot.

Tell us a formative memory from your childhood?

During World War 2, when I was very young, my mother was due to take me for a medical appointment at midday one day at Brighton Children's Clinic, by Circus Street, about 50 yards from where The Dance Space will be located. When we got there the Clinic had that morning taken a direct hit from a German bomber, with many people killed.

That's another reason why I want The Dance Space built.

What has been your biggest disappointment?

Standing down as Chairman of the Albion.

What trait do you most admire in others?

Trustworthiness.

What is your favourite word?

Imagine.

If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be?

Presenting advertising campaigns to corporate bosses on the 56th Floor of the Pan Am (one of my clients) Building in New York. I used to love it.

What is the greatest risk you've ever taken?

Starting up my own London advertising agency against the big guns, with a mortgage, wife and two small kids to support.

Have you ever regretted taking a risk?

Many people thought we would never win the battle for the new community stadium in Brighton after years of Planning problems and Public Inquiries, but although they were sometimes frazzled, I never lost my nerve because I believed in such a worthwhile cause.

What lesson should all young people learn?

Get the best education you can, show enthusiasm for whatever you want to be, and never give up if you have set-backs.

What is your earliest memory of dance?

Watching American GIs doing the jitterbug during World War 2. When I was a teenager I used to execute a mean Mambo on Saturday nights at the Regent Ballroom in Brighton.

What does dance mean to you now?

Exhilaration, expression, energy.

How do you want to be remembered?

As someone who gave something back to our community.

Where is your favourite place in Brighton?

The American Express Community Stadium.

(Because it's not a blot on the landscape as the doomsayers predicted, but a stunning and vibrant affirmation of our 21st century forward-thinking city.)

How do you like to unwind?

Watching football, but not the Albion - that's a different kind of tense, bittersweet pleasure!
 

The Thrills and Spills of Flying

Wednesday, 01 July 2015 15:32

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Image from European Aerial Dance Festival 2013 © Zoe Manders.

Would you mind beginning by introducing yourself to those who do not know you and your work?

I'm Lindsey Butcher, a freelance dancer, aerialist and Artistic Director of aerial dance company Gravity & Levity.

How would you describe Aerial Dance in three words?

Exhilarating, challenging and spatially discombobulating. I know that's four!

What first got you interested in Aerial work?

I've always been happy clambering around on things; trees, ropes etc., but my introduction to aerial circus skills came about by chance when the dance company I was with asked me to learn a web spin, (a traditional aerial rope act) for a new production.

That was around 28 years ago and I haven't stopped since.

How has it changed since you started?

There was no formal aerial circus training when I started, no schools, courses or festivals to attend. I joined a new circus company called 'Ra-Ra Zoo' and learnt my juggling, acrobatic and aerial skills on the road.

I love how much more accessible the aerial world is now to people across all levels, from enthusiast to professional and its increasing recognition and growing popularity.

Is it as terrifying as it looks?

Generally speaking no, because it's about how we structure the training to match the level of experience and ability but it obviously connect us in a very visceral manner to our deep rooted instincts and fear of falling and equally our dreams of flying.

There have been times, (for example when dancing in harness on the side of a tall building) that I've experienced the heart stopping, gut churning queasiness that makes me question what I do for a living, but then the training, trust in the equipment and rigging team and the sheer exhilaration of flying kicks in and I feel privileged to be able to explore these places and spaces.

At these times, I think it also gives me a different perspective and relationship to the world we inhabit. I find myself looking up more. Noticing the beautiful building above the shop front, the spaces between buildings, the undersides of bridges and the hidden spaces last seen by the builder.

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Image from European Aerial Dance Festival 2013 © Zoe Manders.

How do you even begin to think about the risks involved?

It's interesting to me that when you look up the definition for risk it says 'danger and endanger' but also 'possibility and chance'.

It's about finding a balance.

Within my own practise I'm looking to take risks, to push, to ask questions and create new possibilities whilst at the same time working hard to anticipate and reduce actual physical risk.

To support our 'risk taking' I gather around me a team of people I trust implicitly, sometimes with my life, which is not to say that I absolve myself from that responsibility - self-preservation and looking out for others comes pretty high up on the list of desirable qualities in my colleagues.

Your practise doesn't quite feel like it sits within the usual trope of Aerial work – how have you come to where you are now?

Of course sometimes I love being 'aerial' just for the sake of it – the thrill and altered perspective; but what keeps me interested and exploring this marriage of dance combined with aerial skills is asking 'why go up?'. What narrative or emotion can I engage with better here than anywhere else or through any other medium?

Are there more boundaries to be pushed / risks to take?

Absolutely. Aerial dance is still in its relative infancy. I think we're only just beginning to discover the possibilities and how it can inform and be informed by other art forms.

How do you see your role in furthering the form?

I'm interested in providing opportunities for people to engage with aerial dance and in offering access to high quality training across all levels and abilities.

Also to look for what's currently missing in the sector in terms of training and experience: pointing people in the direction of good technical training, facilitating creative labs, offering access to specialist injury prevention/conditioning classes and understanding of practical anatomy. Basic practical rigging knowledge and creating further training and support networks for the aerial teachers already out there to help build our aerial dance community whilst continuing to pursue my own creative curiosity through Gravity & Levity's live performance work.

Where would you like to see Aerial Dance in ten years' time?

I'd love to see it being offered as an option in formal dance education, to see kids being introduced to aerial dance as creative play, to see it being used as creative therapy at all ages and abilities.

Aerial dance can be about high-level athletic ability, empowerment, space for creative expression, I could go on... but it can also just be really good fun.

Where can we go if we want to find out more?

Come to this years' European Aerial Dance Festival, held at the Corn Exchange here in Brighton. There are 28 courses to choose from over the week, across all levels from complete beginner to advanced professional and some of the finest aerial teaching talent from around the world.

It's a great way to begin exploring the art form, make new contacts and challenge your notions about what aerial dance is and can be.

For more information, CLICK HERE or contact Lindsey directly on This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

We'd love to see you there.
 

What do you get if you cross an artist with an office?

Wednesday, 01 July 2015 14:59

I am the artist in residence working in the South East Dance office for a couple of weeks, researching for my new project.

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Image © Antonia Grove.

These are some of the things on my mind...

Scientific and technological advancement is moving at an overwhelming pace. The sheer volume of information we are bombarded with daily produces added pressure... increased demands, time filled, empty space taken, peace and quiet a problem, finding stillness difficult, and we all seem to have this constantly expanding online presence...

It's exhausting just thinking.

This has lead me to question if those intimate and personal moments are disappearing in this rapidly evolving universe...

Upon my arrival at the South East Dance offices I felt immediately compelled to re-appropriate some words from Star Wars. I stuck the following up on the wall:

Turmoil has
engulfed the office.
Art is crumbling under
attacks by a ruthless rebel
force, and a band of workers
are struggling to restore freedom
to their projects. They lead a desperate
mission to rescue art from certain doom.
Overwhelmed and spiritually undernourished,
they are pursued by greed and overstimulation.
Evil is everywhere. And there are heroes on both sides.
Attempts to flee the besieged or to halt progress have been
thwarted, and plans have been found uncovering secretconstructions
of new and even more powerful breakthroughs in business planning and
cashflow forecasts. There is more than enough information to destroy the
entire artform. While the management endlessly debate this alarming chain of
events, another director, in an office far far away, has secretly dispatched an angel,
an office guru, to assist the overwhelmed with the conflict.

So the Angel of Art says we must plough forwards in the name of creativity. It is most definitely NOT dead... (apparently we have a few years left before computers overtake our processing capacity and we begin enhancing our brain function with silicon).

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Image © Zoe Manders.

This is undoubtedly a worthy endeavor, but it is not without potential peril. Here is what we risk daily in the struggle against the rebel forces:

Loss of hope

                faith

                     love of art

Becoming too serious...

Being unable to take risks, make mistakes, allow ourselves to fall down, fail, embarrass ourselves, make a mess, be foolish, try new things out...

Being unable to keep the love going, get excited, praise ourselves, praise each other, celebrate...

Being unable to be enticing, entertaining, interesting, satisfying...

We will get sore backs,

                      sore necks,

                             sore wrists

hunched shoulders, curved spines, crumpled fingers, tense thumbs, red eyes, reprogrammed brains from working with so much technology...

We will feel increasingly under pressure, stressed out, tired, lethargic, grumpy, overwhelmed, anxious...

We will lose our relationship to nature and to the ground...

We will forget how to use our memories...

We will forget what it is we are doing, why we are doing it and then not know how to do it anymore...

We will forget how to have a conversation, look each other in the eyes...

We will get constantly distracted, bored, fidgety, restful, hungry for change...

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Image © Zoe Manders.

In an attempt to combat these symptoms, which are surely fatal to creativity, I have begun a series of 'experiments' with the staff at South East Dance! I wasn't completely sure how the residency would work, would I be able to write and make material for my next project in the office? I wanted to make that possible, but I felt that I first needed to inject artistic practice into the office.

I know as an artist that I feel bombarded by the quantity of information I am required to absorb, reject and digest, overwhelmed by demands on my capability to adapt and change at the same rate as technological advancement, and a responsibility to create work that communicates with people on both an intimate and universal level. Since our brains seem to be gradually becoming rewired and our communication skills changing due to increased dependence on the internet, I know that creativity has a responsibility to adapt and respond.

I set up an art desk for the staff to use, which is beginning to produce some lovely responses!

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Images © Zoe Manders.

At the moment I am gathering together texts from an exercise I gave them entitled 'Help Me'. And I look forward to gathering their worksheets on 'worry' and 'well done you!' I have also proposed a no shoes and socks day to embrace the barefoot dancer and find a deeper connection with their office carpet!

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Images © Zoe Manders.

At the end of it all I will be sharing some work and having an informal discussion with the whole team.

South East Dance have taken a risk by allowing me into their office to disrupt their space, observe their working patterns and habits, encourage them to allow the practice of making art to always be alive and present within the organisation, to invite creativity into all layers of their activity, and to engage the right side of their brains on a daily basis.

The battle has just begun and, whilst I acknowledge that it is part of a much larger war, we must risk everything we can to restore balance and creativity wherever we can. Surely choosing NOT to would put far, far more at risk.

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Image © Antonia Grove.

Please tweet your ideas and responses to @probeproject @southeastdance #artistinoffice

www.probeproject.com
 

Striding Out Of The Body And Into The Mountain

Thursday, 04 June 2015 00:00

Written by Simone Kenyon

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Image © Simone Kenyon.

Written by Simone Kenyon

I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.
- John Muir

We are all products of our environments according to self-made businessman W. Clement Stone. If that is the case, it should come as no surprise that I often feel between places, straddled across the boundaries of urban and rural geographies.

It is probably no coincidence too that I work with an interdisciplinary curiosity, hesitant to define myself specifically as a maker of dance.

When I was younger I walked everywhere. The council estate where I grew up sat on the brim of farmland and wide skies. I could walk down a small snicket (an alley way or ginnel depending on where you're from) that would act as the threshold into a different sense of time and rhythm.

Walking offered me agency as a child and a teenager. I walked away and into places, looking far out to the horizon and expansive moors. Dancing and walking were the ways I both escaped from, and connected to, the environments around me. I danced into fictional worlds, the inner world of my own body and the aesthetics and techniques that come with the territory. I walked for pleasure and necessity, as I got older it was a free way home at night. I learnt to think through my feet as though in Aristotle's Peripatetic school, only I didn't know about him back then.

The constant reconfiguring of one's understanding, of how to interact with and relate to environments, is a key factor in dance making, whether inside a studio, on a street corner or the side of a mountain. After all, we are always in relation to something or someone or somewhere.

For the best part of 9 years I have most consistently been working with Body Weather as a physical practice. Japanese artist, Min Tanaka, developed this movement training and, to put it very briefly, one of the basic principles is to consider our bodies as ever-changing environments within and in relation to the larger environment which, of course, is also constantly changing. This practice goes beyond producing dance. I could even dare say that it is a philosophical approach rather than just a physical training.

I am part of a small collective that organise workshops in the UK with Body Weather practitioners who come from all corners of the globe. At the beginning of June we will be on the Isle of Eigg off the west coast of Scotland. On June 5th, whilst we are there, it will be World Environment Day. The theme changes yearly, but somewhere in their aims is the belief in individual power to become agents of change.

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Image © Simone Kenyon.

It seems quite apt to be on this off-grid island at this time, with the islanders contributing in to their common goals of living sustainably. As a visitor though, I have to ask myself, what is my contribution to 'the environment' that is not just thinking and talking about change, but actual action? How do dance artists and choreographers create change to environments through our art making? The scale of these questions has often overwhelmed me.

Some time ago I read the collection of essays in, Hope Beneath our Feet, edited by the dancer, Martin Keogh, and more recently Lucy Neal's, Playing for Time, to which I made a small contribution amongst a plethora of artists with 'recipes for action'. These collections remind me to look closely at the details of a practice, and how to explore other approaches that may bring me closer to creating agency and change for myself, and possibly for others. They have encouraged me to start small - and that seems like a good way to get things moving.

In my work, I am still walking: alone, with others, with a variety of intentions or walking with a purpose. I don't name my work as site specific, but I am interested in how the porosity of place can seep into the bones, the muscle memory to inform how you move, feel and interact with both micro and global attentions.

For the past few years I have focused less on performance making and more on facilitating experiences physically. I have lead walks that contain invitations to explore and question how we choose to be in spaces, how we are governed by space in both urban and seemingly 'wild' environments. To a dancer some of the invitations would seem very ordinary, but outside and with other conditions such as changeable weather, textures underfoot, the myriad of information we receive and welcome into our perceptions is multiplied. Our tacit knowledge comes into its own, and I feel like this is the place I want to investigate further. I believe that this small starting point, sensitizing ourselves to our surroundings, can contribute to changes in how we live. Like I say, it's small things but, for me, it's a way to begin thinking about how to work consciously with the environment, with all the problems, the politics and disturbing forecasts.

During the winter this year I began some research for a new project with support of Creative Scotland's Artist Bursary scheme. The work begins with the motivations to explore the mountainous area of the Cairngorms Plateau that Nan Shepherd wrote in her book, The Living Mountain, during the 2nd World War. In her book Nan describes her physical and spiritual relationship to this place through all her senses and physical immersion. I had been working with this book as a guide for another walking project I was doing in the North East of Scotland the year before.

Through this project I was leading walks with experiential invitations for people to explore. I was looking for new perspectives and, beyond the voice of Nan Shepherd, writing and my own accounts of journeys undertaken.

Inside this work is a greater need to connect with others, to stop walking alone and to find common ground and ways of gently collaborating. I began to speak with other women about their experiences of the Cairngorms, trying to find a language that emerged from interests and experiences that could begin a new movement work.

I have so far been in contact with around 70 women who experience this particular environment through many different lenses: from the silent gliders riding with the eagles, to the serious female mountaineers facing mental and physical challenges.

Walking in winter in the Cairngorms certainly offers a new movement vocabulary to acquire. Learning to walk in thigh high snow and 40 mile per hour winds, to move with appendages such as crampons and ice axes across snow brings a whole new relationship to this environment. I look at photos of women from the Scottish Mountaineering Club from the early 1900's and have a greater respect for these women. Often walking in winter relying on so much equipment to stay safe, warm and dry alongside a whole range of other skills of observation and knowledge to stay avalanche safe or to dig yourself a snow hole. To be in these mountains at this time of year is an incredible experience, but there is always part of me that is aware of the extreme power of our environments.

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Image © Simone Kenyon.

At the time of writing this I'm back visiting my family on the estate in Bradford, West Yorkshire. I go past the local shops and I see a few changes. They are small but very significant in this particular landscape. On the shops' shutters are the words HOPE and BELIEVE are written in brightly coloured letters.

I want to leave you with a sense of hope and belief that dance makers, somatic practitioners and movement artists have a huge contribution to make to bringing a sensitivity to the world. To remind you to have a great summer and to do something on June 5th. I encourage you to let the outside in, as a way to feel the small movements that can become larger than the sum of their parts.



BIOGRAPHY

Currently based between Scotland and London, Simone has been working as an artist, performer and producer for the past 15 years working within contexts between Dance, Theatre and work exploring walking and environment.

She has developed a variety of walking/movement/environment based projects for both urban and rural contexts including lead sensory walks and solo long distance walking projects such as The Heilan Way project and the 28 day walking performance with Tamara Ashley for The Pennine Way: the legs that make us. She has worked collaboratively with a number of artists most notably her work with Neil Callaghan. She is also currently training to be a Feldenkrais Practitioner.

www.simonekenyon.com

www.neilandsimone.co.uk

 

Charlotte Spencer - Snap Shot

Tuesday, 02 June 2015 00:00

Written by Charlotte Spencer

june06

Image from Walking Stories by Charlotte Spencer ©Alex Moran.

Selecting a single image that sums up an entire work is always difficult. My recent work, Walking Stories - a group audio walk for parks is no exception. Marketing teams want an image that tells what the experience is that you're offering. So the brief for Walking Stories is something like this: an image that tells you that sometimes you will be together, sometimes you will be on your own, outdoors amongst grass and trees, sometimes active, not if you don't want, fun, thoughtful, quiet, playful. Tricky!

Mostly, I notice that through the course of this hour long piece, the people who come gradually sink into themselves and they leave refreshed, more present, more them. I hope that this beautiful image taken by Alex Moran somehow gives a taste of that presence.

In July 2011 I took a walk from Grenoble out into the mountains. It was during that particular walk that I articulated for myself how useful I found walking as a way of thinking. It sparked the desire to create a work that took people for a walk. And so with the support of a remarkable collection of artists in 2013, we set out to create a digital recipe for a participatory performance: an hour length audio walk, for city parks and green spaces, for a group of people to do together. We wanted it to re-engage people with green spaces; to bring them into a closer relationship with themselves and the landscapes they were passing through; to build community; to take them on a journey; to give space for listening and watching; to give space and opportunity for transformation; to allow excited and energetic people to run and equally allow others to be quiet and still; to encourage people to do things that perhaps they might not normally be comfortable doing, and then realise how lovely those activities are. The edge between performance, performer, spectator, stage and life all get whirled up and no two walks are ever the same. I find facilitating it endlessly fascinating and beautiful to witness. I love knowing that hundreds of people have clambered around inside this walk, each time making it their own.

Sometimes, people say to me 'oh so you're an environmental artist'. Aside from general aversions to being labelled in any kind of category, I'm unsure how to answer. In a time of uncertain economic stability and a rapidly changing natural world, I feel strongly that all people need to be environmentalists. It is therefore important that the entire process of developing my work gives careful consideration to its sustainability - environmentally, economically and socially. Far beyond the content of the work, this is imperative in how the work is rehearsed, constructed, realised and distributed. If the work itself endeavours to enable deeper connection to self, community and natural environments for its audience, then the process of creation needs to endeavour to live by those connections also.

And so, when planning the making of Walking Stories, I decided that in order to be able to take our audience for a walk, we the creators of that walk also needed to take a journey together. A long one. To remain in the landscape and feel the work seeping into us, not just think about it in a 'brainy' way from the bubble of a studio. We took our walk for a cycle, and together the artistic team travelled between each creative residency by bicycle. 3000km, 7 bicycles, 28 panniers, 5 tents, 1 trailer and a sound system. We remained in the landscape, close to the ground. A little community – camping, eating, sleeping and working together.

We experience life most immediately through our body. It constantly reminds us that we are alive, and witnesses and responds to all other life. By inviting people into closer relationships with their moving bodies and with others, hopefully through works like Walking Stories, we can make a contribution to this process of re-connection and change. With a global system that broadly exploits its resources (its people and its land) in search of profits, I feel great need for us take responsibility for ourselves, our communities and our shared space. This can feel like an insurmountable task, but for me creative expression as a means for building connection and community, is an essential ingredient in looking for a way forward in such uncertain times.

It is with great pleasure and delight that Walking Stories will be part of Dance Umbrella in London this year. There will be 35 opportunities to join the walk across 15 days in 4 different parks in London.

Walking Stories is a walk in the park, a journey, a play, an album, a patterned geometry, a series of stories and experiences, a dance. I think it allows you a little breathing time and space outside of your usual busyness. I hope it brings you closer to the places you travel through. I wonder if it changes your thoughts or experience of yourself. Without you there isn't a show, so come and find us in a park somewhere.

Walking Stories will be part of Dance Umbrella 17th - 31st October 2015

17 - 21 Oct: Greenwich Park

22 - 24 Oct: Brockwell Park

25 - 27 Oct: Springfield Park

28 - 31 Oct: Waterlow Park

For more information and booking: www.danceumbrella.co.uk

 

A Provocation

Friday, 29 May 2015 00:00

The issue of climate change and the impact it is having on the environment can feel overwhelming, so we decided to present two international dance artists with a provocation:

Dance doesn't have the power to make a difference to issues such as the environment.

june03

Image from vox:lumen by Zata Omm © David Hou.

Written by William Yong

Dance: Making a better future, one step at a time

We are daunted. The scale of our environmental problems seems so enormous that we are at a loss. Ozone holes, climate change, GMO contaminated food chains, cancer-causing herbicides, over-population, over-fishing, pollution and now, even the bees are dying.

As a global culture we stand aghast at the wasteland of our own making. We are numbed into inaction, overwhelmed by the magnitude of forces beyond our control. Like survivors of earthquakes in Nepal or the people living in the aftermath of an Arkansas tornado we are in a shared state of shock. We are awaking to such devastation that we cannot imagine ever rebuilding. Yet, even as we built our world, we knew that our foundations were on shifting sands. We knew that catastrophe was looming, but to face it - the reality of it - is so much worse than anything we foresaw.

What is remarkable though is the resilience of the human spirit. We do rebuild. We may even learn from our mistakes and build on sounder ground. Houses, businesses, towns, countries, even civilizations rebuild. If we can rebuild an empire, then why not a planet?

With such spirit and resourcefulness, however did we find ourselves here? We built a monstrous machine, a leviathan, in which each of us was a tiny cog. We steered the machine toward a fantasy land of endless growth and boundless prosperity. As we ever fail to reach the promised land, we change not our destination but our drivers and so lurch from one heading to another, grinding the earth beneath our ceaseless wheels. Often our drivers are transfixed by the road behind and scarcely watch the road ahead. Or rather than steering the behemoth aright, they spend their time at the wheel blaming our being lost on the driver before having taken a wrong turn. Our machine is lost and it is broken and yet our engineers bolt on ever more parts and heavier and more lugubrious, it trundles on into the trampled wilderness.

Let us remember though, that every fearsome engine is built of smaller parts and when those small parts grind against the terrible momentum can the shuddering hulk be turned.

june04

Image from vox:lumen by Zata Omm © David Hou.

So a statesman, a billionaire, a technological genius could turn us on a better course, that's for sure. Laura Chinchilla began leading Costa Rica to become the icon of sustainability. Elon Musk may accomplish as much in the USA. But a dancer, a choreographer; to suggest artists can have any impact is surely as absurd as suggesting that a butterfly can turn a juggernaut.

It is said that the purpose of art it to hold a mirror up to creation that we may reflect upon it. Perhaps, also, it is to angle that mirror to shine light into dark and hidden places. Dance, along with the other arts should, if nothing else keep that light shining on our shame; to force our gaze towards it. To turn away from ugly things - especially when they are of our own manufacture - and ignore them is all too easy.

Of course, the relentless restatement of our failings will all too quickly become an annoying and counterproductive whine. It leads inevitably to what has been called 'Green Fatigue'. So how do we strike an appropriate tone, to engage discussion without becoming preachy. Well, as glib managers will quip: don't bring me a problem, bring me a solution.

So, what part of the solution can dance or indeed any art form offer?

Clearly engendering an atmosphere of hope, inspiration and cultivating the ambition to make the world a better place is within the artist's remit. Perhaps dance may seem inaccessible as a means of communication, but it isn't necessary to inspire the general population merely to inspire other artists is an achievement. Some of them will have a populist reach. This has been the focus of Zata Omm for the past couple of years. The company fostered positivity by several means. Firstly, it demonstrated what can be achieved within the context of completely sustainable theatre. Secondly it engaged influential people from the technology and renewable sector and inspired them by immersing them in a different creative environment. Finally, the completed work carried a subtle and very positive environmental message.

For a more profound effect, we must see a change in culture. Every person's attitudes must be altered in order to overcome political and industrial inertia. Again culture is within the remit of the arts - it is the very essence of art. Throughout history, seemingly entrenched ideas have been driven into retreat many times. Usually you would find artists in the vanguard of the action. Think of racial segregation, the class system and homophobia as cases where - though the battles are far from won - art led the charge. The cultural weapons to make carbon the new "C-word" are within the dancer's arsenal, just as they are within the painter's and the writer's.

Of course, it would be foolish to suggest that a choreographer will single-handedly change the culture of the world, but they can begin to think and act differently and in so doing inspire others to do the same. A subtle effect that can propagate and ripple through all the arts and all the world.

In 1969, Edward Lorenz, a mathematician and meteorologist discovered the non-linear and chaotic nature of complex systems. He realized that some very complex systems - like climate and weather - were exquisitely sensitive to change and even the most immeasurably slight alterations in initial conditions could lead to wildly different outcomes. He named this mechanism, 'The Butterfly Effect'. The merest flap of a butterfly wing could begin a cascade of changes that would change the path of a hurricane - or a juggernaut.

But human society is precisely such a complex and interdependent system. If a butterfly can indeed turn a juggernaut, then perhaps a dancer can grind against the gears of society's infernal machine and begin a cascade of changes that could alter its course.

Finally, if these arguments - that dance has a part to play in creating a more sustainable world - have failed to convince, then perhaps one final point may be persuasive.

Every person and every enterprise has shared in the responsibility for our present predicament. Hence it is everyone's responsibility and everyone's duty to play a part in bringing about the changes needed to rectify it. So, it is not a question of if dance has a part to play but what that part must be. The dance world must act whether or not it believes it has the power to succeed. In the end, even if those actions fail, it will at least have been a noble effort.



june05

Image © Hillary Goidell

Written by Prue Lang

Well I do believe it can trigger a number of reflections, thoughts and actions on environmental issues!

In 2008 I began thinking about how to integrate my environmental beliefs into my artistic work. As a choreographer working with the body I decided to try to create an autonomous dance performance that would run 100% on its own energy.

My thinking was that our body's production of energy is dependent on it being fed and, once nourished, is in a position to transform the absorbed energy into an energy source itself. Dance activity has zero-valued emissions, yet produces a large amount of physical energy. A typical dance performance often requires a large amount of electricity to power the light and sound. So the logical conclusion for me was to find a way in which the dancers' actions could simultaneously generate the power needed to light the stage and run the sound.

The performance took place on a frontal stage in a black box theatre with three performers. I collaborated with Amanda Parkes / MIT media Lab to create costumes with built-in devices to harvest our energy while dancing. We came up with three basic systems - a dynamo system attached to key body parts - a series of mini rollers that were attached to specific parts of our body and were triggered by contact with another dancer - flexible solar panels on the costumes that would be activated by the artificial lights on stage. These were all connected to small batteries sewn into our costumes and would provide the power for the sound in the following performance. Initially Amanda proposed the costume ideas after seeing the choreography, and then I was able to further evolve the choreography to provoke and increase the energy harvesting.

I collaborated with Charles Goyard on a unique static bicycle system that would simultaneously power up to 16 LED lights on stage. This meant there was always one dancer on the bicycle and we built this rotating role into our choreographic system. He placed a manual switch onto the bicycle that enabled us to control the grid of lights 1 light, 4 lights, 16 lights etc. from onstage.

The spatial framework was a series of points placed on a grid on the dance floor and became the field of investigation for the performers. These points were edible and locally made, so when ingested by the body also defined the energy production of the body. (The Parisian macaroon was chosen because of its low carbon footprint –it is made in Paris using local ingredients, in other cities it was another kind of biscuit!) The disappearance of these points, in turn, affected the spatial structure and therefore our choreographic paths.

The project evolved in stages and by 2011 we had managed to produce a self-contained autonomous dance performance with full theatricality. It was not without fault of course – there were many extra difficulties, technical complications and failures. However the reaction from the public was positive and satisfying. The performance immediately triggered the public to reflect on their body, energy, expenditure, consumption and autonomy as well as proposing alternative uses for our advancing technology. It triggered many discussions and debates around the questions and challenges of the current climate issues. It also seemed to bring as much inspiration to arts specialists as it did to greenies, techies and D.I.Y. types.

In 2013 I went on to develop energy-harvesting shoes (with Grafitti Research Lab in Paris) for another of my dance performances and created green riders for my company and the theatres I worked with. I think that by instigating these kinds of ideas and adopting new practices into our art-making we can begin to shift the perceptions around us quite directly as well as planting seeds for more creative and sustainable actions to emerge.

 

 

#SpaceToDance

Thursday, 28 May 2015 00:00

june07

Image © Zoe Manders.

We have just launched our Space to Dance campaign (#SpaceToDance) to make The Dance Space happen. So far we have raised nearly £3 million, thanks to our loyal partners and supporters. Our current challenge is to raise £500,000 by the end of November, so building can start on site. This will be a major milestone in the project, taking us one step closer to achieving our goal of raising the £810,000 we need to make The Dance Space happen.

The Dance Space will serve both the local community and the wider dance community as a cultural hub and a home for dance in Brighton and Hove. The Dance Space will be on the doorsteps of a diverse range of local communities, so it is our ambition to provide an open and welcoming environment where all kinds of people can meet, create, discover and grow. The Dance Space will reinvigorate a part of the city that once housed Brighton's lively fruit and vegetable market but has now been derelict for many years. It will help breathe new life into the environment and once again provide a center of activity for the local community, just as the old Circus Street Market had once done.

Brighton-based choreographer Charlotte Vincent regaled us, at the recent #SpaceToDance campaign launch, with a compelling and poetic vision for The Dance Space, wonderfully capturing just what we hope The Dance Space will be... "A meeting place. An open space. A place of connection. A place for trying things out. And poking things about. For getting fit and for having a laugh. A place for passing knowledge on." To read the whole speech, click here.

We need all the support we can get to make The Dance Space happen and it would be great if everyone got behind our campaign (#SpaceToDance).

If you would like to support the campaign to create The Dance Space please click here. Every pound donated will go towards making The Dance Space a reality.

Look out for #SpaceToDance on social media and across Brighton & Hove now. Spread the word, get involved and please donate if you can.

 

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