So on Sunday 15th July we performed Walking Piece - 3 times!
It was full of life, of real people, of humour... I would like to direct you to some of the photographs as they emerge over the next few days. First lot from our brilliant Rehearsal Director and great friend of mine - Robyn Cabaret!
This blog explores the act of walking and its ancient connection to philosophical thought. It will reflect on the process of Walking Piece, a project where 50 people will come together in South London to create a performance around the everyday movement.
More widely, these findings from the blog will also attempt to answer questions surrounding the impact of the Arts on those involved and those who are not, looking particularly at participatory dance.
Watch this space for interviews, photos, articles and other materials that we find in our wanderings.
Saturday, 14 July 2012
1. What is it about Walking Piece that draws your interest?
The title of the work first of all intrigued me. Walking is such an ordinary thing, everyone walks, and mostly without thinking about it. But when you do start to think about it, the activity becomes somewhat extraordinary, so I was hoping for some kind of revelation by getting involved in the project. I also recently created an installation at Siobhan Davies Studios that response to the building. A group of three dancers walked up and down the staircase using the metal framework as a device to weave on. I also used the outdoor staircase during this project, so the parallels with Matthias site responsive piece also intrigued me. Im interested in the performance of craft, as well as participatory work, and was curious to see what his approach would be like. I usually lead group activities, so I was interested for once to be on the other side of the fence. I remember doing ballroom dancing ages ago and being led on one occasion instead of leading. It was such a thrill, and a liberation. I was hoping for the same to happen here.
2. Have you take part in similar projects like this before? If so, why?
Not really. I did take off all my clothes for one of Spencer Tunicks human installation a few years back but this hardly compares. I was also filmed for Lucy Cash and Becky Edmunds film Pedestrian also scheduled for Footfall, but here again there is little comparison with relation the level of input involved with the project. It's been ages since I've danced, but I've been thinking about it for a couple of decades, so I'm glad I'm finally getting round to it
3. What are your expectations for this project at this stage?
After 10+ rehearsals and two days to go before the performance, the piece does feel very familiar. However, each time we run through it at rehearsal, it feels like a new piece. This comes I think from having to perform tasks rather than remember sequences of actions and movements as we walk through the building. The meaning of the piece for me is in the moment, acting in the present rather than re enacting the past. This is a radical approach for a maker and I love it. I very much look forward to the 'reinvention' of the work on Sunday in front of a wider audience. Performing Walking Piece throughout the day will be like performing it for the first time again, and again, and again
Its been fascinating to how Matthias has shaped the piece over the course of the rehearsals by responding to how the tasks were performed and giving us pointers on what our intentions might be when performing these. Ive taken much more than just my feet for a walk over this period, its given me much food for thought, and stronger legs, and vocal cords in the process too!
Wednesday, 13 June 2012
What is it about Walking Piece that draws your interest?
The opportunity to be part of a collaborative movement piece for untrained dancers, conceived and led by an experienced dance artist. To explore my own practice within the context of a piece that will perform. To push the boundaries of what I think I can do and the validity of that.
Have you take part in similar projects like this before? If so, why?
I was involved in Rosemary Lee's Square Dances in 2011. I was drawn by the reasons above and by the ambitious scale of the project. Also having knowledge of some of Rosemary's body of work and being excited to work with her.
What are your expectations for this project at this stage?
That we will cohere as a group (which I think is already happening) and bring into being a piece of work that is interesting and satisfying to both to performers and audience. That we will all enjoy the process of exploring and playing with the lines of the piece and discover things about ourselves and our relationship to our environment that we didn't know previously.
What is it about Walking Piece that draws your interest?
I was drawn to Walking Piece for a different reason from why it now draws my interest. Initially I thought it would involve a whole load of people walking non-stop around a building. “Walking” walking, you know, walking proper like. I thought that would be a very interesting thing to do in its own right! But as soon as you meet our choreographer, Matthias, you know things will never be Quite What They Seem From This Day Forth, and so what we’re actually engaged in is an experiment with encounter. We’re walking, yes, in as much as we’re lifting our two feet to move in a forward direction, but in truth we’re playing, or playing with walking. And it's serious play at that. We’re facilitating enquiry through our feet! The great thing about Walking Piece is: it’s got nothing to do with walking.
Have you taken part in similar projects like this before? If so, why?
I’ve done a few bits and bobs like this – what might be called community arts projects, I guess: some oral history work, a bibliomancy project, some clown training. But this feels like a bit of a first for me. I wanted to take part in this project because it spoke to so many interests of mine at the moment. I made a commitment to myself this year to examine what it was like to be and have a body. We can go along in automatic pilot far too easily. So far I’ve done some circus skills training (trapeze, tightwire walking, juggling), I take an early morning dance class at CityLit (street dance at 8am!), I've taken up swimming again, started to walk the Capital Ring (all 88 miles) around London, and I’m part way through a mindfulness course, which is helping me through body scans and kind curiousity. Walking Piece brings so much of this together – playfulness, mindfulness, feetfulness, heartfulness! - and so the final July date – half way through the year – feels like a great opportunity for me to take stock of my body project. For me personally, then, it will be a milestone, and milestones have always been useful for walkers.
What are your expectations for this project at this stage?
I’m trying to be mindful about expectations at this stage. I turn up to the rehearsals and try and expect very little. So much happens as a result! I think the final piece will be great to watch, to bear witness to, and to engage with. I hope lots of people from across London will come along and join us.
Thanks Philip! Check out his website here! www.philipcowell.co.uk
Tuesday, 22 May 2012
I suppose the way that I think about who we are at the moment, our psyche, our being – is that we are many things. Many different parts, perhaps conflicting. Maybe what we are trying to do throughout our lives, if we have the luxury to do so is to find bridges between all those things. I think what dance can do is say this is part of you , you can experience this, feel this. There are lots of different things that dance can give you – one of them is how you can be with eachother. How tolerant you can be...How you can give up your ego, or not.
For example, if you’re in one of my pieces, you have to give up your ego. That’s why it can be therapeutic experience because I think the best way to live is fairly humbly. It’s hard I think because what bombards us is presenting yourself and being extrovert, more is better, have confidence, write persuasively, not creatively, persuasively! And nobody seems to question that…
The dance that you and I are involved in...what is it? Is it somatic? We used to call it new dance but we don’t really know how to talk about it. I don’t quite know how to even put it!
Of course it’s a utopian ideal - we all have egos and can’t tolerate things we should but I’m very interested in giving people a taste f this this very equal inclusive approach where everybody is respected fully and the same and everybody is looked after. Just to see if that could then change the way we are, the way we live with eachother. I really believe in order to dance well, you have to be tolerant.
All those things affect how we live as a community. And then the more individual thing about knowing yourself, I think, for me it’s about a poetic state. It’s a difficult one because I think we are struggling with the borders of what this world of dance is. I really felt that when I was trying to talk about Gill, and thinking about sharing what she did. It’s really quite a small bit of the dance world we are talking about.I don’ know how to explain it. It’s creative, it tries to allow people to express themselves through improvisation… there’s lots of different things in there. I think if were talking about that world, you can learn about yourself through surprising yourself, discovering other places in yourself, its something more subtle than that.
One of the reasons I stay in the dance world is because, I love words, but, as soon as it comes out in words, it writes it in stone. But dance doesn’t quite do that, that’s why I stutter over even trying to answer you. Gill always talked like that in her reflections, keeping things unsettled, questioning. It’s hard though because then people can’t quite grasp it. What I’m trying to do it be clear about what I do but I’m hoping that that doesn’t destroy what I’m really doing which is almost unsayable. That can be seen as a cop out, academically. The closest thing for me, is poetry. It’s a word form. Something about keeping words so open that it unlocks something much bigger than itself. To feel your feet on the ground, is not just to feel your legs dropping, feel yourself being in an alignment but its also about feeling yourself as a single individual standing on the earth for the first time again. To feel connection with the ground. To feel it rather than to know it. All those things are massive and fundamental to our well being, Scary too, because it can leave you in a lonelier place somehow.
I think they are a resource. When things go wrong, maybe knowing what it feels like to stand on the earth, just for a moment, might get you through. With people I work with, and this goes beyond dance, is that I am hoping I am developing their observation skills. To be more observant in all their senses of the world around them. If you have that, and can keep that open, then there is more potential to finding solutions and the good in something. A mindful state. So knowing yourself, is not only knowing yourself, but knowing everything around you. Dance for me, is part of that practice. How does a technique class link into that? I don’t know. Is it about finding the logic in that, finding the logic in the dance? A lot of it I’m not sure about, but they are good questions to ask, but not to get hung up on them – there’s no definite answer. For years I thought there were these definite truths I thought you’d find.
Feeling peaceful is important though, in a world which is often not peaceful. We are lucky to have those moments.
The piece I always come back to, is when I was asked to make a work in Barking and Dagenham which, I had assumptions about. I thought it was a working class area which probably had a history of racism, I knew there was a trial coming up there for someone who’d had racist treatment. I knew it was also somewhere where the women of Dagenham factory had made a stand, early in the feminist movement. So there was a history of working people, but really struggling I think.
I came and found what else they were struggling with. I was very worried about me as a middle class, white woman coming in and making a work for that community and then buggering off. It didn’t feel right.
I thought, if I’m going to make a public work of art, what can I make which is going to give something to the people, which isn’t just plonked on them, that isn’t just seen as an eye-sore and waste of public money. I also didn’t want to make a live work, I felt it was too risky, too fleeting somehow. So I looked for a space that could house something for an installation that was free.
So I made a piece with Nic Sandiland. Something that was built for the central library in Dagenham. It wasn’t as widely used as the shopping street but I draw the line at commerce. I won’t make work where people are going shopping! So that was the closest I could get to a public space. I was really pleased with what we made. I felt I was going onto unchartered territory, so I wanted to work with children because I know I can relate to children of a certain age 8-10year olds, wherever they’re from. I worked for a year in a very forgotten little school. They’d never had artists in. They had a huge asylum seeker population. That was really interesting to work with young children who were trying to get a grip on where they lived, where home was. I found it really sad and upsetting, but also really amazing because the kids were just incredibly resilient to find their way. But dance for them, I felt, did bridge the language gap found a primary school. There were kids in the class who were really struggling, but weren’t doing so after the project. It re-affirmed my beliefs that imagination, and drawing on children’s imagination into their own bodies, to actually transform themselves in their bodies is very empowering. Which is probably why sport is so good for kids in those kinds of areas. I saw these boys transformed when I told them they were ‘weathergods’ - they could bring the rain in or stop the sun shining just with very slow gestures of the arms. A few of the boys, who really didn’t speak much English, really did look like gods, and they knew it. There was something about empowering them in a different way to fighting and aggression. Interestingly aswell, their favourite bit was the relaxation. I would put this music on and a lot of them would fall asleep! So that was a revelation for me. When they taste this more gentle approach they like it.
It doesn’t work so well now, kids are even more difficult to teach – that’s another thing I’ve really noticed. Their energy is really different. I taught in a school in Hammersmith and thinking I’m going to have to stop because all I can do is shout and I know that’s not what I want to do. They were literally climbing the walls. I’m quite experienced but there was something I was up against which felt impossible, it was really depressing.
Square Dances too were a revelation for me because there were certain things I hadn’t known would happen. I was confident that the pieces would work. What I didn’t expect was that the audience would become communities in themselves, in particular the women’s piece made them feel like you. A flock of people. I saw them walking the streets together, talking, one of my friends made a friend on a bench and they travelled around the rest of the pieces together – like youth hosteling! Maybe something about a journey which they wanted to share. I had not thought of what it might be like to be one of the community of watchers. That was a lovely thing to discover, that they were glad to have the time to walk the streets together and find these pieces. I’m trying to find a way in which the audience feel really safe and therefore open up a bit more. I’m trying to make sure they don’t feel excluded from the dance. Make sure they know it’s for them – that’s very important to me actually.