When you find yourself tightly rolled up in a yoga mat, with tinsel in your hair and holding a pair of maracas. Yes, that. Obvs.
At the Artist Exchange Programme in December 2017, Danielle Teale had laid out a wonderful jumble sale of delightful, intentional bits and pieces in the studio. Permission to play for 30 minutes was granted. This was like Christmas coming early for me. Some time into the improvisation I ended up in the photographed position. I lay there for a bit like a sausage roll, in my creative cocoon of a happy place, giggling. Someone placed a card on me, to signpost “what is the most you can possibly contribute today?” I was definitely contributing something. I am thinking about:
What does unstructured play enable?
How do we host activities that support/unleash improvisation?
How do we hold this space so that its accessible and productive for everyone?
What is the seriousness of silliness? What is the silliness of seriousness?
Photo: Olivia Norris
A pointing finger suspended from the ceiling in a metal frame beckons me in as if to suggest ‘this way please’. I stop at the top of the stairs to admire the gesture, but am distracted by a performance at the bottom of the stairs, just beyond a long hanging pendulum. Ignoring the finger I sit on the stairs with others. I watch for a while. I watch others watching too. Familiar Roehampton dance faces pass through the space. Warm hellos embrace. We continue to watch. Another performance begins. It appears to be a mapping or measuring of the space by two people in white canvas pumps. It’s methodical. A device I’ve never seen before is unwound as one person pulls a string from its bobbin.
Placed on the floor, the string is pinged and a fluorescent pink line is chalked on the grey surface, followed by a puff of pink smoke. I’m distracted by the mess it’s making on their white shoes.
As I journey away from the stairs into the mapped out curve I see 2 sets of headphones. I’m too short for one pair. I just about fit the others. I place my feet in the shoe shaped markers provided. I’m listening to one half of a conversation. I find myself making up the bits I can’t hear. Then a man puts on the headphones opposite. That changes the missing dialogue. The mapping has continued round the curve but there is less of a pink puff on the ping now.
I’ve come to see Efrosini Protopapa’s work. I helped in a small way to photograph collections of images at the Warburg Institute for her research. So I’m interested to see what she has selected to include, and how the images are used. Torsos have been cut out & pasted in opposition to other torsos, creating unlikely dialogues that appear and disappear on a projection. A little bit like the headphones, I find myself thinking of captions for these brief, unlikely pairings. The images dance on and off the screen. A simple entrance and exit. It’s a dance of many halves.
Other work captures my attention as I take a couple more laps of the curve. When leaving, I notice the hanging pendulum has been secured to the wall.
As I walk into a bright, industrial space that used to be an old fire station workshop, I am immediately hit by groups of children and their parents immersed in coding, robotics, crafting outfits from cardboard boxes, generating noises, doodling and redoodling and doing dance and maths puzzles. The energy was electric.
This was ‘recode’, an event organised on 11 Feb 2017 by the Institute of Imagination that saw the coming together of geeks from arts, science & technology into a melting pot of participatory activity in the old fire station workshop building on Lambeth High Street.
A chance meeting at an arts event hosted at The Lyric Hammersmith in September 2016, led to being introduced Emma Callow from the IOI. After chatting and exchanging ideas about what you could do with a cardboard box and masking tape (I think that was the sign we should work together!) we swapped emails and Emma then visited our experimental choreographic project that takes place at the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) for BA(Hons) Ballet Education students who are training to be dance teachers.
We were thrilled when Emma invited us to perform & deliver a workshop at recode. My colleague Dennie Wilson and I worked with our students to design a participatory dance experience around our new dance work ‘All plastic bags deserved to be loved’. We retraced our creative process back to: plastic bags being blown across the studio by fans; games of plastic bag keepy uppy; watching the American Beauty plastic bag dancing in the wind scene; and student Georgia’s sketches of us working through creative tasks.
On the day, after the 10 minute performance where audience and the Doodleman (see doodle image above) were asked to draw responses to the movement, our fully booked workshops engaged 80 children and adults in a beautifully chaotic and creative mahem. The joy on the children’s (and adults!) faces as they had ‘permission’ to chase a flying plastic bag across the blue carpet made my heart soar. They flew, they span, they jumped, they twisted and tumbled…and when the plastic bag was removed, the movement qualities that emerged were magical. This paved the way for small group creative tasks that took inspiration from the performance drawings. A final sharing of group dances presented a recoding of our earlier performance.
I left with a huge sense of pride in how the students worked so sensitively and artistically with the participants. They truely embraced everything that is at the heart of inclusive, creative practice: art & people.
It would be so easy to wallow again today. To stay in bed, stunned and bemused. It’s heart breaking. But, actually this should propel us to fight harder. As the Women’s Equality Party said in their email this morning “this brings a greater urgency to our work”. It brings a greater urgency to just being. Being human beings. So each of us, in our small way, can go out and face today with a positive spirit. The sum is greater than its parts. Share love, joy, togetherness and an inclusive spirit today. Hug people don’t hate them. Smile & connect. I’m not saying it’s easy. Far from it. But i’ll give it my best shot. As I head out into Woolwich to work in the library today, surrounded by a new community (new to me), that is more diverse than anywhere I’ve lived before, I’m so grateful. It keeps me grounded. It reminds me what it is to be human, keeping the values of being human at the heart of who we are and what we do. These values are what underpin the work of community dance artists. I’m not perfect by any means, and I hope I’m Not being too preachy. I just want to send some love into the world today. That’s all.