Thursday 21 October 2010

Right into her seat

As ever, the prospect of an evening watching dance provided a sense of anticipation, combined with the feeling: why did my own body not let me be able to do this? It is my favourite way to spend an evening, thought it has to be said that on seeing the absolute hoards of children there my emotions are mixed.

I fight past the kids blocking the aisle into a hot, poor seat with a restricted view and contemplate that it is a good job this is a free ticket. The Lowry really should segregate the paying customer from the school party to a greater extent.

Please let me kids be quiet, switch off their phones and let us concentrate. Glory be, to a greater extent this seems to be happening.

I wonder if after the Rain Forest piece the kids attention will have wandered and they wont be able to grasp the meaning in Awakenings?

I cannot bear the pain of the first dancer to move. It is hitting me so forcibly I want to put my arms around him. He has such a dreadful tic. I wonder if Fraser’s tic is like that? They are so isolated from each other, but on the outside look like a bunch of ordinary people when they are frozen.

I am being emotionally dragged into this faster and harder than I expect. The music – it is staccato and chaotic at times - aren’t they moving well to it? Hasn’t the choreographer done his homework well and felt the rhythm and the emotion. I can hardly bear to watch – the man is walking up and down into glass walls. The girl is imagining her jacket fastenings.

Well, well, two people are trying to dance together, more lyric movement and music and a hint of communication and empathy… but, oh no, she has frozen. And again I wish I could help her communicate with the man.

I wish I could see the whole stage – this seat is awful - why are the speakers arrayed there so they maximise the intrusion on the sight line?

Now where are we going? Oh yes, repetition. Good. That is so relevant here. More repetition of movement. Clever stuff and I love the interpretation of the music. The girls sitting next to me are being so good. They are sunk down in their chairs. Is that because teenagers slouch or because of the power of live performance?

Oh Janet, why did they keep you alive so long after your stroke? This is why we went through what we did to go and talk to you, just in case you could hear.

There are progressively more dancers on stage now, so I think we are building to the finale. I wonder what the lady who wrote in the programme would think of this? I think they are really picking up on her moving world of consciousness that shifts near and far from her. It turns back in on her all the time and never stops. Yes! They have got it, the lone male turning and turning amongst the static dancers. And so it goes on and on.

My god I am tired. I have to write about this when I get back and how am I going just to say what I saw and keep it separate from my emotions? This is not going to be straightforward.

Thank god there will be a lot of coaches in the car park should be ok to get out of. I am so glad I had a chance to engage with this piece.

This is a really interesting piece of writing by Sheila, an experienced dance spectator and non-writer. It clearly draws upon both the free writing exercises she did immediately after the performance and the chart exercise recording the performance, thoughts of the performance and distractions. What it very powerfully does is place the reader into her mind as if at the moment of watching, with all the thoughts and feelings that go through ones head at that moment. I say as if for this is inevitably a consciously and selective reconstruction of that experience - it adopts the literary device of stream of consciousness but is not literally such from the moment itself.

What makes it so evocative, however, is its construction of a sense of honesty. Whether Sheila is slightly exaggerating or sending up or being entirely truthful in her portray of herself we cannot know, probably all three at once. Either way the character presented is at moments unsympathetic (if understandable) in her somewhat snotty depiction of the 'children' in the audience and yet at the same piece of writing utterly sympathetic and clearly moved in a really heartfelt manner by the performance. The blurring and moving between idle thoughts about the car park; evaluative comments on the choreography; personal connotations with friends or family who have been in a similar situation; bitchy comments about the theatre or rest of the audience all feels utterly true and utterly persuasive.

Indeed, Sheila's writing was truly persuasive, particularly in its rendering of such an emotional and intelligent response to Awakenings. As the workshop ended one of the other participants, who had largely dismissed Awakenings, commented to Sheila that listening to her had changed his mind about the piece. 'I think I missed it entirely' he said. Listening to somebody so entirely engaged and responsive to a piece of art is an experience that has something of the qualities of perceiving an evocative piece of art for oneself.


Memory unspools from us.
We’re a troupe of clowns
distracted by the buzzing
of an invisible wasp,

clapping our hands
in the vague direction of the noise
unaware of the cassette player
squatting like an elephant in the corner.

Our bones must be electric:
even as we sit here
perfectly still, our shadows
convulse on the walls behind us.

We’ve discovered the secret:
we’re not really animals
but facsimiles of animals.
We are broken machines,

have always been broken machines,
though we played at being real
for so long we were beginning
to believe it ourselves. Please,

you who loved us, don’t feel cheated.
Console yourselves with the thought
that if there is a last laugh here,
we’re not the ones having it.

In this piece of writing Michael, a creative writing student for whom this was his first experience of watching live dance, developed further a text he had started earlier in the workshop. Again this is primarily a response to - although also equally a departure from - 'Hush'. There are moments that are clearly recognisable to somebody else who saw the performance, the distracting buzzing of an invisible wasp, the grotesque crowds at once both comic and horrifying and of course the general tone and atmosphere. All this, however, is transposed through the prism of language and Michael's own poetic imagination. Some of the results include a noticable darker the emotional palette and a stress upon distopian imagery of people as machines or animals.

Entering into the characters of 'Hush'

We’ve arrived – and it’s still the same… it’s always the same. They always find the place… Mum and Dad. (Well, that’s what I call them… I can’t remember a time when they weren’t there.) It’s beautiful – the stars, the tent reaching up to the sky, the circus ring, and the space to dance.

And us… Mum and Dad, Estrella (who’s almost grown up), John (definitely not Johnny any more), little Bobby (she just wont come if you say Roberta) and me – the youngest. And now it’s starting: the music… they always find the music… I think they must have had it specially made for us… and we dance. We all have a sort of turn at it… and it’s so much fun, it makes us so happy… and it’s always the same.

Now it’s time for us, the little ones, to sleep. And sometimes we really do, but sometimes we’re allowed to peek, and tonight I’m going to join in… Mum and Dad together, trying to find some space for themselves… Estrella, then Johnny, but then that last bit… the ho-down it’s called, and it’s here and we’re all dancing together and it’s wonderful and we all feel so happy and so safe.

It’s over… we line up, time to go out into the night… where?

But we’ll always come back…. Or usually… and now we can’t. I’m sitting and reading this and it brings it all back… the ritual, the joy, the wonderful protected feeling of that children’s time, long ago. And now, we can’t be together anymore… we can’t go back. With them both gone we’ll never be able to find that place again.

And that, perhaps, is what makes this even sadder.

In this piece of writing Meic, an experienced dance spectator and non-writer, elected to imaginative construct an inner world and background narrative for the characters in 'Hush'. Focusing on elements of the scenario sketched out by the costumes, music and set he constructs an image of itinerant fair ground people. Interestingly there is very little description of the movement, beyond the labelling at one point of a communal ho-down. Instead his writing focusing on communicates the moods and feelings of piece, the sense of family and the moments of both light and emotional darkness. It is the use of details - the names, the nicknames, the relationships - that are evocative for the reader and provoke investment with the emotions and final sense of loss.

Developed Writing

For the last third of the workshops the participants were asked to spend a longer period of time on a final exercise that would produce a more extensive, or more edited, piece of writing.

The instructions for this task varied slightly between the two groups, but fundamentally involved the following two suggestions.

First, to write from the perspective of an individual connected to the performance, writing in the first person as either a dancer in character; or a dancer as a dancer; or as a member of the audience.

Second, to write a narrative, in the third person past-tense inspired by the dance.

Interpretation of these was left open to the participants, as was the degree to which they wrote something literally connected to the dance, something more evocatively connected to the experience, or something departing from the performance but maintaining it as a central inspiration. Across the group each of these possibilities was demonstrated, with some pieces of writing clearly emerging from the exercises that had gone before while others started from entirely different places.

The next few posts reproduced, and briefly comment upon, some of these pieces of writing.

Memory Exercise

The next exercise that both the groups participated in was a paper memory exercise designed to deepen recall of the experience. Dividing a paper into three participants were asked to jot down memories under the following headings: The performance; My thoughts; Distractions.

Primarily intended as material for further writing this exercise doesn't need reflecting on or illustrating here in detail except to note the inevitable difficulty of seperating out these three elements. Where does a description of the performance end and a spectator's commentary on their thoughts begin? What is a distraction to one person is a central element of their performance related thoughts for somebody else.

In other words our sense of what a spectator's experience of a performance is needs to go beyond conceiving it as simply what happens on the stage.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Free Verse Poems

The next exercise that the participants did involved them using their 10 words as a basis for a free verse poem. For this exercise they were allowed to add words and could also either stay close to the dance performances or begin to move away to a different but connected experience. Some of the poems written by the participants are presented here (it is worth noting that these are unedited and unrevised).

Pre-planned symmetry
Couples move in synchronicity
Performing in their disparate parts
Love as a performing art
A strange crash of themes
Alienated all of what we dreamed
And brought us back into the physical
And my own inner spaciousness alone

When representing 'family'
There will always be room for comedy
An un-matched move may lead to frustration,
Soothed by the satisfaction, the repetition,
Of the mechanical; once, twice, again.

To show melancholy, you need not be
Alone; misery loves company.

Which catches the eye, and keeps it?
Something jagged and confrontational?
Or something hypnotically slooooow....

Loneliness needn't mean stillness, just as
Rivalry needn't mean hate.
Poetry is emotion in motion, a dance,
Always keep moving,
Even when you're lost.

Matrimony equals control
has it forgotten what originally led its participants to attract?
does it speak of itself as utterly cliched?

First eye contact
it was like we were .... reflections
and when we talked we had so much in common!
We made opportunities to become intimate
We made opportunities to get to know each other
We forgave and forgot
Those things that repelled

We scoured each other with touches
and looks
and words
pinpointing with ever-increasing certainty
the future co-ordinates of our relationship

We got engaged because there seemed
to be enough evidence to support the grid references in our heads
Is matrimony subject to inflation?
Can it manage the space between income and
interest repayment?

Knife-edge tension
ticking, tocking
minaturised movement
encapsulated in the fixation on
obsessively compulsive

Building slowly towards release
The embodiment of action and reaction
And when it comes the sheer joy of
Unfettered fluidity

In the raw, feral state,

Lowry people alone
Inhabit a stark landscape
Bewildered, strange country
Agonising, painful sadness
bleak desolation
Lowry people together.

Motherless and muted,
automata floating in space,
the imbeciles of a dying order.
Tired children,
mortherless and muted.

We were always machines
but we played at being real
so convincingly and for so long
we began to believe it ourselves.

Monday 4 October 2010

Awakenings Unmasked

A unique look at the creative process behind Rambert Dance Company's Awakenings, as captured by FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology).