Some gathered musings were drawn together for Dan Daw and Kate Marsh’s Get Better Soon, Musings on a 21st Century Dance Aesthetic. They were shared in a room at Brighton Dome, in the Founders Room, in Brighton. A room with windows, with chairs in a broken circle, with some people sat in the chairs and some sat on the floor. The electric lights were low, making small pools of warm light on the floor. Taped to the walls around the panorama of the room were some personal photographs of people I have called family: my mum, my dad, brother, paternal grandparents, my maternal grandad, my nana and a lover.
During the time I talked and walked and sat about the room, between the people listening, the sun went down outside, the room got darker. I lit two candles in glass jars and placed them amongst those I was sharing these words with. Towards the end of these musings, I quietly closed the lid on each jar and we watched their light go out.
I was asked to prepare some musings on a 21st Century Dance Aesthetic, for Get Better Soon. They were gathered for a live encounter. Made to be spoken. We are sharing them here, now, in the ether, as an echo. A remembering.
They were called:
· The craft of making and the art of disappearance
· A Remembering
· Get Better Soon
And they began like this:
I’m playing with this thing of re-remembering. To see what’s changed, what’s still resonant, still feels true or relevant. To remind myself of the live mercurial nature of memory, the slippery state of life.
Starting in the south, I grew up along the south coast of England, my nana was - one of eight - from Eastbourne, to the east, her ashes are there at Beachy Head and some of my late partners’ are further along on the hills in Hastings, where we had planned to move. My mum and dad are west, now, in the New Forest. My paternal grandparents ashes are in Winchester although they hailed from Yorkshire. And my maternal grandfather was from Armagh, his ashes went with my nana to Beachy Head.
So I’m going to start here, 36 years… and still, here. Not wanting to assume you have any sense of who I am or how I’ve come to be in the world, I’m going to attempt a potted history of how I come to be, here.
This is where I’m from. I was born in Winchester in the seventies.
I grew along this coastline. We moved. We went to live by the underpass in Cosham, to the west. Before my aspirational parents escaped the memory of their parents council homes. We moved. To a few mock tudor dreams for 2.4s in the surburbs, along the A27. I grew up in a blanket of whiteness. One bus an hour. My brother needed speech therapy, a convenient conduit for shaking away the colour of the Irish orphan and Yorkshire miner accents we could have carried forward from my parents, their fathers, entangled with some misplaced sense of shame.
I grew up awkward. Like bambi on ice. Spindling limbs.
A locking giraffe neck, one bout of pneumonia and allergies.
Swimming to gain health and better lungs.
Friends in books and a handful of A-graders.
And my nana.
At seven, my maternal grandad died, I saw him sick, but not go.
At seven, saying to pals in the playground that I was an alien and that I wasn’t really like my family or anyone else.
At 13 in secondary I came out. Illegal, unentitled.
Supported by art and Spanish teachers, gay women in love across the grey, concrete comprehensive sprawl, who’d spotted someone struggling in ways not unlike those they had known.
Shunned by A-grader pals and their strict Church going parents
Swimming at national competitions. The spindly limbs slicing more swiftly through water, lacking
muscle and power. Glancing and blushing
at the other boys in the pool and change rooms as the rush and swells
of puberty took over.
A-grade pals stopped. Swimming stopped. Trying to talk with family had stopped. The fear of finding out
So everything was art. Books and portraits,
experiments of the self. Photography
The touch and play of light, sculpture, process and properties the transformation of material.
A few gay scuppers with closeted men in my part-time jobs.
And then came college the polytechnic, away from the shunners and into, clubs. Brighton, Portsmouth, Southsea parades and parties, queers on piers. Smoking, speed and nail polish, piercings, poppers, eyeliner.
More art and literature. Ghosts and lovers
Dead white women, in rivers, Woolf and Ophelia
Tragic landscapes, as Cathy cried: “What ever our souls are made of his and mine are the same.”
Tales of others in far off cities: Maupin and Mapplethorpe, assemblage, portrait and photography, exquisite ways with light and flowers and people and words. The words: sex and magic and a remembering; of the friends and families lost - known and not- to HIV/AIDS. An awakening, to an eighties, filled with fear-mongering here and elsewhere.
And from there in the nineties, to the heat of the season of heroin chic.
An androgyne waif, uncomfortable in your own skin was in huge demand. Milan and London. And then not, not enough muscle, too like a girl. Back to Southampton, to factory work making sockets for phones
Fired for my distracting camp. And then hairdressing: mopping floors, washing hair, making coffee, taking bookings, running books, holding the team, holding the space, attending to clients; with absolute attention to detail, care for the experience of all kinds of people.
Four years of hosting and night clubbing, glitter and mesh, podiums: Brighton, Bournemouth, London, Ibiza. Nights on knees in the nineties, turning on, to other naughties in the noughties. My first long term – lying - lover. Suggested I might go from phones and podiums to performance. So Back to Winchester, 3 years a BAPA at King Alfs’. Working three jobs the theatre, gay pub and bookstore to cover the fee more books, more people, more hospitality, queers and care.
First Introductions to dance: Sour milk, Shadow, Phasing; Three; Nemesis. Re-imagining what bodies might be. Learnt the craft of contemporary performance, human geographies, anthropologies, cosmologies. Wilson, Harradine, Taiwou, Imre, Behrndt, Lee and Watson.
And in between my paternal - not so grand - grandparents died. I saw them sick and watched one go.
Pouring over the works of another Wilson and Waits, the photographs of Arnie Zane, Herrman, Sherman, Goldin. Smith’s poems and Mapplethorpe’s light play. Left, for cottages by the lying lover. Three years gone, two works written with bodies, in light,
Yours and Still
And, a broke artist emerged and a load of debt despite three jobs.
Headed to London for ‘a proper paying job’ in the arts and a dream of -
a not lying – love.
Making art possible in an arts centre, making art on the side.
Finding - and fending against - a new violent lover. A mangled face and throat, an extended dark pause, almost gone and learning, that that’s not love.
Then, what some call a Candocan: Dandeker, Dias, Nielsen, Machado; Marsh, Derybshire, Smith; Ayton, O’Brien, Bowditch, Brew and Vahla; Charnock, Walker, Michelson, Dawson; Houstoun, Cunningham Malin, Daw and in amongst a Masters with: Weaver, Howells, Makishi, Johnson Baker, Ashrey, Hunter, O’Reilly. Drawing on: Bock, Vincenzi, Harradine Goldin.
Curating with Bock and Bridge: Callaghan, Coe, Klein, LeQuesne, Synge, Mcgrandles; Donovan, Joyner, Smith, Rosenblit and Muller; Watson, Chambers, Houstoun, Spooner, Tomos. Dancing for Lee, Hunter, Pacitti and Parker. Dancing with: Dan, Arcoulides, O’Conchuir, Zitluhina; Atkin, Long and Fedorec.
Words as names for people, some sort of shorthand, attempts at understandings of humans sharing time and space.
And in between my Nana love died. I held her sick but missed her go.
And in amidst came a great love and then again came – death.
I held him sick and held him go.
Ghosts and lovers
and London 2012.
Then a new year, New York
A mountain and the mist, some bold love passing through.
Some new works: Old Flames, Walk with Me, An Open Field, Take Me To Bed and a move, to Scotland. To look in other directions, to work in other ways, to enter into another reality amidst the unknown outcome of a pending referendum, the beauty of people unpicking the problem of the binary, yes or no, stay or go.
Here, are some words - about dances - I was invited to write in early 2015 for Fleur Darkin’s Miann for Scottish Dance Theatre, (miann is the Scottish Gaelic word for ardent desire, or longing)
FOR MIANN (written on the back of a map for being lost)
People and the land around us transform in every moment, subtly and radically. Forests are devastated by fire, buildings crumble and decay, family members die, friends move away, relationships end. Some changes we learn to anticipate, to predict and others are entirely unexpected, shocking and as such, traumatic.
When we lose people. We lose a large part of ourselves, because we have come to know ourselves, and the world, together, through our relationship with them. Confronted by impermanence. In no longer seeing or holding that someone, some-thing, we are terrified that it is forever gone.
As an Artist what I care most about are people and places and the threads that weave between them. I am concerned about how we negotiate change and appreciate other ways of being.
Fascinated by nuances of time, texture, memory and landscape, my work is underpinned by ongoing research into how we find language for loss.
The poet Rilke said ‘Our instinct should not be to desire consolation over a loss but rather to develop a deep and painful curiosity to explore this loss completely, to experience the peculiarity, the singularity, and the effects of this loss in our life’.
In this new work Fleur Darkin and the dancers offer up a ferocious and extraordinarily, beautiful framework for navigating a seemingly insurmountable task.
Poets, prophets, seers, in Celtic history the druids, would invoke knowledge, attempt to see the invisible, by entering into ecstatic states of inspiration through trances, frenzies, dances. When we dance there is an activation, an acupuncture of the land, a summoning. An attention to what will come, to now and then. Remembering is an act of power. Landscapes remember, bodies remember.
‘The landscape of devastation is still a landscape, there is beauty in ruins’.
Sometimes, in my attempts to find language for loss I struggle. In some scarce, sacred moments, I am elated. Often I am overwhelmed.
But, still, so hard to turn away from the live.
I saw miann, in the sweat of summer. I felt, something. A something, that charged through/me.
Akin to aching
To desire and despair
Akin, to the arresting, retching wilderness, the dark feral being I have felt, in correspondence with grief and mourning. In the daily discourse between faltering memory and an unsigned agreement with loneliness, that has come, since losing my …….. what might have been.
There, in the sweat of summer.
Something, that looked like, what I can no longer see.
What moved me in the sweat of summer came up, so close, to speaking of the thousands of vast and tiny feelings that are welded, to what it is to care.
Skin off, heart raw
There, looking between bodies, across the wood and grass and silver.
I felt something familiar
I had begun to think I had forgotten.
In amongst these people, feelings crawling, thrashing, shining,
come some things we won’t have words for.
But, when words fail, there are dances.
There is Miann
Here are some more words, about words and finding words for dance I wrote about dances for Candoco’s In Dialogue series publication:
What Words Can Do:
What can words do?
I love language. Its great shapes and sounds, tones, colours, textures, how, it is changed by people and place and time
I love how words form in the mouth and hand, passing through pen or tongue, on to the page, off the lips. Reaching out, toward others fingers, eyes, ears
As a maker and curator of dance and performance I work with words in a particular way. For me language is physical. I understand it as of the body.
I work with words and movement. Words as movements
Words can bring things into being with greater clarity
And dances can say so much when words fail,
The poetry of the body
Words can be a way of finding questions and making invitations.
An invitation is a gesture.
Gestures can be passed on, shared out as a way of stimulating conversation with other artists, thinkers, people - in physical and virtual spaces - to find further questions.
Questions, can also exclude.
I think of a question as an opening and
An opening, as a space of
A space that can invite different perspectives on what it is to be in the world and articulations of unique lived experiences
An offer to work in a way - that to some might seem more slowly - with space and time and the intention that everyone can be heard and listened to. Considering different modes of conversation, spans of energy and attention, layers of translation.
I love the spaces between words, the pause,
The space to read or write yourself in
And this is also what words can do, open up space to read or write yourself in.
As I sit at desk, ink in hand, writing,
I remember school days
when those of us who were left-handed were made to change they way we wrote.
To write with our right hand because that was what was ‘right’
Left and right
Right and wrong
An and an other
The clutch of words,
propositions to move in one direction or the opposite, that there is a right to be arrived at
I remember how words can be used to fix
As attempts to make memories concrete
Experiences into facts
People into objects (of inspiration)
I remember where I’ve come from, what I’ve heard and learnt, lived and witnessed
How and which bodies were written as right and wrong
And I remember those truths changing
How words can undo.
Words can move the ways we have been taught to think, to see and act
As a dance maker I work with people as ongoing transformations, fluid beings, bodies becoming. I’m moved by movement not as representation, but as changing, unfixing, undoing, reordering, re-sculpting, re-knowing, a celebration of temporality and impermanence, of all that’s in between.
All these days of discussing and doing, months of watching and writing seeking to tug on tenuous threads that lead to knotty places.
To encourage fraying, tension and unraveling, to tangle and to loosen, rather than tie things off neatly in bows, binding bodies with words.
To invite difficulty, acknowledging that movement is rarely straight forward, that we can set out and go off course - meet unexpected people in unfamiliar places - arriving somewhere different, transformed by encountering other realities.
The craft of making and the art of disappearance
A sculptor, a dry stone wall builder, a thatcher, a potter,
Considers their materials their qualities, their dynamics, their action, in space and time, how they might change and transform in weather, in heat in cold.
I’m a maker. My material is the world around me, the words we find, the movements we make, the learning that comes from living. My work is to listen and to touch gently upon the some things we won’t have words for, where words fail, to notice what might go unnoticed, the somethings in between.
The sculptor, the painter makes studies, explorations in material, time, light. A series of considerations, of properties, qualities, particularities to bring an object into being, a visual, physical manifestation, which may, or may not, endure over time
What then for those of us whose materials and studies are with the intangible, the live, the fleeting,
The craft of making, the art of disappearance
I tend more these days to talk about making and curating
Make, from the Old English macian "to make, form, construct, do; prepare, arrange, cause; behave, fare, transform
Curate, from Medieval Latin curatus "one responsible for the care (of souls)," from Latin curatus, past participle of curare "to take care of"
Rather than work in participatory practice, live art or performance,
I create offerings and invitations, choreographies, objects, intimate encounters in a certain light
Dance is at the heart, why dance…. Yes because of its spectacle, for the social and the ritual, for health and wellbeing,. An art form, a political act, and for me because it is the art form most like what is to be in the world.
Here and gone
I identify as queer
All the shades of grey
The mist, somewhere in between
And I’m genuinely curious about other ways of being in the world, each of our unique lived experience, is precious, and gathered together offer up wisdoms for living. What of that wisdom should become public and what remain private.
If my work is to be with to you for as long as you need, to choreograph an encounter, a darkened room, a conversation about some memory across a floor. Where you or I may share something that wont meet others eyes or ears and you leave this room with only the tiniest trace.
How do we value that? That time, that labour, those crafted moments.
That empty space
Where we make what’s seemingly certain, money, art, ourselves, beautifully disappear.
Today, I remember,
Memory is a live act
a choreography, of connection.
Today, I remember that Ophelia said
Rosemary is for remembrance. Pansies are for thoughts.
I have so many. Thoughts and words
For forgotten bodies. Magic that did not go
Still, here. Transformed.
I remember they said
Here, be dragons and, witches to burn
I remember they said
To write with left is wrong
I remember they said
Don’t ever wipe tears without gloves
What atrocities arise, from fear of some unknown
I remember that ‘truths’ change
Today, my hands will be wet and muddied,
as I tend to what might grow.
tomorrow, I will remember those we won’t yet know.
Get Better Soon?
What’s not lost
What matter matters to whom
We collect ourselves into being
Who cares enough
These mute witnesses
Somethings coming to surface
My 21st century aesthetic is informed by
the life I have lived
the paths I have crossed
the people I have touched and who have touched me
the meanings we make
I have spent many moons in theatres along with other theatre folks and over time I have come to believe that these spaces, places for gathering, sharing utterings and gestures of what it is to live (and die) on land and sea, are built upon values from days of yore.
I have come to believe that these buildings, these manmade structures, these ways of seeing and sensing, still rely upon values drawn from just one way of being in the world.
A tradition of castles and theatres, dwellings and outhouses, built for a hierarchy of courts and classes
A tradition of castles and theatres, built and made with one way of seeing in mind
A tradition of castles and theatres, built for looking up or looking down
One way of seeing
One way of perceiving
One way of making meaning
One of way of appreciating
And although our traditions may be evolving, although there may be new dances in theatres and choreographies in great halls, on farms, lochs and mountains, that interrupt, disrupt, disturb, question these ways of
Our efforts, our endorsements, our measures of worth, still look up and down towards these buildings
These enchanted spaces are gated
We order these buildings with hierarchical ideologies
Looking up to gods and down upon those in the cheap seats
Looking up to elaborate, formal gestures, of assailing, rising
Looking up to a mastery of one tongue
Taken from many
Turning away from people falling, writhing, rolling, leaking, weeping, seeping, weathering, shrinking, stumbling, dripping, beautiful messings
the wet stuff that lets us know we are alive
Beasts and beings, in a world moving
Amongst chess-set staff in buildings, looking up to Kings and Queens and down on the ground, workers, demons, goblins.
No-man is an island.
We force fabricated structures upon ecology, only occasionally encountering, the fleeting folks living in the land, crossing waters
Fixed upon a vertical ascent, increased accumulation
When we could, look out, around, behind, beyond beneath
We could listen, lean back, laydown and dig
Squirm and squeeze and shake. Reach, rollout, embrace, breathe
Out. In and go
Artist as anthropologist
What we choose to remember
and what we allow ourselves to forget
This re-remembering is an inscription of where I am now, how I see, think, feel
A sensing of the presence of so much human fear, fear of the other, of things that seem too close to mortality, fear of impermanence, of change and transformation, fear of being what we are, fuelled by shame and money
The overbearing presence of patriarchal medicine, reductive notions of normalcy, a colonial architecture for our social sensibility
An absence in the world of attending to others, as peers, with kindness, with genuine curiosity, with empathy, without fear
I don’t want to Get Better Soon, my difference, my deviation, ditherings and disruptions, my deficit, my dances, are amplifications of empathy,
Political acts of Love