dance and people talk

On Friday 2 November 2018 Luke was asked to give a closing key note for Skanes Dans Teater’s conference Dance and People Talk. Although this paper was performed for the audience that day, something close to the words shared are here:

I’ve so appreciated hearing about the work that has been happening here today and that I’ve been able to experience through Dialog over the past years. I’ve known Tanja and Peder - since 2012, we when met through Caroline Bowditch, at a conference called pathways to the profession where dance and people talked / people talked about dance…

Which is already going back some time… but, for now, I’d like to go back some days to my journey here… at the beginning of this week.

1

There’s a wee girl across the row from me on my plane, red hair, green dummy, blue eyes, fierce smile, purple boots and flowery tights, yellow smock and the kind of cheeks that bloom pink when she giggles ... she’s playing peek a boo with me, throwing her head back, hiding her eyes, giggling, arching her whole body, kicking her feet, I laugh and hide and she laughs and hides and wriggles and wiggles and moves and laughs some more.

Her mum is sat to her right and her father in front - her parents don’t notice our play but as ever I wonder what would happen if they did.

The man next to me does, a loud long huff and shoogle back in his seat and a sort of sneer - the man next to me, whose legs and knees knock mine and spread out over half way into the little room I’m afforded on the plane and also into the the woman he’s sat next to, sat explaining what she should see and do in Copenhagen when she arrives and how she can get there, without her having asked.

As I leave the airport I walk through two folding glass doors- this threshold space between here and there  - to collect my baggage - a small sign, on the doors depicts two yellow figures, one smaller than the other holding hands, a line crossed through them that suggests don’t hold hands, wait in line, do not go through together.

I am often someone sat or stood alone in public space, listening to, noticing, attending to the choreography of people, place and thought. 

2

This summer I was sat alone (again).

Reading this book – holds up Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own - in a street in Sardinia.

Some very small children, wee ones, toddlers were playing in the street.

Sticking straws in holes in the walls, passing, shoving, passing, bending, twisting, trundling back and forth, showing each other, joining in, taking turns, repeating the patterns, sharing it, changing it, complicating it, enjoying it, finding out how they and this game could fit together.

 

Some, small choreography on a sunny Monday afternoon.

Hands in earth and wet and mess and dust and fun and finding things, solving things, smiling things.

And I found myself smiling at their task, this act, they made together.

Their communication, before words, beyond words

Before rules imposed, systems that regulate, remove and distance

Before their parents noticed and picked them up – unimpressed, a little disgusted - pulled them apart and took them away.

And I turned from this disappearing dance back to my book.

3

A Room of One’s Own comes from 2 papers that Virginia Woolf gave in October 1928 – 90 years ago, that’s nine, only nine decades.

Some of the things I like about this book are the words she uses for things, the way she talks about the movement of people, about writing and poetry.

And in particular the ways she talks about how we all influence each other, how what has gone before, what has been written and how, is in us, we cant get away from that, but we can change it, one of things I like most is the attention she draws to the huge discrepancy in what gets to be or got put down on paper because of money, exclusion, education and gender.

Since the summer these lines from her essay stayed with, making me think about today.

“Nothing remains of it at all. All has vanished. No biography or history has a word to say about it. And the novels, without meaning to, inevitably lie. All of these infinitely obscure lives remain to be recorded…”

 These words made me think a lot again about my experience and work in dance and how what Woolf wrote has stayed true for so long with regards to women, race, disability, gender, identity. They make me think about belonging and privilege.

4

I am so privileged.

My nana grew up in a two room house, six of nine children who survived and all slept in one room until some of them turned teens and ran away.

My grandad had no birth certificate, no shoes, no pants for school, didn’t know who his parents were but worked to feed the ‘family’ he lived in, until he could run away.

How very quickly we jump from generations, through time, possibilities, forgetting what was or wasn’t there before.

From 13 I had a room of my own, that I hid in until I was 16 and ran away.

My parents were ‘post-working class but it was never a given that anyone went on in education - but it was a possibility, I left home and worked four years to go to university and then three jobs when I was there to get by.

I am so privileged – not least because I have worked with and been changed by some extraordinary artists, projects and all kinds of people along the way.

I now have the privilege each week of being in spaces with people, bodies, dancers and choreographers as they make, working out how to be together, spaces of emergence, where new things, possibilities occur.

5

I was drawn to dance because of difference.

The first dance companies I saw when I was studying/training were Candoco and Lea Andersons Cholmondeleys and the Featherstonehaughs.

I felt like dance was a place where anything was possible, where any one could belong and in anyway.

Belong, in English

is based on the Old English word gelang 

Meaning ‘at hand, together with’

 

It wasn’t until I began working in dance education that I became so acutely aware of the divides between what in the UK was so strongly separated into the professional stage, education work and community dance, the professionals and the non-professionals.

I heard a lot about ‘them up there’ who could enrich the lives of those down there, the original dance animateurs… who would go out and bestow dance unto those who didn’t know what they were missing .

Or,

I’d hear dancers and other folks from companies talking about those who can’t (perform) teach or work ‘with the community’

And I have worked now for a lot of years with artists, outliers, who were told in many ways you don’t belong here.

 The split, the divide 

One valued more than the other 

The aspiration

A mountain to ascend

Crossing from the corner

Over the years I’ve been at a lot of dance conferences where time has been given to this preoccupation with the distinction between ‘Professional’ and ‘Non-professional, who’s out and who’s in. What I want to reflect on or propose does not set out in anyway to disrespect or diminish the years of commitment, training and craft that any dance professional puts in to their art. But, what I do wonder about is what these binary terms offer.

 When I worked with Candoco we instigated a process of re-framing the company as a learning organisation – so that every element of what we did was an opportunity for learning, for artistic inquiry to effect and inform the company across all of it’s activities and that meant the performing company on stage, the youth company, the team in the office, associates creating work off stage. That all of us were engaged in an act of artist development with our peers and communities

Today, we’ve heard about examples of the space that can exist for a spectrum of experiences, aesthetics, realities and practices.

It is so important that we remember and re-remember what has gone before and how we’ve come to be here.

 

We each make meaning from the information we are afforded.

So how do we consider, what resonates with whose reality, what are we ignorant of, elevated above or cast aside from.  So that when we come to work together we meet where ‘we’ are, where we can, in shared territory, a threshold (as the dramaturg Ruth Little says) that we can grow.

 To go together – alongside, not in front, behind, before.

Asking and recognising that what’s at stake will be different, where we start from and on whose terms, that we are all experts of different realities.

Our practice is relational and some of the things I think are at the heart of extraordinary work is an attention to truth and the work done to find real reciprocity.

6

I think and hope that colleagues agree that there has been change over time, the turning of the axis – from a vertical – to ascend – to a horizon of all kinds of possibilities

There is in the world an abundance of ways and work that is engaged and researchful - and there is increased recognition, understanding and appreciation of those artists whose work – has at its heart a genuine curiosity in others and the world around us, asking questions, making propositions through meaningful and rigorous collaborative processes.

What I notice when I encounter works like these is the expertise, the energy, the engagement and genuine interest required to work in this way, a way of working and belief in people that means that everyone involved is agent and author with autonomy, rather than instrument

And when that intention is true I experience innovation.

7

As artists and practitioners working in this field we have a responsibility to interrogate our intentions, where our interest, our curiosity, our desires come from, why we make work and what it is doing in the world, who it is meeting with and how.

Whose stories get told and by who. Which bodies tell those stories – well - whose voice, whose vision and in whose image. Whose dreams, realities, possibilities are given space on stage and in performance.

I was talking with a colleague on the phone yesterday about a project who proposed that ‘some of the values encoded in the format we work’ can be a challenge to what we are trying to do, some of the structures that exist already in dance (and the world) can pull as apart rather than bring us together.

We have a responsibility to extend our awareness, of difference and closeness, of people, place, dance, vocabularies, language and movements and to work in the spaces between.

 Because, if all of who is in our world is in our art, it can offer wisdoms for living.

We are in another moment in time where – hopefully – we are so acutely aware of the abundance of stories that have not been told, hidden, denied.

8

As Woolf said 90 years ago: “No human being should be shut out of view”.

The same is true in dance - we can have different bodies on stage but if the stories we tell are told only in the image of what’s gone before …what good does it do, why should we or an audience care.

For me when I think about the work shared today and these shifts we want to make, they are not about a codified sense of what virtuosity is, or a wonder in spectacle but about growing capacity. Technical, creative, playful, provocative imaginative, empathic, moving capacity.

We’ve heard today about pre-existing structures, interlocking systems of power, oppression and assumption, fear, the media, able-ism, whiteness, the polarised - pushing away.

And I’m glad today that we have heard and are part of an infinite spectrum of humanity that can be reflected in the dances we see, experience and participate in - drawing us near.

I am hugely humbled and excited by the potential we have to enrich and change our work, our worlds and form by making space and art with those stories and bodies – human and the more-than-human - that haven’t been present and/or should be better represented.  

There has been talk about dance, reciprocity, mutual risk, touch and trust…

9        

And care.

In her book ‘Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope (published 15yrs ago) Bell Hooks says:

“Dominator culture has tried to keep us all afraid, to make us choose safety instead of risk, sameness instead of diversity. Moving through that fear, finding out what connects us, revelling in our differences; this is the process that brings us closer, that gives us a world of shared values, of meaningful community”.

In a field when we work with the intelligence of our moving, changing bodies we have and can nurture the skills to really listen, to all that is there – already – to turn up the volume and discover, invite the fullness of a person, to open up the self

A very wise person once said to me that dance is so much more fun to do than to watch ( I didn’t agree). But, when that’s there –that thing and maybe it doesn’t appear as fun – that commitment, conviction, immersion in the moment, that absolute presence that comes from being wholly in and alive in ones skin, in one’s self in relationship to others and to what else is in the world.

We see it

We feel it

We are with it

And it is joyous

The space for vulnerability, for strength and certainty and unsure-ness - all of what we are  – all alongside one another.

Opening, and extending and compelling

and I care, I care, I care

I feel full of care

 full of life

of Love.

 

In dance and choreography we have ways in which we can work with such closeness with such endless curiosity, with criticality, compassion and complexity.

We have - for now - the gift of time and space and a practice that explores how we move within that.

Working out how to be together, differently.

And in this space I can check myself.

By asking, why is it possible for me to be here, in this place, who and what came before me, why do I think like I do, move like I do, how much space do I take up, and share, what new space can we grow, for those we don’t yet know.

Who could or should be here instead, how do we always, always do what we do with care.

To step aside, to make sure that everyone has room of their own, to make space.

To speak, to be seen and heard, to dance.

And so that

when we dance,

what we dance,

are political acts of Love.

marsh and metal and change