Monday, 29 August 2011

Some thoughts at the end of our first week

We've just completed the first of 5 rehearsal weeks beginning to develop our research from last year into an hour long piece called Matters of Life and Death.

This week we've been working on establishing a clear sense of our original scenario (the scene taken from Waterland by Graham Swift) or 'trigger image'.

For example, we have developed our understanding of the geography of the original scenario, working with designer James Perkins, and using the first of the set pieces James made for us. At the moment that geography looks something like this:

Working plan drawing by James Perkins
I've also been thinking about the appropriate rhythm for the opening of the piece.
Initially we're working with a slow-paced torchlight section, in which the unconscious body 'bobs gently', 'swivels and rocks', 'in the position of someone quietly, pronely asleep'. The body floats in this way throughout the night before it is discovered, and consequently I want to find an engaging way of replicating this sense of a great deal of time passing in the opening scene of Matters. By 'engaging', I also mean 'intriguing', but I would not discount the possibility of making this section (a prelude or overture to the main piece) uncomfortably long, so the audience recognises the need for something to change before it actually does.

At dawn, the body is discovered, and we see 4 people arriving on the scene: the emotions they bring in with them dictate the rhythm of their behaviour.
Elements that also contribute to the rhythm of the original scenario include:
  • initially there is a sense of disorientation because the body is discovered very early in the morning, and the characters have to deal with their disbelief that something like this could happen here, and on such a beautiful morning
  • the body is face down when it is found, making it difficult to recognise and to manoeuvre
  • there are several failed attempts to get the body out of the water
  • some of the people who discover the body work at cross-purposes, therefore making it harder to remove the body from the water
  • there is urgency and therefore time-pressure, due to the fact that some of the people who discover the body refuse to believe at first that it cannot be rescued
We've then skipped ahead a bit in what I understand to be the overall structure of the piece to see what happens when we use James' set-piece to anchor what is happening while we alter the perspective of the original scenario:
We've found that the pivoting action that occurs around the body as we rotate the perspective distills what is important e.g. in terms of
  • the movement getting more abstracted
  • our recognition of the more powerful parts of the space (the small part of the sluice in which the body is found and the 'safe space' that the people who discover the body carry it to)
  • the fact that the activity of pivoting itself is indicative of many of the behaviours we're dealing with anyway e.g. 
  • by turning the scenario round and round, we represent a kind of denial of the fact that it happens in the first place: the pivoting action also represents a building confusion 
  • there is a longing to go backwards which cannot be fulfilled which connects with regret, and also with hope 
  • the perseverance indicated by the repetition of the original scenario also connects with hope
  • reiterating patterns are fundamental to life e.g. they connect with how we learn, with how we make memories, with how we tell our stories, with the passing of the seasons and the phases of our lives. Phelix and Lucy have done some research into the work of artists Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy in connection with this, and I have also been reading On Europa by John Berger and Sum by David Eagleman (amongst lots of other resources) with this in mind.
  • by accumulating a complex developing pattern of circumstances, we recognise the impossibility of a simple pattern, or of straightforward, unchanging, simple emotions
There are lots of alternative versions of the original scenario, or new directions in which we could take it, and this exploration of the alternatives will form the main content of the Matters work.

This week we also had 2 sessions with Contact Improvisation practitioner Jovair Longo, who worked with the dancers and Lucy and Phelix (our project-management apprentices who have been supported by Lincolnshire Dance to be with us during the first 2 weeks of our rehearsal) developing many things including:
  • an awareness of the spine, and the fluid movement resulting from this increased awareness
  • working with less movement, but with more attention to the detail of that movement
  • introducing an awareness of memory within the improvised work e.g. allowing the experience of an improvisation to imprint on the memory, also drawing on memory sub-consciously as a stimulus for improvised movement
  • revisiting patterns of falling (disorientation, thinking three-dimensionally), and spiralling
  • reminding us that the 'floating' image we play with a lot in Matters can be swift and weightless, it doesn't only have to be slow and sustained
  • registering different qualities of contact
  • recognising when we are active and when we are passive in contact with someone else, and acknowledging that sometimes we can make a conscious effort to shift between the two

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