Saturday, 18 February 2012

New work inspired by Matters

Next week I will be working intensively with the third year dance students at University Campus Suffolk (UCS) to create a new piece based on Matters of Life and Death .

On Monday, dancers Morgan, Adam and Dani will teach some phrases of movement from the existing piece, but the students will also be creating a lot of their own movement. In order for them to be able to take ownership of the new work rather than feeling like they are creating an imitation of something I have already made I am introducing a series of new movement stimuli as well as drawing on source material I have used before.

The first new source I have introduced is Pincher Martin, the 1956 novel by William Golding, and particularly the very first image of that novel which describes a drowning figure:
He was struggling in every direction, he was the centre of the writhing and kicking knot of his own body. There was no up or down, no light and no air. He felt his mouth open of itself and the shrieked word burst out.
Pincher Martin, William Golding

Amongst many other things, this opening image has inspired the overall spatial arrangement that I think I will use throughout the new piece: I am using a series of concentric circles in my planning, with the smallest circle being "the centre of the writhing and kicking knot", the most compact, awkward space, in which panic sets in, irrational and sudden. The piece will start here, at the epicentre, and then gradually emanate outwards. I also want to keep shifting the 'front' of the space to give a sense of constant spiralling. I've used the image of a whirlpool in early workshops for the piece as a representation of this continuous movement:

Since visiting the new Picasso and Modern British Art exhibition at Tate Britain, I have also been inspired to think about the overall structure of the new version of the work in the same way that artist Graham Sutherland responded to seeing Picasso's Guernica. I have taken the following from the Tate visitor notes for the exhibition:
Sutherland acknowledged his debt to Guernica, from which he learnt that 'by a kind of paraphrase of appearances things could be made to look more vital and real'. In the late 1930s, Sutherland made several works based on objects found in the countryside, like tree roots and branches, which metamorphose into figurative presences. Their tortured and anxious appearance suited a world descending into war.
From Wikipedia, a literary 'paraphrase' is a "restatement of the meaning of a text or passage using other words"; it "Explains or clarifies the text that is being paraphrased" and "conveys the essential thought" of the original.

Some examples of Sutherland's works indicate the way in which his stylisation of real or imagined scenes is evocative of particular emotional states. I found this a helpful way of re-looking at many of Picasso's works in the exhibition.

So when working with the third years at UCS I will be boiling down much of the emotional content of Matters of Life and Death into its most significant component parts. As this will be a piece for 15 dancers I will be seeking to find ways of representing certain emotional states through the quality of movement, and the quality of the dancers' interaction with each other and with the space, rather than assigning particular characters or roles to each of the 15 dancers. The dancers' ensemble movement will describe certain human behaviours or emotions that occur when an individual feels threatened, although ultimately, as ever, I want the work to be about determination and resilience. Let's see what happens!

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