Saturday, 9 March 2013

End of week 1: Dancing in Museums R&D

The busy first week of Dancing in Museums research workshops in Lincolnshire primary schools ended today at St Andrew's School in Leasingham. The children from Mr Harrison's class had been to The Collection Museum very recently and were therefore able to share with me the stories of their favourite Roman objects, and to bring them to life through movement:

A Gladius (type of Roman sword)

The fourth of the Roman dice being thrown

A Roman shield

A snake bracelet

The children went on to explore an even greater range of Roman objects, and hopefully I will be able to post some short video extracts of their dances after we have returned to see all the schools again in the week of the 18th March.

It's difficult to know where to begin when trying to give an overview of the ideas we have been working with this week, as there has been such a wealth of information, but here are a few key observations about how the children responded to a range of museum artefacts.

In no particular order, the children engaged with:

  • objects that they perceived to be ‘weird, slimy, crooked, jagged, distorted’ and so on – overall, the words ‘beautiful’ or ‘pretty’ didn’t come up very often, although they did notice patterns – ‘scaly, swirly, with spots or stripes’; sometimes the children also interpreted these patterns more imaginatively e.g. “it’s like a rock with lots of eyes”
  • the idea of travelling backwards and forwards in time (plus slow-motion and fast-forward)
  • dinosaur artefacts (we’ve been using Plesiosaur vertebrae as a starting point for movement development, but the children talk about a lot of other dinosaurs as well and their favourites tend to be those which are more commonly known or those with the longest necks, the sharpest teeth and so on; for example, they like Tyrannosaurus Rex, Diplodocus and Pterodactyl)
  • fossils that are sharp (that look like teeth and claws)
  • ammonite fossils, because the children recognise them and many of them have found ammonites when fossil-hunting or know someone in their family who has one
  • Great White and Megalodon sharks
  • the idea of creating the articulating spine with their bodies (as we went through the week the ‘spines’ became more elaborate and multi-directional)
  • the image of fossilised footprints or tracks and the idea of messages being left by people in the past to be interpreted or followed by people in the present (I am keen to convey in the final piece that I will make that the museum artefacts are messages from the past, even if we don’t ‘read’ them in the same way that we read written messages)
  • the idea of evolution – particularly the image of the monkey developing into Man
  • full-bodied, impressive movements; the children use some contact work and like using canon as a choreographic device; some of the children also like an overall cyclical structure, where things begin and end in a similar/connected way
  • a mixture of imaginative/bizarre and scientific or historically accurate ideas
  • Egyptian mummies, skeletons, statues ‘waking up’
  • bringing to life the mechanism of an object e.g. a clock or a brooch fastening
  • Roman artefacts such as:
-          Roman dice
-          The Gladius (Roman sword)
-          A Roman shield
-          Snake bracelet
-          Rings and other jewellery
-          Pilum (Roman javelin used by Roman soldiers)
-          Roman coins (which many of the children thought had been intentionally buried by people in Roman times in order for them to be found by people in the future: they liked the idea of there being a direct, intentional connection between past and future)

Many of the children with whom I’ve been working initially respond to and create movement in quite a literal way, but are quick to develop their story-telling when, for example, they are given some examples of how to do so, or encouraged to consider more deeply the quality of the starting points to which they are responding.

Often the children like to follow each other, and are easily led by what they see other people doing. They are insatiably curious – e.g. they want to know how old? Where did it live? How were they born? Why were some small and some big? How many teeth did it have? How many years were the Romans here? The more information they have, the more fully they engage with a subject.

The children particularly like to know more about extremes of scale and want to know the smallest, biggest, oldest, sharpest, most dangerous... They also like stories in which the underdog succeeds in the end. Interestingly, many of the children want to be the one to work out why the puzzle is flawed, what’s the odd one out, why doesn’t the logic work and what can they do to make it work?

I haven’t spent a great deal of time discussing ‘future objects’ with the children this week, and will do so more when I return to the schools in the week of the 18th March, but those children who have offered ideas about what we might find in museums in the future have talked about:
  • animals that are in danger of becoming extinct
  • the things that the children thought represented contemporary times e.g. cars, cameras, computers and phones of all kinds, iPhones and iPads, aircraft, televisions; our films and kinds of dancing like street dance, free-running/parkour
  • things that we have now that people may excavate in the future (although maybe archaeology itself will be a different process) that have fallen out of use and therefore become future artefacts
Next week I will be in the studio developing the ideas the children have contributed over the past week with two dancers, Lucy Starkey and Stuart Waters. Stay posted for more updates about the project on the company blog.

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