Sunday, 17 March 2013

Thoughts from week 2 of our Dancing in Museums R&D

During week 2 of my research and development for the Dancing in Museums project, I worked with dancers Lucy Starkey and Stuart Waters at Moving East in London.

We’ve primarily been looking at:
•    the potential for interaction between the ‘narrator-characters’ who will introduce the piece to the audience and join the artefact-solos together (and, in a museum context, lead the audience around the space)
•    movement ideas drawing from processes of fossilisation and particularly a fossilised shark’s tooth and the vertebra of a marine reptile (such as a Plesiosaur or Ichthyosaur)
•    an Anglo-Saxon skull
•    Roman artefacts made from different metals, initially armour and coins
with lots more still to explore using other artefacts as starting points.

Some of our discoveries:
•    there is great potential for cross-over and making connections between the different solos, and as we begin our research I’m thinking more and more that the transitions between the solos could tell as much, if not more of the overall story than the independent artefact-solos themselves; for example:
-    the ‘shark tooth’ qualities (sleek, streamlined, vicious, strong, direct) and more delicate coral-inspired movement (both drawing on imagery from the Prehistoric sea) connect with the narrator-characters we have been working on for Stuart and Lucy respectively
-    the regimented Roman armour movement could connect with thoughts I have about a World War II gas mask artefact (as could the movement phrases we've created for the image of small sea creatures being buried by sediment, at the beginning of the process of fossilisation)
-    the curiosity of the narrator-characters, with questions tumbling all over the place, could connect physically with the primal movement that might illustrate the beginning of the evolution of Man (connecting with stone tool artefacts and later with other technologies); it could also connect with movement exploring the Anglo-Saxon skull
-    the ‘trace fossil’ (fossils that evidence past events or the behaviour of a particular creature e.g. fossilised footprints, animal tracks, water marks) movement phrases could be developed and used as transitioning devices to connect other parts of the story – so the audience could be encouraged to follow the trail of movement created by one of the dancers for example

•    We have begun exploring different kinds of narrative within our research, including a ‘lecture-demonstration’ and two lectures happening simultaneously, more conversational sections, a Natural History programme, some parts with only whispered ideas, some sounds but no words and even a wrestling match! I would like to continue developing the potential for variation between more descriptive and more abstract passages, in terms of the text but also the movement. There’s also lots more to learn about different ways of delivering the story e.g. sometimes through the sound-score/recorded text, sometimes narrated by others (i.e. voices coming from ‘offstage’), sometimes told by members of the audience, sometimes in the form of messages written on pieces of paper and concealed in archive boxes.

•     There is also great potential to allow the performance to develop and change in response to an audience, and in response to an unconventional performance space such as a museum – we will explore this more next week when we will be returning to the Lincolnshire primary schools from week 1 of our research and will have members of our target audience to work with. We will also be spending some time on site at The Collection Museum during the coming week and a half. It will be important to consider how we can replicate this interactivity in the theatre-based version of the final work e.g. will it be possible to work in the round, or how can we involve the audience in the performance as they are entering and exiting the theatre space, during the performance, and during the interval for example? An ongoing question in my mind is how to involve the audience in the process of solving an overall puzzle or mystery to be accumulated throughout the performance and then somehow ‘resolved’ at the end. This process would evoke the process of interpreting historical evidence, or putting pieces of a puzzle together to build up a story from an often incomplete archaelogical discovery.

On Friday 15th March we had an informal sharing/open rehearsal opportunity to receive feedback on the early work-in-progress, and I am hugely grateful to those who came to this sharing and contributed their ideas about the work so far. Audience feedback has reminded me about:
•    the need for balance between integrating text and movement in a way that is descriptive (telling just the right amount of the story in a more literal, chronological way) but also for creating a more evocative, immersive environment/atmosphere through the combination of words, movement and sound (as well as, in the future, costume and props), particularly when we perform the work in a specific site such as a museum. So sometimes we may describe the museum artefact that we are bringing to life through movement, sometimes it may be interesting to just allow the quality of the movement/text and the atmosphere supported by the sound-score to evoke the nature of that object, without spelling out exactly what it is. This needs to be tested out with our young ‘steering group’ audience next week.

“I had a very strong feeling of watching creatures/beings in a habitat...The sound used in the section also worked very well in creating an atmosphere of tension and attack”

•    the importance of working in a non-patronising way when creating work for a younger audience (the rigour of the creative process when creating work for this target audience was something that I noticed when shadowing both Full House Theatre Company and Aracaladanza in November and January respectively)
•    the need for clarity of delivery of any text: when the audience are hearing the words for the first time, they may not understand them as clearly as the dancers come to understand them over the period of rehearsal; repetition of text/sections of movement throughout the performance may also help with this, and in the final work I think I would like fragments of movement/text to recur throughout the piece as they are ‘collected together’ in some way to contribute to an overall conclusion
•    similarly, the need for the tone and quality of the text to enhance the dynamic and quality of the movement material and vice versa (or to deliberately contrast if this is for a particular reason)
•    creating movement that is suitable for sited work as well as performances in conventional theatre spaces (e.g. being aware of the different sight lines that will occur when performing something in a specific site and the potential challenges/opportunities of that environment such as a hard floor and lots of fragile exhibits/display cases)
•    the very particular, special experience of being able to get close to a piece of live dance work rather than sitting back from it in an end-on performance context, and how this changes the audience’s perception of the work

“The text (and eye contact) when [the audience are standing] in the space completely changes the intention of the dialogue. It seems more conversational – and so I’m being spoken to, in contrast with hearing dialogue being spoken aloud when sat down”

“It seems a piece where following the dancers would be as much a part of the enjoyment/appeal/focus as being static and watching the piece”

“Being close made all the difference. I can really imagine it in a museum space”

Some other audience feedback:
“I felt immediately engaged with the words and drawn into the human characterisations and mannerisms that were portrayed through both movement and text”

“Lovely movement sequences in general; fossilised footprints as an example”

“The piece has great potential to be both educational and visually intriguing for children/families”

With thanks as always to the dancers and my other creative collaborators including composer Max Perryment, to those who attended our sharing on the 15th March, to Moving East (like them on Facebook here:, to artsNK and The Collection Museum/Lincolnshire Heritage Services.

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