Thursday, 4 April 2013

Dancing in Museums R&D week 3 thoughts

The final week and a half of our Dancing in Museums research consisted of:
  • return visits to the 5 primary schools I worked with in week 1
  • research on-site at The Collection Museum, with children from Monks Abbey School on the 18th March, and then working towards a sharing for an small audience on the 25th March
  • initial work in response to music from Max Perryment
  • workshops with writer Anna Selby
Anna working with the young dancers at Monks Abbey School
We also performed a 10 minute extract of our work-in-progress at the first South East Dance Studios Scratch Night on the 28th March, so we’ve been able to collect plenty of feedback to assimilate into the future planning for the project from children, their teachers and audience members, and I’m hugely grateful to everyone who has contributed their thoughts.

Rehearsing at South East Dance Studios
Some of our most significant discoveries have included:

Choice of performance space:
The atmospheric potential of the work is certainly heightened by proximity and therefore has real scope for performance in museums and other specific sites such as libraries, galleries and heritage sites. Audience feedback indicates that the fact that the project brings the dancers so close to the audience is one of its most special features – this means that one of my key questions going forward is how to recreate this in a theatre environment, as there will also be a version of the final work that is tailored to theatres.

The way in which we draw the audience round the space in the museum (or other site-specific) environment can be an engaging part of the story-telling in itself, and could provide opportunities for the audience to play hide-and-seek  or to follow ‘clues’ that would help them find the next part of the performance for themselves .

Given more time, there’s much more work to do on ways to connect the movement with the performance site: somehow revealing what is already there but in a different way, and a way that enhances its meaning/significance or can encourage our younger audiences to think more deeply about what they find in museums and how this connects with them / is part of their history. So the work has the potential to entertain, but also to promote new understanding.

Use of text:
There is a great deal of potential for working with text and movement. In delivering the work (and the text in particular), we need to continue exploring the clarity and range of tone of voice for example; the range of styles of story-telling we employ; the potential for contrast; the interplay between rhythm of movement and rhythm of text (e.g. when to keep the relationship between the two quite close, and when to play with separating them). In some instances, we only need a little bit of text to tie the more abstract movement we’ve been developing back to what it represents e.g. in our ‘Roman’ section as it currently stands, Lucy’s armour begins to disintegrate and transforms into a more delicate metal (as used in Roman coins); Stuart becomes a ‘tour guide’ again and tells the audience “The coins were left buried, he never returned”, therefore offering one interpretation of what Lucy’s movement could signify, but also allowing a great deal of space for the audience’s independent interpretation.

Narrator characters:
Our ‘narrator-characters’ – ostensibly people who work at the museum, and lead the audience in their tour around the performance space – have become very significant. The children love them because they are funny (usually working in opposition to each other), they break the rules, they talk to them and they encourage them to join in. There’s more scope for them to return throughout the piece, so their interaction with the audience is like a ‘chorus’ device which ties all the artefact pieces together. During these ‘choruses’, they could ask the audience questions (and encourage them to answer them) which could become increasingly surreal or imaginative over time. Some thought has to be given to the order of these narrator sections, and what parts of the story they reveal and when.

There’s also potential to develop the narrator-characters further, expanding their movement vocabulary, and exaggerating their movement characteristics, as well as giving them different names.

There’s a fine balance between inciting riot and allowing chaos to build (which the narrator-characters seem to do very quickly, as you can see in our workshops video from around 4.06) and knowing when to move on or to re-focus. Sometimes when the audience become really noisy, it helps for Stuart to be really calm in contrast (as the more authoritative narrator); to keep his instructions relatively simple and to give them a purpose (e.g. “don’t breathe because otherwise the ceiling will fall down”). It’s important to me to allow space for the audience to be able to interact with the dancers, to have the opportunity to offer their own responses and to explore their environment freely for themselves, but I also want them to watch the movement ideas that the dancers are offering, because there’s potential there to challenge their ability to interpret and engage with more abstract movement, as well as being entertained by a certain amount of silliness!

Involvement of the audience
We had the invaluable opportunity of working with members of our target audience to test out elements of audience participation, and we were able to observe the importance of the interactive element of the work and game-playing as a means of enabling our younger audience to engage more fully in the world of the work.

We noticed that if the children we were working with had done some kind of physical warm-up before watching Lucy and Stuart performing some extracts of work-in-progress, their response to those extracts was much more immediate, more vocal, more physical, more imaginative than if they effectively went straight from their classroom into watching the work. So we started implementing a variety of ways of ‘warming them up’ e.g. through Stuart giving them instructions before they came into the museum, or asking them to join in with a short ‘Health and Safety’ related routine (and then breaking that routine), through asking them questions, encouraging them to create their own imaginary creatures, asking them to follow them in different ways or to find where someone was hidden in the museum, dancing through them (e.g. with the Roman armour movement material), or dancing with them.

It will be important, regardless of the performance context, to make the final work as interactive as possible (it will therefore consist of some choreographed sections, and some more improvised elements that we can adapt to each different audience), so the audience are drawn into the work in the introduction, then in short breaks or encounters throughout the piece, then also at the end. This is why it would also be particularly valuable for schools planning to bring children to see a performance of the work to also host a workshop prior to the performance where possible. This would impact positively on the audience’s understanding of the work, giving them an insight into the way in which we made it, and would maybe also provide them with an opportunity to contribute words or movements that we could integrate into our performances. For example, we have a ‘Q&A’ session in our work-in-progress as it currently stands, and it consists almost entirely of questions we’ve been asked by the children with whom we’ve worked throughout March (as well as some of their answers).

Choice of artefacts:
We’re a little closer to making a selection of the artefacts that we will focus on in the final piece (there will also be scope to introduce new artefacts in each area/museum where we share the work in order to tailor the piece to each local community and its specific local history). Artefacts that work well tend to be those for which we can somehow replicate the physical form of the object in our movement. For example: “The opening phrase around the fossil object showed a great understanding of a physical object that was left behind through history and had a strong connection to the physical object that had been selected from within the museum. It would be great to see further development of how the other sections connect more with their physical objects.” (audience feedback, 25th March)
As well as fossils, Roman armour and the Anglo-Saxon skull have come across very clearly through movement exploration, although there’s more work to be done on all of these and other objects.

As I mentioned in my earlier blog post it is in the connections to be made between the artefacts as well as the artefacts themselves that some of the most engaging content can be found. For example several audience members picked up on the capacity for the way in which we’ve been exploring fossils and the fossilisation process to show us the evolutionary process at work (by chance, I discovered more on this in the Natural History Museum video documenting some of the objects in their Treasures gallery e.g. from 3.02 onwards). I’d like to develop this idea, and the more general idea of creating pathways, tracks or traces through the space that other people can follow.

We also discovered a great deal about what kinds of imaginary and future artefacts the children engage with/create in our third week of R&D, and began to identify the capacity to integrate elements that draw more on the audience’s imaginative potential within the final piece e.g. including artefacts that the audience couldn’t see and would therefore have to construct through their imagination, or asking them increasingly surreal questions and encouraging their debate around the possible answers to those questions.

The solos format of the work:
Originally I thought that each movement artefact would be brought to life in a separate solo, with opportunities for duet or trio work in the transitions between the artefacts. However, increasingly I’m thinking that each artefact lends itself to a particular choreographic structure and it would potentially limit some interesting possibilities if we say they all have to be solos. For example, on our last day in the studio, we discovered that the investigation of the skull artefact is actually very effective as a duet, in which we hear the perspective of the archaeologist as they interpret the data the skull offers but at the same time we hear the voice of the person who the skull belonged to. This contrast could be quite humourous (as the analyst can make some assumptions that are then refuted by the person talking about their life), brutal and a bit gory, but also quite poignant. Here's a glimpse of some movement exploration for this idea - this was entirely improvised by Stuart and Lucy, I didn't give them any specific text to work with:

As always, the rehearsal process has taught me a great deal, reminding me, for example, about:
  • knowing when to stick with an idea and when to move on
  • expectations and the kinds of things you discover (and how you discover them – often when you least expect it)
The process of working with members of the target audience for the final piece has also been invaluable, and has enabled me to make observations about the kinds of workshops I facilitate with primary school age children more generally, and the importance of:
  • promoting the idea that there is no ‘wrong answer’
  • strategies for encouraging the children to think more deeply and therefore to move beyond what they already know (which can be as simple as asking them to talk with someone sitting next to them before they offer feedback to the group)
  • being responsive to things to happen in the moment – this connects with my flow research, and some really beautiful things happened when we didn’t expect them, simply (I think) because of the way in which the children had been introduced to a particular concept, and encouraged to think imaginatively. For example, without being asked to do so, the children started bringing words and phrases they had written on small pieces of paper together to create a large dinosaur-like creature.

To finish, I just want to share some of the things that the children said they particularly liked at the end of their 2 days with the company:
  • Things that were funny (e.g. the interaction between Stuart and Lucy)
  • Opportunities when “they got to do it too” - to get involved in the movement; being moved about in the space; feeling included; being in conversation with the dancers
  • Things that were silly, playful, exciting
  • Opportunities to ‘break the rules’ (they thought that Lucy was showing them that they could break the rules that Stuart was setting)
  • Movement that related to the fossils they had seen in the Loan Boxes
  • The music for the ‘shark’s tooth’ section: they thought this ‘blended’ well
  • “doing dance in the museum”
  • Exploring the museum
  • Picking their own objects
  • Really old, precious objects
  • Powerful objects e.g. swords, axes
  • Objects that made them think about movement
  • Fossils
  • Skulls and bones (because these allowed them to “see what’s in your body”)
  • Making their own creatures, including making the Plesiosaur; telling the story of the ‘predator’ and the ‘prey’
  • ‘Clipboard Man’
  • The warm-ups
And some of their ideas for their favourite current/future museum artefacts:
  • Robots replacing humans
  • Human eyeballs developing until they became really big, or being replaced by computers
  • Trees being extinct, and therefore no more paper or books
  • Cars turning into houses and vice versa
  • The remains of creatures that are under threat of extinction
  • Different technologies (e.g. for harnessing the sun’s energy)
  • Skyscrapers that have been excavated due to the extent that people have built up on top of the Earth over time (or maybe the skyscrapers are found underwater)

No comments:

Post a Comment