Wednesday, 12 March 2014

What have I learnt during the making of The Imagination Museum?

Photo by Chris Nash
The biggest challenge for the making of The Imagination Museum was that I could not cover every possible kind of museum artefact in one piece, so had to make some decisions about which artefacts to explore in more depth for our initial repertoire of museum objects. Our R&D with primary school children helped me to make these choices, but it seemed that we would need to also explore some overarching themes/questions that museum and heritage sites both raise and address in order to create a work that would contain something for everyone and be adaptable to a range of contexts.

Our designer James Perkins came up with a way of looking at each of our initial repertoire of museum artefacts from three interconnected perspectives: evolutionary, mechanical/technological and decorative/imaginative. We thought that if we could somehow cover each of these perspectives, or were at least informed by all of them in the making of the work, we could create a piece that would cross over into different ideas, contexts and opinions.

In addition there were several key concerns that informed the work:
•    I wanted the work to talk about how people try to make sense of the world around them and how objects can help us to do that (the act of interpretation, or piecing something together from fragmentary clues)
•    I became fascinated by the information objects could give us about the development of the modern human mind, particularly the earliest man-made objects (e.g. the stone tool and first works of art)
•    I wanted to give a sense of the sheer scale of time involved in the history of the world
•    In The Imagination Museum the overall structure of the work is cyclical and returns to the ‘tour-guide’ world where characters Mildred, Henry and Harriet live after almost every artefact-story (with some exceptions to ensure that the rhythm keeps shifting and does not fall into an expected pattern). It is part of my choreographic signature to use this kind of reiterating structure, but in this particular work I have chosen to use it as a reflection of the idea that nothing can be certain in the world except change. The dancers talk about this in the ‘future’ section of the work:

“Mildred: Do things have to end?
Henry: No, they don’t have to end...
Harriet: they just keep changing!”

Working with a writer

I have thoroughly enjoyed working with writer Anna Selby for the first time during this project, and integrating text into The Imagination Museum. The written element of the work has drawn on a broad range of feelings or sensations which have in turn become rich source material for the movement in the piece: as Anna describes, she has tried to incorporate awe/wonder, humour, something scary, something gory, something beautiful, and something sad/poignant.

Photo by Chris Nash
I have learnt about many possibilities for choreographing text alongside movement during the making of The Imagination Museum e.g. speaking or manipulating the sounds of the words whilst moving, mouthing or whispering to confide in the audience, singing, speaking as a group or individually, writing down notes, integrating words into the sound score (in collaboration with composer Max Perryment), using voice as a way of conveying character (we have also worked with particular props to develop characterisation), reciting and improvising. Throughout the rehearsal, Anna has written many fragments of text, developing and editing where appropriate, and the dancers have also been heavily involved in writing and re-writing. Anna’s openness to this collaborative way of working is invaluable, as it enables us to devise text in the same way/at the same time as we devise movement, and therefore the text and movement come together more coherently.

In the case of The Imagination Museum, the integration of text also enables us to draw our audience in to the work, as the characters can address them directly, encourage them to interact or answer back, and, where appropriate, signal to them what they are trying to depict with their movement. This does not mean that the movement or the text have to be literal and it is useful to leave room for ambiguity to allow for the audience’s interpretation of what is happening. However, even a single word or fragment can help to link a movement to its source material, and this may be just enough to give an audience member, particularly someone who is not familiar with dance, confidence about their own way of seeing the work.

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