Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Dancing in Caves: updated thoughts January 2016

Over the past months, I have been undertaking more research into my Dancing in Caves project and the creation of my new promenade performance piece for caves and underground spaces with the working title Beneath Our Feet. This has helped me to identify some key themes I’m interested in exploring for this work and aims for what I would like to achieve. I hope this will prepare me for starting to talk to members of my steering group in 2016 (including an archaeologist, geologist, cavers and a former quarryman), and collecting their thoughts and stories to use as source material for the piece.

Photo Jo Forrest; photo taken in the Robin Hood Cave at Creswell Crags
In no particular order, here are some of the aims and themes I’ve identified so far:

Aims for the piece 

To create an extraordinary experience for the audience. I want the movement, the characters, the stories we integrate to be intriguing.

For the work to feel part of/reflect the atmosphere naturally occurring in the cave/underground space but also to contribute to enhancing that atmosphere; I have in mind that this will be a work about different sensations, from wonder/awe to fear and confusion.

I also want the work to feel universal, because it will explore a very fundamental, elemental activity of returning to the earth, connecting back to our earliest ancestors who visited caves, whether that was for similar or very different reasons to us. I would like the work to feel like a new kind of old dance, integrating live music and story-telling with movement to create something imagining the ritual dances that might have happened in caves in the past (“Two hundred heel marks preserved in the soft floor 20m from the carefully staged setting of the modelled clay bison in Le Tuc d’Audoubert suggest some sort of dance took place in the cave” (Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind; Jill Cook, p.25) and in keeping with the Oral tradition. At the moment I imagine the work to be more like a danced poem than a prose story.

To embody/re-imagine a range of stories about things that have happened in or been associated with caves and underground spaces. I’m particularly interested in stories connected with human experience that are inherently dramatic and explore the themes described below.

To integrate movement, text, music and torchlight.

For the work to feel like a journey back in time.

To embody the activities involved in creating the caves or underground spaces; the activity of carving a landscape out of the earth

To leave space within the work for the audience to experience the environment themselves and be able to make choices about how they encounter/engage with the performance and the performers.

Photo Jo Forrest; photo taken in the Robin Hood Cave at Creswell Crags

Key themes/ideas/questions

I have already spoken to several people who have done some caving about what it is that draws them to underground exploration, and there are some recurring themes that really tie in with what I’ve been thinking about. People talk about:
being somewhere where so few people have been
the length of time that something has been untouched, unseen before they discover it
a ritual or spiritual experience
the sense of risk or danger when negotiating the difficult underground environment
the feeling that this experience is different to everything else
the sense of time-travelling

Photo Jo Forrest; photo taken in the Robin Hood Cave at Creswell Crags
I would like to explore/respond to/embody:

the act of discovery – entering into an unmapped, unknown, remote, mysterious, hidden world, in which it can be tantalising to think about what could still be discovered; I would like the audience to feel that they are undertaking an act of discovery for themselves when participating in/experiencing Beneath Our Feet

"No human being has gone into these depths before us, no one knows where we are going or what we are seeing, nothing so strangely beautiful has ever before been presented to us, spontaneously we all ask ourselves the same reciprocal question: Are we not dreaming?" (Edouard-Alfred Martel)

connected to this, the act of concealing; a conspiracy perhaps

a ritual or spiritual experience – going underground to celebrate, commemorate, ask for luck, give thanks for example; or entering into another world, an underworld

going underground to find sanctuary

and on the other hand, risk-taking or danger – claustrophobia; the darkness like an enemy; or in mining, the dust you can’t see being dangerous, and the constant threat of mine collapse for example

time travel or something about the passage of time, or being ‘out of time’ or ‘without time’ when underground; connecting back to something more fundamental, with the earth, with the past

“Alone in that vastness, lit by the feeble beam of our lamps, we were seized by a strange feeling. Everything was so beautiful, so fresh, almost too much so. Time was abolished, as if the tens of thousands of years that separated us from the producers of these paintings no longer existed. It seemed as if they had just created these masterpieces. Suddenly we felt like intruders. Deeply impressed, we were weighted down by the feeling that we were not alone; the artists’ souls and spirits surrounded us. We thought we could feel their presence; we were disturbing them” (The Mind in the Cave; David Lewis-Williams; p.17)

mining, quarrying, excavation and also the natural activities that create the space e.g. through glacial movement or water

My initial research and development for the Dancing in Caves project will be supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and South East Dance in partnership with Jerwood Charitable Foundation.

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