Moving With Dancers

This past week I spent some time in the studio with some dancers from the undergraduate course at Coventry University. I wanted to explore the same sort of exercises I had done with my fellow actor colleagues to see how the outcome would differ with trained movers used to playing with their body. We did two exercises in the short time we had together the first was the same one I had done previously, ‘everyday hands’ (seen in previous post) finding common gestures they did everyday and distorting. The other was an exercise we had worked on in the intensive that I was excited to try, it is the connect, affect and disconnect, with someone in the centre.

We began with a short warmup in the style of Frantic Assembly’s Beautiful Burn out routine, repeating four different jumping moves for an entire 4 minute song. It gets the dancers ready and warmed up without wasting time teaching them difficult moves that will be hard to remember, particularly when time is so short.  And then we moved straight into the two exercises.

The everyday hands exercise began the same as I had done previously, finding four movements that you do everyday out of habit. They then learnt one move of each others to place in their own phrase, and had to loop it so it was a continuous stream of movements. After that, I gave them three words to apply to their phrase. Connect, heighten, and transform, they could interpret the words in any way that seemed best. Once they all had their phrases I asked them to speed up the pace to as fast as they could while also retaining the movement.

Here is the result of all three.

It is interesting to see that the detail is lost, as opposed to the original three small phrases I had seen. I have found that the words used to direct the manipulation of the movement is so important. Particularly when asking everyone to interpret those terms in their own way, you will always come out with something different from each person. This is great in some respects as it means you can utilise everyone’s imagination, but also it can mean when giving a direction like speeding up the movement certain detail is lost from the original task.

I can understand Frantic Assembly when they discuss the importance of layering, it is not possible to throw multiple directions onto someone and expect them to place every aspect of equal importance. This is the importance of muscle memory, giving the body a simple idea to settle and begin to add little bits at a time. This way you are retaining the important detail needed in movement while also being able to manipulate time, pace, speed, direction and any number of other possibilities of affecting the sequence.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the phrases once I asked them to speed it up. Mainly because they enjoyed what they were doing, and that as an audience it can really shine through the movement. The other, disregarding the loss of detail, the movements coming from all three girls were things that would not have come if we were creating from scratch. Sometimes it is nice to start from a ridiculous point to work your way back, find the extreme so there is an understanding of no limitations. I find creativity becomes free flowing once we release our inhibitions.

The next task we explored was the connect, affect, disconnect. I had each person connect to the central mover, affect them in some way, and disconnect from the body. It is a simple task requiring basic movements, the only important aspect is that all contact is genuine. To be affected in some way the body needs to authentically be moved, not to ‘pretend’ the hand has moved from the shoulder down to the hand.

Here is Connect, affect, disconnect.

This task moved quite quickly once we all had spent some time understanding how the task works. What took the most time, was making sure contact was genuine. It was easy after the first few rounds to move past the affect moments and onto the disconnect as it is an easier direction to follow. So we always had to step back and really investigate how you can affect or be affected by someone else. You can see in the video that the times when the affect movement is authentic they are the most interesting to watch. It allows for momentum and real stops, so they are reacting from one another not making shapes individually with their own body. It is interesting to see that the need to move past creative mind blocks is present with anyone whether they are movers or not. The dancers were just as quick to disregard a connection that is not authentic as with anyone else. It is a hard thing to be in the moment finding a connection and ‘generating’ the affects from nowhere, and so after multiple rounds of the same direction it becomes harder to find something new. Which is why it is so important to have someone on the outside to give direction when needed.

 

 

Provocation 5- Building Blocks

During the two week intensive with Frantic Assembly, we focused heavily on particular building blocks for devising movement specific to Scott Graham’s work processes. Many tasks were very similar to ones I had encountered in my dance work, but ultimately they served a different purpose, and that is how they differ.Most tasks began from a very simple place, and the mentality was always to always layer onto what you have. For example the connect, affect, disconnect task was to have one person in the centre of the space and one by one everyone has a turn to connect to the central person, affect them in some way, and disconnect after. They began as simple arm movements, and as everyone became a little more comfortable we started to experiment with how you could affect the body. By the end we had a phrase of movement that connected and flowed and eventually looped over and over. From that simple phrase we could then play with the task, with speed, pace, proximity, levels of movement. They would all add another layer of information to give the movement more detail.

It is at this point within my own dance practice that the movement would immediately take a much larger turn, to not resemble any natural human gesture. This is neither good nor bad, however I am simply pointing out the fact that I am realising there are many more options to play with movement that does not need to go straight to what looks like contemporary dance. There is a possibility to add intricate layers to a sequence, while keeping a real human tenderness that is vulnerable and real. Finding that middle ground can become something beautiful and I think Frantic have on a few occasions found that spark.

The most challenging aspect for me when working in this way, is when it is further on in the process and you have completed multiple tasks that it is harder and harder to find a new starting point for movement. Particularly as they all begin with the hands, I find myself repeating what I have done and constantly denying my next idea believing it to have already been explored. I know this comes from my own mind and not the task, this challenge is not new and can be very real when you are pushing for some new material. It is a fear that will never go away as it’s a part of the creative process and it’s important to push through these moments in order to find the little surprises.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have had the opportunity to go into a studio and play with a few little gems I picked up from the intensive. There were things that continued to pop up through my play in the studio. I have discovered the basic form of the body can be the most interesting place to play with. Breath, posture, pace, and speed, watching how the body responds to the information laid upon it, without consciously deciding those things beforehand. They are important and I have been so quick to discount the natural and unique patterns of the body.

 

Everyday Hands

 

Wednesday 15 March

I had a rehearsal with Merel, Jessie, and Fiona today for us all to get into the studio and focus on whatever ideas and thoughts that were niggling at us to explore.Within the rehearsal, I asked to play with a simple devising task that had come from the two week intensive with Frantic. It had stemmed from the task Scott had used giving various sign language movements and playing with them to create quite unique arm phrases. I wanted to explore this concept but play with another form of stimuli.I asked the girls to find four gestures they did everyday, that defined their movement language. As an example one was to twist your hair in your fingers, if this was a gesture that you naturally did on a daily. As they found four moves, I then asked them to play with the task by giving them three words of direction to follow and manipulate their phrase in whatever way those terms meant to them.

The directions were: Connect, transform, and heighten.

From this step it resulted in formed arm phrases that no longer really resembled the original four moves. I then asked for each of them to learn one or two moves from each others phrase. I wanted to see whether the difference in phrases could find a unifying moment by having one simple move pop up in each others sequence. I did not tweak or manipulate the moves as I wanted a completely natural and authentic pattern of movement that came from their bodies first.

Here are the set of three phrases:

 

I asked the girls to do their phrase together, to watch how the movement would work with one another.

 

The phrase together was lovely to see as there was one move with the arm outstretched that I was constantly looking for. It brought these three women together, all telling their own stories but having one shared experience. In an odd sense there was a nice canon of movement to this one gesture that could only have come from finding it through playing and not pre planning set rules.

It was interesting to watch, as this was a simple task that had no real intention behind the beginning direction, I could already clearly see and articulate subtexts within each person’s phrase that was not intended to be there. Simply because of the nature of their moves, the decision of their pace, pauses if added, and their eye line. For a task that came from movement that was already settled in their bodies, the girls finished with phrases that we could not have created from scratch without the initial elements. I was already brainstorming potential stories behind these phrases and how I could play with this movement to amplify those subtexts. I think the idea that if you begin from a movement that is natural to you, it is much easier to manipulate from there. As they all had a specific broken down understanding of their own created phrase, this laid a foundation to work and elaborate on.

This was something I did not understand until I had gone through this task with the girls. To be fair they were very quick and natural at this task as we had already explored this kind of devising in the intensive and so they were very comfortable to play. That said I believe it will be something I explore in the future when generating movement with people who are not necessarily comfortable with making movement from scratch.

Directing, Declan Donnellan

On Wednesday night I attended The Winters Tale at Warwick Arts Centre by Cheek by Jowl. I was initially going to watch for the movement dynamic of the show and became very interested in the directing aspect of the creation process. The day before I just so happened to take the book Directors/Directing out from the library and it has a section on Declan Donnellan who is the Artistic Director of Cheek By Jowl. Not knowing where to start with the book I thought the best place would be from the director of whose show I had just seen. After having read Donnellan’s section of the book I realized he is an interesting artist with some fantastic methods of creating work.

Declan Donnellan has for the last few years been working in a dual role as director for both Cheek By Jowl and a Russian company Chekhov international Theatre Festival. While reading his interview with Maria Shevtsova it was apparent Donnellan had a real interest in space particularly with text, stage and the actor. Keeping space with the actor and their character for Donnellan is most important, “the purpose is to see each other and their characters more clearly…to look outside of themselves towards the targets aimed for by their characters.”(Maria, 2009: 69) This was an interesting point made, my understanding of analyzing a character predominantly comes from method acting, in its nature is quite introspective. This allows you to operate as two beings, and objectively step outside and observe the character.

It was interesting to read Donnellan spoke about the problem with preconceptions when creating theatre. He states that to constantly question is an ongoing process, however it is not an intellectual process. “In many respects, it’s a rather anti-intellectual process because sometimes our intellects are not very useful, especially when they give us preconceptions. We have to meet the world as it really is, not as we intellectually perceive it ought to be.” (Donnellan, 2009: 73) This idea reminds me of Scott Graham’s mentality during the two week intensive. To rid yourself of assumptions and see everything with a new potential. They both present a similar point for the creative process. To have a completely open mind is often when you find something you could not have discussed and consolidated on your own, this also allows the audience to make their own decisions on the subtext of a scene. It is a rather abstract idea as it is not so easy to drop everything you know and look at things with new eyes, however I can see the freedom in not being weighed down by pre conceived expectations. “There is sometimes an honor in ignorance!”(Donnellan, 2009: 74) Donnellan states that there is a power in reflection on the actual experience, however unpredictable. To be open to the process, not decided on the final product. I think this relates to Graham’s ‘Crooked Path’, the most interesting material comes from an incredibly different place to where you wanted to end up. It is about being open to take the time when you find yourself in an unfamiliar place, as eventually you do find your way back with better results.I have certainly connected to this idea, it is a freeing mentality to have. I would like to work on this thought in future developments and allow the process to take me where I need to go.

Declan Donnellan has demonstrated how much you can play with text particularly classical plays. His use of space in everything allows for free interpretation, that coupled with the disuse of preconceptions makes for plays like The Winters Tale to be accessible for an audience unfamiliar with Shakespeare. It is interesting to see a crossover of directing techniques through different genres, and how relevant they are to theatre as a whole.

 

Bibliography:

Shevtsova, M., & Innes, Christopher. (2009). Directors/directing : Conversations on theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 

Provocation Week 3, Guest Artist

Over the two week intensive with Frantic Assembly we were introduced to a group of outstanding practitioners currently working within the theatre industry. They all came from various disciplines, from lighting and video designing to composing and sound design. My two favourite guests were Simon Stevens the playwright and Stephanie Connell a producer for Frantic.

For this weeks provocation I would like to focus on Stephanie, as I learnt many incredibly interesting things about her job role that I didn’t realise I had no previous understanding of what exactly a producer does. In the past I generally did not work around any producers, usually the companies and shows I worked for did not have enough funding to pay a producer. Hence this role fell by the wayside in my continuing observation of theatre. I am glad I got to sit and listen to what exactly they specialise in.

Stephanie explained that a producer is present in every step of a creative process, from the beginning seed idea to the final show.They are responsible for the general financial aspect of a production particularly as they normally write up the initial funding proposals.They are in charge of the network and communication with company partners.The marketing campaigns are their domain, they are expected to generate the initial advertisement for a new show.Day to day they liaise with the creative team and production manager, to settle any disagreements and to keep communication flowing.Lastly they are responsible for general administration and management of contracts and fee agreements.

These are just a few aspects involved in a producer’s job description. However even the list above is more than I had previously thought a producers job list involved. I always had the mentality that the creative leader particularly in smaller budget shows, were expected to not only create the show but also front the majority of the administration and advertisement as well. I no longer feel this way, and would love to look into finding a producer to collaborate with in the future. They are an integral part of a creative process behind the scenes that I was not aware of, and have a newfound respect for what they do.

I can imagine when creating a show to have the support of a producer that is capable of advertising your idea not only to funding institutions but also to the general public, it can relieve much of the pressure on your shoulders and your confidence in that it will be done right.

It was an incredibly informative discussion that I am glad I got to be a part of. I have been thinking about all of the amazing creative collaborations possible to artists these days, and now have broaden my view to collaborations behind the scenes that are just as important. If not more so, as without someone like a producer you may not be able to put a show on the stage.