Welcome to the Siobhan Davies Dance blog

Siobhan Davies Dance is an investigative contemporary arts organisation, founded and led since 1988 by choreographer Siobhan Davies.

Watch this space for updates from our artists, curators, project coordinators and participants on a whole range of our projects.

Thinking Body, Dancing Mind

The latest project with Siobhan Davies Dance, based on M/R/T/B, has made me recall the title of a book I read years ago ‘Thinking Body, Dancing Mind’. We are using dance to allow and extend thinking and learning. I have witnessed students displaying this ‘thinking body’ and ‘dancing mind’.

In Reays Primary School we began in week 1 by exploring the brain and body and their complexities. In week 2 we were looking at gravity and tipping points. The class were looking at Forces in Science so we applied Newton’s Laws of Motion into our movement and creative processes. We observed how paper falls differently in three ways, how a ground reaction force works when a ball drops and how we can balance with a partner using equal and opposite forces.

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From here, the class teacher and I have used Philosophy for Children approach in allowing students’ interest to guide the process. After week two looking at gravity, they had many questions they wanted to know answers to – what is mass? If gravity pulls us down why doesn’t it do it straight away? What is friction, why is it harder to balance with your eyes closed? Why do we wobble when we balance? The teacher reflected on how she’d visibly seen students become aware of their centres and the control and strength of their core.

The subsequent week, we tried to answer these questions by looking at sensory pathways through the body and how our eyes, ears and proprioception help us to balance.  It also led us onto the theme of friction – why it is useful for our bodies when we dance and how it is used in design to aid everyday activities. Children answers included grips on shoes, car tyres, lubricants in car engines. We had a discussion about clothing for cyclists and swimmers etc. In week 4 we explored materials and how they fall differently within water and with air resistance. Students designed parachutes for eggs to test out their theories and designs. We explored language used to describe the parachute journeys – hover, float, drop, collapse, glide, twist, suspend.

Week 5 was Shakespeare week with the class looking at MacBeth. We took language features such as personification, onomatopoeia, metaphors, alliteration to choose words that depicted movement – rattle, launch, stutter, crack, stalk etc. Were we able to communicate our solos better through observation with the eyes, or through listening to instruction and language? Not only have we been communicating with eyes and ears but also ‘listening’ through touch –  using sensitivity to others, building trust, self-awareness and group co-operation.

What have we learnt so far – students reflected using drawings. They drew around a body in groups and mapped things they had learnt in dance and about their body. Then they added post it notes to show things they have learnt outside of dance.

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The class teacher also reflected her observations of their learning back to the class:

I have seen the class learn concepts from GCSE Science and articulate the meaning of these concepts (x3 laws of motion) in an articulate manner. They understand the meanings of these laws and it is because they have explored this physically that they fully understand the concepts.

I have seen them grow in strength and balance

I have seen them become aware of their body and how they react to things

They have learnt what it feels like to be tired and how that manifests physically.

I’ve seen them practice and practice again – showing me resilience

Better teamwork

Become aware of others and not just themselves

In another school, St. Saviours, we looked at observing sounds in our environments with Year 4.

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We talked about how we hear sounds, the workings of the inner ear and why some animals have better sense of hearing than humans. Students categorised sounds into natural, human, mechanical, indicator sounds (e.g. alarm, whistle), and societal sounds. They considered pitch, duration, tone and dynamic of the sounds and chose their favourite sounds from spatial zones to draw using a spiral sound score. Immediate sounds recorded at the centre of the spiral and sounds far away at the outside of the spiral.

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Students used their scores to translate these sounds into movement, in both literal and abstract ways. Student responses were great and many were able to identify sounds that other groups had chosen by articulating movement choices they had made.

We look forward to another five weeks ahead, allowing the interest and enquiry of the students to grow into a sharing of the work.

 

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‘Primal Matter’ –Dimitris Papaioannou October 2016

In October 2016, Next Choreography attended ‘Primal Matter’, a dance piece performed by Dimitris Papaioannou and Michalis Theophanous as part of London’s ‘Dance Umbrella.’ What unfolded over the next eighty minutes on a starkly furnished stage in the (freezing cold) Old Truman Brewery could be compared to a book of optical illusions.
Through a sequence of surreal images Papaioannou and Theophanous morphed into a series of identities. As these individual identities changed, so did the relationships between the two performers: they became pet and owner, creator and creation, performer and ringmaster. Each illusion created in the piece produced associations for the audience. Through simple props and the tool of the human body, we were reminded of Frankenstein, Jesus, ancient Greek statues, conjuring acts, embalming. I later read that Papaioannou’s intention had been to choreograph in response to political issues in today’s Europe. This hadn’t even occurred to me while watching ‘Primal Matter’, but I don’t see this as a failing of the piece. Each image sparked a domino-run of associations in the audience’s mind, leading to any number of different readings. This made for interesting conversations on the Tube home.
The power dynamics between the performers shifted constantly and compellingly, the way they related to each other was at times tender and caring, at others  disturbing and even violent. Usually, one of the two was clearly in control but sometimes they seemed to be the same being, exploring themes of duality. In one of my favourite sections, Papaioannou rolled up his trouser leg halfway, rotated his knee joint and placed his lower leg on a clinical-looking table, before hopping on one foot with his other leg in his hand as though it was no longer attached to his body. Meanwhile Theophanous (creating the illusion of a statue) appeared to be missing a leg. Papaioannou’s leg then appeared to be attached to him, becoming part of his body through a sort of weirdly sophisticated party trick.
This raised questions in me around themes of disassociation from the body. I think these themes are particularly relevant in our era, when our relationships to our bodies are being viewed in a new light, as well as relevant to the dance art form- the body becoming a tool of performance is bound to lead to a level of disassociation.
The use of nudity emphasised the idea of the body as a tool, and as something vulnerable, linking with concepts of power and control. Some might criticise the nudity as crude humour, and it could be argued that the piece used shock-tactics (at one point the naked performer was doused with cold water, inducing a shudder from the audience wrapped up in scarves and coats.) However I saw this as purposeful, none of the shock or crudeness in the piece seemed to be just for the sake of it.
We left full of questions, and ideas about how to integrate illusion, duality, power dynamics and unusual props into our own dance-making.

primal matter arts award

 

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‘My Amazing Thinking Body’

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I’ve been working with Year 4 and Year 1 pupils at St John the Divine Primary School this half term on ‘The Thinking Body’ project which is in response to Siobhan Davies Dance’s new exhibition material/rearranged/to/be.

We have been using our senses as the starting point to explore our amazing thinking bodies and how we receive and respond to the world through what we see, hear, feel, smell and taste.

The children have played with ideas which challenge and highlight their brain/body connections, explored sights that are both real and imagined, sounds which inspire or instruct, tipping, balancing, falling, catching and how our proprioception helps us know which way is up!

This week was about Yum and Yuck and how our individual likes and dislikes can be read through gesture and action. The Yr 1 children got busy sniffing from the variety of smells below and then we used their responses to have amazing Yum/Yuck movement conversations.image

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Gravity adds weight to Reay’s Year 5 dance!

Year 5 at Reay Primary School have been thoroughly enjoying our sessions with Jo Rhodes of Siobhan Davies Dance.

We have combined dance with our topic on Forces and then used it to help us to fully understand about Newton’s Three Laws, resistance, gravity and aerodynamics and that’s just the science!

Here is how we have got on…

'This picture represents Isaac Newton's first law, the law of inertia. Inertia is a lack of force meaning that the only thing stop and object moving at a constant to speed is an unbalanced force. It also means that if it's still, it won't move without some sort of force.' Year 5 pupil

‘This picture represents Isaac Newton’s first law, the law of inertia. Inertia is a lack of force meaning that the only thing stop and object moving at a constant to speed is an unbalanced force. It also means that if it’s still, it won’t move without some sort of force.’ Year 5 pupil

'This picture represents Newton's law of acceleration. In this picture, if she had let go of his leg, he would have fallen over faster.' Year 5 pupil

‘This picture represents Newton’s law of acceleration. In this picture, if she had let go of his leg, he would have fallen over faster.’ Year 5 pupil

'This picture represents the law of action and reaction. It means that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. They are pulling inwards to stay there in a counter-balance so if they let go, they'd fall backwards with the same amount of force as pulling in.' Year 5 pupil

‘This picture represents the law of action and reaction. It means that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. They are pulling inwards to stay there in a counter-balance so if they let go, they’d fall backwards with the same amount of force as pulling in.’ Year 5 pupil

In our first dance lesson, we also learned a bit about air resistance and we were inspired and had to find out more so we designed our own paper aeroplanes and tested them to see which one was the most aerodynamic (we agreed this was an awesome word and should be used to describe dance moves as well as cars, runners and.. well… aeroplanes).

'We applied our knowledge of angles in maths to our moves in throwing the paper aeroplanes. In order to get the best trajectory, we decided that we would place our arms at a 45 degree angle.' Class Teacher

‘We applied our knowledge of angles in maths to our moves in throwing the paper aeroplanes. In order to get the best trajectory, we decided that we would place our arms at a 45 degree angle.’ Class Teacher

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‘I learned that air resistance is a force which works against gravity as it pushes objects up from below (keeping them in the air) and from the front (slowing them down).’ Year 5 pupil.

We were given an egg to take responsibility for. This linked to the dance lessons as in these, we have been working in partners and having to take responsibility for our friends’ safety as we move around the space and try out lifts and things. We all managed to take our eggs home for the night and bring them back safely the next day.

'We had to be eggstra careful with this eggsperiment.'

‘We had to be eggstra careful with this eggsperiment.’

'We all had an eggstemely good time coming up with some cracking egg yokes!' Year 5 pupil

‘We all had an eggstemely good time coming up with some cracking egg yokes!’ Year 5 pupil

We then designed and made parachutes for our eggs as we dropped them out of the window on the second floor to see if they would survive. If we’re honest, some did, many didn’t but we learned a lot about air resistance as a result and adapted our parachute designs for next time. We then incorporated the imagery of the eggs falling to their deaths into our dance routines. Some of them were so beautiful and realistic that everyone knew eggsactly (sorry) what the dances were about.

Before...

Before…

During...

During…

After... :-(

After… :-(

'We found interesting ways of making the parachute shapes with our bodies.' Year 5 pupil

‘We found interesting ways of making the parachute shapes with our bodies.’ Year 5 pupil

'We changed our dynamics to show the egg dropping or floating down. Mine dropped.' Year 5 pupil

‘We changed our dynamics to show the egg dropping or floating down. Mine dropped.’ Year 5 pupil

The science has been just one small aspect of what we learned about during our dance lessons and our classroom activities after them. We have also obviously been learning all about dance and how it can help us physically, mentally and with our relationships with our friends, families and teachers. We have learned to be able to apply the knowledge we learn in dance across the curriculum.

Here are some of the things we have discovered, either about dance or about something else, so far.

‘I learned that I work better in a pair than by myself.’

‘I learned that when I jump up, I come back down because of gravity.’

‘Our centre of gravity helps us to balance and goes through our bodies.’

‘I learned that I can trust Myles and that he is my real friend.’

‘I learned that air resistance makes us fall slower and if I bend my knees when I land, that absorbs the impact.’

‘I learned that air resistance is all around us.’

‘The three laws of motion are: Inertia; Acceleration and Action-Reaction.’

‘I’ve learned that I work better in a 5 than in a 2 because we can share more ideas and get more work done.’

‘I learned that learning isn’t about feeling safe – you can feel unsafe or unbalanced or maybe both! I find it a little bit hard sometimes.’

‘I learned that you can balance on more than just your feet.’

‘I learned that if your vision is gone, it is harder to balance and to know where you are.’

‘I learned that my head weighs 9 pounds!’

 Year 5 at Reay Primary School would like to say a big, ‘THANK YOU!’ to Jo for all her help and inspiration so far on this wonderful project. We are really enjoying it and learning ever such a lot more as a result of your help and expertise.

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Extend It at the Barbican – The Thinking Body

Hello! I’m Marie, one of the SDD Primary School Programme Dance Artists. I mainly work on Extend It which is our professional development programme for teachers. Our approach offers teachers creative methods for advancing and enriching the learning and engagement of their pupils. We use movement and choreography to open up lines of enquiry in other curriculum areas, incorporating the ‘Philosophy for Children’ approach http://www.philosophy4children.co.uk/

Choreography is at the heart of our workshops and we always use the professional work of Siobhan Davies Dance as a starting point for our planning. Last term I delivered a number of workshops for Primary PGCE students at the Institute of Education and London South Bank University. These workshops used sculpture and senses as a theme and provided solid links to the Art & Design and Science curriculum. These inquisitive and reflective students were an absolute pleasure to work with. I was inspired by their enthusiastic and curious approach to the workshops and am excited that these teachers of the future are so keen to celebrate kinaesthetic learning both in the classroom and the hall space!

PGCE students' at the Institute of Education.

PGCE students at the Institute of Education.

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Yesterday I delivered an Extend It workshop called The Thinking Body at the Barbican. This was part of Siobhan Davies Dance’s new work material / rearranged / to / be, an installation of live performance, film projection and sculptural objects exploring how the body and mind work together to communicate through action and gesture. https://www.barbican.org.uk/artgallery/event-detail.asp?ID=19954 14 teachers from a variety of primary schools across London attended the twilight workshop and all arrived with a burst of fresh, joyful energy.

The workshop started with a visit to the installation where I gave the teachers a series of tasks to complete such collecting gestures and finding particular images and text. They came back to the dance studio with a thoughtful and questioning state of mind. We discussed their experience and I was encouraged to hear about all of the connections they observed between mind and body and non-verbal communication. I explained that the work is inspired by the art historian Aby Warburg’s practice of gathering and arranging images to reveal new meanings and the works featured in the installation inhabit an ever-changing arrangement, so their experience of the installation will be different with every view. We then did a two hour practical workshop that explored The Thinking Body practically. We used all of the collected gestures and explored the images and text through a clearly structured lesson using the Siobhan Davies Dance methodology. We also looked at some sensory and curriculum based activities.

I was amazed by the teachers energetic, open-minded and creative approach to all of the activities and the work produced as a result was so rich. I am looking forward to hearing about their experiences of trying the activities in their schools and am hoping that the experience inspires them to continue to investigate with their pupils the fascinatingly complex world of the body and mind.

The Thinking Body resources

The Thinking Body resources

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