Check out the latest blog from Traces Commissions artists Webb-Ellis about the first explorations into working with us here at Siobhan Davies Studios. Web-Ellis are British/Canadian artist filmmakers working in film, installation, and performance. They are currently resident artists at Crescent Arts in Scarborough. Over the coming year they will be working to create new artworks in response to the work of Siobhan Davies Dance and the communities connected to our studios.
Our work has long involved a fascination with the body and it is a pleasure and a privilege to be invited to journey further along this path in the company of Siobhan Davies Dance.
The Traces Commission invitation is fabulously open, and we have been able to just allow ourselves to be drawn into the conversations and goings-on at the studios.
Physical action has been our primary research method since the start of our collaboration. Usually this takes the form of an act of endurance and has included long distance running, swimming, walking, cycling and ecstatic dance. Moving the body offers a direct way to stir up the silt of the mind – unpredictable and intuitive.
Three, week-long, dance classes at Siobhan Davies Studios (run by Independent Dance) helped to turn our attention toward the unmapped landscape of our own bodies. Somatic Dance is dance which focusses on internal sensation – “the body as perceived from within”*. Skinner Releasing Technique with Gaby Agis was a powerful introduction to somatic dance, followed by Experiential Anatomy with Susanna Recchia, and an exploration of breath, gravity and patterns with Lauren Potter in the third week.
Each class has brought something different and special to our process, and we both noticed how much better we felt for spending some time within that dark and sensory space. Ideas are catching alight.
We have been granted access to a whole array of wonderful books about the body and movement in Siobhan Davies’ little office space. In one of them we were reminded of the sheer magic of early human paintings which depicted movement. People 13,000 years ago must have been really interested in how creatures move, or must have seen beauty in the simple acts of running and walking.
We wonder if the paintings say something about how these ancient humans sensed time? Much of the more recent art attempts to freeze a thing or a person in the present moment rather than depicting them forever moving forward in a constant state of transformation.
In the classes, moving with eyes closed among other warm bodies, attentive to the minute sensations of the body, felt like a significant shift in consciousness. The shift from the fight or flight city brain, eyes and ears ON, senses focussed outwards – purposeful, to an experience of ourselves from within, as porous beings, ageing and changing in each moment.
In Experiential Anatomy class with Susanna Recchia, we held a model skull and pulled its plates apart. We learned that whilst we were all developing in the womb our face started out touching our heart before our spine unfurled. We moved with these images as our guides, and with a feeling of the human body as something unfixed, evolving.
We have been warmly welcomed at the studios, and invited to bring our home on wheels with us, staying in the courtyard during the residency periods beneath a beautiful Mimosa tree. Being at home at Siobhan Davies Studios in the centre of London is a huge gift. Staying there for a week at a time gives us a strong sense of the character of the building; the way the light moves throughout the day, the little routines. During schooldays, the sound of children’s laughter infuses the whole space.
These observations are interesting as we consider how the work will be installed, and how visitors might enter the space of our installation – their state of mind and expectations. We find ourselves noticing movement of all kinds around the studios, as if the building itself has cast a spell to make even the most everyday movements uncannily visible.
The sense of dance as a language beyond words, is something that hit us right away. When two bodies meet in space it seems that there is an exchange of some kind taking place. All this engagement with Siobhan Davies Dance is peeling back a coating on our senses, allowing us to experience human movement afresh. The whole process is quite mysterious.
During the Skinner Releasing Technique class, one of the dance artists commented, “I’ve gone so deep inside my body that words just become inadequate to express where I’ve been.”
We try to translate our experiences into words, but soon realise that it is just this futile attempt at translation which interests us, the grasping and the sifting – the yearning to communicate, and to connect.
* Hanna, Thomas (1986). “What is Somatics?”. Somatics: Magazine-Journal of the Bodily Arts and Sciences.