Next Choreography 2014-15

Designed Elements – Transforming an outdoor space with choreography and landscape design

Photo by Gorm Ashurst

Photo by Gorm Ashurst

Photo by Gorm Ashurst

Photo by Gorm Ashurst

Photo by Gorm Ashurst

Photo by Gorm Ashurst

 

In August I worked for 6 days with an enthusiastic and energetic group of young people to create a new outdoor performance work, Designed Elements. We had the privilege of working on an extremely ‘cool’ site – new pop-up music venue, The Paperworks in partnership with landscape designer, Anoushka Feiler.

From the first time I visited the site I was struck by its wide array of textures. Huge old rusting iron structures – the remains of the papermill that had previously inhabited the site; the busy train line running from Elephant & Castle into London Bridge with thundering rhythmic screeching wheels creating an immediate backdrop/sound scape; the graffiti covering the crumbling brick walls – a taste of rebellion; the plants growing through the walls – a reminder of nature’s capacity and tenacity for it’s own version of regeneration; the energy and activity of this new set of bars, DJs, food stalls – a look of London.

For both Anoushka and I, the history and the architecture of the space felt important. The endless possibilities for transforming both the utility and the feeling of the space felt important. The opportunity to mark out a new territory and imprint new stories into this already multi-layered site felt important together with making visible the connections between the cycles of physical human life and plant life: new seeds being nourished and growing, life flourishing and then gradually decaying and decomposing back into the ground. I wanted to find a way to reflect the duality of the fleeting/busy/temporary qualities of London with the slower, stiller feeling of the buildings, the trees – also temporary and changing, but on a different thickness of time. These were our shared starting points for both the garden design and the choreographic ideas.

This is what I proposed to the group on the first day:
We will:

Run, lift things, move things, lie in the ground
Plant things
Make wishes
Build sculptures and knock them down
Leave secret messages
Watch
Listen
Invite
Respond
Make a mess
Clear it up
Take risks
Do small delicate things
Do big sweeping things
Be tired sometimes and energetic at other times
Support each other in all of this
Write, draw and think as well as move

We worked hard, and as always the group and the space surprised and inspired me. Below is what our programme notes said – they were written by all the group, hiding under the tarpaulin as the torrential rain thundered down. This is just a fragment of what got written that afternoon, but in all of their words I felt the warm satisfying glow of realising how deeply they had grasped what I was trying to share with them.

We want to stay a part of something, but if that something changes too often, must we run to keep up? Or perhaps we fall behind in hope that we will find what was once beneath us.

We are a fleeting city
our landscape is constantly re-arranging itself
melded, bolted together
We rebuilt this world
somewhere between growth and decay
seeding new ideas
Reaching upwards. Falling back. Together.
A cluster. A line. Leave none behind.

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Preparing for Next Choreography

Next Choreography is new. It’s a yearlong course in choreography and contemporary art. It starts in September. But actually, it’s already begun. We’ve selected the group: 15 excited, interested, curious young people. I’m preparing. I’m brimming with the challenge of creating a framework that will do all the things we hope the course will do: encourage creative decision making; provoke and stimulate new ideas and insights physically and conceptually; build a sense of community; foster talent and develop choreographic skills and strategies; expose and promote thorough research across art forms and beyond; engage, inspire and build confidence… I could go on. And we have 2 hours a week – I know that I am/we are being ambitious and I’m happy about that; I think we need to be ambitious and the scope of this course is huge.

In my preparing, I’ve been squirreling around searching out ‘What’s on‘ this autumn – wanting to feel as up to speed as possible with what is most current in artistic practice, and how that is displaying itself in London. I know that we are limited by resource and by time with how much we can actually take this group to see/visit/experience, but I’m keen to keep feeding in an array of suggestions and recommendations to help cultivate a hunger and a curiosity to experience as much as possible. This feels important, both to support their own personal artistic development and to know better the context in which they are making.

I am intent on creating a varied and responsive programme with a strong structural anchor, thereby allowing for extensive personal creative investigation yet retaining solid, familiar ground to return to/rest in when necessary! This process of designing and responding demands flexibility and agility from me and recognising the difference between being extremely prepared and extremely planned. To remain responsive, prepared (flexible) feels more useful than planned (fixed). We’ll see what happens!

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