From Votes for Women to Buddhist mythology, via Tango: two months in dramaturgy

One thing I love about my dramaturgy work is the privilege of being able to dip into so many artists’ making processes in quick succession. Each artist gives me the opportunity to learn new things, to get excited about their process and their ideas, and inspires me hugely as I go about my work.

Here are a few things I’ve been splashing about in over the last couple of months:

 

  • I’ve had a crash course in the history of women’s suffrage (courtesy of Reading University’s Dr Jacqui Turner), working alongside Jennifer Stokes and Reside Dance Company to create a new outdoor work. Funded by the Women’s Vote Centenary fund, the piece explores the story of the Representation of the People Act in 1918, which for the first time gave some women the vote. I didn’t ever think that I would be co-imagining ways of showing the so-called ‘Cat and Mouse Act’, which hounded hunger-striking suffrage activists, through the medium of contemporary dance! Jacqui wrote a very insightful write-up of her experience working with us.
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Reside Dance. Photo by Brenda Sandilands
  • I was introduced to the world of storyboards, film stock, voiceovers, shoots and sound mixing when working with Kabecca Films on their short dance film. It tells the story of Lisa Sang’s life through dance, and how she dances through life, and will be released next month. Dramaturgically, I learned that the whole filming process from planning shots to editing footage could have a lot to offer the live performance-making process.
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Who knew dramaturgy involved graphs? #lookslikescience
  • I’ve had the privilege of chairing a panel of extremely knowledgeable people sharing their insights and interests about The Mahajanaka Dance Drama, a collaborative project from composer Sebastian Reynolds‘ and Neon Dance. They are working with a team of dancers and musicians from the UK and Thailand, creating a re-telling of an ancient Buddhist myth through Western contemporary and classical Thai dance and music. Prof Fiona MacintoshProf Jas Elsner and Dr Sarah Shaw, all from Oxford University, wondered about the role of ritual and narrative through ancient and modern performance practice and spirituality at a talk at the Ashmolean museum, during the ‘Imagining the Divine’ exhibition. I’m really looking forward to getting into the studio with choreographer Adrienne Hart and Sebastian Reynolds later in March for the final rehearsals before the piece premieres at Wiltshire Music Centre on 2 April.

 

  • I learned a basic Tango step during my Dance & Academia seminar with Prof Nicky Clayton and Clive Wilkins, who spoke about mental time travel, memory and the ethics of partner dance, amongst other things, as part of the “What is Dance without an Audience?” series. The diverse group of attendees included people from the worlds of ballet, Morris dancing, Salsa, architecture, history of science and law, so we had a very lively discussion.
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Nicky Clayton and Clive Wilkins

Coming up: lots more to learn and to be excited about! On 3 March, I’ve got the luxury of seven fantastic speakers coming for the ‘What is Dance without an Audience’ final conference event. We’ll be taking part in the Visual Matrix Method workshop, learning about Bharatanatyam and clay pot throwing, thinking about viewing dance on screen, asking what role the dance critic plays, and considering how audiences might transform in ritual or ceremonial performances. Still time to book tickets!

I’m hugely excited to have begun working with Johanna Nuutinen, a Helsinki-based dance artist, on a new work which explores ideas, emotions and experiences around waiting. Johanna received South East Dance’s Collaborate award through the Jerwood-funded Dramaturg in Residence scheme to enable her to work with me.

Also, I can’t wait to finally join Estela Merlos and Thomasin Gulgec for a couple of days playing in the studio, as part of their residency at Swindon Dance. I met Estela back in October when I was guest facilitator for the Hatch & Scratch performance at Pavilion Dance South West, and I’m really looking forward to getting to know this duo’s work better.

I have been stimulated in all my thinking through my new post at Reading University, where I have spent the last two months talking to a broad range of academics and professional staff, imagining how creative arts practice might enter the life of this diverse and sometimes overlooked institution. And naturally, creativity forms part of everyday life (especially during mealtimes) when you have a two-year-old running the show.

 

Goodbye 2017…

Alongside the ever-changing experience of parenting a toddler, with its daily doses of hilarity and tests of patience, I have been hugely fortunate this last year to have had some amazing times and met so many inspiring people.

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View of Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki across the frozen Baltic. The old cable factory is now chock full of theatres, studios and arts organisation offices.
  • January began with a chilly arrival in Helsinki (in -24C) for a three-month stint while my partner undertook a research sabbatical at the University of Helsinki. I was able to meet with 20-odd dance artists and cultural professionals working in Finland; organised a pop-up artist residency at Annantalo cultural centre, working with Cecilia Macfarlane on an intergenerational exploration of dance and space; was a visiting dramaturg for the National Theatre of Finland’s community theatre commission Karavaani, with director Jemina Sillanpää; and (somewhat off-piste) I taught a three-day professional writing workshop to 15 molecular biologists at the Finnish Institute for Molecular Medicine!
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Cecilia Macfarlane and Ruth Laurence, dancing together at Annantalo in Helsinki

In one outcome of my meetings in Finland, I can’t wait to work as a dramaturg with the incredibly exciting Finnish dance artist Johanna Nuutinen in 2018, supported by a Collaborate award by South East Dance.

  • In April I co-delivered the paper ‘Dance & Academia in Oxford: an egalitarian grass-roots model’ at the Dance Fields conference at Roehampton University, with Rachel Gildea, and later in the year curated two seminars on the theme ‘What is Dance without at Audience’ in Oxford, with a third seminar and a conference day yet to come in Spring 2018 as part of Dancin’ Oxford 2018.
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Chloe Middleton Metcalfe leads a miniature ceilidh as part of her seminar on English social dancing for Dance & Academia in Oxford
  • I undertook the 8 day training course and achieved accreditation as a Relational Dynamics coach, meeting some amazing people along the way
  • As part of my ongoing dramaturgy training, I undertook observerships with Struan Leslie working with choreographer Stephen Pelton at a residency at DanceBase in Edinburgh, and with Peggy Olislaegers as part of a choregraphic development project with Rambert Dance at The Lowry, Manchester
  • The best news of the year was my successful application to Arts Council England’s grants for the arts programme (using public money through the National Lottery), for funding towards my further professional development as a dramaturg over a year until Autumn 2018. This includes a number of opportunities from working with new artists, to delivering and participating in workshops, culminating in a residency at AMATA (Falmouth University) to research ideas about dramaturgy within community dance practice with Dr Ruth Pethybridge.
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On the train back from Norwich, where I worked with Hayley Matthews
  • In November, I was offered the position of Visual Arts Development Officer at the University of Reading, where from January 2018 I’ll be researching and writing an arts strategy for the whole university, alongside my freelance work.

What a year it’s been! I’ve met so many fantastic people along the way, and have been hugely supported in doing all this by family and friends. So I’ll be raising a glass (or seven) to friends old and new this new year’s eve, and looking with rosy-cheeked excitement to the opportunities and challenges of 2018. See you then!