Coil/Recoil: residency #2

The residency at Theatr Harlech in North Wales this week has been an incredible experience. The residency took me in a direction I didn’t anticipate. My choreographic practice was thoroughly questioned – it was shifted upside down and inside out. What more could I hope for as the result of a research residency?

In this week, John and I were joined by a dancer Cai Tomos and Finnish visual artist Hannu Karjalainen. As part of the research I intentionally invited artists from whom I could learn and who could help me to expand my practice. Working with Cai was absolutely wonderful. The week started off with us playing with each other’s energy fields and it has just ended up with ‘a shamanic rave’ (as someone described it) with a small group of people who attended our last open rehearsal this week.

We continued opening up the creative process to people through open research sessions, exploring the definition of performance space and interaction between the performer and audience, intentionally blurring the boundaries to redefine the performance space. The more we have experimented with open rehearsals, the more excited and convinced I have become about the power of these sessions to transform the work and the participants. They have become significant landmarks in taking the research forward.

Throughout the week, we worked with a similar journey to that we explored during our first residency – recreating the experiences of energy shifts when moving from outdoors in the landscape to inside a room, and further – into the structures of the building and of our bodies.  For our final open research session of the week, we bravely decided to try out our ‘journeying’ in a performance context to test whether people could connect with the idea or whether it was completely alien to them. The discussion after the first 15-minute improvisation was unbelievable, people expressing how they felt their own body wanted to start moving and they had an urge to join us, but they resisted as they didn’t know if they were allowed to do so. This led us to repeat the journey with an invitation for people to join us. Something remarkable happened – we all joined in a shared experience. I felt my role slightly shift – from performer towards more of a facilitator of the experience.

As well as holding on to the memory of this incredible experience, I am also taking something very concrete with me from this week that will fundamentally shape my choreographic practice and performance work. This week has given me confidence in speaking whilst moving, which I have never been able to do before. It has also given me the confidence to trust my sense of energy to move me, to dance me around and to keep me in stillness as long as is necessary. Being patient and waiting is familiar to me from my therapy practice, but it is also something that I haven’t done particularly well in dance. I also found the beauty of repetition. Working with Hannu, on the other hand, pushed me out of my comfort zone to think about choreography in other new ways. Thinking about the performance space in terms of an exhibition space enables us to liberate the audience from passively sitting and watching, and encourage them to experience the work in their own time and take responsibility for how deeply they want to engage with it. It has liberated me from crafting movement sequences into crafting a performance environment that has the potential to allow the audience to participate and experience dance in a different way.

Huge thanks to the team at Theatr Harlech for supporting this research and to all those who came along and joined in.

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