I’d like to thank Groundwork Pro for their great work throughout this unfolding crisis, offering a responsiveness, generous tone and warm camaraderie that many of us crave right now. With my forthcoming workshop cancelled, they invited me to offer something online instead.
I have been thinking about kindness and empathy and the sort of dance culture we might cultivate both through and after this lockdown period, informed by the deeply sad reality of having all live experiences snatched away almost overnight.
I am learning more each day about the nature of the work I want to create and the irreplaceable opportunity that gathering collectively in person enables; touch, space, togetherness and shared attention – all the elements that my cancelled workshop would have been built upon!
Like others, I have been unable to do much at all for a good while, overwhelmed by the enormity of our unfolding new reality, the unknown time frame and the impact that various funding decisions have on my ability to keep making work. I also feel fortunate for the space and time I am afforded to think while others are home schooling, saving lives or suffering with ill health or lacking basic provisions.
I began 2020 with a 6 month work break to offer myself some head space and stillness after a hectic 2019. I craved focused time to reestablish my practice, review my modes of production and to connect to the values that underpin the works I make. A period of absorption and listening after almost losing all balance by December last year.
It made for a strange shift when, 3 months in, everything else stopped too.
In some respect, I am in a different curve to those around me. After a few weeks of feeling despondent and confused, scrolling memes and almost finishing Netflix, I now have some energy to invest into new work, albeit with a totally unknown timeframe.
I want to tell you about a dance I’m planning. Century Project, my next creation, has been five years in the dreaming and is due to launch this Autumn. Now that the Arts Council England have decided to pause their Project Grants funding to enable their Emergency Funds, my collaborators have generously rallied around the piece, keen for it to go ahead with just the little commissioning cash we have to cover our costs. It’s been both moving and motivating.
Maybe read this slowly, it’s quite a lot to take in….
This dance project spans 100 years, completing beyond our lifetimes in 2120.
It is articulated through a series of 10 hour durational events that take place every 5 years, held by a changing group of 7 dancers upon a 5m x 5m hand woven carpet.
Following each event, each of the dancers personally choses someone they know to gift their ‘role’ to, forming the next generation who will inherit the work and hold the next event, 5 years later.
During the research period in 2019, the dancers and I shifted away from an initial idea of making and preserving a choreography like a time capsule. Instead, we started to consider the carpet as the works continuity as a place for dancing to happen, changing the need for specific choreographed content passed between generations. A sharing of choreography becomes instead a sharing of physical practices, ideas and values, located upon this carpet.
I now see the system, design and production of the project as my ‘choreographic gesture’ (an organisation of ideas, people space and time) yet in the room, I am more akin to a host.
With me out of the way, what takes place on the carpet is a durational open space event, held by the 7 dancers who author the space as they desire; moving, thinking, writing, drawing, chatting, doing things collectively or individually, care-practices, watching, hanging out and practicing ‘dancerness’, a brilliant term that encapsulates the particular and often undervalued work of the dancer, as suggested by Rebecca Hilton here.
The 10 hour events are not performances and those that attend are not considered audience, instead it is an opportunity for those that attend to witness and ‘be with’ dancing. It won’t demand your attention, instead, it is a dance that might offer you time.
I hope that the soft attention elicited by witnessing this dance might encourage those people present to simultaneously think about other things; political things, environmental things, personal things, social things and cultural things.
While dancers and audience change across the century, the carpet will witness the entire span of the work and the changing landscape beyond it’s edges, edges that will gradually fray with the ware of many dancing bodies.
I see Century Project as an act of faith that extends beyond our lifetimes, gifted to future artists that we hope will care about the same things we do – the importance of togetherness, touch, community, reflection, attention and dancing.
Something I keep returning to is a notion coined by Jonas Salk (Developer of the first Polio Vaccine) that “Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors”. How can a long term perspective encourage us to behave differently in the moment to benefit the future and, in this context, future artists?
Needless to say, this virus and lockdown have already thrown a stark new light onto these themes, highlighting both the threat to and need for dancing.
Century Project was already asking me to think differently about dance. A chance to not view dance as a commodity to be consumed and digested in the normal ways that so easily echo the capitalistic behaviours we have been accustomed to, but dance as a way to stimulate a change in thinking. I found that by applying a different time frame like this, something came to the fore about what I want to put in the world (and leave in the world), what I want to practice and how mindfully it is all brought together.
I’ve started work on creating the carpet myself during the lockdown. I built a loom and invited friends to donate t-shirts for me to weave here at home (to donate, see below). It feels like a special way to measure and mark this odd liminal time, a way to busy my hands while my mind processes everything and a way to invest my energy into something hopeful and lasting.
Through the studio based research and hundreds of random conversations, Century Project has been whittled down and opened up by the minds of many artists. I am thankful to them for helping me get the work this far and, as for what happens next, who knows! But there will be dancing, it’s ancient, it’s in our very nature and it will continue to be.
‘Century Project’ is due to launch at Wainsgate Chapel, Hebden Bridge on Saturday 3rd October 2020, lockdown allowing.
ACW Stabilisation Fund for Individuals Opens on 29th May and closes 15th June for 1-10K Guidelines and FAQ’s are here: https://arts.wales/stabilisation-fund-for-individuals On 15th May Groundwork held an open Zoom meeting to discuss the above fund. Below is an outline of the scheme and queries/responses that came up during that conversation. We put a number of…