Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Dancing Write

Bel Greenwood writes about a dancing and writing workshop which she taught in conjunction with Glasshouse Dance in Norwich this June:

Any opportunity to take words off the page and make them leap into physical space and I am your woman.  I have seen the process of marrying text and movement in collaborative theatre double the power of a piece so I was hugely excited to be asked by Glasshouse Dance to devise and deliver with them a workshop that combined dance and writing.
Glasshouse Dance are an exciting, contemporary dance company. They are visionary, challenging, passionate and poignant. A fusion between two dancer/choreographers, Sarah Lewis and Laura McGill.  They are interested in the human, in emotion and touch and their dance pieces have wide appeal. Their work as Glasshouse was at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival  in US, where two dancers edged their way in sharp and funny face offs to form their relationship and settle in the end for love.  It is hard to get humour into dance that isn’t clumsy but there is a wealth of humour in what they do. Individually they have performed nationally and Sarah Lewis toured in another love story, that of Walter and Agnes to the Edinburgh Festival in Neil Paris’ dance company, Smith.  The company is also interesting because it encourages older people to dance.  Laura McGill has a company called Mosaic for dancers over the age of 55.  
The idea of a workshop combining text, movement and location threw up lots of questions. How would dancers and writers approach the idea of embracing their contrasting art forms? Would writers be able to throw off their mantle of physical stasis?  How to put movement into the words – and movement into words. Could we create a narrative journey which would make sense as a series of actions? Would we be illustrative or interpretative? 
Glasshouse Dance were keen to experiment and explore freely and so was I.
The workshop took place at The Garage, on a light June afternoon in an upper studio which felt suspended in space and time.  All our participants were women, nearly all of them dancers.  It seemed it was hard to entice writers away from their desks.  Over the next five hours, women explored orally their personal histories, wrote, observed, responded and moved…a lot.

We started with an invitation to talk and to listen with a series of prompt questions drawn from theatre and used to open up memory and soul.  The invitation proved to be moving, the talker sat or lay in a comfortable position with their eyes closed while the listener sat and really listened.  It is rare to have the opportunity to talk freely without fear.  We moved onto a whole series of exercises both warming up in terms of movement and writing. One of my favourite activities was asking the women to dance the handwriting of others. Words were used in abstract forms, groups watched movement and described and then moved beyond description into more narrative forms or lifted their words into parallel dimensions. Ultimately the women went outside to gather impressions of Chapelfield Gardens in that gorgeous moment of sunshine – when they returned they wrote down things that struck them, people and then created a complex dance, a series of movements exploring and recreating that outside world.  Only a couple of the women used their voices but the text streaked across the back wall was a perpetual thread that ran through everything the women did with their hands, eyes, feet and legs. 
Combining writing and dance was a one-off, a first-off, it was an activity occupying the borderland between art forms and more the valuable and intriguing for that.

© Belona Greenwood

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