Identity

markings

Skills Exchange Day 2

Environment, the body and human connection

Bethan Peters

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Bethan is a London based dance artist and choreographer who has been working across the community, professional and educational dance sectors for the past ten years. Within her practice Bethan explores energetic Contemporary dance styles, social dance forms, choreographic site work and cross arts collaboration. Bethan is currently the Lead Tutor for the Postgraduate Diploma Community Dance at Trinity Laban, where she lectures and mentors emerging/developing community dance artists. Alongside this, she delivers a range of regular classes and projects as an independent dance artist. Bethan often delivers work for organisations including Southbank, Greenwich Dance, Arts Odyssey and Royal Museums Greenwich. In recent years, she has become more occupied with taking dance beyond theatres to create numerous cross-arts, site responsive, participatory performance works. The individual narratives and unique physical expression of the dancers she works with is at the core of Bethan’s practice. Through her work Bethan endeavors to challenge the traditional notion of a dance artist, choreographer or facilitator by seeking opportunities that can broaden her approaches to work and blur boundaries between dance, other art forms and fields of knowledge  and impact upon social, political and environmental matters.

 

As a part of the AEP Skills Exchange Beth shared and enabled collective exploration of her recent artistic research into the connections between land and bodily markings. In her own words she explains more of the concepts and process behind this work:

What I have shared at the AEP Skills Exchange is a thread of my personal research that emerged from an expeditionary arts and science residency I undertook earlier this year called The Arctic Circle, through which I spent three weeks in and around the island of Svalbard, located half-way between Norway and the North Pole.

Image by Bethan Peters

Image by Bethan Peters

Whilst on the residency I was completely overwhelmed by the epic, ethically loaded Arctic environment and quickly came to the conclusion that the ideas, tasks and research questions I had originally intended to explore (which were predominantly focused around my own physical interactions with the places we were encountering) felt irrelevant and forced. In order to carry on a creative process whilst on the residency, I found myself relying on and finding comfort in some of the themes, approaches and values that define much of the participatory work I do on a day-to-day basis. I realised that in being immersed in a highly surreal and intense setting, that I deeply craved more intimate and fundamentally human connections to the other people that I was sharing the experience with, in order to process how I and more broadly ‘we’ related to the Arctic environment, both literally and metaphorically.

What I actually ended up researching and working on for the remainder of the residency was the idea of exploring the connections between markings on our bodies such as scars and tattoos and the markings on the land/environment, that are either caused by natural phenomena or are a result of human activity/climate change. To develop material around this, I collaborated with a number of my fellow shipmates to capture (through photography and film) portraits of either a scar or tattoo on their body, which they embedded, juxtaposed or immersed in a particular place within the natural landscape.

At its core, I believe the markings thread can be distilled down to:

  • Considering our bodies as a breathing archive or map of our lived experiences 
  • Physical and narrative encounters with the places we inhabit in order to better understand our relationship to broader environmental contexts
  • Capturing these encounters in some way to share, relate and connect to others

This is the process that the artists of the Skills Exchange were taken through to develop their responses.

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I returned from the Arctic with a series of portraits (consisting of photographs, film clips and recorded interviews), which for me feel really profound and rich, not only because of the incredibly open and honest physical and aural narratives which the participants generously shared with me, but also because of what the encounters captured, represent and reveal about the immensely powerful, yet dually vulnerable locations we were in. 

Going forward with my research practice, I am processing and beginning to experiment with ways in which I might be able to share and translate the markings process I went through in the Arctic to people back in the UK who I currently work with and may work with in the future. I am interested in how I can communicate my Arctic experience through this process as well as attempting to develop a way in which people might be able to find a personal connection (no matter how small) to a giant and scary concept such as climate change through work of this kind. By evolving this process with others, my aim is to facilitate meaningful creative experiences that have the possibility to evoke individual and collective action.

In sharing the process as a part of the AEP Skills Exchange, I have been reflecting on the parities between the markings work and my general participatory practice which include:

  • Often within my work I am curious about what connects people as a group who are brought together within a particular context as well as what unites them beyond that context?
  • I seek to discover commonalities between people (myself included) through communication and physicality, but am also interested in celebrating often beautiful differences
  • I am concerned with how we individually and collectively relate to the spaces/places/sights we inhabit and how we engage with the environments around us. How are we shaped and shape the places that we immediately occupy as well as indirectly effect?
  • I am curious about experimenting with different modes of presenting and documenting personal and collective contributions to a project.  
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For me, there is both immense beauty and power in physically connecting with your own body through a lived narrative, connecting with the spaces you inhabit and connecting with others in a very human way that identifies our commonalities as well as our wonderful differences. This is something that I believe is accessible and available to everyone, regardless of their backgrounds or previous experience.

(Words by Bethan Peters)

the listening approach

Skills Exchange Day 1

Identity and relationality

Katie Green

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Katie Green formed company 'Made by Katie Green' in 2006 and has a breadth of experience creating large-scale commissions for particular communities and specific sites, and delivering participation projects for children and young people. Since 2013 her work has focused on creating choreography in museums and heritage sites. She has created new work for the British Museum, Ipswich Museum and most recently a promenade work entitled Choreographing the Collection for the bicentenary of Dulwich Picture Gallery 2017. She is currently working with Kents Cavern in Torquay to develop a new promenade work for caves and underground sites called Beneath Our Feet.

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Today Katie offered a short practical session through which she shared her thoughts and enabled us to explore a ‘listening approach’ to directing. In her own words she shares the thoughts behind her practice practice:

 

By ‘listening approach’, I mean that I wanted to reflect on the ways in which I had, over time, integrated my experience working with a mentor and being a mentor myself into my experience directing groups of people (including both professionals and non-professionals) in a choreographic context. For me this means facilitating a working environment or ‘holding a space’ in which other people feel free to create their best work, rather than one that is explicitly about me and my process; the idea being that if I can guide people to create something that is as much from them as from me, it will have more integrity, it will say what it is intended to say more deeply or fully because it is not only about me and my agenda; it is about people more universally, and about what it means to be human.

This was the thing that I found most challenging when I started working professionally - finding the way in which I wanted to lead a group of people in order to get the best out of them and therefore to create the best work. Over time, I have become most aware of the deliberate choices I make about managing a rehearsal or workshop in the way I want to, when I have been in contexts that are at odds with my way of working.

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My ‘listening approach’ to directing

Although not an exhaustive list, in no particular order, and in no way intended to represent the only or ‘right’ way of leading a group creative process, here are a few of the things I have noticed about my decision-making process when directing a group:

  • every decision is deliberate, no matter how seemingly insignificant, but it is important that it doesn’t feel deliberate (or academic perhaps) to the participants

  • I am not in my own work; I feel that in order to ‘listen’ and respond to what is happening I need to have distance from the physical experience of being in the work

  • Everything I do is geared towards allowing people to feel free to create their best work, and I think seeming to diminish my role in the process (whilst actually being very in control of the process!) is an important part of that

  • I am super-prepared when I start rehearsals (e.g. collecting words, images, music references, videos), so that I can ideally allow what the dancers are doing to call to mind related ideas from my pool of research rather than always having to react to completely new information; it also means I can be more adaptable to the working process, because if something isn’t working, we can try something else

  • The majority of my preparation centres around thinking how to set up creative tasks, how to build things up in stages or layers and how much information to give and when

  • One of the challenging things I find in a creative process is knowing when to allow the exploration to meander, and when it needs to be more focussed, or to lead to something becoming ‘set’. If I really think about it, I’m pretty much always trying to achieve something quite focussed (which is why I use time limitations in my creative process a lot of the time, so I don’t allow things to run on for an excessively long period of time), but there are certainly times when I allow participants to understand the time limitation, and times when I keep it to myself (including if what we’re doing takes us in an unexpected direction). It is essential to me that there is a period of research and development at the beginning of a new project, a time for play, when I can be less clear about what the final outcome will be

  • I talk to the dancers with whom I’m collaborating throughout the process - asking for feedback, asking about how it feels to be in the piece from inside - everyone’s contribution is equally valued

  • The relationships and small gestures established outside the studio are as important as the way we interact within the studio - small touches like providing tea and biscuits, writing thank you notes, handing over responsibilities for warm up (or sometimes taking the responsibility for this myself when it seems necessary), game-playing are a really important part of my choice-making process about my choreography, as important as the creative content

  • I always develop material in collaboration with dancers in response to creative tasks, I never teach my own material (in both my professional and my commissioned work, which has sometimes involved non-dancers and has therefore been quite challenging to stand by at times!)

  • I acknowledge that the movement material belongs to the dancers, including in programme notes (so I most often credit myself as the ‘Director’ of a project now, with responsibility for the choreography ‘in collaboration’ with all of the dancers, making it clear that they ‘own’ it; if there have been earlier stages of research and development, I also acknowledge the input of dancers who took part in the R&D, but weren’t then able to participate in the final project). I believe that by owning the material, the dancers will embody it more fully. This doesn’t mean that for a specific purpose, I won’t ask dancers to share their material with each other, but they do that, not me.

  • Knowing when to speak and when to stay quiet - there will be times when I intervene in a rehearsal, and times when I specifically don’t - knowing when to do what can be very tricky! Sometimes solving ‘problems’ in a rehearsal has to come from the dancers themselves, from inside the process, and what I would suggest to solve a problem (particularly with contact material for example) could actually make the situation worse. Sometimes however I need to intervene in order for the work to progress (e.g. during later parts of the process, or to push people in a new direction, which perhaps differs from their natural instinct)

  • I share certain information about the broader project (e.g. structuring of material, transitions, other production elements) with the dancers only at certain times - choosing when to let people know things. Often the people with whom I’m working will ask to know about the next stage of the process, and I will always just try to be open about why I’m holding something back (e.g. being honest if I think the structure of something might change). When the structure of something starts to become a little clearer, I then start to share information about this in quite a detailed way (using rolls of paper or post-it notes for example, and/or asking dancers to keep their own notebook with key information).

  • Having said this, I think it’s important to acknowledge the uncertainty of the process, and for me to own the things that don’t go so well, because they will usually be because I’ve made a choice that isn’t working. I’m very open about the workings of the situation at times, and I think this is to acknowledge with my dancers that it’s all in hand, that I do know what I’m doing! (or at least I’m doing something for a specific purpose). If we try something in rehearsal and I can’t see the way forward from there I’ll acknowledge that and either take it away overnight, for a couple of days, or we might discuss it as a group

  • Where it is possible within my budget for a project I will, acknowledging that different people have different skill sets, invite various practitioners in to a studio to work on specific elements of the process e.g. a designer, writer, composer, a dramaturg, a rehearsal director

  • I very often use music (or take away music) in order to shift the atmosphere, dynamic of a particular task.

(Words by Katie Green)