Photography by Rachel Cherry
Skills Exchange Day 4
Awareness, breath, touch and responsibility
Clare trained at Laban and holds an MA from Staffordshire University in Community & Participatory Arts. Clare has worked in a range of settings from prison to nursery to hospitals across the Midlands and North-West, specialising in delivering inclusive dance work for children with disabilities. In 2009 Clare founded Restoke (www.restoke.org.uk) alongside two other artists, to make performances and build audiences and participation in Stoke-on-Trent. Restoke's work is socially-driven and has participation at its heart. The Company produces performances in unusual settings in the city, reanimating disused buildings which have historical or community significance. Clare has presented the work of Restoke at Trinity Laban, Chester University, Manchester Metropolitan University, UCLAN, People Dancing International events (Cardiff & Glasgow) and on the Re:bourne 'Overture' programme for emerging community dance artists. Restoke are currently working on Man Up - part arts project part public health intervention, exploring the issues of mental health and masculinity. Man Up will be performed in August 2018.
On day 4 of the Skills Exchange, Clare offered some warm up exercises with a focus on touch, increasing our awareness of our own bodies and breath, considering our responsibility to ourselves and others when in 'service' to dancers who have limited understanding of the moving body. In her own words she shares her thoughts:
In my work with Restoke we work a lot on 'tuning in' to our own bodies; as an ensemble of diverse participants; and to the sites we work in. The dancers I work with have to model what it is to fully inhabit our bodies, to make genuine and often unspoken connections and to support others to feel comfortable to do the same.
Inspired by the previous days discussions about balancing the duty of care we all hold in community dance, with artistry and integrity, I thought I'd look at some physical ways we could practice this.
We went through the following exercises:
- Emotional register – 2 words to describe how we felt that morning. Encouraging open and honest responses without having to explain, and importantly without judgment or apology. To be aware that all feelings were valid in the room.
- Introducing someone else and saying something positive about them – an opportunity to share what we've noticed about others throughout the week; a chance to balance out how we feel with how others view us. We all seemed to agree that kindness was a key part of our practices, and as artists we look for opportunity to foster kindness within the groups we work with.
- Body-work in pairs – tuning in to our partners breath, offering touch, taking weight and creating more space and softness within the body. Progressing into moving, both with and without our partners touch. Touch can help to ground us in our bodies, It can teach us more about our bodies and is also a natural way to connect with others and find deeper levels of trust.
- Closed eyes pair work - taking our partner on a walk which builds into dance, testing their boundaries and comfort zones. I was interested in how the eyes open partner could maintain artistic interest and choices alongside their increased level of responsibility and duty of care to the eyes-closed partner.
- Sensory exploration – giving our partner an eyes closed exploration of part of the room, to heighten their other senses and get to know the room without the reliance on vision. We then played back our partners exploration to them. I often use this as a tool in site-specific work, to ensure we're not only responding to sites using our vision, but also tuning into the other sensory information of the places we create work in.
After each part we had a discussion in our partners, but both with closed eyes. To again take away vision to notice the impact on the way we listen or speak. We rely so much on our sight and temporarily taking it away is such a useful tool for re-connecting with our bodies and our other senses, allowing these to guide our interests and movement explorations.
DOCUMENTING AND EVALUTING
I briefly discussed Restoke's work which is rooted in the city where I was born and raised, Stoke-on-Trent. Our commitment to this specific place can bring challenges of showcasing our work to a larger audience, so we have in recent years taken documenting and evaluating our projects more seriously. Film and photography has become an important aspect of capturing the moments of magic in our process and performances which are impossible to sum up in words. This also creates a dialogue with a larger audience and brings more people closer to our work.
We collaborate with artist Nicola Winstanley who is highly experienced in creative consultation and evaluation. She joins us in the participatory aspects of our work, to document, question and find creative methods for collecting and presenting feedback. I shared Nicola's evaluation report from our most recent project, which is also online HERE
For our next project Nicola will create an exhibition which reveals some of the processes, successes and challenges of our work to showcase at the final performances, but this will also have it's own life and will tour to public places to connect more people to our methods and learning in an accessible and artistic output.
Again this led to discussions around what additional skills we may need to bring into our projects in order for them to have a greater impact. Unpicking the roles of an artist, what skills we should have and what we need to bring in, has been a key theme this week... and it's so different for each artist and each project. Collaboration has always been at the heart of Restoke's work, and our team of artists and participants expands as we identify the skills and experiences we need to keep growing.
(Words by Clare Reynolds)
Skills Exchange Day 2
The art of paying attention
This morning, we met in the beautiful winter sunshine with Hannah Robertshaw and shared a travel and talk session together based on the principles of coaching practice, and how these sit parallel with the tools we employ in our creative practice. We discussed:
- Listening - REALLY listening, and giving space and time for the person to resolve their thoughts, is a different experience to partially, distracted listening
- Holding the space (a theme that has arisen already during our week) invites the contributor to feel safe in their expression
- Being alongside someone in their thinking, can men physically, in emotional terms or both in the creative setting
- The principle of our creative work aligns with the coaching belief that a person has it inside themselves to find the right way, path, or answer
- We are there to support a creative experience, not to make decisions about which way to lead someone down a specific path
- Directing a process does not mean deliberately pointing in one direction
- Sometimes allowing space and time, is more powerful than filling every moment
- Coming to our own conclusions, helps us to commit to the answers we discover
- It can be hard to get beyond pleasing people when making creative direction choices, but moving beyond our initial responses gives us space to find something else - ask what next, or what else of your practice and of those you work with
Skills Exchange Day 1
Holding the space
Danielle Teale is the initiator of the Artists' Exchange Programme.
To begin the Skills' Exchange, I delivered a workshop which illuminated some of the concepts and thoughts that have led to this week. Most importantly, to highlight the different roles that are held by the artist in a creative situation, and how and why these roles are important.
By taking away the leadership figure, I set up a workshop environment in which boundaryless play could evolve, and the dancers were free to interpret their environment as they choose. The resources, the space, the music, the text based instructions and the other bodys in the space were available as markers to hold the space and provide inspiration but fundamentally the creative interpretation of the dancers was unstructured and unguided.
The workshop generated conversations with the following threads:
- The impact of the resources we draw on - the sense of choice and freedom with lots of options, versus the feeling of being lost in endless possibility and the overstimulation of choice leading to an obsession with finding order
- The use of the voice or lack of voice, the tone of voice and sound, as well as the actual language we use, all have an impact on the way instruction is received
- How we set up the space - not just setting up the tasks and content of the session, but the work that goes on before we enter the room, and the positioning of ourselves in the space, determines how we represent ourselves in the process and our position of power as a leader
- The value of unstructured play as a way to overcome the need for outcome focused work
- The value of structure as a way to consolidate learning
The closing thoughts of the group were centred around the notion of holding the space. 'Letting the party happen' involves us as artists 'hosting' the space, reading what is happening, making choices based on what is working, and choosing where to go next. This involves a combination of structured safety and unstructured freedom which can be easily interchangeable.
Skills Exchange Day 1
Identity and relationality
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.
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.
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)
As I excitedly prepare for the first day of the AEP Skills Exchange beginning tomorrow, I thought I would kick off by sharing the journey that I have been which led me to develop this programme.
Starting with my practice as a community dance artist and continuing with my academic research in community practice, I've always been interested in how we discover and foster equality and co-ownership in dance settings. Through an inquiry drawing on evidence from multiple community dance contexts from integrated projects to older people dancing, to youth dance and dance in hospitals, I summarised that it is in an artistic setting rather than a pedagogic one; in a relationship of artists and dancers, rather than participants and teachers; that co-ownership of dancing experience is possible.
However, this theory was only the start of my continued interest in co-ownership as I finished my MA but continually found myself considering the notion of artists and dancers, and how it is that some dance artists situate themselves in the role of artist, and others find it difficult to envisage themselves with that title. If so many dance artists working in community dance have not had the opportunity to position themselves in their own minds as artists, and instead are working with pedagogic frameworks and principles but without a creative vision or message, the experience for the dancers they work with is less likely to reach a place of equality and co-ownership, which are concepts at the heart of community dance.
And so, the Artists' Exchange Programme began informally with Artists' Conversations. I spoke one-to-one with a handful of dance artists whose practice sits in the valley between two mountains - community and choreography. Two things that are indistinguishable in my opinion, but which seem to be becoming further and further removed. These artists believe that their work emerges from a close connection with the community dancers they engage with, but firmly delivers an artistic vision or intention that is their own. I was keen to discover what the artists shared, what they had in common - whether it be their values, practices or challenges - and what I found was that it was all three. These artists had a common belief in people, play, joy and communication; they had all considered the multi-faceted roles they hold as directors, choreographers, mentors and teachers; they were all feeling the challenge of building resilience, expressing their value as individuals, and positioning their work in an industry with existing hierarchic structures that they all aspire to break down...
What I began to understand was that the things that all these artists shared were vital to the success of their work. Their ability to create true co-ownership and foster equality in their work, stemmed from their artistic vision, their ability to communicate it, and their belief that all people could access it. The AEP Skills' Exchange this week brings together artists with this vision, experience and with something to say, so that they can share in the values, beliefs and ambitions of one another, and understand the power of the collective when you have a message to deliver. As part of the week's exploration, they will contribute to a body of knowledge that Danielle Teale Dance will take forward to develop the AEP Professional Development workshops, enabling further community dance artists to access peer learning and tailored support to develop their artistic practice. This further development of the AEP workshops is supported by Yorkshire Dance, DanceEast and Theatre Bristol, in order to bring tailored professional development to regional artists.
Please follow the content on the Artists' Conversations Blog to find out what we are sharing, discussing and exploring throughout this week.
Danielle Teale Dance launches the first Artists Skills Exchange as part of the new and innovative, Artists Exchange Programme (AEP).