I feel this track captures the ebbs and flows of Roots, NDCWales specifically Écrit by Nikita Goile. The performance started with a lone female dancer moving fluidly, almost like a crisp packet in a melancholic wind. A muscular male was positioned behind a white screen, mirroring her movements. To me this suggested he may be out of reach in some way; another women perhaps, even though the synchronisation implied an obvious connection. I feel the performance brilliantly portrayed the struggle that every human being must go through: a quest for true love. The company made brilliant use of the space, and the eerie lighting provided an excellent back drop to the performance. The dancers used sweeping movements and emotive body language to visually represent their potential romance, although love must always be reciprocated and sometimes we have to cut off a part of us and let go in order to reach the highest peak.
“Yn Ei Blodau” yw cynhyrchiad cyntaf Criw Brwd a drama gyntaf Elin Phillips. Cwmni newydd mentrus Elin a Gwawr Loader yw’r cwmni ifanc yma ac maent yn awyddus i leisio barn merched sy’n goroesi bywydau anodd yng nghymoedd y De. Mae’r ddrama’n olrhain hanes Fflur, athrawes ifanc sy’n rhy barod i blesio ei mam a’i chariad Scott. Mae’n ceisio byw y bywyd traddodiadol benywaidd – swydd barchus, perthynas, priodas a phlant – ond yn dawel fach, mae’n dyheu i wrthryfela a thorri’n rhydd. Mae ei mam yn dyheu i weld ei merch yn setlo a chael plant, ond yn dawel fach, mae Fflur yn dymuno byw bywyd heb gyfyngiadau, cyfrifoldebau na disgwyliadau.
Mae’r ddrama ar adegau yn llawn hiwmor deifiol a sefyllfaoedd doniol, ond ar y cyfan, mae caethiwed a rhwystredigaeth Fflur yn ein sobri. Mae’r wên deg sydd ar ei hwyneb yn fwgwd i’r tristwch oddi tano. Daw hyn yn amlwg wrth iddi geisio ufuddhau i reolau ei phartner Scott yn ogystal â’r euogrwydd mae’n wynebu wrth iddi wrthryfela.
Portreadodd yr actores Kate Elis y cymhlethdodau hyn yn effeithiol drwy arwain y gynulleidfa drwy amrywiol sefyllfaoedd ac argyfngau ym mywyd Fflur. Roedd ei gwaith corfforol (dan ofal medrus Eddie Ladd) yn dda, ond hwyrach byddai deunydd ehangach o’r llwyfan a’r gwagle wedi ategu at y perfformiad. Defnyddiodd yr actores rhywfaint o’r offer llwyfan mewn modd symbolaidd, er enghraifft, y bêl, ond nid oeddwn yn teimlo bod angen cymaint o’r offer hyn ar hyd y llwyfan. Serch hynny, hoffais y deunydd o olau a sain a oedd yn ychwanegu tipyn at awyrgylch y ddrama.
Er bod cymeriad Fflur yn teimlo ar goll ac yn fregus, yr hyn sy’n rhoi gobaith iddi yw y plentyn mae ar fin geni. Dyma fydd ei ffocws, ei dyfodol newydd gwell mewn byd sydd weithiau’n greulon a ffug.
Llwyddodd y dramodydd i ddefnyddio hanes Blodeuwedd – un o ferched mwyaf arwyddocaol ein chwedloniaeth – fel is-destun i’r ddrama, ac roedd hyn yn gorwedd yn gyfforddus o fewn sgript sy’n trafod yr un themâu, sef nwyd, caethiwed, disgwyliadau ac wrth gwrs rôl merch mewn byd sydd wedi’i reoli gan ddynion. Roedd hon yn noson lwyddiannus arall yn y gyfres “Get it while it’s Hot” ac edrychwn ymlaen at weld cynhyrchiad nesa’r cwmni, ‘Pan Ddaw’r Haf’ ym misoedd cyntaf 2020.
(When we enter a workshop or performance we already carry so much with us, which shapes and resonates perpetually in how we feel, sense, think witness… and determines what we take away.)
Possibly I enter each workshop dressed in degrees of resistance and estimated angles of surrender,
I guess… definitely un-definitive desires.
Desires secretly aflame stashed as best I can for another occasion.
The geometry of these desires has been formed by my habitats of dancing, which have since childhood most predominately been solitary experiences, practices and investigations. Flickering into dancing nights out and occasional classes or workshops.
(Working under or up to a choreographer or even a teacher never quite seems to fit.) The implicit–explicit hierarchies and structures involved in the process of ‘becoming a dancer’ contrast significantly with those of other art forms.
My tendency seems to ‘dip in’ intermittently to social sites of contemporary dance- seeking conversations, connections with other dancing bodies- sources of reorientation rather than reproduction.
There is a lot I keep stashed under wraps in workshop situation.
That I edit out of my dancing in order to be there.
Perhaps everyone there does.
How thread bear can the fleshy garments we wear between life and dance?
I continue to find it distracting being in a room full of dancers ‘doing moves’ -moves which have been shaped by the aesthetics and conduct of contemporary dance class. There is a strong determinative current in the room- in some ways experienced as an opportunist ‘expansive’ and fertile energy- yet also subliminally restrictive, prescriptive and within determining stylistic spectrums.
Ever-present (even in absence) is the omniscient all-knowing mirror in the room- in the held faces.
Sprayed on songs counted in 8.
An inheritance of aesthetics and ideologies.
As such dance classes and workshops are also a site of renouncement.
Resonance and Dissonance have been as much a part of my dance quests and navigations as my desires.
Expectations, prejudices, disappointments, preconceptions. These ebb and flow, merge and submerge, comforts and discomforts, hopes barriers, openings, shields. Somehow I wear them all… as in the misspelling the 2nd hand blue sweater I am wearing as I write this….
Love and Conflict co-inhabit as Survival in the way i wear and experience my body- in dance and life.
My anti Ideologies include paradox and contradiction, which resonate harmonically with dissonance and self undoing.
Everyone has their rules and regulations…to apprehend…however morphic, unrecognisable, displaced from the establishment /status quo.
There is a welcome greeting from Rosalind which extends somehow as a climate, an atmosphere into the first actions of the day.
She is throw away with her words and tasks…as if shooting a tin can with exactitude and disarming laughter. Sending things flying in disarray… arriving with a perturbingly exacting landing. I believe in the moment I shall remember everything she says… yet never seem to.
We are invited to wear in-depth, the fleshy gestures we enact as we ‘Warm UP’.
Somehow there is a dressing and undressing from our needs- practical, physical, emotional. Which elements do we self-consciously edit out or adjust in this social situation?
A few years ago I stripped away Warming UP.
It had always been a synthetic add on. Easy to let go of…and almost made necessary by life’s constraints.
Anyway my real desire was always to begin by dancing without expectation. Perhaps what I identified as ‘warming up’…has been historically identified by what I am not ready, or not yet good enough for.
If any thing I ‘warm down’ – a practical apparatus to be able to carry my dance back into my life- patterns and constructs of my body in day to day survival. A kind of savoury dessert. An elixir of the ordinary.
It is a chorus somehow strangely echoes …down the line from Deborah Hay….
“Getting What You Need”
Not here or now this morning… yet somehow it echoes of its own accord.
When this incantation first resounded in my radar I had to undress it from associations of affirmation. It seems to fit easy when I recognise “what I need” as a cellular unidentifiable, morphic, surprising and self unravelling experience. What I need as a question, rather than an acquisition.
An invitation, direction or gesture of departure as well as arrival.
Somehow Rosalind offered Warming UP as question…. an invitation to reconfigure ‘needs’…moving within easy to reach field of movement.
Perhaps if I rechristen Warming UP as acclimatising.
“Warming UP” could feel like an invitation to include very practical and ordinary elements of my everyday body- needs, fears and desires.
Warming UP deciphers beginnings and endings, invitations, expectations to tuning into tuning out of.
Rosalind describes a musical scale as a metaphor for Warming Up.
A series of portals to experience aspects of feeling and being which appear and disappear.
Warming Up those vital aspects of ourselves, dormant, or attired in getting through life, which can dishabille dancing?
I am aware of how I am tethered by by my own discreetly oppositional anti establishment ideologies…which have their own restrictions within civilised systems.
Rosalind speaks of “Shedding” through the day.
Somehow this Act of Shedding has been the only way anything has ever formed, accumulated, been generated, or encompassed in my the habitat of my dance.
There is a freedom and exactitude to “Shedding”.
She rechristens Warming UP as Noticing.
Like orphaning and rechristening a child of the establishment as an illegitimate out of wedlock love child…tuning the harmonics and melodics of the
…the exchanging interface between life body and dancing body.
*Orienting includes of Disorientating and Reorienting.*
Rosalind lightly describes years of being in the studio alone.
And her fidelity to
“Just One Thing”at a time
…as a Practice.
“Practice” is another word I have orphaned, adopted and rechristened as a Habitat.
After all I always try to untether activities from Justifications.
In a world where justice can only be a fleeting or temporal accommodation.
The End of the World?
…Should it be a question any longer?
…So many worlds are ending.
…Yet the world is not a Mono-theistic Being.
(Even if that is translated into modern silhouette of Atheism or sacrificial altar of Scientific Progress and Salvation. )
…Beyond my fingertips yes but not the nerve endings of my the reality of my imagination.
…Extinction still seems somehow out of reach…like the aspirational vote…on the top shelf of the corner shop.
…No-one ever shops there anymore.
…Warming Up as a mammalian being flickering through other forms of alien earthly life?
…Shedding humanity as a destination.
Perceptually many worlds not one?
“Whoever says salvation exists is a slave, because he keeps weighing each of his and deeds in every moment.’Will I be saved or damned he tremblingly asks…Salvation means deliverance from all saviours…the perfect saviour …who shall deliver mankind from Salvation”
John Gray STRAW DOGS
Possibly sometime ago I would have felt a sense of inadequacy in attempting to commit to Rosalind’s “ Just one Thing.” .
Now I seem to realise I have a tendency towards the inside out.
(My mother who is incredibly superstitious insists its unlucky to change your clothes if you put them on inside out…lately she seems to have extended this in recent years to back to front scenarios.) She is suddenly older.
….I start with a myriad of unnamed constellations and something strangely specific and singular seems to crystallise amongst the sensations.
Rosalind seems to start with some singular, visceral, displacing devotional action- distilling an undefinable, multiplicity of sensation. Somehow her work reconfigures the relationship between the dancers nervous and reflexive systems.
“For polytheists, religion is a matter of practice not belief: and there are many kinds of practice….
Polytheism is too delicate a way of thinking for modern minds.”
John Gray. STRAW DOGS.
In Rosalind’s practice duality and multiplicity to experientially unfold through devotion and surrender through attending a singular perceptual activity.
She speaks of the duality or oppositional friendship between her dancing self and choreographing self.
Her fidelity to being moved by singular responsive action invites a dynamic multiplicity created by possibilities of empathetic polarities…movements between oppositional perceptions, or ways of apprehending experience.
She speaks of resting into/ committing to the specific initiation of one definitive activity – tethering the mind/ brain- keeping it busy- so body can be free to… perhaps not act as its subject.
We begin with SURFACE(s)….interplays of exchange, interfaces- membranes of sensation…She specifies “SURFACE” not located, dislocated identified as skin, clothing, hair, aura, fat, nerves, space.
This definition is perceptually inclusive rather than exclusive.
We begin differentiating the sense of whole body and a body in parts.
We change channel to our VOLUME– Sensations of our how we are contained within our forms.
“What if the depth is on the surface?” An echo from Deborah Hay.
Our Skin an outer brain.
Our Brain an inner skin.
The skin of a thought.
The mind of sensation/ feeling.
I wonder…What if we our whole being is surface?… internally externally a site of exchange/ interface, a multiplicity. Each organ, nerve, vessel, muscle, orifice an intricate accumulation- a series, a family of surfaces. Every cell of our body…an intricate, responsive folding of surfaces, membranes, skins of connective differentiation.
I inhabit my Volume. I feel my Surfaces.
I inhabit my surface. I feel my Volumes.
I feel myself one…I become many.
I feel myself as many…I become one.
“Opposition is true Friendship”
Marriage of Heaven and Hell. William Blake
partial lecture about a partial history
an unfinished dance by a saturated body
an ongoing practice exposed
Rosalind’s meticulous distillation of perpetual actions….materialise in her performance. Framed at once by immediate incremental intervals… and over the history of her dance reaching into other dance worlds and practices.
Films are shown as a windows into different fields of her work- the fluid electrics of her nervous system seems interconnected as other instruments of attentiveness ….perceptual apparatus.
My daughter sits on my lap and laughs as Rosalind enacts a live commentary on her actions- a self reporting journalist. Each moment and action swallowed up by the channelling of next event. The struggle between words and forms shaping and shedding..dressing and undressing of destinies… shedding of destinations.
She speaks about the dancer being carried away by the dance- like a babe in arms. Perhaps she speaks of marriage- of fidelity rather than faithfulness. I feel the meaning… yet I fail to remember the vows….the vowels without consonants…constants. Perhaps she is speaking about different types of love, liberty and dependancy…all intrinsically, synchronistically intertwined.
There is an ending…She speaks of riding through forest, as a girl on horseback…and the revisitation to the devastation of the wilderness she once was carried by and loved. She shows film of herself dancing, moving in the bodies of felled trees- laid waste.
It is stark and hopeless in its endurance and truth.
Her humanity exposed and stranded between animal and machine.
She is a helplessly human visitation in a scene of natural devastation. Yet she is dancing. Dancing somehow feels like an authentic activism- where there is no graspable solution.
I am writing this over hearing a conversation between the waitress at the Old Boys Club and a customer:
It is about animal life and meat.
It is about the value of life in the face of death.
He says to her, “At the end of the day…When the animals are going to die anyway…Whats the point of them being happy and living a good life?”
It is also about ourselves.
My dear friend has given me… hand inked in lovely italics…a sign…
Hope is more convincing in French…because I don’t speak french.
Rosalind’s incantations and dances are untampered by representative justifications. Somehow her work channels with a truthful and disarming delicacy, with apparitions of specificity- a commitment to the beauty and mystery of the world- of existence.
Fidelity to incrementals of uncounted time.
She speaks of hands being at the end of your feet.
Being carried by the contact we have with the earth..
The natural world… Out of sight…Out of mind… Out of our hands
But still resounding through our feet
turning us on the world’s surface/skin- through our animal universals, rather than our human specialisations.
Perhaps we live in an age…where salvation must be reconfigured an act of disarmament…
A shedding of Humanity’s Survival-
A shedding of Humanity’s aesthetics governed by its fears an desires.
Perhaps this is a dance- as much as anything.
It’s mid November, the temperature is dropping, gifts and decorations are out in full force in the shops, Christmas lights are starting to be switched on, what a perfect time to go and see a show. The Nativity the musical, at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff is here. What a start to get into the festive spirit!
We had a fantastic opportunity to go along to experience the smash hit stage musical, from film screen to stage, adapted by Debbie Isitt.
It’s the lead up to Christmas, the children of St Bernadette’s are preparing to appear in their school nativity. Mr Maddens the class teacher, and his new assistant Mr Poppy, a very excitable and energetic teacher, are given the task of organising the school nativity. When out looking for a school Christmas tree, they bump into Mr Shakespeare, a teacher from Oakmoor prep. Mr Madden tells him that Hollywood is coming to their school to film it. The rest of the school hear Hollywood are coming, they are so excited. Mr Madden confides in Mr Poppy telling him it isn’t true, and they embark on a journey to find a way to make it happen!
The cast are incredible, and the talent shining through from the children is commendable. It’s almost impossible not to smile with the humour from Scott Paige ‘Mr Poppy’. I enjoyed the charisma of Charles Brunton on how he portrayed Mr Shakespeare. Polly Parker is played by Dani Dyer (appeared on 2018 Love Island and actor Danny Dyer’s daughter).
My 8 year old son, Cody, came along with me, he found it “enjoyable” and “so fun”. We both liked the projection of the star lights into the audience. It was magical.
On the way down in the lift, Cody asked if we were coming back later in the week to watch it again and said he will take the nativity programme into school with him to show his teachers and friends.
An added bonus to the programme, it had children’s activities inside, colouring, word search, crossword and spot the difference.
Our favourite songs were ‘Hollywood Are Coming”, “Herod The Rock Opera”, “Nazareth” and “Sparkle And Shine”.
Feel good, festive fun for all!
Nativity the Musical is in Cardiff, at the Wales Millennium Centre from Tuesday 19th – Saturday 23rd November.
To Book your tickets and for more information, here is the WMC Wales Millennium Centre website.
They will be in Plymouth next, followed by Southhampton and London.
It is danse, not dance, because it was in France where Rosalind Crisp realised what she needed to do next. She needed to challenge all the moves and positions that controlled her body after years of ballet and dance training. The one-woman performance begins with a video of Crisp. She moves incessantly. She is a puppet rebelling against her puppeteer. There is an energy inside in search of escape into a movement. That elusive movement is constrained by habits and training. It’s like watching someone running in different directions looking for a way out of a labyrinth.
By the side of the screen Crisp begins to move. A light is shone upon her. There is no music, no sounds, only her breath. Her constant focused movement is gripping. You can’t stop watching her. She begins to talk to the audience. “Sorry I can’t speak Welsh. I’m stuck with English, French, and dance,” she says, “The problem with dance is that,” she whispers, “people don’t understand it.”
What at first might have felt a terribly serious performance turns into a warm and humorous connection with the audience. Crisp tells us about dance and we respond laughing, smiling, and watching her every move. Her self-irony makes her work true and accessible. There is not an ounce of pretension.
Crisp rocks. Literally. She dances to rock music and then tells us that she stopped doing that because it makes you thirsty and there’s lack of water in Australia. Crisp is striking for her earnestness and deep levity. She is deep, just not serious. She is also poetic in how she describes movements wanting to elope with dancers and the dancer being seduced by the promise of being carried away. She ends with a video of herself on a mound of earth and dead vegetation to be witness to the devastation of the bushes in Australia due to deforestation. Her body cries the loss of life.
La grande dame of dance, France awarded her the title of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Dame of the Arts), is funny with no histrionics, gripping with no artifice, and weird, beautifully so.
I meet Rosalind Crisp in the upstairs theatre at Chapter. ‘This is my space,’ she says. She takes long strides and almost dances to get to her bag. She asks me whether I’m a dancer and looks a little disappointed when I tell her that I’m not. I tell her that I’ve been started to write about dance recently and have fallen in love with it. ‘With a dancer?’ she asks. ‘No, with dance.’ She looks surprised and bemused. She ponders where to have the interview and some lunch. She thinks the café downstairs might be too noisy for my recorder. I tell her that she needs to eat. I feel I’m taking her away from her safe haven to plunge her into the midst of eaters and drinkers, and a film crew filming just outside the café.
Crisp is one of the foremost choreographers in contemporary dance worldwide. In 2015, she was awarded the highest recognition in France as Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres; yet she is unassuming, kind, and generous. She gives me her time freely and doesn’t mind when my questions become an interrogation. She takes time to explain her aesthetics and idea of dancing without a hint of pride.
Crisp recounts her journey as dancer and choreographer and says, “Some time ago there was a shift, I think it’s when I started working on my own. … In the beginning it was catching the movements and later it was about the way I was producing the movements which has led to my work of the last 15 years.’
Crisp’s radical approach is a close observation of where the body wants to go, the patterns established by years of training and habits, the ‘history,’ as she calls it, of the training that dancers have and that stops them from being aware of where the movement comes from and making different choices. She says, “I suppose I noticed with dancers that if they do things unquestioned that doesn’t interest me, … I would call it the history stuck with them. They haven’t questioned it in that moment. It has more power over them than the present moment because they’re forgetting. They do that and don’t realise that it’s actually just their history speaking,” she laughs.
Crisp’s idea of unlearning dance is a gaining of awareness of movement. She says, “I got very interested in what happens before a movement, what happened after I moved … how actually not do the dancing that I thought was dancing in order to open up a bigger view of what it might be.”
The awareness she seeks takes many years of rigorous training to develop. She says, “I have the same dancers for years and years. … I never say ‘do this or that,’ they’re so deeply in the work. They’re so amazing. They learn so thoroughly to dive into someone’s work. … It amazes me. They’re incredible. They bring so much. They bring this enormous commitment to go wherever I wanna go. … They do it in their own way. It’s given back to me other flavours of the work. … They’re not trying to get it, they’re taking it where it needs to go.”
Crisp’s openness is to the audience too. In undoing dance, she also wants to undo performance. She seeks a connection with the audience by going beyond showing a piece. She reaches out to her audience. She says, “I call it withness. A lot of dancing is being on your own, in your own world, with your eyes shut in the studio, then there’s an audience and it’s a whole other thing. It needs a lot of practice to develop that. It took me a long time to learn how to be with an audience and not just present something for them or at them. … I really love being with the audience. … it’s kind of melting that distance between us.”
I ask her how she connects with the audience. She says, “I just want them to be so involved that there’s nowhere else … I really want them to be completely gripped. Otherwise why do it? It’s gotta be better than television.”
I say that it can be hard to be gripped without narrative. In most TV being gripped is waiting to see what happens next. It’s manipulative.
She says, “I think theatre is very manipulative. I’m completely manipulating the audience. Totally. But I hope you don’t feel manipulated. I hope you just get engaged. It’s because, it’s a lot of trickery, it’s a lot of work, it’s a lot generosity, it’s a lot of skill, it’s a lot of surprises to get an audience really involved.”
I say, “Generosity is not manipulation.”
She says, “It’s still manipulative, it’s still a job to get you engaged.”
I say, “You’re still true to something.”
She says, “Yes, I’m true to my job of getting you engaged. I want them to get involved in every moment, so much that I’ll do anything to get you involved.”
I say, “If you really wanted that, you would do something commercial, why are you not doing something commercial?”
She says, “because I love dancing.”
I say, “See!”
She says, “I believe (dancing) it’s a way I can communicate. It’s the best way I can communicate.”
I say, “That’s not manipulative. You give something you love in the way you love. It’s you giving something.”
I continue, “You need to do something to engage the audience, but that’s not where the work comes from, it comes from you loving dance.”
She says, “You can be a great dancer and a terrible performer. I learned how to perform from Andrew Morrish. He’s a great performer and a great teacher of performing. It’s about the audience. It’s about your connection to the audience. That’s the most important thing for him. I’ve learned a lot from that. There are two responsibilities: one is to my dancing, my material, my satisfaction artistically, the other one is to the audience, and they are both equally important. If I haven’t got the audience I have nothing to offer. If I’m the only one knowing what I do, I have no communication. I still think it’s very manipulative.”
I say, “It’s the wrong term. Manipulative is cheap tricks.”
She says, “I do cheap tricks.”
I say, “I don’t believe you.”
There is no artifice in Rosalind Crisp, no aloofness, no pretension. I do not believe that her work could be anything other than a heartfelt and honest attempt at challenging herself and the audience in the most radical way. It is a work of love.
I’ve never seen contemporary dance live onstage. I’ve seen glimpses of it on TV – just enough to be fascinated, baffled, then fascinated again. My relationship with classical music is much the same. A simple melody can weave its way through an orchestra with astounding grace – but when a composer tries to tell a story, to my ears, the music lacks the vocabulary to express it. The artistic intent fades in and out, like a conversation half overheard across a crowded room.
My first experience of live contemporary dance was full of grace, but also not without half-heard sentiments. The first of four short pieces was Nikita Gole’s Écrit – it was my favourite. The story (a passionate affair between artist Frida Kahlo and her partner Diego) seemed disjointed, but the dancing was bursting with energy and full of feeling. With Frida in spotlight and Diego in silhouette behind a curtain, there was a striking visual contrast onstage. Another striking contrast: Frida begins with flowing hands suggesting a young flower in bloom, then, as she sheds petals from a rose covered headband, suddenly I felt wrenched forward in time. This was brilliantly mirrored by Diego, who opens as a painter slashing and swiping on a canvas, then shrinks into a rocking chair as a man whose days have all been spent. The story lingered on from there – Diego taking on a strangely demonic presence that I couldn’t understand – but the vivid imagery and gorgeously evocative choreography held me from start to finish. I’d see more of this.
Ed Myhill’s Why Are People Clapping!? tapped into a more primal, almost tribal energy with his piece, which hit its peak with a mesmerising succession of solo dances. The momentum ebbed with the persistent intrusion of sports related choreography, which, for me, was an unwanted distraction.
Anthony Matsena’s Codi was the piece I was looking forward to the most – bringing contemporary dance down into the dark of the Welsh mines promised to be a thrilling clash of different worlds. I was mightily impressed with the innovative use of lighting, which made a bare stage seem full and ever changing. The choreography, however, did not feel hard or harsh enough to emulate the desperate, dangerous lives of those brave mining men.
Last on the bill was Fearghus Ó Concchúir’s Rygbí: Annwyl/Dear, which likewise advertised an appealing fusion (this time, dance and rugby), but seemed to flit and fly around its subject matter without ever really going for the gut. With so many complex orchestrated movements to draw inspiration from, it felt like a missed opportunity that the geometry of the game was only intermittently recognisable.
What impressed me in every piece was the enthusiasm and athleticism of a remarkably talented dancing ensemble – the choreography did not always connect with me, but the pure intent of every performer was a sight worth seeing. And yes…it makes me want to lean in and hear more of what they’re saying, too. Next time!
Tour born of rhythm, attitude, en-pointe collaboration,
Community, shared unity, humanity, emancipation,
Passion for dance promenading relations’ rise and fall,
Sport inspiring art, inspiring sport, performed with balls,
Journeys of life, love, loss, grace and strength of spirit,
Why are people clapping? So we can all hear it!
All – together a common theme, a message for us all
Flowers bloom after rain declares Washington
Inspiring attitudes, lifted to rise after they fall
As across the room Kahlo reflects over shadows on the wall
Fallen but not broken, through the darkness, Roots light still shines on
Sound-tracked by drum beat, crickets chip, traffic hum and tennis play, ‘Love – one!’
The strength of life, common ground, at its essence and as its inspiration
Born of the rhythm, full of hope, showcasing the feet of our nation.
Rosalind Crisp, a world-renown dancer and choreographer, is at Chapter Arts Centre preparing for her performance Unwrapping Danse. She is originally from Australia, where she is active in raising awareness on the environmental catastrophe of the deforestation of the bushes. She divides her time between Australia and Europe, especially France where she has been awarded the highest recognition in the country as Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres. She is generous with her time and allows us to have a long discussion on her approach to dance.
Crisp’s approach to dance is a radical awareness of one’s body and one’s movement. It requires rigorous and lengthy training to undo what the body has learned over the years. All our bodies learn movement, which becomes habitual and unchallenged. Some of us find themselves stuck with bad posture, shallow breathing, or stiff muscles. It takes training to undo the bad habits. For dancers, it is the dance training that becomes habitual and impedes development artistically but also personally. A culture of dancing as perfecting a technique means the dancer will never be good enough. It is a culture of lack.
“the training in dance is part of the education paradigm we know in schools where you’re constantly trying to get better, not quite good enough, even when you get really good. … Classical ballet which is where I started is really embedded in that culture of lack, you’re always in a relationship of lack. You never actually get there. This has huge impact on the identity of the dancer. It’s very hard to find your way in dance because it’s uncomfortable and people who dance feel insecure because they’re not good enough. … I think it was partly to do with dealing with that, that turned me away from set movements.”
Crisp focuses on paying close attention to what the body does without us being conscious of it. She is interested in the dancers’ attention to their own bodies and their decision-making in how they choose the next movement. She began with herself, observing and challenging her movements and how she chose movements. She says,
“I trained myself to pay attention. The training is in the attention to where things are emerging in the body, what’s already emerging, especially in the beginning of movement,” she moves her arm as she says so. She says, “I’m more and more interested in what produces a movement than the movement itself.”
I suggest that it’s a bit like meditation. It’s a ‘mindful movement.’
“Paying attention,” Crisp says, “It’s not natural movement. It’s two things: it’s a lot of rigorous work of what compositional choices are available, how fast that moves, how much tension or tone is in that, how much space, which body parts are involved and which aren’t.”
Crisp wanted to shake off the history of dance training, which establishes patterns of movements in the body of dancers.
“They start to do this movement and you know where it’s gonna go. It’s gonna go to there because the body remembers, like I know how to pick up a sandwich and eat it. … There’s a lot of alertness to the decision-making that is historical or embedded and unquestioned. There’s a constant kind of negotiation. Sometimes that needs softness and support because it’s a very strong, you said that before, mind…?”
“Mindful,” I say, “like in meditation. When you meditate you observe the thoughts in your mind and become aware of them and their patterns.” She tells me,
“it’s about degrees of awakeness to the potential for any part of the body anytime to initiate [movement].”
Then she says something beautiful. She says,
“I think the body is an orchestra not an instrument. Every bit has the capacity to being engaged and they all need to be on standby all the time.” Making the body an orchestra requires paying attention. It’s not letting go, but rigorous observation and training.”
“It’s not natural movement. It’s two things: it’s a lot of rigorous work of what compositional choices are available, how fast that moves, how much tension or tone is in that, how much space, which body parts are involved and which aren’t.”
She tells me that she tries to put her choreographic mind in the background so that she can pay attention to what’s emerging in the body. She says,
“There’s a sort of decolonising the choreography’s dominance telling the dancer what to do, my choreography. I try to reverse it.”
I suggest that it is a form of authenticity, an awareness of conditioning and the search for something of value. She is not having it. It’s all trickery, she says, but to me her effort to become deeply aware of the body and learned movement resonates with existentialist philosophy and Crisp herself is strikingly authentic. However, I’m conscious that authenticity in performance is associated with the semi-therapeutic and spiritual dramaturgy of Grotowski in theatre and the Authentic Movement in dance. Crisp’s dancing does not aim to be therapeutic or spiritual; rather it is in some way heuristic.
It all began with dancing, just dancing without following set movements. She says,
“dancing, not trying to remember steps but dancing and it was out of years and years of dancing in the studio on my own that I started to be able to notice times when I was having so much fun and it felt like it was like opening a whole world and a new kind of thing.”
Crisp’s approach to dancing is genuinely open. It is radical freedom.
(First published on Groundwork Pro)
Dance is personal. It is your muscles, your injuries, your sweat, your discipline, and your imagination. Professional dance is not just technique, physical ability, and rhythmic sense; it is the dancer’s personality, which is in their bodies and in their minds. What emerges from talking to dancers and choreographers is the personal work of dance. Dancers do not simply replicate established movements for the audience, they bring their individuality to a piece in how their body moves and how they give an interpretation of their role, sometimes that includes creating their own movements.
Contemporary dance is often an exploration of movement and physicality that begins with an awareness of one’s body. Dancers learn about their body, how their body is in space, the different places where the body can be, the learned and habitual moves, and how to become aware of how they move. Dance is born of physical and mental awareness. It rests on deep knowledge of one’s body in space and in movement, and making decisions on how to move.
I watch dancers and see how different they are. They have different builds, different ways of moving, but, above all, different personalities that become prominent when they dance. Aisha Naamani, one of the dancers of the National Dance Company Wales (NDCW), tells me, ‘Everybody has a different quality in movement because everybody has a different way of processing information.’ NDCW dancers do a lot of ‘rep work,’ work of different choreographers coming for a short time for a production. That means dancers need to take on different outfits rather than develop their own work. However, for Roots, each piece relied on improvisation and collaboration between choreographers and dancers.
Naamani, referring to Ed Myhill’s piece Why Are People Clapping?, part of Roots, tells me,
‘We had to create our own movement, we have to do that as naturally and thoughtfully but also not attached to it, not tied down to what you want to do. … You have your individuality doing what your body would do, but then Ed would come and see it and rearrange the puzzle somewhere. But you always keep that essence of your own individuality because that’s where you create it from.’
The interplay between the individual dancer and the group is evident in the piece itself. During the rehearsals, Myhill tells the dancers that it’s about
‘Appreciating individuals and what they bring to the circle. The rhythm is set up by your colleagues, your friends. They are there to support you, use it as a drive to express yourself.’
As the dancers become familiar with one another and how others move, they are able to support one another. Fearghus Ó Conchúir, the Artistic Director of NDCW, realised that the coming together as a team and mutual support in rugby are familiar to dancers. In his piece Rygbi, the way in which dancers relate to one another is most evident in improvisation. He tells me,
‘You don’t need to offer support if it’s all decided already. You just need to be in your place. Active support comes from not knowing what is going to happen and being ready for whatever it is and we built that kind of improvisation into the work. We continue to work with improvisation to keep the work alive.’
Ó Conchúir explains that he has questions in mind and gives structure to the piece, but that
‘The dancers are the ones who inhabit it and take an idea, for me the reason to collaborate is because I’m not someone who decides what the work is in my head in advance and then want to see it just played out in front of me. … I want to be surprised by the process, otherwise it’s not enriching. I don’t learn anything. The reason to be engaged in this artistic practice is to keep learning things.’
Yet, this work of improvisation rests on dancers offering something that comes from their own self, their own body, something that at times can be very personal, and is not always accepted. Naamani tells me that that can be hard,
‘Because you can offer something to a choreographer, it’s almost as if you put your heart out to them and you’re being really vulnerable, but it’s not a personal thing, it’s what is necessary at that time. That’s a really hard thing. It’s long hours, it’s busy, constant re-evaluating what you’re doing, constant thoughts. You have to be very strong so you get very strong but you also, you have to be vulnerable at the same time, it’s a hard balance.’
Ó Conchúir is well aware of the personal gift that dancers give to a choreographer. He says,
‘Sometimes you’ll say ‘ok, no’, sometimes when someone offers a thing, you’ll ‘oh no, thank you for offering that, that is a possibility, but that’s made it clear to me that we need to stay over here or sometimes you’re like ‘oh, you’re right, let’s go off on that route’. Even when you’re not, because you can’t necessarily follow everything that’s offered, then that helps clarify what you’re choosing to do. For me that collaboration with the dancers is essential and then hopefully that makes it a more interesting and engaging process for them, because they’re helping the creation and give it life. For me that’s the most important thing, that the dancers are engaged. In the moment of performance is them, they’re performing it with the audience. What I’m trying to do is to help prepare everyone for that encounter.’
Dance entails being vulnerable and giving themselves to others. Those others are your colleagues, the choreographer, and the audience. Talented dancers and those who gain notoriety might be led astray by their ego, but the soul of dance lies in humility and devotion.
NDCWales latest production Roots is currently touring. Further information and tickets can be purchased here.