Echo Echo Ensemble Return to the Studio

I’ve been doing quite a bit of moving at home during the period of withdrawal from live public engagement. I found my focus in exploring movement a little different from usual. I think this had to do with multiple factors: The presence of new themes, flowing from the big world into my small space and into my movement. Moving in a room with a mirror (there are not, by design, any mirrors in Echo Echo Studios). The opportunity to be radically process orientated – a time of pure research not driven by demands to produce, perform, teach.

There are not, by design, any mirrors in Echo Echo Studios but at home I found having this one an interesting change

I watched lots of videos posted online by dancers, but I found no real desire to share anything of my own. I’m rather wary of what I’ve experienced as the rush to replace the shared, complex, vibrant, four dimensional weather of live engagement with the flat, constrained, framed, rectangular coolness of the phone and computer screen. A dis-ease process that has been well underway for quite a while, regardless of any zoonotic virus.

That being said, I did feel privileged to have a video of Almost Blue, the solo piece I made in 2019, under the direction of Oona Doherty, included in the virtual version of John Scott’s “Dancer From the Dance” festival, in June, and Echo Echo artists did sustain several participation projects in an online form throughout.

I kept Echo Echo’s Body Wisdom project for over 50’s going from April to July with free, weekly online sessions of movement exploration and improvisation, with a bit of rambling philosophy thrown in. Joining this group of around a dozen people for a couple of hours each Friday morning has been a wonderful regular focus and a joyful privilege. Such an amazing bunch of people. Playful, witty and serious, and very committed.

I was very aware that the possibility to maintain quality and depth in the online experience seemed to be largely dependent on the strong and deep, pre-existing, shared practice of the group. It didn’t seem appropriate to invite new people to the group in its online form and I didn’t feel any strong desire to establish any new, online, classes.

A surprise offshoot of the “covid-crisis” and online connection has been a continuous exchange of emails among the Body Wisdom participants around all sorts of issues; deep and trivial, serious and humorous, mundane and spiritual, grounded and philosophical. These exchanges have included streams of poetry, from several people, shared with the whole group. Maybe there will be a moment to collect these profoundly sociable writings created under conditions of necessary physical distance and to publish them in some form, as a kind of collective diary of pandemic time.

At this moment of “return to the world” Echo Echo has been fortunate to receive some emergency funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to support our work. It is specifically aimed at supporting the freelance artists of the Echo Echo Ensemble, whose usual income streams have run very thin, over the next few months. We have designed a project with two parts. One part of it looks at strategic and organisational issues facing the company along with specific concerns related to the pandemic such as safety protocols for public performance, classes, studio use and artist residencies etc. The other part is practical, in the studio (with appropriate distancing guidelines).

We had our first studio session, together, in almost 6 months, on Wednesday. I found it a strange, and rather pleasant, mixture of intensely emotional and intensely normal.

At one point I had a brief weep!

First session back in the studio together – appropriately distanced – after almost six months away with Kelly Quigley, Ayesha Mailey, Tonya Sheina and Zoe Ramsey

We started on the practical part of our project. This is focused on re-learning the foundations of remembering, repeating, watching and imitating movement. The theme arose from discussions during the forced hiatus since March, but goes back much further in its roots.

For many years Echo Echo’s work has had a strong focus on improvisation, both in performance and in movement exploration. We have made work which is relatively “set” and had sections of pieces that were “set” but these usually grew out of shared, exploratory, processes and improvisational structures rather than the more traditional ways of creating repeatable, imitable, detailed movement patterns. Often these strongly “set” elements have been based on interactive movement rather than “unison” material. Our teaching work, in recent times, has also had a far stronger emphasis on movement exploration, interaction and improvisation than on copying and imitating, learning, remembering and repeating movements, sequences and dances.

This emphasis hasn’t been because of any in principle rejection of “set” forms. Rather we chose to focus on the development and strengthening of fundamental attentional, creative and compositional concerns in our movement practice, which we found hard to sustain when in the mode of creating, learning, imitating, remembering and repeating.

We shared the feeling that, generally, the experience of learning and remembering and repeating movement material is very stressful. This feeling seems to be common among dancers. I think this stress comes from the pedagogy of “copying” classes (usually called, in my opinion misleadingly, “technique classes”) and from the typically pressurised, time-poor process of making performances. Personally I have almost always felt very rushed in those classes and rehearsals where I had to pick up and remember movement quickly. Being in a rush, in an often competitive environment, works against detail, depth and understanding and can favour the ability to reduce complex and detailed movement to sketchy stereotypical copies rather than the ability to engage deeply with the process of understanding through imitation.

I have always loved to copy people’s movement and dances. I think my primary motivation in doing this has been to understand a point of view by entering it, rather than to achieve some status or get a job (that last bit is very clear from my professional history!)

Echo Echo Ensemble’s project over the next three months is to go back to the beginning of the process of learning and understanding and joining in through imitation. We want to re-experience the joy of creating and sharing repeatable dances; imitating, remembering, taking our time, starting simple, remaining concerned with detail and nuance and meaning rather than function.

Our broad aim is to strengthen and deepen our ways of making “set” dances, inspired by the desire to dance “in unison” with each other, which are rooted in the qualities of movement characteristic of the Echo Echo Ensemble which we have developed over the years of research, creation and performance together.

This will offer a new input to the creative work of the company as individuals and collectively. It also happens to align with some of the concerns thrown up by the current pandemic. Online teaching with a focus on improvisation with new groups is challenging. Finding a way to embody Echo Echo movement principles in small, but complete and repeatable, learnable dances, will, hopefully, offer a helpful extra way to engage with the public online should limits on public gatherings remain.

Our first session on Wednesday was very gentle, stress-free, profound and moving. I am looking forward to our twice weekly sessions on this theme over the next weeks and months.

I’ll be posting a weekly blog about the work and what discoveries and insights arise.

I want to send my best wishes to everyone in this time of re-emergence. Particularly to colleagues and friends in the performing arts. Musicians, actors, dancers, circus performers, comedians, most of whom are freelance and self-employed, are having the hardest of times in relation to the pandemic, compounding the frequent insecurity and precariousness of their lives at the best of times.

Steve Batts

03/09/2020

Covid-19 work by local artist shows how to fill an empty nest

Strata Poster art 2020

New exhibition ‘Strata’ by Derry-based artist Sashka B Sheils will be among the first post Covid-19 art exhibitions in Northern Ireland when it opens on 10 August at the Alley Theatre in Strabane.

It had originally been scheduled to open on 23 March, the day lockdown began in the UK.

An artist all her life, Sashka brings a compelling story about overcoming self-doubt and battling to make your passion a part of your life – no matter what your circumstances.

Taking up painting after her children were born, it was only once they had left home that her art became her vocation.

Her story resonates with anyone who ever thought about ‘what if’.

Sashka’s first art exhibition was held in Derry at Echo Echo Studios three years ago, and since then a number of her pieces have sold for thousands of pounds. These have gone to collectors locally,and to buyers as far away as Singapore.

The work in the exhibition draws on the influence of existential philosophers, including Albert Camus, and sets out to examine the courage needed to embrace life.

Having been delayed due to coronavirus, pieces within the exhibition also reflect on the impact of the pandemic and lockdown.

Sashka B Sheils’ work is presented on large canvases, and is distinctive for its masterful and often explosive use of colour.

 

Sashka B Sheils: 

“I can never truly know why someone purchases my work.”

“What I do know is that there seems to be a powerful quality in my art that stirs the desire to sit with a painting.”

“The person is not told what it is, what it means, or what it is meant to mean.”

“Instead the colours, the depth, and the layers may reflect back to the buyer something that resonates meaning to them in their lives.”  

 

Public Viewing

Strata is open from Monday 10th August to Friday 4th September 2020.

To book a viewing please contact The Alley Theatre, Strabane or visit alley-theatre.com.

 

 

Movement Month video clips

Movement-Month-promo

Echo Echo Ensemble artists, Ayesha Mailey and Zoe Ramsey, worked with Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre recently to produce a series of basic movement exercises, stretches, phrases and sequences that anyone can practice in your own home or garden.

Thanks to Esther Alleyne and all the team at Roe Valley Arts for inviting us!

Have a look at the clips below and let us know how you get on!

 

Celtronic – Together:Apart begins tonight

For many music and arts lovers the end of June in Derry and the northwest has become synonymous with one festival over the last twenty years – Celtronic.

Echo Echo is pleased to have collaborated on and hosted many brilliant events with Celtronic over the years and we look forward to future times when dancing together and sharing a small space is possible again.

Full credit and best wishes to the Celtronic team for assembling an extraordinary line-up of local and international artists for this year’s online alternative Celtronic – Together:Apart which begins tonight (Tuesday 30th June – Sunday 5th July) and is available to all via multiple channels.

See www.celtronicfestival.com for further info and in the meantime here’s a small selection of images from the last few years of Celtronic at Echo Echo Studios…

 

 

 

 

Image credits: A Beirne, E McLaughlin

Newbuildings primary schools project gallery

Echo Echo Ensemble Artists, Ayesha Mailey and Kelly Quigley, and Ronan McKee from Play Percussion recently completed a movement and drumming programme with two Newbuildings primary schools.

The course took place over 12 weeks through autumn and winter 2019/20 culminating in a sharing event with teachers, family and guests at Echo Echo Studios in February 2020.

Have a look at the beautiful collection of images from the final rehearsals and sharing event by Patrick Duddy Photography below.

A big thank you to the Derry City and Strabane District Council Good Relations Fund who supported the project and also to Council officers Pauline O’Neill and John Kerr.

And of course huge thanks to all of teachers and staff at St Columba’s PS and Newbuildings PS who were an absolute pleasure to work with, and to all of the pupils who took part with great commitment and had a lot of fun.

We look forward to the next time!

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Grete Smitaite Residency Report

Image by Alissa Šnaider
Grete Smitaite – image by Alissa Šnaider

Residency Grėtė Šmitaitė at ‘Echo Echo’

22 January – 7 February, 2020

My residency at ‘Echo Echo’ was a time of taking away the shields. I worked daily in the studio and received a balanced amount of encouragement and challenge by the team members of ‘Echo Echo’ in the form of conversations, studio visits and joining their practices.

I came to ‘Echo Echo’ after the talks with the artistic director of ‘Echo Echo’ Stephen Batts that made me realize that I strongly appreciate the principle thoughts on watching dance and from there on making dance that he has shortly shared with me, while watching works at ‘New Baltic Dance Platform’, Vilnius 2019*.

Having spent the time at the residency I can confirm my first impressions: ‘hey, this is valuable’ and add that the principles upon which the ensemble works are deeply thought through and rigorously practiced so that to be developed, maintained and further crafted. This in my eyes allows conscious artistic development of the ensemble artists and their works as well as builds ‘Echo Echo’ theater as a house for people – people who once start taking classes here seem to be strongly motivated to go further, know more. The approach to dance they experience here catches them as generous, interesting, powerful.

I feel strengthened by having had this exchange that I experience as a human to human encounter with the strong motivation to dance and know more about dance. In particular, I would mention the ways of being aware of and using phrasing and rhythm in dance as what allows dance to make sense.

I strongly hope to be able to continue further working with these in the future and spread the understanding and hopefully the further development of these in the circles of my colleagues as well as stay in touch and work with the team of ‘Echo Echo’.

I hope that ‘Echo Echo’ will continue working and will have the support needed to maintain their work and share it with more people. I strongly believe that most of my colleagues would deeply appreciate encountering the ‘Echo Echo’ way of working.

Yours Sincerely,

Grėtė Šmitaitė

Choreographer, performer

 

*Editor Note: Steve Batts attended as the representative of Dance Ireland and wrote a detailed blog about this. 

 

Echo Echo Residency Programme

All Echo Echo programmes are paused at present due to the Coronavirus pandemic however you can see further information on the Echo Echo Residency Programme here:

https://www.echoechodance.com/projects/residency-programme

 

Echo Echo Festival 2019 Review

Echo Echo Festival of Dance and Movement 2019

Echo Echo’s annual international festival returned for a seventh edition in November 2019 featuring performances, classes and events in partnership with a wide range of artists, companies, venues and partners.

*****

Video recorded and edited by Simon Alleyne.

Festival artwork by zoocreative.

Special thanks to all of the participating artists and companies for use of their video and audio – all recorded at the Festival.

0.00 Intro music by Manhan (Hikari Soma and Ichi-go Miura)

0.54 Let’s Play by Echo Echo Ensemble – Ayesha Mailey, Kelly Quigley, Zoe Ramsey, Tonya Sheina with Amanda Koser, Joleen McLaughlin, Stephanie Pawula

1.14 This Time by Ockham’s Razor

1.35 The Station by Ferenc Fehér

1.50 See Me Disappear by Ayesha Mailey

2.08 Wonderful World by Collective B

2.41 CAAKE and Body Wisdom artists

2.57 Solo Square Dance by Nic Gareiss

3.30 Cuck by Off the Rails Dance with Ryan O’Neill and Vasiliki Stanasiki

3.50 Almost Blue by IMDT and Oona Doherty with Steve Batts and John Walsh

4.10 Nascanna by Liam Ó Scanláin with David Doocey

*****

Festival information: https://www.echoechodance.com/festival

*****

Full list of Festival Thanks: https://echoechodance.wordpress.com/2019/11/22/echo-echo-festival-thanks/

*****

Festival kindly supported by: Arts Council NI and the National Lottery (UK); Derry City and Strabane District Council; Foyle Foundation; Department of Culture Heritage and Gaeltacht; Institut Francais UK (IFRU); Dance Ireland.

*****

https://www.echoechodance.com

 

PUBLIC STATEMENT ON COVID-19 (CORONAVIRUS)

Friday 13th March 2020

Given yesterday’s unprecedented announcement by the Irish government and ongoing Public Health Agency updates regarding the coronavirus pandemic, we have decided to take the proactive and precautionary measure of suspending all public classes at Echo Echo Studios until further notice. At present we expect this pause to last until Sunday 29th March and we will be monitoring future government guidance as it arises.

Benno Voorham will show the work produced in his recent residency tonight (Friday 13th) at 7pm and tomorrow (Saturday 14th) at 8pm. This will be for a small invited audience and we will be taking appropriate health and safety precautions. If you would like to join this audience please contact us by email or private message. You may also call Steve Batts, Echo Echo Artistic Director on 07946586941.

Echo Echo Studios and office will remain open until further notice however staff will be encouraged to work at home during this period when possible.

This is a difficult time for artists, many who work on freelance basis, so we will strive to reduce the impact of this pause on the Echo Echo Ensemble and other artists we work with.

Physical contact is often very much the point of dancing and moving together and the opposite of ‘social distancing’, so while we may be a little ahead of the curve with this suspension we believe it is the socially responsible course of action.

Thank you for your understanding.

Best wishes to all of our audiences, participants, partners and colleagues at this time.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you need further information.

Echo Echo Staff and Directors

 

Classes affected:

  • Echo Echo Kids Classes (Saturdays)
  • Circle Dance (Saturdays)
  • First Act Juniors (Mondays)
  • Echo Echo Adult Classes (Tuesdays)
  • In Your Space Circus Aerial Classes (Wednesdays)
  • Aikido (Wednesdays)
  • Echo Echo Company Class (Thursdays)
  • First Act Youth Theatre (Thursdays)
  • Body Wisdom (Fridays)

 

Body Wisdom at “Embracing Human Rights: Conflict Textiles’ Journey” Launch

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Basque Country arpillera, Edurne Mestraitua (2017), “Mi Guernica / My Gernika”

Exhibition Launch with performance by Body Wisdom

The exhibition launch of “Embracing Human Rights: Conflict Textiles’ Journey” took place at a packed Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre in Limavady on Saturday 7th March, with a special dance performance from the Body Wisdom group from Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company accompanied by Chilean musician Victor Henriquez on guitar. 

Body Wisdom, under the direction of Echo Echo Ensemble Artist Kelly Quigley, created a short movement piece in response to the themes of the work in collaboration with exhibition curator Roberta Bacic.

Thanks to Majella Biernat, Liam Cunningham, Ellen Factor, Deirdre Gillespie, Dennis Golden, Kelly Quigley and all of the Body Wisdom group. Thanks to Esther Alleyne and all at Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre.

Photos from the exhibition launch and performance below are by Kevin McCauley.

CCGBC RVAC EXHIBITION 12CCGBC RVAC EXHIBITION 13CCGBC RVAC EXHIBITION 21CCGBC RVAC EXHIBITION 1

Public Exhibition at Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre

“Embracing Human Rights: Conflict Textiles’ journey” invites you to explore human rights through the tactile medium of textiles. Quilts and arpilleras from around the world, created in different decades will prompt you to reflect on the impact of, and response to, human rights violations and how can we embed a culture of human rights.

The full exhibition in partnership with Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre runs from Saturday 7 March to 11 April 2020 at the centre in Main Street, Limavady. Throughout the exhibition there will be a range of events, including talks, workshops and guided tours, which will give you a chance to engage with and reflect on the lives, stories, communities and contexts behind each textile. Supported by Causeway Coast and Glens Council.

For further information visit the Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre website: https://www.roevalleyarts.com/exhibitions/sheena-dempsey

 

 

 

Let’s Play project in rural primary schools

0C6A9880-resized [Simon Alleyne Photography]

Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company embark on a tour with a difference today as the seven-strong dance and music ensemble take an innovative and inspirational performance project around five different primary schools in the north west.

‘Let’s Play’ features professional dance artists Ayesha Mailey, Kelly Quigley, Zoe Ramsey and Tonya Sheina of Echo Echo Ensemble who are joined by musicians Amanda Koser, Joleen McLaughlin and Stephanie Pawula. The creative movement and music project is part improvisation performance and part dance workshop. Hundreds of local schoolchildren will have the chance to watch and participate in events this month.

The primary schools tour begins today at newly amalgamated school St Michael’s PS in Donemana, followed by performances and workshops in primary schools in Park, Claudy, Newbuildings and Ballykelly.

Breige O’Neill, Principal of St Colmcille PS, Claudy stated:

“We currently do not have access to dance and it is very exciting to anticipate being involved with a new form of artistic expression. As our community is on the outskirts of the city, accessibility of extended activities is fairly limited. Therefore it is vital to reach out through any means to provide this broad balance of opportunities to our rural families.” 

During the project participants will get to watch performances and develop new skills in movement and music improvisation. Ayesha Mailey, Echo Echo Associate Artistic Director said:

“The artists will introduce participants to the concept of instantaneous composition and working as an ensemble. There will be a focus on building self-confidence which is vital to nurturing children’s imaginations and creativity. Children and staff will witness the tools and skills developed in the workshops applied directly to the creation of a playful and eclectic performance by the professional artists, therefore receiving two very rich experiences in arts practice and creativity both as participants and audience members.”

The ‘Let’s Play’ project is funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland Rural Needs Programme.

Caoileann Curry-Thompson, Arts Development Officer for Drama and Dance, commented, “The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is delighted to support Echo Echo with funding towards this dance tour around rurally-based primary schools. As the lead development agency for the arts in the region, we are committed to making sure that everyone has access to the arts because we know that taking part in the arts makes a positive difference.  The Rural Needs Small Grants Programme has been specifically designed to ensure that those rurally based communities reap all the many health and wellbeing benefits that taking part in the arts brings and we wish everyone taking part in Let’s Play every success.”

For further information about the company see www.echoechodance.com.

 

Photo credit: Simon Alleyne Photography