Last month on 24th March we had a lovely lunchtime performance in our studio theatre. It’s something we want to do regularly again and we’ve pencilled in another date in May – details coming soon. These performances give us an opportunity to focus on a particular theme or interest and present it as a short piece for an audience. Within the ensemble there are always lots of creative ideas floating around. Some of these ideas can be realised into projects whereas others never get a chance to flourish for various reasons such as time, money or resources. But performances like these can happen fairly easily and it gives us a chance to cook some of our ideas. We have dancers who love to dance and create together, a beautiful space and wonderful hard working staff.
When I began writing this entry for the blog I thought I wanted to reflect on the lunchtime performance we did in March. I wanted to write about how we created this work as an ensemble. We didn’t have one director. We were all the choreographers, performers and directors of the piece. We collaborated. But as I began writing about our working methods and the concepts of our Artistic Director, Steve Batts, I thought I’d rather write about how Steve and Ursula Laeubli made it possible for us, in the ensemble, to collaborate and to create these lunchtime performances and everything else we do at Echo Echo.
Steve and Ursula founded Echo Echo in 1991 and moved the company to Derry 1997. I was one of their first students at the age of seventeen. I was so inspired by them. I remember standing in a circle doing a breathing exercise and I knew somehow I had found my place and my people. I’ve grown up in the company and I watched Steve and Ursula work ridiculously hard to create the environment that we have today. I know one of their dreams was to have a home for Echo Echo and an ensemble of dancers and it was mine too. We had different versions of this over the years but they were never quite right. At one point I was the only ensemble member actually living in Derry! I was lonely. I needed people to dance and create with. Now after many years and a few false starts we have one. We have an amazing facility to create and perform in. We also have a technician that makes our production dreams come true. We can create work a lot easier that we could a few years ago. The rest of our present ensemble were also students of Steve and Ursula. They opened the door to this world for all of us, provided training, space and mentoring. They made it possible for us to work professionally and allowed us to have the confidence in our own ability.
We’re so lucky to have Steve as our Artistic Director at Echo Echo. He’s got over thirty years of experience developing dance, theatre and movement projects in Northern Ireland and abroad. He has a unique way of looking at dance and theatre that is inspiring to many. Much of what he says (and he says a lot! It’s quite a gift he has!!!) just makes good theatre sense. For me, when he talks about a concept or process, he has an amazing way of describing what you, in retrospect already know but didn’t realise you knew and what you could never communicate so articulately anyway. Emily Welther, who is a long term collaborator of Echo Echo and based in Germany, said to me once “every time I do a project with Steve I feel like I’m getting an education”. We have all learned and continue to learn so much from him.
Steve has always encouraged us to dedicate time to our own artistic development and practice by having studio time alone and with others and making space to reflect, write, read and observe. His work has given us an amazing ground to create our choreographic projects. We couldn’t have made Open House, Ludo Lusi Lusum, Lost in Frost, our solo works or individual projects if Steve hadn’t put in an enormous amount of time and effort into developing a shared movement world with us. Our lunchtime performances and all the work we do have this ground underneath it.
There are lots of artistic desires and creative ideas floating about the Echo Echo ether. We work hard to realise these but we don’t get to do all the projects we want. Like many artists we don’t make much money. We could always do lots of things better but we’re committed to learning, growing and evolving as an ensemble. Steve and Ursula made this possible. With the anniversary of Ursula’s death days away I wonder what she would think about what we are doing. I hope she wouldn’t mind our persistent lateness, messiness and that sometimes we leave half-living/dead flowers in a vase. I hope she would see that little by little we are working to create something special and that it’s all being so well taken care of by Steve and supported amazingly by Ailbe, Anna and Barry.
Ayesha Mailey, Echo Echo Associate Artistic Director