My goodness! What a three months!
My spring was busy enough… seems like years ago… the tour round Ireland with The Cove, performing the most recent version of Old Bob’s Tale in Tralee at the Tocht festival… teaching a few days for the MA students at the Laban Institute in London… our growing residency programme at Echo Echo Studios… the Echo Echo solo evening in May… but summer has been even more packed! Here are some of the most interesting bits:
Time Between Metaphysics And Psychology
In early June I went to the first formal meeting of a project in which we join a collaborative, interdisciplinary research project led by Teresa McCormack, Professor of Psychology at Queens University Belfast and Dr Christoph Hoerl of Warwick University.
The project is called “Time Between Metaphysics And Psychology” and Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company joins Big Telly Theatre Company and Performance Art Group Bbeyond in being invited to engage creatively with the themes and specific materials of the academic research and to produce performance work from that engagement. I was very excited to be approached by Teresa at the funding application stage of this project because of my existing interest in metre, rhythm, phrasing and memory, ways of conceiving of time as a compositional parameter in dance and the relationship between time perception from the point of view of a dancer/mover and that of a watcher. I hope that there will be plenty of opportunity to deepen my understanding through engagement with the academics on these issues as well as the welcome chance to create a new work focusing on these themes.
The project runs until 2018 and the premiere of our new work will be in the middle of the project during 2018. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to find resources additional to the core money from the overall project budget so that we can include all of the Echo Echo Ensemble and the Body Wisdom Group in the creative process. The workshop meeting in June was a great beginning. The artists had an introduction to the themes of the research and discussed with investigators the scientific notions of time, the associated metaphysical debates, and relevant psychological research.
Contact Improvisation Festival Bucharest
Later in June I was teaching at the Contact Improvisation Festival Bucharest. I was specifically asked by the organisers to teach Contact Improvisation from the point of view of the “Poetic Movement” which is at the core of Echo Echo’s practice. Questions about Contact Improvisation as a performance form have been right at the heart of the practice since its beginning in the early 1970’s and the “Poetic Movement” approach gives some ways of locating Contact Improvisation practice in a general compositional framework. It was incredibly encouraging to get a very positive response to my workshop from the participants and from a number of people who watched the sessions and took copious notes. In particular I was really touched by the encouragement to keep on with this approach from very experienced colleagues who were also teaching at the festival. It has become a bit of a tradition for teachers at Contact Improvisation festivals to do a public, group improvisation, performance at the end of a festival. Everyone involved thought that the one we did in Bucharest was among the best they’d experienced as watcher or performer.
In July and August I was in Russia in part to visit family but, as usual, most of the time was filled with intensive creative projects and collaborations. My first two weeks were dedicated only to watching and evaluating the 190 submissions for the Open Call Evening of Short Works for the 2017 Echo Echo Festival of Dance and Movement. This was, like last year, both extremely demanding and very enriching. Of course the quality of the proposed pieces and the aesthetic, stylistic range was very varied but the overall feeling I was left with, after working through them all and trying to give each one honest and respectful attention, was one of great appreciation and humility in the face of so much creative effort, dedication, imaginative generosity and fundamental good will. From these 190 we will again have the privilege of presenting a wonderful mixed programme of 8 short works by artists from far and wide in November 2017.
Making a new piece embodying landscape
The next three and a half weeks was at Celestial Beavers Eco farm (Website and Facebook), a couple of hundred kilometres south of Moscow. This is a magical place set up by some dancer and musician colleagues (including Masha Grudskaya who joined our Motion Ensemble project in 2013). They are building from scratch a place with a perma-culture agricultural element and an artistic creative programme focused on dance, music and somatics. They are doing most of the building work themselves and learning as they go along about everything from water and waste management to techniques for building in wood in a place with temperatures through the year ranging from 30 degrees to -30 degrees (and more), to organisational and communications processes. They are an amazing and inspiring group and have already gathered a big following of people who like to come from the cities of St Petersburg and Moscow to join projects to camp and to be creative. The facilities are basic: compost toilets, communal outdoor kitchen, very little electricity and very (very) slow internet. However what you do get are stunningly clear starry skies, a big loop of river to swim in, new growth and ancient forest, a beautiful outdoor octagonal studio, a traditional Russian banya, wildlife, and good humour and kindness.
The main project while I was there was to spend three weeks creating a new work with a group of five dancers with whom I have been working over the past couple of years. They have become a bit like the Russian Echo Echo, working with many of the same processes and concerns that we do in Derry. Particularly we have been developing work around the Poetic Movement practices in relation to ‘embodying the landscape’. This has an obvious relationship to the Echo Echo production The Cove and to the work we’ve been doing in the Body Wisdom Group over the past few years. We created what I think is a beautiful 30 minute work sourced in the textures and feelings found in the surrounding environment. We had no music (except one traditional Russian song sung by the dancers at the end of the piece) but the soundtrack was the buzz of the insects in the meadow surrounding the studio. Thanks to Jenya Dibovskaya, Masha Grudskaya, Nastya Saeevitch, Tanya Fateeva and Tonya Sheina for three weeks of intense, deep and demanding work and a wonderful spirit throughout. In this group there is an incredible richness of understanding of the potential that somatic practices bring to the creative process and working with these women has deepened my commitment to the importance of finding ways to activate that potential as a poetic resource as well as a resource for therapeutic and personal development purposes. We performed the piece, which doesn’t have a title yet, three times as part of a three day open workshop on Embodying Landscape which I led at the end of the process. It was a very interesting experience to show it three times at different times of day to the same group of workshop participants. For the participants it really seemed to deepen their engagement with the creative process I was introducing them to. The short solo pieces that they made during the weekend were really beautiful detailed studies. I hope we can find a way to bring the new piece Derry at some point.
In the middle weekend of the three weeks I taught a two day workshop for adults and children together. There were around 30-35 people, about half children and half adults. I am getting more frequent requests to lead this kind of workshop in Russia and I love teaching this sort of group. There is always such a natural organic energy, enthusiasm and simplicity in the attitude to dancing when there is a mixed age range. It becomes a sort of folk dance event. It seemed like everyone else enjoyed it too.
I did get a couple of days off… one spent partly cutting and preparing wood for the most recent self-built farm construction. The other digging out two blocked drainage channels…. and there was also one beautiful day when I could go on an adventure paddling in a small inflatable dinghy down the river that curves around beaver farm, with my daughter Dara her friend Vanya and Vanya’s mum Nastya (who is one of the dance ensemble).
After we left Beaver farm we stopped off for the afternoon at a children’s summer camp to lead a workshop. Marietta Tsigal Polishchuk is a long time colleague of Antonina Sheina and worked with her when they were both members of the Malaya Bronnaya repertory theatre in central Moscow. Marietta has set up an annual project with teenagers for orphanages, foster care and youth custody where a number of professional theatre directors create productions with them to be shown in professional theatre venues in Moscow. They have a summer camp where there is an intensive development of the work and then further rehearsals in Moscow lead up to a mini-festival of performances. This sort of project is quite unusual in Russia and Marietta is doing a fantastic job of managing all the creative, organisational and care issues that inevitably arise. I had a great time leading a group of energetic, funny and quite wild teenagers through a demanding interactive movement workshop including some Contact Improvisation, circle dance and physical theatre games.
After day back in Moscow, Tonya and I went on to St Petersburg where I had been invited to teach a weekend Contact Improvisation workshop. As usual in Russia the quality and depth of engagement of the participants was very high and we covered a lot of ground in a process that built on what I had learned from teaching in Bucharest about the application of the Poetic Movement framework specifically to Contact Improvisation.
So the summer was a busy and very enjoyable one in spite of not having much time for lazy summer holiday behaviour and the time was topped off very nicely when I heard, just before coming back to Derry, that another exciting collaborative project with academics had been successful in getting support.
The project is in collaboration with neuroscientist Carlos Herrera (who some might remember as the Purple Knight in Echo Echo’s 2011 production “The Chess Piece”), Professor of Dance Studies at Coventry University Sarah Whatley and Emilia Barakova of the University of Eindhoven. The project is to organise an academic workshop at the prestigious Lorentz Institute in Leiden, Netherlands, in which a wide range of academics working in the areas of, among others, dance, robotics, neuroscience, linguistics will participate in a series of practical movement-dance workshops introducing some elements of the Poetic Movement approach with a view to stimulating, through consciously embodied as well as analytic engagement, discussion around the theme of movement grammar and the possible relevance of a rigorous approach to movement grammar in various fields of research.
We are hoping that this workshop, which will happen in June 2018, will lead to a programme of specific research projects in several areas. I have led, taught and directed an incredible variety of people and groups over the last 35 years but this one, made up of scientists and other academics of a wide age range, is going to be a completely new experience. I am intrigued by, and a bit nervous about, the prospect of being responsible for the initial input of nine hours of workshop investigations to set the discourse going and give it some focus. I’m hoping I’ll be able to invite some Echo Echo and Body Wisdom members to come to Leiden with me for moral and practical support!
Festival of Dance and Movement
So now I’m back to Derry and working hard on getting this year’s Echo Echo Festival of Dance and Movement finalised. Over the summer the other Echo Echo people have kept a bit of momentum going and the main programme was agreed with visiting artists before I went away, but there plenty to do to make sure we have another successful festival. The line-up we have is again really great with a couple of very special events. Look out for the announcement of the full programme on Culture Night, Friday 22nd September.
Steve Batts, Echo Echo Artistic Director