Grété Šmitaité in Šimonys Forest

Over the past months I have had the pleasure of mentoring former Artist in Residence at Echo Echo, Grété Šmitaité as she has been researching in Šimonys Forest, Lithuania, developing a new work. She has been invited to show the piece for the first time as part of a double bill to be shown in late November early December in Vilnius.

The mentoring has, like most of my recent dance related interactions, been done online. It always feels a pity not to be able to be “there”, in real life, sharing the space, the air the local sounds and smells, feeling the actual presence together. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’d have been able to make a trip to Lithuania under normal circumstances so I’m actually really happy and feel privileged that I was asked and able to say yes.

Grété invited me to mentor her because of an interest in the general framework of Echo Echo’s practice of Poetic Movement and particularly because of a connection with the landscape/environmental/outdoor movement work that I do. This form of practice was central to the creation of The Cove in 2012, to much of my work with the Body Wisdom Group, and has been at the heart of the work I’ve been doing with Echo Echo’s sister ensemble in Russia, over the past few years. This area of work doesn’t focus so much on site specific events and performance in particular locations, but more on the way in which sensory memory and imagination of particular places can be brought into the studio and activated there as a source for dancing. It was this process of “embodying memory” and recall that she wanted to engage with in her own way.

It has been a pleasure to be sent videos and texts to mull on and to meet in video calls to discuss and reflect. It is always so inspiring to exchange with someone who is full of interest, motivation and curiosity while having a certain restrained, patience.

The process is going to continue over the next month, leading up to the performances on 30th November and 1st December. Lithuania appears to be doing a bit better than around here with the current pandemic so we remain hopeful that the performances will go ahead. I feel sad that I won’t be there to see the first showing, but hopefully there will be chances in future. Maybe Grété will be able to come back to Derry and show the work here.

Here are some reflections from Grété on her process so far

“With the start of the pandemic I have moved to live in a house in Šimonys forest, Lithuania. It was most of the time living there, me and the dog, meeting the fluxes of air, growth of vegetation, comings and goings of wild animals. This was at the start of the pandemic, when how things will go on was not clear. I felt a strong desire to be connected to the place where I was and to stay in touch with people, amongst them with other makers of dance who at the time were isolated in other parts of the world. To do so I wanted to dance in the place where I was, study from books, videos, write, call colleagues, share thoughts of doing and living.

I did not know how to start dancing in a meadow, a forest. I was walking, observing, adapting, moving. While moving I looked for the sizzling restless feeling with which came some clarity of what I do and how I connect to where I am, the clarity in time and ability to trace / not get into the way for what will follow what, for how things will go on. I defined this as dancing and looked for it. 

When starting, I would walk for around 3 hours and the dance that I could dance was 30 seconds. It felt scary and exciting. Observing the changes of presence, movements that I do not control, the movement of attention was inspiring and frustrating. I was getting to know about the place through doing things in it – from walking, moving, dancing to picking herbs, planting vegetables.

Mostly being in this forest I walk the same paths. I realised that ‘in the practice’ I was trying to break this – I had many times taken a new way, thinking that I should do so since that is how I am more attentive and can make better choices choosing where and how to dance, observe. I would get lost. With time I realised that for the thing I was doing it does not make sense to try to break the ways I walk the place.

I was dancing ‘out in the open’, not setting any boundary for where the limit of space that I am within, is. Or setting boundaries and approaching ‘out in the open’ from there. My main partners being a vast sky and the vast ground in their meetings. ‘What you do feels very seasonal’ Steve has mentioned after watching some records from the meadow, some time later. 

The weather was always changing. Places changed from spring to autumn. Familiarity with the places grew. Pretending that I knew the places grew.

What would be the dance that stays, when places change? What could hold it?

I would like to now go to the studio and see, how could the dancing, the restlessness of it ‘out in the open’ become alive and reachable in the studio. 

Throughout the time in the forest I was reading Contact Quarterly dance journal 1975-1992 and ‘Being Alive’ by Tim Ingold. C. Q. encouraged me to appreciate simple things – breath, weight, senses, sharing thoughts. It also showed how much there is in each of these things, when actually getting to be attentive to them. ‘Being Alive’ supported the trust that dancing, observing as well as cooking, storytelling are ways of being part of the world and its worldling.

Through the 6 months I was sharing what I was doing with: Stephen Batts as a mentor, Christine Quoiraud as a very experienced colleague, who both have offered insights, encouraged me to be honest and real to do what I was doing as well as be fair and agree, when I am stuck / pretending to be doing what I am not doing. ‘A rigorous practice of dancing. | Don’t do anything before you know it’s that. When you are done – stop.’ I carry words from Steve. ‘Practice rhythms all the time, not just on stage. If you just do it on stage, for the camera, it is already too late. | Practice concentration all the time. Not just for stage as a human tool to be part of the world’ from Christine. 

Sharing thoughts with colleagues, Rūta Junevičiūtė, Hanna Kritten Tangsoo, Magdalena Meindl, Lyllie Rouvière, Forough Fami, Iivy Meltaus. Taking time for a conversation, for writing a letter. Through having these small and at the same time vast exchanges I realize, how important they are.

I am deeply thankful for this time in the forest”.

Steve Batts 22nd October 2020

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