Reflections from Mothers and Daughters: Painting the Canvas Together

Ayesha and her daughter Naya (6years) and Tonya and her daughters Dara (9years) and Mira (6years) have recently come to the end of the first phase of ‘Painting the Canvas’, a project, in its initial stages, developed via a Zoom collaboration with Maria Svensson. They concluded the 4 week intensive research period with a performance-in-progress at Echo Echo’s Studios for a small ‘live’ audience of family and friends, and a wider zoom audience.

We got a chance to chat to the children and find out more about the project:

“It’s all about painting with parts of your body as if they are tips of a paintbrush, with different colours” exclaims Dara. Naya nods “Yes! we are painting the space with different body parts”

“In the beginning we were in a circle and one person was dancing with no crayons, just painting the canvas and then passing the ‘Hey’ to the next person” says Mira. Dara continues “Basically just dancing across the circle, but when you are dancing you imagine that you are drawing something in the air, but not like a house or anything, more squiggles, imagining that every part of your body is leaving a trace.”

“You can dance with your hands, you can dance with your feet, you can dance with your head, or even your bum, with your eyes and your nose, your mouth and your tongue – anything!” Laughs Naya.

How does it make you feel?

“Excited!” Naya shouts.

“A bit like we are in a different world, a colouring world, an imaginative, calm but exciting world” says Mira.

“Like you are drawing your own world in your own little place” says Dara “In your own little gingerbread house” adds Naya.

How do you think the piece changed over time?

“Now we are actually drawing whilst dancing, your limbs are dancing and you have a crayon in one hand and when you go down low, it makes a mark on the canvas” says Dara “Its like click and then you know it, you know everything” says Mira. “If you do a swirly thing, you could turn it into a snail or a firework!” exclaims Naya.

What did you think about the process and all the technicalities of making a piece?

“I was quite surprised at how many changes were made. We’d decided something and then it was like, actually this part should be completely different and I was like …ok…..we’ve only got a day left!” Says Dara.

“and its going to be really weird if you just get used to one bit, and then it gets changed into a completely different thing!” adds Mira.

What is it like working with your Mums?

“I think we are really lucky to be able to work with our Mums” says Dara “Very lucky” adds Naya “as most people don’t even get to work with their Mums” exclaims Mira.

How has it been working on Zoom with Maria ?

“Great!” They all shout

Dara continues “Maria is a very good watcher and listener, she is good at understanding the movement and emotions that people put into movement”

How are you feeling about showing your work to a few people?

“Excited and nervous all jumbled up” says Mira.

“I always like to have little performances that i’m in, I love doing performances it feels really great” Dara smiles.

”I think I feel nervous and a little bit excited” adds Naya.

Now we turn to the Mums!

We asked Ayesha to tell us her interpretation of the piece

“The idea is that the mover is leaving a trace, painting the space with movement whilst thinking about colours and the energies and textures the colours can have.”

What has it been like working with your daughters in this professional capacity?

“This project has been a gift and a surprise coming out of lockdown. It’s been great but also very challenging as you play the part of mum, instructor and colleague. Because of how we make work, the girls have been very much part of the creative process. They are holding the work, alongside us.” says Ayesha.

Tonya added “I realised that my mind goes into two different states. On one level I am thinking ‘What can we try? how should we play – what can we discover?’ – This is the playful experimental part of the process. The other side of me is like the mother ‘How do I keep their focus? are they in a bad mood today? are they hungry?’ It is double the mental work! But because we are their parents I feel like we can ask for more things, be more direct with them as we know each other so well – and they know the way Echo Echo works, so in that way they are quite advanced. On the first day I was quite nervous as I thought they would think – oh it’s just Mummy, and they wouldn’t play ball, but instead they were really, really on it! – so I was very impressed. I think because it is two adults leading them, myself and Ayesha, it gives them the feel that this is not just like being at home with mummy – there is another person to help bring their focus about.”

We asked Ayesha what she felt about working virtually with Maria?

“I kind of felt, well at least we have zoom!! It would have been much better if Maria had been in the space with us, but it was a way of her being able to observe, check in, talk to us. We have a really good working relationship with Maria, we were able to bounce backwards and forwards workshopping ideas with not too much bother – we are all on the same wave length.”

What are your thoughts about the process over time?

“We had to go through different phases of the project. Firstly the practicalities and researching the right materials to use, in terms of the canvas and the paint and cleaning products. This was a bit tedious for the kids – they kept asking ‘when are we going to dance?'” laughs Ayesha “We came across many problems getting the right materials, we still need to do a lot of research in this area” Tonya added.

“Then we got the kids into the studio and we had to remind them of the basics like movement, phrasing, clarity, focus and how we connect through movement. They hadn’t been in the studio or in a kids class for 18 months and this is a long time especially for someone who is 6 years old! But they remembered so quickly – you just had to remind them once and they were alright. So we initially tried lots of ideas and then returned to a few of them. They don’t have any issues making sense of movement. They are just so quick and natural which is great.” Tonya said.

“We now have a loose structure for the piece – but that’s far from the final version. We have many, many elements that we would like to bring into it. For example audience participation and engagement. There are different possibilities here; it could become a piece that the audience are invited into – a bit like the work of Tanzfuchs or perhaps we could run family workshops associated with the performance” says Ayesha “It has been 4 weeks altogether now adds Tonya “but it feels like we have just covered one part of the process. We have many more ideas to work on – like we want to bring a musician on board, but again we will have to look into this at another time.”

The girls are planning to meet up with Maria in ‘real time’ for the next phase of the project in October and there has been some talk of performances for primary school children and within some theatre settings. Watch this Space for the next instalment.

To read more about earlier stages of piece and the work of Maria Svensson go to our earlier blog at the following link:

Click Here

Libbi Rose at Echo Echo Studios

Libbi Rose is a 23 year old Belfast born dancer who is currently studying Contemporary Dance at the Irish World Academy in Limerick. She participated in Echo Echo’s Contact Improvisation Festival in 2019 and since has formed a great relationship with the company and the Echo Echo Ensemble. Over the Summer of 2021, Libbi has been visiting Echo Echo on a regular basis, and the company have been supporting her exploration of movement and dance through the offer of studio time and space, in the form of a mini-residency.

We asked Libbi a bit about her background in movement:

“My introduction to dance came through exploring free movement and not through technique. Sometimes I struggle with communicating and voicing my thoughts. Dancing has helped me to open up and connect with others. I see it as a therapy. There are infinite possibilities within movement and this keeps it exciting and a constant learning process for me.”

“Over the past 7 years I have been afforded the opportunity to assist my cousin in teaching dance to  young children during summer dance camps. It was great to watch the young people move increasingly freely and creatively as they became more confident over time. I definitely learnt a lot  from this experience. Through attending formal dance classes I have been introduced to  contemporary, jazz and ballet techniques and principles and in 2019 I was very happy to have the chance to  partake in the Global Waters Project, with Maria Sinnecker.

When visiting Berlin I took part in a dance-theatre project and was instinctively drawn towards a dancing possibility. The approach to  dance and performance I encountered there was so different from anything I had previously experienced! I am very happy  to be now studying contemporary dance at the Irish World Academy in Limerick. My understanding of how  and why my body moves and of dancing in general has been evolving and growing through varied  experiences, and my passion increasing with each of them. To me dance is like a tree! The more I learn, the  more intricate and detailed the branches become, every branch being unique and interconnected.”

We asked Libbi about her experience of Echo Echo:

“Attending the Contact Improvisation Festival 2019 in Echo Echo Dance Studios in Derry was an unforgettable experience, I learnt  so much. It greatly expanded my understanding and outlook of dance, as well as connecting me with a vibrant community of people. When I first entered Echo Echo’s doors, I instantly felt welcome and inspired. The building itself alongside the people there provide a buzzy, yet open atmosphere. A perfect storm for creating work. Dance is valued as both an art form and a tool for bringing people together. I look forward to spending more time here!”

Body Wisdom Digital Programme Launch

As part of Echo Echo’s summer long Digital Programme we are releasing a free online course for over 50s. This course of 8 sessions is for anyone who is interested in dance and movement and offers a relaxed and gentle exploration of how to move in a more poetic way. The course is supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and is led by experienced Echo Echo Ensemble member, Kelly Quigley.

Kelly says:

“The course starts from the perspective that the wisdom you have gained from life resides within your cells and is waiting to be accessed for the purpose of dancing and creating dancing”

You can sign-up for free to the Digital Body Wisdom programme at the link provided below and we will email you a playlist with the 8 sessions. The classes can be accessed online at any time from the comfort of your own home. Below is a little clip to give you a taster.

The digital course is an extension of Echo Echo’s popular ‘real time’ Body Wisdom class for 50 years+, which has been running for over 10 years. If you enjoy the digital programme, why not get in contact with us to try out our next ‘in-person’ Body Wisdom classes which will be starting up again this September and is open to new members in our dance studios on Magazine Street.

A regular Body Wisdom Participant says:

“I have a big smile on my face by the end of each session regardless of how I felt before. It’s a place I am accepted and encouraged unconditionally. Any perceived limitations are not the point, the point is to explore the limitless possibilities of my expression exactly as I am.”

Sign up for Digital Body Wisdom course here, we would love for you to join us:

https://www.echoechodance.com/whatson/echo-echo-digital-programme-body-wisdom-over-50s-2

Contact Echo Echo to find out more or register for their new ‘in person’ Body Wisdom programme this September

Website www.echoechodance.com

Telephone: 028 713 08883

Email: info@echoechodance.com

‘Painting the Canvas’ – research and development intergenerational project in collaboration with Maria Svensson

 

Last week Ayesha and Tonya were working in the studios with their beautiful daughters on a research and development project in collaboration with long term Echo Echo colleague and friend Maria Svensson (via zoom!).

We asked Maria about the project:

” I was originally awarded a bursary from the Arts Council of Ireland to research and develop a new dance piece for children, together with Ayesha Mailey, and to take time to up-skill my ‘Poetic Movement’ practice. The plan was to work both in the Echo Echo studios and in Culturlann Sweeney in Kilkee County Clare thanks to support from Clare County Council. As part of the bursary I would also attend the Baboró International Festival for Children in Galway. However, when I applied for the bursary I didn’t know I was about to get pregnant or that we would be experiencing a world-wide pandemic! Therefore, due to Covid restrictions and the reality of nursing a newborn baby, I had to rethink my bursary plans. Ayesha came up with the idea of me taking more of a director role which made a lot of sense.”

“I then had the idea of Ayesha working together with her daughter Naya, continuing a process I started in November 2020 when I was granted a HATCH 2020 Award from Dance Ireland. This award supported me to make a short video together with my seven year old friend Rosie Mc Hale Noone called Amongst Angels and Butterflies. In the video myself and Rosie move on a big bed sheet using crayons. This idea came from a piece I did for Cruinniú na nÓg 2020 funded by Creative Ireland Clare, which came from working together with visual artist Regina Carbayo as part of BEAG at Graffiti Theatre Company in Cork. Together myself and Regina created a short piece for children aged 0-3 called Paper-Pond Play. As part of the piece myself and Regina would use crayons, movement and sounds to unfold a simple story on a big sheet of paper. The children would then be invited to join us on the paper. I also created a piece using a similar idea with a group of students from Ardfert National School called Movement on Canvas which was performed outside the tourist office in Tralee as part of Cruinniú na nÓg 2018.”

“After speaking to Ayesha about having her daughter Naya join her, Ayesha suggested asking Tonya and her two girls Mira and Dara if they would also like to be part of the project which I thought was brilliant. I would join in via zoom. Because we share the same poetic movement approach I find that Ayesha and Tonya get me, and what it is that I’m interested in. Naya, Mira and Dara are all experienced dancers and also extremely talented which is helpful as the process is very short. It’s just beautiful to see them all at work. So far nursing my wee baby boy whilst directing these intuitive and brilliant dancers works really well and I’m excited to share our work soon with an audience in Derry as well as Clare, and perhaps with even more people thanks to technology. 

The piece doesn’t have a title as such yet but so far we’re using the term ‘Painting the Canvas’ which I’ve taken from dance artist Kirstie Simson. I love her work and the idea of painting the space with your movements.”

To read more about Maria Svensson’s work please see: www.mariasvensson.com 

The beginnings of a new site-specific work to be made in partnership with LUXe

This May the Echo Echo Ensemble began their research and development phase for an exciting new site-specific work which they are making in partnership with LUXe (Landscape Theatre and Processional Spectacle) and with the support of the Bank of Ireland #BeginTogether Fund. The work is to be made for, and in response to LUXe’s own home, a magical piece of land in Gortcormican, Burnfoot, Donegal. The Echo Echo Ensemble have spent their first sessions on this land exploring all its nooks and crannies, really letting the space speak to them and offer inspiration for their movement. To experience the energy of this space in its fullest capacity, the girls have been undertaking various outdoor pursuits connecting with the land and all the elements including climbing, swimming, kayaking, tree climbing and generally moving around.

The land is rugged and wild, boasting a wealth of trees, flowers, foliage and wildlife. In the middle of the plot is a large lake which surrounds an island. There is a pathway around the lake which has many additional pathways leading from it to a variety of spaces around the lake one of these being a natural quarry face, which offers a perfect performance space.

Ayesha Mailey of the Echo Echo Ensemble says:

“The research for this piece really builds on processes we started with our production of ‘The Cove’. The concept of embodied memory and imagination taken from experiences of the land is central to how we will formulate ideas for this work. It’s amazing to feel we are like artists in residence in this beautiful space and there is just so much creative potential within it.

Tonya Sheina from the Echo Echo Ensemble said:

“We talked about folklore and the fact that the Island was mainly woodland in ancient times, but this is no longer the case…..I really feel a sense of longing amongst the trees…..you can really understand why people might have invented spirits, elves and little creatures to inhabit such a place….especially at dusk when the shadows fall, there is kind of a different feel. All of this brings us back to a question that Mandy Blinco from LUXe put to us:

How does nature look at us?

There is always the idea of people looking at, and separating themselves from nature. It is natural for people to do this. But this question arises of how nature, which doesn’t have any good or bad, views a person with their sense of morality and all their ethics. This concept made us play with the idea of reflections and mirrors – to consider how we see nature and how nature sees us!”

A big thank you to The Bank of Ireland #BeginTogether fund for supporting the first phase of this project and to Mark Hill and Mandy Blinco from LUXe for their guidance and inspiration and gifting us their beautiful land to play in. We will keep you all posted on how this unique site-specific work takes shape.

See Me Disappear by Ayesha Mailey 8th November at Echo Echo Studios

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Ayesha Mailey in See Me Disappear image by Simon Alleyne

I can’t claim any degree of objectivity on this performance as Ayesha Mailey is my dearly loved long-time colleague in Echo Echo… but somehow the pretence of objectivity feels a bit contradictory with the spirit of art, creativity and desire so here goes anyway…

I saw this piece when it was first performed a year or so ago and the transformation is remarkable. There isn’t so much different in the form, text, general movement and mise-en-scene but the power of the piece is so much stronger that it kind of feels like a different work altogether. Looking back it is clear that the previous performance was really very much a work in progress.

I was close to tears several times during the show, but these tears weren’t ones of distress but rather came from a deep feeling that someone is naming and embodying an experience of existential insecurity that we all know but is hard to describe exactly in words.

The structure of the piece has a kind of post-modern fragmented, self referential aspect but, unlike so much work like that, it has a very warm and welcoming heart. It isn’t at all cool or analytic. This is because Ayesha has such a warm and secure performance presence. She has softness and fluidity and an attractive porosity. She is also strong and and has a secure performative presence. As an audience member you feel safe to go with her into her autobiographical insecurities, to visit the recurring theme of “words fail me” and to acknowledge the deep fellow feeling which lies there. The friction or “edge” in the performance comes from Ayesha’s other quality; a sort of dangerous Crazy-Jane madness, just under the surface, that is never too explicit but gives a sense that things might not remain held together.

The projection and light design, by Barry Davis, are well judged in their fineness and simplicity. They refer, like the text, to a time of childhood innocence without being cheap or embarrassingly naive. The strength of this gives ground for the elements in the text and movement which offer the other side of the child (and adult) experience of being rather lost, exposed, uncomfortable.

One other observation that I had about the piece was how Ayesha has the ability to draw attention  away from her level of movement skill. Her balance, phrase control and athletic skill are highly developed. However, because these skills are softly inhabited, you never get the feeling, as a watcher, of being stuck on that. Indeed, I am actually sure that most people in the audience didn’t even remark on the absolute perfection of some of the movement. One sequence; a one and a half turn jump landed totally perfectly, without noise, and continuing into a diagonal phrase across the floor was quite incredible, but because the movement makes poetic sense it doesn’t become a trick or spectacle. One watches the sense not the trick; a beautiful quality.

It is wonderful to have work this good being made here at home in Derry by a local artist. It means that we can organise for Ayesha to perform it again, outside the festival time, in the near future, so more people can get the chance to go with her into that experience of a shared insecurity and vulnerability while being held and warmly supported by a remarkable performer and guide.

Steve Batts performing and teaching in Chisinau, Moldova, September 2019

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I was really happy to be invited to teach and perform at the Festival Contact+ in Chisinau, Moldova in September just past. The organisers are Alexandra Soshnikova (Sasha) and Sergei Golovnea (Serioja) with whom Echo Echo and I have collaborated since 2007, when I made a duet called “Intimacies” for them. Intimacies has been performed many times internationally and is still “live” after 12 years having become a sort of signature piece for them.

As well as being two of the most beautiful dancers I have ever worked with, Sasha and Serioja are wonderful and remarkable people and their success is undoubtedly founded in the incredible positive energy, good will and open-hearted attitude that they bring to everything they do. Working in rather difficult economic conditions in the capital of what is, by most measures, the poorest country in Europe they have managed to organise a string of successful international festivals on a shoestring budget.  Over the years they have also maintained the high quality of their particular artistic practice as contemporary dancers, improvisers and Contact Improvisers at the same time as working in an amazing variety of contexts, including cabaret, cruise liners, night clubs, hotel chains, the Eurovision song contest, a tango salon, and as judges and mentors on their national TV’s dance/reality TV competition. They also maintain a vibrant dance school for children which covers modern and traditional dance.

 

 

 

Alex and Serioja (right) performing during the festival. Sasha and Olek in a Contact Tango workshop (familiar Derry face in Moldova!)

The relationship between Echo Echo and Sasha and Serioja is a deep one which has developed over many years. They have been to Derry several times. They performed Intimacies in the Waterside Theatre in 2007, joined the Motion Ensemble project in City of Culture year, 2013, brought a full programme of work to the first Echo Echo Festival of Dance and Movement that same year and returned to the festival in 2017 to lead an improvisation-in-performance project with the Echo Echo Ensemble and to perform the duet, Gravity Free Point.

During the twelve days of the festival this September I taught classes for adults and children together (something that the Echo Echo ensemble and I have become somewhat renowned for in the past few years), a class for younger teenagers on phrasing and solos and a five day intensive performance workshop, for a multi-national group of adult festival participants, which led to an end of festival performance also focused on solos and phrasing.

I also performed my solo work, “How To Watch Dancing – Looking Away From The Naked Emperor”. The performance was on the enormous stage of the Ionescu Theatre, Chisinau. It was lovely to perform in such an important venue and the support from the main technician there, Tudor Carapascal, was fantastic.

 

 

 

Website of Ionescu Theatre http://tei.md/

Here are a few pictures of the audience watching my solo, How To Watch Dancing…

 

 

 

and here are some of me performing – with help…

 

 

 

… and here are a few pictures of the performance created in the workshop focusing on solos…

 

 

 

… and here are a few pictures of the various workshops I taught…

 

 

 

There were many other wonderful performers and teachers at the festival, including some familiar to Echo Echo – Leilani Weiss, Mirva Maakinen, Virginia Negru, Olga Braga – it was so nice to connect up with them.

You can find out more about the festival and the work of Sasha and Serioja at:

https://www.facebook.com/MoldovaContactFest/

Chisinau is a lovely city. Rather battered looking, but beautiful buildings and parks and an easy going rhythm which is rare in bigger European capitals. I’d recommend a visit!

Steve Batts 7th October 2019

 

Echo Echo Technical Workshop in ‘Sound and Lighting Techniques for Theatre’

Recently we carried out a workshop at Echo Echo in ‘Sound and Lighting Techniques for Theatre’ as part of Kabosh/Libraries NI Workshops event and led by our very own technical manager, Barry Davis.

The workshop covered a multitude of technical theatre skills through a practical hands-on approach, such as: proper setup of a PA system; gain structure and feedback elimination; stage etiquette and working with musicians; lighting equipment, lighting design and cue building.

Here is some feedback from the participants:

“Very friendly, calm and knowledgeable – we were encouraged to ask questions and use the equipment ourselves.”

“Really good, simple, casual, conversational so it was good to ask questions.”

“The information about sound and setting up a PA, including practical info about how to deal with feedback and working with eq was very useful.”

Following the success of this event we are hoping to develop these workshops in the future, and would encourage anyone who is interested in pursuing a career in technical theatre, or who has an interest in sound and lighting to contact us regarding further workshops.