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.