“ECHO ECHO FESTIVAL PRESENTS” 22nd – 27th FEBRUARY 2021

Image C. Harley Zoo Creative

From 22nd to 27th February 2021 Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company offers a series of online events under the title “ECHO ECHO FESTIVAL PRESENTS” as a covid19-adapted alternative to the normal festival format. The events include livestreamed solo performances, talks by artists who had been commissioned to present work at the festival, an online retrospective of images from past festivals, workshops and a chance to meet and question the Echo Echo team about our work. As Covid19 restrictions ease later in 2021 and into early 2022 the company will be programming the new works commissioned for the festival, also under the title “ECHO ECHO FESTIVAL PRESENTS”.

Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company Artistic Director, Steve Batts writes:

We scheduled the dates for the 8th edition of Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company’s Festival of Dance and Movement a long time before the Covid19 pandemic disrupted everyone’s plans. However, as it became clear that we couldn’t rely on conditions being in any way normal, we decided to change our plans to remain as flexible as possible to whatever situation might arise.

We really didn’t want to create a dance-film event or to present filmed versions of performances which really ought to be presented live so, with this in mind, we decided to build the festival around newly commissioned live work that would be as “Covid19 adaptable” as possible. To avoid any issues with travel restrictions, we put out an invitation to artists based on the island of Ireland to propose projects that would be as adaptable as possible but which retained a live performance element. The responses were imaginative and inspiring. Some people proposed tiny audiences, some proposed livestreamed work, some wanted to work outside despite the time of year, some wanted to incorporate social-distancing rules. We commissioned four artists from this process, Suzannah McCreight, Natasha Bourke, Katy Wilson and Zoe Ramsey.

While this process was going on Tara Brandel called me to say that her company, Croi Glan, had received support for a new solo, livestream, work featuring Linda Fearon and directed by Caroline Bowditch. She said that she had intended to apply for an Echo Echo Festival commission but was concerned that those should go to support artists who otherwise wouldn’t have resources, and would we like to present this new work without us having to commission it. This kind of creativity, adaptability, mutual support and generosity has been a feature of my professional experience throughout the past year.

So we ended up with five newly developing pieces by wonderful movement artists to schedule into our programme.

Then the turn of the year gradually brought the clear understanding that we would have to jettison all our planned live elements. With travel restrictions and work-place rules it became obvious that even a livestream from a private house, which needed a cross border trip and a technical crew in a small space, wasn’t going to be possible. We decided that the best idea was to create a series of online events under the heading “Echo Echo Festival Presents” and to save the live performances of the newly commissioned works for later in the year, when presenting them properly should become possible.

ONLINE TALKS

All of the artists whose work we had planned to present agreed to postpone their performances and each agreed to give an online talk during festival time, to give the opportunity for people to hear something about their ideas and concerns and a little about their creative processes and where they are at the moment with the work-in-progress. We hope these talks will whet the appetite for when we are in a position to present the performances properly.

LIVESTREAMED SOLOS

The programme also includes 5 livestreamed solo dances by artists from Echo Echo. These are modelled on the November Dances project that I undertook in late 2020. The format of short solo dances each evening proved very successful with well over 1000 log-ins from many parts of the globe, over the twenty one evenings. We decided to continue this format as a way to keep things live and to energise the connections between our local, regional, national and international audiences and colleagues. So, at 7pm each evening one of Zoe, Ayesha, Kelly, Tonya and myself will invite you to join the audience on zoom for a unique, one-off, solo performance designed for livestream.

WORKSHOPS

We are also presenting several online workshops, drawing on this year’s experience of how to make wonderful classes online. One workshop is for families, one for over fifties and one for anyone who want to explore phrasing in movement.

RETROSPECTIVE GALLERY

Our close collaborator, Simon Alleyne, who has been responsible for the photographic and video documentation the Echo Echo Festivals, is creating a retrospective exhibition selected from the beautiful images from the past seven editions. A version of this will be available as an online gallery between 22nd and 27th February. Later in the year we will mount the full exhibition of images in the lobby and gallery spaces at Echo Echo Studios.

OPEN TO QUESTIONS

Finally, on Saturday 27th Echo Echo is “open to questions”. All the staff and ensemble artists will be available online from 2pm – 4pm to answer (or at least try to answer) any questions you might have about the company. Maybe you are interested in the history, the idea of “Poetic Movement”, light and sound, collaboration, the organisational structure, funding, the experience of building a project slowly over decades outside a metropolitan centre, our views on art practice generally and dance in particular, the special challenges of the past year… or something else entirely. If you have a question, or just want to hear us respond to other people’s, then join us.

On reflection, The Echo Echo Festival of Dance and Movement is so fundamentally a live event with real presence and proximity that we can’t really think of this online,”Echo Echo Presents” week as the eighth edition of our festival. It feels like an in-between-time and that this is an in-between-event. It is a sort of “seven-and-a-halfth” festival.

Look out for programme details coming shortly on http://www.echoechodance.com and on social media!

Steve Batts Artistic Director

Some reflections on the first week of “November Dances”

I have been live streaming short solo dances every weekday evening since the beginning of November. I will continue to do so until Monday 30th. The first 6 evenings have had between 65 and 80 people attending. We have had audience from all over the world including Ukraine, Russia France, China, Italy, Australia, Germany, Ireland, England, Romania, Italy, Spain… and lots of Derry locals.

For details of the performances, and how to join the live streams, please go to: https://www.echoechodance.com/whatson/november-dances

Here are some reflection after the first week.

  • Too many online events are lesser versions of live events. I wanted to make something that made the best of online possibilities rather than replace the live events we miss.
  • Online live events are usually too long. The attention dynamic of watching online is totally different to really present live.
  • I didn’t want to post recordings online. When there are recordings people think “oh I’ll watch that later” or I’ll watch the rest of it later. This profoundly changes the relationship of performer with audience.
  • I wanted to encourage the audience members to acknowledge each other and find a mutual energy of support for the event. I wondered if that was possible online. I think it has been successful so far. Maybe this is at least partly because of the loyal and personal relationship Echo Echo has built with it’s audience members. People have generally left their video screens on during the performance and many people have stuck around afterwards for a chat. This is like what happens in the live theatre.
  • Keeping it live. I don’t post recordings of the dances online. So people become more like a live audience. Of course they can leave if they aren’t happy watching but the liveness means they have made a commitment of energy to themselves, other audience members.
  • The maximum length of the dances at 10 minutes seems good. It means that a degree of attention and intensity can be maintained. The first dance was only about three minutes. This seemed rather short given the energy and commitment everyone dedicates.
  • I am loving dancing to my favourite music tracks. Without excuse. Because each event is short, just dancing is enough. It doesn’t need a lot of conceptualisation or complex compositional process. In three to ten minutes those are contained internally in the dance. I think this is particularly true because I know each piece of music well.
  • It is great to see people coming back night after night. There are several who have come to watch all five dances. Someone suggested that anyone who can make it to all 21 should get an Echo Echo T shirt as a prize!
  • It has been very important for me to be alone in the studio, operating the technology myself. This means my focus is purely on the dancing and the guests. There isn’t a technician or colleague in the space with me. This makes it somehow very private as well as very public. I think that if there was someone else in the space with me the online audience members would feel that they were somehow secondary. Watching something from outside rather than a necessary element of the event. That is like live theatre performance.
  • My reference for the presentation and texture of this project is not an online business meeting, a pop video, a livestream of a live show with audience, a feature film or documentary. It is a family video call for a birthday or other special event. The question for me was (and is): How can that sort of relationship be heightened and poeticised by attention to the detail of the use of the technology and the way we engage with it? I’m not at all interested in competing with the aesthetics and production values of pop videos or tv productions, or feature films, or even live outside broadcasts. These things are very costly to make and adhere to conventions that are not very helpful to the kind of thing I want to create or that Echo Echo dance Theatre Company has been facilitating and creating over the years.
  • Keeping it simple: One camera. One lighting state. An easy sequence of actions to get the technology started. Live music in the space.
  • The support of Tonya, who has co-hosted has been great. It just means that letting people in to the meeting and checking that the archive recording is on and helping people with questions isn’t on my plate right before I dance.
  • Having a lovely studio space which can be set up to be warmly lit and simply presented is really important… and Barry Davis, Tech manager’s support with this and making all the technology work.

Music so far: Bach, Schubert, June Tabor, Sonny Rollins, Arvo Pärt and Renee Aubry.

More reflections coming after a few more performances.

Steve Batts 10 November 2020

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”.

https://www.researchcatalogue.net/view/1003168/1003169

Steve Batts 22nd October 2020

Open Call for Commissions for Echo Echo Festival of Dance and Movement, February 20th – 27th 2021, Derry.

Art Work Mark Willet

Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company will award three small commissions for works that are “adaptable” to Covid19 circumstances and restrictions. The main restriction is that work should be created on the island of Ireland and that creation and performance of it should not involve any international travel which might put the project at risk should restrictions apply.

Application deadline is Friday 23rd October with decisions announced by Friday 30th October.

Contact Artistic Director, Steve Batts with any queries: steve@echoechodance.com

OVERVIEW

Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company is planning the next edition of its annual festival of dance and movement. The festival will run between 20th and 27th February 2021.

Due to the current conditions around the Covid19 pandemic we are aiming for a “pandemic adaptable” programme which is shorter and smaller than in previous editions. With a nod to the film Being John Malkovich, we are thinking of this years festival as the seven-and-a-halfth edition and we are hoping for interesting and imaginative proposals that suit this “in-between” time.

The main festival programme will be made up of commissioned pieces made with the idea of being “pandemic adaptable”. To minimise risk of cancellations due to pandemic related restrictions on international travel we are asking for proposals from artists based in The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland for new work or adapted existing work. The proposed works should not involve any international travel which might jeopardise performance should travel restrictions be in place.

There are three commissions available. One at £3000, one at £2500 and one at £1500. 50% of the commission fee will be paid in advance with the remainder payable on completion of the project.

Details

1. Artists applying must be based in Northern Ireland or The Republic of Ireland

2. The proposed work should be new work or an appropriate adaptation of existing work.

3. We are looking for proposals for “pandemic adaptable” work. Circumstances are likely to remain unpredictable and changeable for the foreseeable future, so we want to commission live work that will be able to be shared in most circumstances other than a complete societal shutdown.

4. The aim should be to present the work live. We recognise that in exceptional circumstances this may not be possible. Any decision to present work in recorded form, partially or completely will be taken close to the festival dates in negotiation with artists. There will be no additional finance, beyond the commission fee, for last minute adaptations to the project. Please consider this when making your proposal.

5. In general we would expect work to be presented in or near Derry, although there might be project proposals for “live-feed” work where the performance, or elements of it, take place elsewhere.

6. Creation and/or performance of the work should not involve international travel which might jeopardise the creation or presentation of the work should travel restrictions be imposed.

7. We ask that artists make themselves available to join an online discussion session of one to two hours during the festival.

8. We look forward to your imaginative proposals. Here are some suggestions of possible approaches. We are sure there are others:

a) The proposal might be for work that is designed for or adaptable to outside spaces. Please remember that the festival is in February.

b) The proposal might be for multiple performances of a short piece, to very small audiences.

c) Proposals might be for solos, small ensembles, pieces with no physical contact or for work made by household groups who do not need to distance from each other.

d) Proposals might be for live transmission from a site specific location(s) to an audience gathered in a theatre space or hall for viewing (with option for viewing at home if gathering as an audience isn’t possible).

e) Proposals might be for durational, gallery-style work with small numbers of watchers at any particular time.

f) We imagine we might receive proposals that involve groups performing improvisation scores with minimal rehearsal, proposals that involve solo work developed from substantial studio time, and proposals that lie between these two.

g) We will favour imaginative approaches to the practical challenges of live performance in “Covid19 times”. This might mean proposing an idea which is possible under any condition excepting full lock-down restrictions or leaving the exact nature of the presentation open for now but with an indication of how you intend to take the circumstances and necessary adaptability into consideration at all stages.

h) We want to support ongoing, longer term interests of movement artists rather than be reactive to the specifics of the current pandemic time. Therefore we are not interested in receiving proposals which are explicitly, thematically, driven by the experience of the Covid19 pandemic. Tangential references, relevance, resonance are of course fine.

i) We are interested in, for example, how you think about your art practice in relation to the work of other dance artists (historical and contemporary), the world around us, aesthetic and political ideas, artists from other art forms. We aren’t ticking boxes, but rather listening for inspiration and depth.

The application process

 Send us a detailed proposal of what you would like to do, with whom and why, with background to your proposal and how you might imagine it turning out. Please give a brief outline of working process, timetable and any other financial support or support in kind that you will, or may, have. Please explain the way in which the work is “pandemic adaptable”. Please indicate if your proposal is specifically aimed at one of the commission levels. Maximum of 1500 words.

 An artist statement about your work and its history; themes, values, interests, development. Maximum 500 words.

 A biography or CV. Maximum one page A4.

 You may include a separate page with links to website, video, images, text and reviews about previous work. Please limit the amount of video material for which you provide links to a small number of relevant examples.

 You may include a separate page with personal references or recommendations that you think are relevant.

 Echo Echo may be able to support successful proposals with residencies, studio space, mentoring/creative support/technical support. If you would like this to be considered please address this in your application.

(Word counts are maximums and can be substantially lower if concision and brevity are yourthing”).

Don’t hesitate to contact us if you want to ask for more details or clarifications before making an application.

Send your application (or questions) by email with attachments to: steve@echoechodance.com by Friday 23rd October 2020. Decisions will be announced by Friday 30th October 2020.

Selection Process

Criteria: How does the proposal align with the history of programming of Echo Echo Festival and with its core, guiding principles: People not bodies. Armour off not armour on?

Selection will be by Echo Echo Artistic Director in consultation with Echo Echo staff and ensemble artists, with confirmation by Echo Echo Board.

We may make an initial short list and contact those listed for more information/clarification.

You can find details of previous Echo Echo Festivals and general information about the company at

http://www.echoechodance.com

Echo Echo Ensemble Return to the Studio

I’ve been doing quite a bit of moving at home during the period of withdrawal from live public engagement. I found my focus in exploring movement a little different from usual. I think this had to do with multiple factors: The presence of new themes, flowing from the big world into my small space and into my movement. Moving in a room with a mirror (there are not, by design, any mirrors in Echo Echo Studios). The opportunity to be radically process orientated – a time of pure research not driven by demands to produce, perform, teach.

There are not, by design, any mirrors in Echo Echo Studios but at home I found having this one an interesting change

I watched lots of videos posted online by dancers, but I found no real desire to share anything of my own. I’m rather wary of what I’ve experienced as the rush to replace the shared, complex, vibrant, four dimensional weather of live engagement with the flat, constrained, framed, rectangular coolness of the phone and computer screen. A dis-ease process that has been well underway for quite a while, regardless of any zoonotic virus.

That being said, I did feel privileged to have a video of Almost Blue, the solo piece I made in 2019, under the direction of Oona Doherty, included in the virtual version of John Scott’s “Dancer From the Dance” festival, in June, and Echo Echo artists did sustain several participation projects in an online form throughout.

I kept Echo Echo’s Body Wisdom project for over 50’s going from April to July with free, weekly online sessions of movement exploration and improvisation, with a bit of rambling philosophy thrown in. Joining this group of around a dozen people for a couple of hours each Friday morning has been a wonderful regular focus and a joyful privilege. Such an amazing bunch of people. Playful, witty and serious, and very committed.

I was very aware that the possibility to maintain quality and depth in the online experience seemed to be largely dependent on the strong and deep, pre-existing, shared practice of the group. It didn’t seem appropriate to invite new people to the group in its online form and I didn’t feel any strong desire to establish any new, online, classes.

A surprise offshoot of the “covid-crisis” and online connection has been a continuous exchange of emails among the Body Wisdom participants around all sorts of issues; deep and trivial, serious and humorous, mundane and spiritual, grounded and philosophical. These exchanges have included streams of poetry, from several people, shared with the whole group. Maybe there will be a moment to collect these profoundly sociable writings created under conditions of necessary physical distance and to publish them in some form, as a kind of collective diary of pandemic time.

At this moment of “return to the world” Echo Echo has been fortunate to receive some emergency funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to support our work. It is specifically aimed at supporting the freelance artists of the Echo Echo Ensemble, whose usual income streams have run very thin, over the next few months. We have designed a project with two parts. One part of it looks at strategic and organisational issues facing the company along with specific concerns related to the pandemic such as safety protocols for public performance, classes, studio use and artist residencies etc. The other part is practical, in the studio (with appropriate distancing guidelines).

We had our first studio session, together, in almost 6 months, on Wednesday. I found it a strange, and rather pleasant, mixture of intensely emotional and intensely normal.

At one point I had a brief weep!

First session back in the studio together – appropriately distanced – after almost six months away with Kelly Quigley, Ayesha Mailey, Tonya Sheina and Zoe Ramsey

We started on the practical part of our project. This is focused on re-learning the foundations of remembering, repeating, watching and imitating movement. The theme arose from discussions during the forced hiatus since March, but goes back much further in its roots.

For many years Echo Echo’s work has had a strong focus on improvisation, both in performance and in movement exploration. We have made work which is relatively “set” and had sections of pieces that were “set” but these usually grew out of shared, exploratory, processes and improvisational structures rather than the more traditional ways of creating repeatable, imitable, detailed movement patterns. Often these strongly “set” elements have been based on interactive movement rather than “unison” material. Our teaching work, in recent times, has also had a far stronger emphasis on movement exploration, interaction and improvisation than on copying and imitating, learning, remembering and repeating movements, sequences and dances.

This emphasis hasn’t been because of any in principle rejection of “set” forms. Rather we chose to focus on the development and strengthening of fundamental attentional, creative and compositional concerns in our movement practice, which we found hard to sustain when in the mode of creating, learning, imitating, remembering and repeating.

We shared the feeling that, generally, the experience of learning and remembering and repeating movement material is very stressful. This feeling seems to be common among dancers. I think this stress comes from the pedagogy of “copying” classes (usually called, in my opinion misleadingly, “technique classes”) and from the typically pressurised, time-poor process of making performances. Personally I have almost always felt very rushed in those classes and rehearsals where I had to pick up and remember movement quickly. Being in a rush, in an often competitive environment, works against detail, depth and understanding and can favour the ability to reduce complex and detailed movement to sketchy stereotypical copies rather than the ability to engage deeply with the process of understanding through imitation.

I have always loved to copy people’s movement and dances. I think my primary motivation in doing this has been to understand a point of view by entering it, rather than to achieve some status or get a job (that last bit is very clear from my professional history!)

Echo Echo Ensemble’s project over the next three months is to go back to the beginning of the process of learning and understanding and joining in through imitation. We want to re-experience the joy of creating and sharing repeatable dances; imitating, remembering, taking our time, starting simple, remaining concerned with detail and nuance and meaning rather than function.

Our broad aim is to strengthen and deepen our ways of making “set” dances, inspired by the desire to dance “in unison” with each other, which are rooted in the qualities of movement characteristic of the Echo Echo Ensemble which we have developed over the years of research, creation and performance together.

This will offer a new input to the creative work of the company as individuals and collectively. It also happens to align with some of the concerns thrown up by the current pandemic. Online teaching with a focus on improvisation with new groups is challenging. Finding a way to embody Echo Echo movement principles in small, but complete and repeatable, learnable dances, will, hopefully, offer a helpful extra way to engage with the public online should limits on public gatherings remain.

Our first session on Wednesday was very gentle, stress-free, profound and moving. I am looking forward to our twice weekly sessions on this theme over the next weeks and months.

I’ll be posting a weekly blog about the work and what discoveries and insights arise.

I want to send my best wishes to everyone in this time of re-emergence. Particularly to colleagues and friends in the performing arts. Musicians, actors, dancers, circus performers, comedians, most of whom are freelance and self-employed, are having the hardest of times in relation to the pandemic, compounding the frequent insecurity and precariousness of their lives at the best of times.

Steve Batts

03/09/2020

Dissonance Of Surface 1. Caake – Body Wisdom Workshop Performance Tuesday 12th November 8pm

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Maggie Hannon, Dennis Golden, Deirdre Gillespie. Image Simon Alleyne

I wrote this blog after the one about Ockham’s Razor’s performance of This Time even though the performance came before and serendipitously (or not) I can see that some of the themes in my blog about This Time align with my thoughts about the CAAKE workshop performance.

Specifically the overlap is in the issues of age, rhythm, care and the removal of the end-gaining stress in the interactive movement.

Most of the performance was a trio by three experienced members of Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company’s long term project for movers over 50 years of age; Dennis Golden, Maggie Hannon and Deirdre Gillespie. They were joined briefly by the two artists who are in residence at St Augustine’s Old School House, Gail Mahon and Marketa Formanova.

Gail and Marketa had led a day long workshop with members of the Body Wisdom Group and those who wished to could choose to perform.

The piece focused on interactive relationships between the performers with typical trio compositional structures formed around duo-solo tensions, the processes by which duets form out of trios, and various ways that individuals roles changed. The clearly readable movement theme had to do with the compression and elasticity of space. The performance was a series of, more or less loose, improvisational scores played out as an exploration of this theme.

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Maggie Hannon, Dennis Golden, Deirdre Gillespie. Image Simon Alleyne

The simplicity and playfulness of the performance presence of Dennis, Deirdre and Maggie allowed the process of exploration to be interesting as a performance, with more than an experimental, analytic or abstract feel. There was humour, skill and pathos, and lots of small human stories, played out in both real and metaphoric time and space. Various pieces of equipment were used to make the physical connection between the performers extend into the performance space beyond close physical touch. Sticks like broomsticks, tubes and rope (with handles like a water ski rope) appeared creating three layers of dynamic interaction; literal physical touch, extended structural inter-dependency created by the leaning-in-pushes and leaning-out-pulls facilitated by the equipment and the forms of pull and push that exist in the spatial interactions between people not in physical touch contact, where the sense of pressure of pull and push, flow, resistance and turbulence are played out at a distance.

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Maggie Hannon, Dennis Golden, Deirdre Gillespie. Image Simon Alleyne

It was interesting to see how, because of the extension of physical contact at distance provided by the equipment, a lot of the connection at a distance became more intimate and immediately communicative than the non-touching movement in close proximity. The similar themes to those in This Time appeared because of the respect and care for the way in which the various structural inter-dependencies were managed by the performers during the explorations. Effectively what was happening, in part, was a series of challenges to shared physical organisation, not dissimilar to what happens in Contact Improvisation.

Very often when older people dance Contact Improvisation with younger people the rhythm is determined by the younger one with the older one always having to adapt from their natural, often well-organised, tempo to try to keep up with the reactivity and reflex speed of the younger one. In this case, all the trio of performers being over 50, the issue of speed and rhythm didn’t arise in the same way.

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Maggie Hannon, Dennis Golden, Deirdre Gillespie. Image Simon Alleyne

These performers are very competent movers. There is no sense of it being a problem to go down to sit, kneel or lie; no problem with standing up, balancing on one leg, changing direction. There is no collapse or rigidity in the movement or attention. However the natural range of tempo and tonus is, for sure, not that of a 25 year old. Because of the shared understanding of each other’s palettes of speed, tonus, acceleration, reactive speed etc there is no undue stress in the process of adaptation to each other’s movement choices. This means that the particular movement sophistication and understanding of the performers, specific to their age, had a chance to appear and be appreciated. There is nothing poetically limited about a particularly well organised movement down from standing into a kneel and then into sitting just because it takes a little time and has some very consciously organised, and attended to, stages. The knowledge of how to manage that journey with balance and dignity is a true and valuable knowledge. Going faster, and possibly being rushed and less well organised, would be inappropriate. Watching, we didn’t see insecurity, worry, rushing and badly organised end-gaining movement but rather were invited to a particular and well inhabited movement world.

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Maggie Hannon, Dennis Golden, Deirdre Gillespie. Image Simon Alleyne

 

Thoughts on This Time by Ockham’s Razor at the Guildhall, Echo Echo Festival 13th November

Pic for This Time blogspot

I had only seen this piece on video and we booked it for the festival on the basis of that, and also on the wonderful experience of having Ockham’s Razor at the 2016 Echo Echo festival. The show they did then, Tipping Point, was really beautiful and the people in the company, from performers to management, were an absolute pleasure to work with.

I am very happy to have gone with my intuition on this because This Time is a very beautiful and touching show.

Unlike many acrobatic and/or aerial shows there is nothing sinewy, or ripped, or muscle bound, or show-off, or border line anorexic about This Time. This is because of a wonderful hole in the middle of the piece. There is no “young adult” in it. There is Faith, a 13 year old girl; Lee, a woman of around 60; and Alex and Charlotte who I’d imagine are mid to late thirties, but anyway clearly mature adults. There is no young adult, in their twenties, to show their moves, to push the pace, to work on excitement and adrenaline. This makes it much easier for watchers to identify with the performers as ordinary, real people and it also means that the rhythm of the show is particular, and different from what one might expect from circus-theatre. This is an intensely lovely thing and is the foundation for the whole composition.

Although the skill, strength and technical ability of the performers is very clear, the real values of This Time are encapsulated in the way that the hands of the performers move. They move methodically and carefully to grasp the equipment – the trapeze, cradle, rigging wires, frames – and each other. They are offered and they wait for the offer to be accepted, they move one limb at a time, like a careful rock climber making sure that the support remains through the transfer of weight. I was drawn to watch those hands so carefully, and I felt the qualities of care, communication, listening, patience, responsibility, intimacy and a sensual pleasure.

These feelings are exactly what the piece is about, and the simple and basic physical embodiment of these values gives a depth and profundity to what is, overall, a rather straightforwardly constructed composition.

The piece includes a series of monologues focused on stages of life and the particular vulnerabilities that come with each life stage. Typically, in theatre, one assumes that monologues like this may not be literally true, but in this case I was absolutely sure that the stories told were real and autobiographical memories of the performers. I think I assumed this because of the context set by the aerial scenes. The aerial scenes are “real”. There is no artifice in the hand of a man grasping the hand of a dangling girl. No pretense in the balancing of the weight, at height, between four performers moving themselves through complex, but gently performed images, on a suspended rope cradle and trapeze. The reality is that we see a careful, caring, process of support and interaction which is deeply respectful of the different needs of each performer. The overall rhythm is given by that of the youngest and oldest performers. This makes the whole aerial aspect stand as an explicit, clearly stated, metaphor for the central concerns and values of the piece.

The clarity of that metaphor, and the “realness” of the action that creates it, provide a strong compositional foundation which makes it appropriate for the monologues to be performed in a straightforward, almost theatrically naive, way. That manner, which in other contexts could be slightly embarrassing or annoying, actually feels appropriate.

The design and use of the aerial equipment adds another element. There is a strong sense of the equipment being dynamic and a means of communication and interaction rather than static objects that are there to be “used” or which are seen as providing a challenge to be overcome. Even the counterbalancing processes, which remain offstage and unseen, are felt and understood. One can see that there is a communication and adaptation process going on; a sense of live timing and shared purpose behind the scenes.

The simple and un-armoured presence of the performers, their straightforwardly autobiographical tales, the transparency of the aerial work and the poise in the equipment design are all in themselves plain and uncomplicated. However, the elements interact with each other to create rich references and metaphors, multiple points of compassionate connection and fellow feeling with the audience, and a clear statement of the value of kindness, care and respect, and the importance of not always being in a rush, especially in inter-generational relationships.

The magical thing is that all these elements and the complex effects of their interactions are present from almost the very start of the piece. They are just there. They don’t need long to be built up. Already in the first aerial quartet my heart opened wide from how moving and beautiful it was.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections on Solo Square Dance by Nic Gareiss

Well… I wrote that I’d try to blog daily through the festival…. I didn’t… so a bit of a catch up…

Nic pic for blog 1

 

Nic pic for blog 2

Nic Gareiss in Solo Square Dance at Teach an Cheoil (images by Simon Alleyne)

I spent the weekend in the charming and intellectually stimulating company of Nic Gareiss driving him and the portable dance floor to his performances of Solo Square Dance in houses just outside Ballycastle and just outside Buncrana. Our hosts in both places, the Sands family from Teach an Cheoil and Jess McSparron and family were incredibly generous. In both places they had, quite unexpectedly, laid on a spread for guests and audience and were so wonderfully warm and encouraging. We had 30 people in the Kitchen at the Sands’ and around fifty squeezed into the entrance hall at Jess’. Amazing feeling at both places. Nic’s show really went down well and after each show the “party” continued. Down to a traditional music session at the House of McDonnell pub in Ballycastle and on into the late night at Jess McSparron’s unique and really beautiful place. On Monday at lunchtime Nic performed the piece for a third time in the sitting room at Echo Echo Studios for those people who couldn’t make it out to the two countryside events.

So, I got a chance to see the piece three times, in slightly different settings and and in front of  different audiences as well as getting a good feel for the background ideas and perspectives behind the work from the hours in the car talking and digging around in the aesthetics, politics and history of dancing.

I think this piece is a masterpiece.

Any work this good offers an endless possibility for reflection and analysis. There is so much I could say about it from different angles; about the central choice to perform it in domestic settings; the delicacy of the handling of the artifice and gentle manipulation involved in creating what is a theatrical event in the form of a house party and then allowing the house party to actually emerge; the compositional crafting of the overall rhythms of the piece; the choices of song; the pared down script and the controlled but warm delivery of it, in which even the jokes stand up well on third hearing;… and of course the extraordinarily beautiful and heart warming quality of the dancing in its musical sensitivity and its entrancing and lovingly understated virtuosity.

However, I think, there is one core thing that gives an overall, gently theatrical frame for all these elements. It is something that is rather hidden away and isn’t really played out explicitly on the surface. This is the sense of a theatrical tension, what theatre practitioners might call “conflict” (maybe paradox would be a better word as “conflict” sounds too brutal and rough).

The themes in the text focus lightly but insistently on the idea of a sort of resonance between the history of dance bans and restrictions imposed by governments, including the 1935 Dance Halls Act, in Ireland, and the restrictions imposed on people whose sexuality and/or gender expression is outside publicly acceptable norms. Among other more subtle indicators of this theme a couple of lyrics of songs are changed to make same gender couples from lyrics which would more usually refer to heterosexual partnerings. Nic explicitly draws attention to these changes. At another point the audience are invited to join in the “degeneracy” of the party… to join the ranks of the transgressive…

This invitation to join the ranks of the “other” or to recognise that in some way one might actually already be “other” is seductive in itself and there is for sure a sort of unamplified political agenda being proposed here around the themes of sexual and gender identity and “excavating” cultural histories for hidden, repressed, narratives and lives.

The intersecting thematic line in the piece is about pleasure, and how pleasure, in itself and in particular the pleasure of dancing, might be, and has been, perceived as threatening to the political and cultural status quo.

These two themes, the gender and sexuality theme and the pleasure theme are mediated through the tonus and texture of Nic’s performance presence, through the text and through the dancing.

The theatrical “conflict”, tension, paradox, that I referred to is centred here. On one side is the tension of the attraction and excitement of attaching to a transgressive identity of and for itself. On the other is the pull towards pleasures that might only be accessible through the acceptance of a transgressive identity but with no fundamental attachment to the dispositional palette associated with transgression. The tension exists dynamically between the work as a didactic instrument for addressing political themes and creating solidarity and as an invitation to simple pleasure. The question is whether the dancing (and in fact the whole performance) is serving a purpose or whether the dancing liberated (the party), is the purpose. There is a tendency to think that the answer to these things is “both” but I have to say that for me the work finally resolves to come down on the side of pleasure rather than propaganda. Being with three different audiences and watching them react I am pretty sure that almost universally the question “what about that?” would be answered in the first instance with comments about the wonderful and beautiful dancing rather than the framing themes and devices. This, for me feels like a sort of softly experienced triumph.

Watching Solo Square Dance made me remember going to a performance of the first Gay Sweatshop Theatre tour in Northern Ireland in the University of Ulster sometime in the late seventies. The piece was direct and politically driven and we audience members suffered a direct attack with full beer glasses from the University Rugby club and walked a gauntlet of free presbyterian and DUP demonstrators trying to “Save Ulster from Sodomy”. I think in 70’s Ireland there would have been no way that a performance like Solo Square Dance could have been anything other than about the “issues”. The soft triumph is that now it can, in its heart (and feet) be about dancing and the shared pleasure of watching and doing dancing and singing, without losing its politically conscious head.

I’m not at all sure that Nic would agree with me on this. Maybe, for him, and for some audiences or audience members the political themes would still be the strong point of connection… but hey, that’s the nature of masterpieces, they can work on many levels.

More later, on See Me Disappear by Ayesha Mailey…. and other things…

… and for anyone looking for a lovely holiday B&B here’s the link for Teach an Cheoil. Open throughout the summer and looked after by the lovely Michael and Catherine Sands.

 

Echo Echo Festival. Reflections on 2nd performance of Wonderful World by Collective B.

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Collective B in Wonderful World. Photo: Simon Alleyne/Living Witness

I saw the second performance of Wonderful World by Collective B last night. It is a good sign about the quality of a piece when on second viewing many new elements and details stand out, and when the overall impression is stronger and deeper than the first time.

This time I realised, again, how difficult it is to make good dance-movement based work that reflects on dark themes, and I was even more impressed than on the first view at how Collective B managed this.

I remember my long-time colleague Ursula Lauebli commenting once that the problem with making good dances about evil is that good dancing is always some sort of celebration so you would always risk either bad dancing or celebrating evil.

The problem is that there is a danger of work that is supposed to be “about” a dark theme, or tries to take a critical perspective on such a theme, ending up just adding to the darkness through carelessness or exploitation or just simply cheapening the sensibility to the issue.

With text based performance this problem can be addressed through the way that language is used to reflect on themes, content, ideas and action but with physically based work achieving this kind of “alienation” and layering is less straightforward.

What the Collective B ensemble manages, in Wonderful World, is to invite the audience to “visit” a very dark terrain (several other audience members echoed my own description of the effect of the piece being to make me very anxious). However the “visit” is very well and responsibly guided so the watcher doesn’t feel abandoned or stuck. The experience remains one in which the visitor always feels that they will be able to get home again.

I think this sense of security and confidence is largely to do with the incredible sense of compositional rigor and performance discipline that Collective B display, and is clearly related to the profound musicality I wrote about in yesterday’s blog. The chaos and distress in the themes they work with in Wonderful World are counterbalanced by the deep quality of care and responsibility in the framing of the work as a performative invitation.

Also, the way the piece resolves with the beautiful and vulnerable rendition of Flow My Tears,  a song by 16th century composer John Dowland, creates a textural counterbalance and invites enough human resonance to transform the audience’s experience of the grotesqueness of the preceding +/-50 minutes. The anxiety is released and relieved so that the watcher leaves with hope for humanity and a heartfelt appreciation for the performer’s willingness to take us to visit something important, if rather terrifying, and to bring us back safe and sound, and with a softer more porous skin because of the experience.

The Echo Echo Festival of Dance and Movement continues with See Me Disappear by Ayesha Mailey at 8pm, Friday 8th Nov at Echo Echo Studios.

Check out the full programme at http://www.echoechodance.com

Steve Batts 07/11/2019

 

Echo Echo Artistic Director, Steve Batts, attends Baltic Dance Platform, 9th – 11th May 2019, in Vilnius, Lithuania

I just spent three days at the Baltic dance Platform in Vilnius the capital city of Lithuania. The platform is an integral part of the annual international contemporary dance festival New Baltic Dance. It was pleasant surprise to be able to go. Dance Ireland sent me a message only a few days ago asking if I’d like to attend as their representative with support from the European Dance House Network.

I don’t know for sure, but I guess they realised that everyone in Dublin and around the Republic of Ireland was going to be fully caught up with the Dublin Dance Festival and I came to their thoughts as someone who could benefit from filling the gap. I was really happy to accept the offer. Luckily the dates fitted into my diary between other immoveable commitments.

Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company balances on a tight-wire of financial survival. There is no way for the company to pay for a trip like this from our budget. It isn’t even a matter of priorities really. There just isn’t any money to do it. This means that as artistic director of our annual festival and the Echo Echo Ensemble I am pretty semi-detached from the round of European festivals, co-production processes, networking and exchange.

I think that this isolation has, to an extent been a blessing for the development of the work of the company. It is very easy to get distracted from the rooted relevance and richness of ongoing art practice in a particular place by the slippery surface of the international circuit. However, this is of course a mixed blessing as despite an inevitable tendency to fleeting and shallow connections there is also potential warmth and collegiality in meeting, in person, at events where people have shared experiences of shows and other events to reflect on together and the opportunity for discussion and exchange in person. For these reasons I was thrilled to be approached.

It is relatively unusual to take on all the roles I have, being artistic director of a company and ensemble, programming an annual festival, taking a producer role in projects, overseeing studios, hosting artist residencies, directing and choreographing new work, performing and taking on a wide range of teaching, and my feeling was that the trip could be beneficial for all, or most, aspects of my work.

Most importantly, of course, going to a festival gives the chance to see lots of performances in a short space of time. As well as being a marvellous pleasure and privilege in itself this also gives a chance to locate the work we do in Echo Echo in relation to other contexts.

So here are a few reflections on the various aspects of the busy schedule over the three days.

European Dance-House Network presentation:

I am in no position to make any firm judgements, having only a very partially informed perspective but it was pretty clear that there are what seem to be quite fundamental issues to be addressed around the membership structure and processes for fulfilling the core purposes of the network. The network co-ordinators making the presentation did refer to these issues, arising from how it has grown and developed from its roots as a small group of, organisations, primarily in Western Europe, that identified shared interests and sourced European Union funding to help them to establish a formally constituted network to address these interests. The strong, but polite and respectful contributions from the floor did add emphasis, though. There were comments about the map that was projected during the presentation which showed, rather starkly, that the member organisations were situated, overwhelmingly, in the richer, western countries of the EU. There were pointed comments, from direct experience, about the perceived exclusivity of the “club”, concerns about having “membership by invitation only” policy, and the perennial danger, in the context of EU funding, that the energy of organisations, which characteristically experience being under resourced already, can be sucked towards sustaining  international networks and diverted from core functions and priorities. It was fairly clear that the presenters were a least partly aware of these concerns but the impression I had was that they left the meeting with a realisation that they may need to spend some serious effort on re-thinking what they do, how they do it and how they communicate it.

Showcase /Pitching Sessions

I don’t really like this context for finding out about work. I feel uncomfortable in the “festival programmer going shopping” role and I’ve disliked being on the other side too as a performer or presenter. It always seems to favour rather predictable work which is easily distilled to a dynamic presentation. This is the same problem that arises with PR clips and taster videos. Of course it is natural enough that festivals should try to support artists from their locality to present to visiting programmers and producers just as it is natural for those people to attend but that doesn’t really change my feelings.

In this case the discomfort was somewhat relieved by the choice to get a couple of local dancers who also perform as comedy duo “B&B” to compère. Their way of doing this, which referred, explicitly, to the tension in the context with humour and irony was skilful and imaginative. They had prepared well, knowing the names and backgrounds of the invited “buyers” as well as the details of the artists and work being presented and they kept returning shamelessly to teasing the large element of the audience who might be on a “shopping expedition”.  This definitely helped me to avoid the feeling that I was pushing a supermarket trolley as I watched. The whole feeling was a lot more collegial and relaxed than I have experienced before. The 16 works presented, by artists and companies from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, were at very varied stages of development, from pieces that had already a history of touring to very fresh new ideas. It included work for children and families. It was interesting to see how artists chose different strategies for dealing with the context. These included simply, quietly and clearly describing the piece while kneeling in front of the audience, doing one section of the piece full on but not really contextualising it, demonstrating some of the creative process, having live performance simultaneously with clip videos running in the background, and mixtures of these.

None of the works, as presented, really grabbed me, and I’d tend to put that down to the context rather than the inherent quality of the work. However, a couple made me interested to find out more and conversations afterwards may lead to Echo Echo making a creative connection through residencies with one or two of the artists.

On reflection I realised that what I was really interested by was B&B, the compère duo. So I’ve started a chat with them about whether they might be interested to come to Echo Echo to work on integrating their presentation and comedy stuff with their backgrounds in contemporary dance. I think that is something that we could really help them to develop. One of the other artists approached me as well. The material she showed seemed quite underdeveloped but it had a sense of honesty and integrity to it and maybe we’ll be able to welcome her to have the time and quiet and support she feels she needs to take her work further.

I do remain concerned that the fact that this format seems to be rather common might be having the effect of guiding younger artists towards working processes that align with creating pieces that present well in this kind of context rather than paying close attention to those deeper, more autonomous, mysterious textures and rhythms demanded by their creative intuitions and which might lead them to interesting and unknown territories.

Fully produced and presented works

I saw 7 fully produced works by artists and companies from the Baltic States that had performances programmed in the main festival.

Kaunas Zoo by Aura Dance Theatre used some quite camp references to night club life, including gold lamé costumes. It seemed to want to make a critique of alienation but failed to solve the perennial problem that just presenting alienated behaviour on stage doesn’t, in and of itself, constitute a critique or even an exploration of the theme. The full on, and enjoyable, energy of the performers and their pleasure in playing the stereotypes actually created, for me, a sort of uncomfortable experience of cognitive dissonance which I didn’t feel was quite the intention.

Future Freak by Latvians, Agate Bankava and Andris Kacanovskis  was a dystopian “eco destruction” piece which had a kind of uncomfortable scratchy feel to it but the composition and performance didn’t really sustain the demands of 50 minutes. The loudness, both literal and metaphoric of the presentation wasn’t enough to compensate.

Rock Bottom by Sintua Silina attempted to reproduce the experience of clinical depression. Surprisingly I found myself very interested in a piece which I thought finally failed. This interest came because it failed through making a series of very difficult, possibly brave, choices which are very common, especially for younger artists. It felt like I was watching a piece which consciously or not, set up a list of the most difficult, perhaps insurmountable, challenges.  The theme was clearly autobiographical which raises the difficulty of judging where and how imagination and distancing needs to arise from intensely personal commitment.  The audience were seated in the round raising the question of managing the role of the audience members as a presence in the piece for other audience members. There was video projection and the problems of integrating a second visual medium which has a very different grammar and dynamic. The theme of depression, with its core elements of stuckness, intensely private subjectivity and inability to change is by nature a hard one to deal with in movement and dance. The performers were clearly from a contemporary dance background and seemed very young for dealing with this subject matter and complexity of conception. The music was composed for the piece and raised questions of the complex relationship between music, design, movement and theatrical image.

Imagine There’s a Fish by Sigrid Savi was surreal, humorous, clever and theatrically and compositionally sophisticated. It made a sharply focused attack on the habits and absurdities of contemporary dance practice. I agreed with everything it said. But I came away with a bad taste in my mouth. For me it seemed, perhaps unintentionally, cynical. I wanted to ask what the artist was going to do now she had broken everything, and to point out that “breaking things” is generally a lot easier than putting them back together again or creating some new possibility.

Blank Spots by Lukas Karvelis from Lithuania was a work which stayed within the limits of expressive, personal, contemporary dance theatre. It had the limits of that approach though there was a level of quite extreme movement ability, within a limited range. I found the piece hard to follow as for me the music was far too loud (to the point of pain) and the intense sudden flashes of light along with a lot of stage mist put me on the verge of a migraine. It seemed like the rest of the audience coped with that better than me.

Bolero – Extended by Seiko Dance Co from Lithuania (in collaboration with Granhoi Dans from Denmark) which took as its basis a musical interpretation of Ravel’s Bolero for eight cellists, eight dancers and a stage manager, had lots of great structural and conceptual ideas in it: An imaginative and amusing way of getting people on and off stage, clever use of stage objects and a satisfying structural development over the time of the piece. There was also a really wonderful improvisation on the bolero theme by the main cellist which showed a really strong understanding of the music and the theatrical context. The central movement idea of “Obstruction Technique” (introduced in the programme notes) had potential but, frustratingly I felt it really didn’t go anywhere very interesting. It was as if the concepts and the ideas had completely trumped the actual development of interesting and layered movement material both at the level of the solo material of each dancer and at the level of the development of the potential for depth and subtlety in the “obstruction” processes.

Fluids by Wauhaus from Estonia did something special by covering a white dance floor with extremely slippery slime to create limits and challenges for the dancers. It was a lovely starting point (I wish it had been my idea!) and the restraint of the performers at the beginning really allowed a sort of organic and slow rhythm of development which worked wonderfully for about twenty minutes. The restricted use of music, which only appeared a couple of times in the 50 minute show, was also a really good choice. After this the restraint seemed to be a forced issue, perhaps a directorial instruction, which eventually restricted rather than enhanced the inherent humour and vulnerability in the piece and left me focusing on the technology and technique of the work when what I really wanted was for the performers to finally be allowed to play rather than just create images, however amusing most of them were. I did really enjoy the performance though and when the dancers took their curtain call they finally relaxed and interacted in a much more free and fluid and playful way and I was allowed, at that point, to resonate with the pleasures and challenges of their experience of the slippery circumstances. 

No generalisation about the pieces I saw (both the pitched works and those that were fully produced) would be truly accurate, but it did seem clear that the work tended toward a strong focus on the use of symbolic gesture and repetition as choreographic devices. The exploration and development of detailed sensitivity to the parameters of poetic movement (phrasing, rhythm, pulse, metre, tonus, proximity, vertical and horizontal space) was not a main concern. I think this is characteristic of much of what is called “contemporary dance” these days, but it seemed quite extreme in this context. The work was often explicitly interdisciplinary and the depth and sophistication of the engagement with the parameters of music, text, object, theatre and light seemed much greater than that with the movement itself. I ended up wondering if people don’t like to dance, don’t feel they are allowed to or just don’t have the “tools and methods” for creating in a way that focuses fundamentally on movement as a material rather than as an instrument.

Mostly though, I just feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to experience the work of so many artists who work with such good will and bravery. That is always a pleasure and trumps every doubt and criticism.

Chats

I have no idea how to do that thing they call networking. I seem to prefer to spend my time enjoying watching other people do networking things or having lengthy and intense discussions with one or two people. I’ve kind of accepted that I’m not “native” to the conference, exchange, networking scene and embraced my alien nature! So I had lots of really strong and lengthy exchanges with various people; young presenting artists, older visiting artists, producers and festival directors. The themes of these “chats” ranged widely and included;  the dangers of the “next young star” international co-production and commissioning pattern; comparisons of the developmental stage of contemporary dance in the Baltic region now and the situation in Ireland in the late nineties-early two thousands when Ursula Laeubli and I were strongly involved with the exchanges among artists focused around Mary Brady’s time at Firkin Crane ; the experience of one’s “voice” being casually ignored in “networking contexts” because of coming from a poor, peripheral, EU country rather than one of the “big player” countries;  training practices for dancers in “the academy” and outside it; instrumentalism/therapy/art.  

I learned a lot and got such a rich variety of impressions of the textures with which people approach their work as well as interesting reflections on things we had seen together and the broad political weather we all, to some extent, share. With regard to that I was very touched by the remarkable number of people who, when they realised I was from Derry in Northern Ireland, showed a nuanced, compassionate and concerned understanding of the Brexit issue and the way it may affect Ireland in general and Northern Ireland in particular. In some way this reinforced my experience as being “of” both Ireland and Europe as well as “from” the United Kingdom. It made me hopeful but also more fearful for what may be gradually lost for those of us whose lives and work are being negatively affected by the playing out of the end times of a centuries-long phase of British history.

Because I was in one of those “deep discussions” I missed the group photo. But here it is with everyone except me and the person I was talking too.

Pictures of the performances and events can be seen at:  https://www.facebook.com/newbalticdance/

You can find beautiful pictures of Vilnius easily so I won’t upload my own poor panoramic efforts taken from the historic fortified hill in the city centre.

But here are two pictures of gluten free desserts. Respectively 8.5 and 8 out of ten! These are not the only reason I found Vilnius a lovely town… but they helped.

 

I send a huge thank you to festival director Gintarė Masteikaitė – such a nice and impressive person – I can learn a lot from her abilities in running a festival far more demanding than the Echo Echo one without getting seriously overcooked – and all her team.

I send, again, a big thank-you to the people at Dance Ireland who invited me to “fill a gap”.

 
Steve Batts 14/05/2019 
Links:

Baltic Dance Platform – https://www.facebook.com/events/vilnius-lithuania/naujasis-baltijos-%C5%A1okis19-baltic-dance-platform/338878620055256/

New Baltic Dance Festival – https://www.newbalticdance.lt/en/

Dance Ireland – https://www.danceireland.ie/

European Dancehouse Network – http://ednetwork.eu/

Dublin Dance festival – https://dublindancefestival.ie/