It’s incredible that Echo Echo moved into its new premises in Magazine Street five years ago this weekend!
March 2013 was in the first quarter of City of Culture year and our new studios project was both the culmination of years of development work, planning and fundraising; and the beginning of a new period in the company’s long history. Finally a space to call home after two decades!
Waterloo House was in poor condition after lying empty for a few years, and Echo Echo’s refurbishment project breathed new life into this wonderful old construction built into the fabric of the City Walls – one of only four buildings in the city with direct access to the historic monument.
This project is a perfect example of the potential of arts led regeneration – the whole Waterloo Street / Magazine Street conservation area has benefited from the much improved visual impact and increased footfall; more local, national and international visitors for projects like Echo Echo Festival of Dance and Movement; and new neighbours and businesses like The Scullery Cafe, Brickwork restuarant and lounge, and In Your Space Circus.
Five years on and it has not been easy to sustain the charity, our building project remains to be signed off despite our best efforts, and the lowest arts funding budget in these islands has been cut in five successive years.
Echo Echo has done brilliantly to survive this period despite many challenges. We’ve been supported by so many local people and partners through their regular attendance and advocacy, and by our core funders Arts Council NI and Derry City and Strabane District Council as well as the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and a long list of other partners and supporters. And a big thanks again to all of our capital funders and the individuals involved.
Here are a few photos to remind you of the transformation over the last 5 and half years!
Pupils from local primary schools taking part at Echo Echo Studios (image by Barry Davis)
Nastasja Stefanic and company
Zoe Ramsey and Ayesha Mailey in Fractals by Kelly Quigley
LAVA-Dansproduktion workshop at Echo Echo Festival – image by Living Witness
Dones (Women dancing everywhere) by Leilani Weis
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith live at Celtronic / Echo Echo
Walk By ensemble – image by Living Witness
Magical performances of Fallen from the Moon by Mini-a-tour at Echo Echo Festival
waldorf and cannon album launch – pic by Mickey Rooney
Youth Dance Workshop with Voices Dance at Echo Echo Festival
Festival 2017 Group Photo by Living Witness Productions
Oona Doherty’s Lazarus and The Birds of Paradise
Kelly Quigley in Lost in Frost
Chico Katsube and Shoko Kashima – Improvisation
Short Works – Ryan O’Neill and Catherine Muckle in Courtship by Gary Rowntree
Echo Echo recently completed a wonderful dance project in partnership with the two Donemana primary schools: St Patrick’s PS and Donemana PS.
Echo Echo Associate Artistic Director, Ayesha Mailey, developed and produced the programme along with Echo Echo ensemble artist Zoe Ramsey and Ronan McKee from Play Percussion.
The artist-teachers worked with the pupils from both primary schools over a 16 week programme from September to February. The children learned new dance and movement skills and African ‘djembe’ drumming leading to a closing performance for family members at Echo Echo Studios!
We asked the teachers involved to give us some feedback on their project highlights:
“A few of my class were very quiet and nervous about the project at first. They now relish the weekly lessons and are performing with gusto! Thank you!”
“This has been an amazing project to be part of. The development in good relations and community spirit has been very evident – I would love to see it continue!”
“This is an invaluable part of our school curriculum which is increasingly difficult to deliver in austere times. Echo Echo has provided a safe learning environment where pupils could freely express through dance.”
“The children have grown in confidence and enthusiasm for the arts. All children mixed freely and have reclaimed friendships forged at playgroup before they entered their separate schools. Continue to provide opportunities of this nature please!”
All of the pupils from the two schools involved had a chance to reflect on the project last week and gave us some feedback comments.
We asked the children what they enjoyed about the project. Making new friends was the top answer! In addition they told us:
“I enjoyed standing out from the crowd.”
“I enjoyed learning new dances and having fun. I really really enjoyed performing in front of everyone. It was a great experience.”
“I enjoyed the breathing exercises and getting ready for the performance.”
“I enjoyed most performing at Echo Echo, the theatre was amazing, all the lights and curtains.”
“I enjoyed everyone teaching me to have enough courage to show everyone my dancing skills, meeting other children and making new friends.”
It was great to have so many parents and family members at Echo Echo Studios for the closing performance! We collected a few comments from them too:
“It was wonderful to watch.”
“It was excellent. Very well organised and the children performed brilliantly.”
“Boys and girls were super. Just fantastic. I really enjoyed seeing my child shine.”
Big thanks to Derry and Strabane District Council for funding this project through the 2017/18 Good Relations programme. Thanks to Pauline O’Neill at Council and to Arts Officer John Kerr for joining us at the performance event. Thanks also to a generous gift from Give Inc Giving Circle which helped make the project possible, and to Arts Council NI – Echo Echo’s principal funder.
Finally, a very big thank you to all the pupils, teachers, parents, artists and staff involved!
Echo Echo regularly works with schools on a wide range of dance/movement participation and performance programmes. If your school is interested in finding out more please contact us.
We’re delighted to welcome Gemma Walker back to Echo Echo Studios to begin development of a new project after an artistic research residency during 2017 and two fantastic Makeyuppers performances in the Studios last December.
Gemma will be working with Tonya Sheina of Echo Echo Ensemble to develop a new production from their research collaboration last year:
“In May of last year Tonya and I were able to work together for 3 weeks exploring movement with text thanks to Individual Artists funding through Arts Council NI. We unearthed some very interesting material through this process and so have continued developing a new piece of work. What I love about it is that it is about many things and nothing in particular. It is about our relationship with fear and how it is an ‘ancient and otherworldly’ feeling. It is about memory and imagination. It is partly autobiographical and deeply personal but also universal. It is about the ghosts we carry with us and how we can sometimes be ghosts in our own lives.
The other day we mapped out all of the material and now have a first draft of a script! It’s starting to feel like a real show and we cannot wait to share it later this year.“
Keep an eye on the Echo Echo website for performance details coming soon…
If you are interested in the Residency Programme at Echo Echo Studios please get in touch by email.
Now At Onceis about letting the body speak, the perishability of movement, about the urgency to move and the fluidity that is there once the noise is filtered through. It’s about everyday decisions and the larger ones which help form our path. It’s about speaking through the noise and deeply listening to the silence. The perishability of the daily encounters that influence our decisions and the speaking in, of and with silence, filtering through the noise and letting the body be heard, silently, without words, perishable- now at once.
Now At Once is a collaboration with sound and light designer Barry Davis. Produced and supported by Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company.
It would be lovely to see you, should you have the time and feel like seeing something!
For further information on Echo Echo’s Residency Programme – click here.
As the year comes to an end we would like to thank everyone who has supported Echo Echo during 2017!
It has been another challenging year for the arts in this part of the world: the absence of a regional government and apparent lack of political interest in the arts is deeply concerning; wider economic and political developments have a direct effect on Echo Echo and the people and organisations we work with; further arts funding cuts to the minuscule arts budget here have been extremely difficult to manage, and made both short-term and longer-term planning even more difficult.
Despite this the company has had another successful year in terms of the quality and diversity of our artistic programme, continuing to develop the new Studios and Festival, and supporting local, national and international artists in different ways. Some selected photo highlights from the past year are listed below, but we could have chosen from dozens of other collaborations, performances and events that took place!
This work would not be possible without the support of our audiences and participants, collaborating artists and organisations, funders and partners – thank you for all that you do for the company.
Looking forward to 2018 we have some very interesting projects already confirmed including the first Echo Echo Contact Improvisation Festival in May; Echo Echo Ensemble tour to Sweden in September; Body Wisdom in the Community – a project in partnership with local community groups in Derry and Strabane; research projects in collaboration with Leiden University, Queen’s University and Warwick University; continued local participation projects including Donemana primary schools and Pennyburn Youth Club; and a sixth edition of Echo Echo Festival of Dance and Movement in November 2018 – to name but a few!
Finally, a big thank you to all of our current and outgoing Board members, to our core staff team, and to the Echo Echo Ensemble who put incredible creative energy, time and devotion into everything we do throughout the year.
Best wishes from all the team for a Happy Christmas and see you in 2018!
As the dust settles on a fabulous fifth edition of Echo Echo Festival of Dance and Movement, we would like to say thank you to everyone who made the festival a wonderful success this year!
Thanks to all of the companies and artists involved! Sasha Soshnikova and Sergei Golvnea of Voices Dance; Rohan Armstrong and Meilana Gillard; Ayesha Mailey, Kelly Quigley, Zoe Ramsey, Tonya Sheina of Echo Echo Ensemble; Virginia Negru; Nasrine Kheltent; Inna Aslamova; Hilde Ingeborg Sandvold; Anastasia Brouzioti, Yiannis Tsigkris of Alma Libre; Lior Lazarof, Timea Laza, Sharon Barbakov; Bjorn Richter of RichterMeyerMarx; Hannah Rogerson and Pieter Visser of Tea Time Company; Siobhán Ní Dhuinnín and Isabella Oberlander; Sibéal Davitt and Kristyn Fontanella; Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, Seán Mac Erlaine, Nic Gareiss and Petter Berndalen of This is How we Fly; Julia Tokareva and Alexander Bondarev of Mini-A-Tour; Benno Voorham and Abdalla Omari of LAVA-Dansproduktion; Sophie Ammann, Rosanne Briens, Erin O’Reilly and Tom Dupont of Junebug Company; Anthony McCann, Fionnuala Kennedy and Steven Hadley; and Velvet Alibi – Anna Nolan, Rohan Armstrong, Meilana Gillard, Mike Barkley, Neil Burns, Tom Evans, Joseph Leighton, Paul Fox, Kelly Quigley, James Anderson, Curtis Cunningham, Caroline Crumlish, Abby Oliveira – for an incredible closing concert!
Thank you to our principal Festival funders: Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the National Lottery, and Derry City and Strabane District Council – special mentions for Gilly Campbell and team at ACNI and to Colin Coyle, Jacqueline Whoriskey, Stephen Gillespie and team at Council; thanks to the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Gillian Goode for their ongoing support; thanks to Foyle Foundation for supporting this fifth edition; thanks to the Esmé Mitchell Trust for supporting the 2017 primary schools outreach programme; and thanks to our Festival Friends advertisers – City Cabs, Bennigans Bar, The Sandwich Company, Imbolc Festival and zoocreative.
Thanks to Department of Culture Heritage and Gaeltacht and Aoife O’Sullivan at DCHG for support with the Festival All-Ireland Outreach and Bursary Programme; and thanks to our venue partners and staff at Dance Ireland, Dance Resource Base, Firkin Crane, Galway Dance Project, An Lab Dingle, The Dock Arts Centre, and Theatre NI.
Big thanks to our bursary recipients this year for their wonderful presence and engagement: Sonya Swarte, Gerard Kelly, Amanda Doherty, Sarah Jane Murphy, Natasha Bourke, Marco Novara, Catherine Donnelly, Aliina Lindroos, Orlaith Ní Chearra and Maria Svensson. Keep in touch!
Special thanks to Cultúrlann Uí Chánain and staff for their creative engagement and support for the Tradition and Beyond event, especially Peter O’Doherty, Eibhlín Ní Dhochartaigh and Gerry Tracey. Thanks to Aine and all the staff at The Playhouse.
Thanks to our local venue and outreach partners and all of their staff and teachers: Derry Craft Village, Ardnashee School & College, Holy Cross College Strabane, Donemana PS, St Patrick’s PS Donemana, Audrey Begley and St Cecilia’s College, Sevenoaks Care Home, Groarty Integrated PS, Rosemount PS, Good Shepherd PS, Fiona Pender and Thornhill College, Nadine Hegarty and Fireworks Dance.
Thanks to James and Diane King, Carmel Mulrine, Gerry McGoldrick, Seamus Kennedy and staff at Abbey B&B.
Thanks to Eamon McGinley at Elisha McCallion MP’s ofice for invaluable support with the increasingly challenging visa process this year. Thanks also to Paul Brown at Earagail Arts Festival.
Huge thanks to BBC Radio Foyle & Ulster for sterling support again this year – to Michael Bradley, Conor McCay, Mark Patterson, Marie-Louise Muir, and special mention for Stephen McCauley who recorded an edition of Soundscapes at the Festival (Listen Again here). And thanks also to our many followers on social media channels for the likes, shares, posts, tweets, reviews and comments – #muchappreciated!
Special thanks to all of the artists and companies for use of their images and video in Festival promotional materials. And thanks to Ciaran Harley at zoocreative for the beautiful Festival artwork derived from an image of Junebug Company by Charles Mugel.
Thanks so much to all of the Festival volunteers including Olek Wójcik, Karen Cassidy, Leeann Toland, John Butler, Bernadette Sheils, and Virginia Negru from Contact Festival Bucharest.
Thanks to our directors Margo Harkin, Cath McBride, Paul Johnston, Deirdre Gillespie for volunteering during many Festival events and for their ongoing support and vital advocacy throughout the year!
Thanks to the Echo Echo team: our staff – Steve Batts, Anna Nolan, Barry Davis and Ailbe Beirne; our support team this year – Ciaran Harley and zoocreative, Brian Fisher, Simon Alleyne and Living Witness Productions, Darren Owens, JP Conaghan; and big thanks as always to the Echo Echo Ensemble – Ayesha Mailey, Kelly Quigley, Zoe Ramsey and Tonya Sheina!
Finally, thanks to you – our audiences, colleagues, friends and family for your continued support!
Echo Echo Festival Open Call has proven to be a real success over the last few years. From 2014-16 over 200 artists and companies applied to be part of the Festival programme and more than 30 were invited to perform at the international festival in Derry-Londonderry. Many artists have followed up their application or participation with artistic residencies at Echo Echo Studios.
In 2017 we have received an incredible 190 Open Call applications from all around the world. A huge thank you to everyone who submitted proposals – we have been unable to provide feedback to all applicants but if you are very keen to receive some feedback please get in touch again and we will aim to get back to you early in 2018.
Echo Echo Artistic Director, Steve Batts:
“This year we are very happy to again present a programme of short works selected through an “Open Call” process. We received 190 proposals from all over the world and I dedicated two weeks to watching video links for each proposal. The process of selecting works to invite is always very demanding but it is also wonderful to focus strongly on the process for some days. Just as in previous years my overwhelming feeling was of great gratitude for the opportunity to see the work of so many people. This year we have invited artists from or based in Ireland, Hungary, Greece, Denmark, Netherlands, Israel, Belarus, Belgium and Germany. The eight pieces which I invited are varied in style but they all seemed to me to come from a deep generosity of spirit.”
The Short Works programme will be presented at Echo Echo Festival of Dance and Movement on Wednesday 8th and Thursday 9th November. The running order will vary each night in order to give artists the maximum possibility to see the work of others.
Short Works Programme 2017
Nasrine Kheltent – Belgium
Inna Aslamova – Belarus
Hilde I. Sandvold – Denmark
Anastasia Brouzioti/Alma Libre – Greece
Lior Lazaroff – Hungary/Israel
Bjorn Richter/Richter-Meyer-Marx – Germany
Tea Time Company/Pieter Visser & Hannah Rogerson – Netherlands/Ireland
Siobhán Ní Dhuinnín – Ireland
Total running time for the evening will be approximately two hours including an interval.
We very much look forward to sharing the work of all of the artists and companies involved with Echo Echo Festival audiences.
Feedback on previous Echo Echo Short Works evenings has always been of the highest quality!
“Was fantastic to see such a variety of performances from across the world. A real experience and treat.”
“Mesmerising, invigorating performances. Dance and movement at its finest. Bravo!!”
“Exhilarating, spine tingling, never imagined so many words could be left unsaid”
“Absolutely blown away, such depth and beauty. The diversity was apparent yet the pieces all had a common connecting point of love”
“Fantastic to see such talented performers and such a varied programme. Well done one and all for a fantastic evening of dance.”
Tickets for the 2017 Short Works evenings are on sale now.
A warm welcome to everyone to the Annual General Meeting – especially to Board member Deirdre Gillespie on her first AGM.
It’s been a very challenging year for the company in many respects – in terms of its economic survival, its work practices and its creative development. Both Steve and Ailbe have flagged up more than once that they have very real concerns for the future of the company.
Every organisation is affected by what is happening on the wider political scene and most particularly at our local government level. It’s an understatement therefore to record that it’s been a challenging year generally for the arts – with continued grant funding cuts as a result of austerity measures, the total breakdown of regional government – which remains deadlocked and on top of these crippling local uncertainties we have the added uncertainty of the impact of Brexit.
The lack of funding for projects and the continued reliance on voluntary projects, voluntary time and the goodwill of ensemble and staff means that the year was often more about survival than development. In spite of all this – given the core and programming resources available, the year was an undoubted success in terms of the artistic programme produced. That the company more or less broke even is a real credit to the vision, artistic commitment and hard work of Artistic Director Steve Batts, to each of the Ensemble members from Associate Director Ayesha, to Kelly, Zoe and Tonya and to Barry the Technical Manager – and to the solid, sheer hard graft and calm creative management of Ailbe – very ably supported by Anna Nolan. Echo Echo is a small team that punches far above its weight in terms of its creative and managerial achievements.
That said – real threats to the sustainability of the company remain – but just let’s remind ourselves of the achievements of this past year.
The fourth Echo Echo Festival of Dance and Movement took place in November 2016 with an expanded programme of performances, classes and events including Chico & Shoko (from Japan), Rosemary Lee (from England – returning to Derry after making the seven-screen film installation Without here in 2012-13), Mary Nunan (Ireland), Ockham’s Razor (an award-winning circus theatre from England that wowed audiences at Foyle Arena), new work for children by Zoe Ramsey and Tonya Sheina, and new work by Leilani Weis and company from Barcelona.
Audience numbers rose significantly with over 1,500 watching and taking part over the two-week event. The Festival reached out to many venues and spaces throughout the North West, some for the first time, and helped create the feeling of a city-wide event. Venues included the Craft Village, The Playtrail, Foyle Arena, the Ulster University, St. Columb’s Park. A notable highlight was the visit of Japanese artists Chico, Shoko and Ichi-go to Donemana Primary School for a cross-community workshop and performance!
The Festival commissioned Kelly Quigley to make an evening programme of new work with Echo Echo Ensemble. ‘Fractals’ was co-funded through a crowdfunding campaign that was supported by over 60 local people and businesses.
Institutional support for the Festival grew with the Irish Government funding a workshop tour of Ireland to promote north-south co-operation. Bursaries were offered to six artists from the island to come to Derry for a Symposium led by Steve Batts and to engage with a range Festival activities.
THE COVE ALL- ISLAND TOUR: The company was pleased to tour a new iteration of its original work The Cove by Steve Batts and Dan Shipsides to theatre venues around Ireland in Spring 2017. It was Echo Echo’s first all-island tour for 10 years since Consequences in 2007! The tour was challenging in terms of audience development but very worthwhile in terms of development of the work and the company ensemble. This tour of the Cove welcomed Maria Svensson for the first time and reopened connections with several Irish theatres. Further international interest in The Cove has been expressed – with possible invitations to Romania in 2018.
IN TALL GRASS: Since 2013, resources for making new work have all but disappeared so it was encouraging to receive a Small Grant from ACNI to research and develop a new piece with Alessandra Celesia in the summer of 2016. After around 4 weeks of studio time, In Tall Grass emerged as a very personal and deeply moving documentary theatre piece that received some of the best feedback from audiences the company has ever received. So far the company has been unable to source funding to produce and tour the work. Producing new work by the company remains a clear strategic objective.
LOST IN FROST: The Ensemble, along with Barry (Technical Manager,) offered another week-long run of their original winter-themed fairy tale in December 2016 which received great praise and has been chosen as Mayor’s Christmas Event for December 2017 with performances in Derry and Strabane.
As in previous years, Echo Echo offered a very wide and engaging programme of participation events at Echo Echo Studios and in the community – there were dozens of projects ranging from single sessions to more intensive long-term programmes and classes.
The Moving Schools programme continued throughout the year with regular projects in Donemana primary schools, and in schools across Derry from Groarty to Newbuildings, from Good Shepherd to Fountain. These projects were supported by Derry Strabane Council Good Relations Fund, the Department for Communities, and the Give Inc Giving circle.
Body Wisdom continued throughout 2016/17. The group created a new large-scale ensemble work (20 performers) with Echo Echo Ensemble and Echo Echo Kids participants titledWalk By in June 2016. The Body Wisdom ensemble took part fully in Echo Echo Festival and weekly sessions were ongoing throughout the year.
An outreach programme in autumn 2016 in partnership with the Acorn Fund and Waterside Women’s Centre engaged older people living in care settings. This project will be further developed in 2017-18 with funding secured from ACNI Arts and Older People programme.
Artist Residencies: Echo Echo Studios supported a growing range of artist residencies by local and international artists, music events and collaborations with Celtronic and Radio Ulster, and studio hires by individual artists and visiting companies. International projects with Italy Contact Festival, Moldovan company Voices. Projects in Russia also took place – to name but a few.
Thanks should go to ACNI for continued core and programming support; to Derry & Strabane District Council for funding through the Venue Fund, the Festival Fund and Good Relations; and to the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation – which has recently renewed their funding agreement with the company.
BOARD / STAFF / ENSEMBLE THANKS
Grateful thanks are due to two outgoing directors – to Sinead Devine, after 20 years of dedicated service since the company arrived in Derry and to Matthew Jennings for nearly a decade of committed service on the board.
Thanks are also due to the current and new directors – Cath Mc Bride, Paul Johnston and Deirdre Gillespie for their continued voluntary support and advocacy – which are absolutely vital to the company’s continuing work. A strategic review of the company was conducted with members of the Board and the staff recently and we will hear about that in their report.
A special thanks to all of the current ensemble members – Ayesha Mailey, Kelly Quigley, Zoe Ramsey, Tonya Sheina – and to outgoing ensemble artist Janie Doherty, and to all of the artists who have given their time and goodwill so generously to the company.
And last, but not least, a very grateful thanks for the excellent work of the staff team – Anna Nolan, Barry Davis, Ailbe Beirne and Steve Batts.
A very warm Echo Echo welcome to artists, friends and colleagues from near and far who arrived in Derry yesterday and today for our Poetic Movement Intensive Week with Steve Batts, Echo Echo Ensemble and Body Wisdom.
“The idea of Poetic Movement acts as a way to re-focus dance away from attention to the body and its sculptural and/or private experiential aspects towards an interest in people, movement, grammar, syntax and the processes by which we can create and understand meaning.
It moves the attention away from the strong dichotomy of dancers as objects or subjects towards seeing dance as a medium of deep communication. This is a core idea, reference point and theme in Echo Echo’s practice.
Exploring dancing through the lens of ‘Poetic Movement’ can offer an interesting challenge to mainstream ways of learning to dance, making dances and talking about dance.
It can help us to understand the way that the assumptions we make about what dance is and can be, and our habitual ways of thinking and talking about it are often very limiting both at the level of individuals engagement as audiences and participants but also for the development of the art form itself.”
My spring was busy enough… seems like years ago… the tour round Ireland with The Cove, performing the most recent version of Old Bob’s Tale in Tralee at the Tocht festival… teaching a few days for the MA students at the Laban Institute in London… our growing residency programme at Echo Echo Studios… the Echo Echo solo evening in May… but summer has been even more packed! Here are some of the most interesting bits:
Time Between Metaphysics And Psychology
In early June I went to the first formal meeting of a project in which we join a collaborative, interdisciplinary research project led by Teresa McCormack, Professor of Psychology at Queens University Belfast and Dr Christoph Hoerl of Warwick University.
The project is called “Time Between Metaphysics And Psychology” and Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company joins Big Telly Theatre Company and Performance Art Group Bbeyond in being invited to engage creatively with the themes and specific materials of the academic research and to produce performance work from that engagement. I was very excited to be approached by Teresa at the funding application stage of this project because of my existing interest in metre, rhythm, phrasing and memory, ways of conceiving of time as a compositional parameter in dance and the relationship between time perception from the point of view of a dancer/mover and that of a watcher. I hope that there will be plenty of opportunity to deepen my understanding through engagement with the academics on these issues as well as the welcome chance to create a new work focusing on these themes.
The project runs until 2018 and the premiere of our new work will be in the middle of the project during 2018. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to find resources additional to the core money from the overall project budget so that we can include all of the Echo Echo Ensemble and the Body Wisdom Group in the creative process. The workshop meeting in June was a great beginning. The artists had an introduction to the themes of the research and discussed with investigators the scientific notions of time, the associated metaphysical debates, and relevant psychological research.
Contact Improvisation Festival Bucharest
Later in June I was teaching at the Contact Improvisation Festival Bucharest. I was specifically asked by the organisers to teach Contact Improvisation from the point of view of the “Poetic Movement” which is at the core of Echo Echo’s practice. Questions about Contact Improvisation as a performance form have been right at the heart of the practice since its beginning in the early 1970’s and the “Poetic Movement” approach gives some ways of locating Contact Improvisation practice in a general compositional framework. It was incredibly encouraging to get a very positive response to my workshop from the participants and from a number of people who watched the sessions and took copious notes. In particular I was really touched by the encouragement to keep on with this approach from very experienced colleagues who were also teaching at the festival. It has become a bit of a tradition for teachers at Contact Improvisation festivals to do a public, group improvisation, performance at the end of a festival. Everyone involved thought that the one we did in Bucharest was among the best they’d experienced as watcher or performer.
In July and August I was in Russia in part to visit family but, as usual, most of the time was filled with intensive creative projects and collaborations. My first two weeks were dedicated only to watching and evaluating the 190 submissions for the Open Call Evening of Short Works for the 2017 Echo Echo Festival of Dance and Movement. This was, like last year, both extremely demanding and very enriching. Of course the quality of the proposed pieces and the aesthetic, stylistic range was very varied but the overall feeling I was left with, after working through them all and trying to give each one honest and respectful attention, was one of great appreciation and humility in the face of so much creative effort, dedication, imaginative generosity and fundamental good will. From these 190 we will again have the privilege of presenting a wonderful mixed programme of 8 short works by artists from far and wide in November 2017.
Making a new piece embodying landscape
The next three and a half weeks was at Celestial Beavers Eco farm (Website and Facebook), a couple of hundred kilometres south of Moscow. This is a magical place set up by some dancer and musician colleagues (including Masha Grudskaya who joined our Motion Ensemble project in 2013). They are building from scratch a place with a perma-culture agricultural element and an artistic creative programme focused on dance, music and somatics. They are doing most of the building work themselves and learning as they go along about everything from water and waste management to techniques for building in wood in a place with temperatures through the year ranging from 30 degrees to -30 degrees (and more), to organisational and communications processes. They are an amazing and inspiring group and have already gathered a big following of people who like to come from the cities of St Petersburg and Moscow to join projects to camp and to be creative. The facilities are basic: compost toilets, communal outdoor kitchen, very little electricity and very (very) slow internet. However what you do get are stunningly clear starry skies, a big loop of river to swim in, new growth and ancient forest, a beautiful outdoor octagonal studio, a traditional Russian banya, wildlife, and good humour and kindness.
The main project while I was there was to spend three weeks creating a new work with a group of five dancers with whom I have been working over the past couple of years. They have become a bit like the Russian Echo Echo, working with many of the same processes and concerns that we do in Derry. Particularly we have been developing work around the Poetic Movement practices in relation to ‘embodying the landscape’. This has an obvious relationship to the Echo Echo production The Cove and to the work we’ve been doing in the Body Wisdom Group over the past few years. We created what I think is a beautiful 30 minute work sourced in the textures and feelings found in the surrounding environment. We had no music (except one traditional Russian song sung by the dancers at the end of the piece) but the soundtrack was the buzz of the insects in the meadow surrounding the studio. Thanks to Jenya Dibovskaya, Masha Grudskaya, Nastya Saeevitch, Tanya Fateeva and Tonya Sheina for three weeks of intense, deep and demanding work and a wonderful spirit throughout. In this group there is an incredible richness of understanding of the potential that somatic practices bring to the creative process and working with these women has deepened my commitment to the importance of finding ways to activate that potential as a poetic resource as well as a resource for therapeutic and personal development purposes. We performed the piece, which doesn’t have a title yet, three times as part of a three day open workshop on Embodying Landscape which I led at the end of the process. It was a very interesting experience to show it three times at different times of day to the same group of workshop participants. For the participants it really seemed to deepen their engagement with the creative process I was introducing them to. The short solo pieces that they made during the weekend were really beautiful detailed studies. I hope we can find a way to bring the new piece Derry at some point.
In the middle weekend of the three weeks I taught a two day workshop for adults and children together. There were around 30-35 people, about half children and half adults. I am getting more frequent requests to lead this kind of workshop in Russia and I love teaching this sort of group. There is always such a natural organic energy, enthusiasm and simplicity in the attitude to dancing when there is a mixed age range. It becomes a sort of folk dance event. It seemed like everyone else enjoyed it too.
I did get a couple of days off… one spent partly cutting and preparing wood for the most recent self-built farm construction. The other digging out two blocked drainage channels…. and there was also one beautiful day when I could go on an adventure paddling in a small inflatable dinghy down the river that curves around beaver farm, with my daughter Dara her friend Vanya and Vanya’s mum Nastya (who is one of the dance ensemble).
After we left Beaver farm we stopped off for the afternoon at a children’s summer camp to lead a workshop. Marietta Tsigal Polishchuk is a long time colleague of Antonina Sheina and worked with her when they were both members of the Malaya Bronnaya repertory theatre in central Moscow. Marietta has set up an annual project with teenagers for orphanages, foster care and youth custody where a number of professional theatre directors create productions with them to be shown in professional theatre venues in Moscow. They have a summer camp where there is an intensive development of the work and then further rehearsals in Moscow lead up to a mini-festival of performances. This sort of project is quite unusual in Russia and Marietta is doing a fantastic job of managing all the creative, organisational and care issues that inevitably arise. I had a great time leading a group of energetic, funny and quite wild teenagers through a demanding interactive movement workshop including some Contact Improvisation, circle dance and physical theatre games.
After day back in Moscow, Tonya and I went on to St Petersburg where I had been invited to teach a weekend Contact Improvisation workshop. As usual in Russia the quality and depth of engagement of the participants was very high and we covered a lot of ground in a process that built on what I had learned from teaching in Bucharest about the application of the Poetic Movement framework specifically to Contact Improvisation.
St Petersburg Contact Improvisation – image by Alexander Koval
St Petersburg Contact Improvisation – image by Alexander Koval
So the summer was a busy and very enjoyable one in spite of not having much time for lazy summer holiday behaviour and the time was topped off very nicely when I heard, just before coming back to Derry, that another exciting collaborative project with academics had been successful in getting support.
The project is in collaboration with neuroscientist Carlos Herrera (who some might remember as the Purple Knight in Echo Echo’s 2011 production “The Chess Piece”), Professor of Dance Studies at Coventry University Sarah Whatley and Emilia Barakova of the University of Eindhoven. The project is to organise an academic workshop at the prestigious Lorentz Institute in Leiden, Netherlands, in which a wide range of academics working in the areas of, among others, dance, robotics, neuroscience, linguistics will participate in a series of practical movement-dance workshops introducing some elements of the Poetic Movement approach with a view to stimulating, through consciously embodied as well as analytic engagement, discussion around the theme of movement grammar and the possible relevance of a rigorous approach to movement grammar in various fields of research.
We are hoping that this workshop, which will happen in June 2018, will lead to a programme of specific research projects in several areas. I have led, taught and directed an incredible variety of people and groups over the last 35 years but this one, made up of scientists and other academics of a wide age range, is going to be a completely new experience. I am intrigued by, and a bit nervous about, the prospect of being responsible for the initial input of nine hours of workshop investigations to set the discourse going and give it some focus. I’m hoping I’ll be able to invite some Echo Echo and Body Wisdom members to come to Leiden with me for moral and practical support!
Festival of Dance and Movement
So now I’m back to Derry and working hard on getting this year’s Echo Echo Festival of Dance and Movement finalised. Over the summer the other Echo Echo people have kept a bit of momentum going and the main programme was agreed with visiting artists before I went away, but there plenty to do to make sure we have another successful festival. The line-up we have is again really great with a couple of very special events. Look out for the announcement of the full programme on Culture Night, Friday 22nd September.