Telling stories with imagination.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Directing dance and randomness

So last weekend we ventured into the unknown and not a little terrifying territory of contemporary dance with our latest piece 12 Dancing Princesses (an extract from the Jeanette Winterson novel Sexing the Cherry that I've been adapting for the last four years). Adapting Shakespeare/mounting a new play about Zimbabwe in just over 9 weeks we can do, surprisingly easily it turns out, but directing dance...well.

Actually despite the many setbacks to the project - all of them more practical/logistical rather than artistic - it was surprisingly easy to achieve. In fact it was the setbacks that made it a dance piece in the first place - initially it was going to be a text-based piece until the V&A, who commissioned the piece, realised how adult the text was, and forbade us from reading it aloud.
But that forced us to create a piece of physical story-telling which was both more satisfying to work on as an artist and actually I suspect more 'successful' as a performance than reading the texts would have been. The space we were creating it for was so small that only 10 audience members were allowed in at any one time but because it was translucent - like a giant lantern - you could still watch from outside the structure. In fact arguably the best view was from without not within - from one vantage point you could see the dancer, the violinist and the illustrator simultaneously telling the same 12 stories, and you didn't have the same pressure to move through the structure to allow others through. Had we stuck to the original idea of an actor reading stories we could only realistically reach 5 or 6 people at a time as the spoken word didn't carry as well through the translucent walls as the images did.

We were the first company of six to create pieces for the structure so it will be interesting to see how the other artists respond to the space. But for us it was a wonderful opportunity to play with a little non linear story-telling and attempt to invent our own physical vocabulary to capture the essence of these 12 stories. Ironically, given the V&A's fears, the audience who loved it the most

and seemed to get the most from it were the children. Maybe that's because children are very happy to be captivated by something without feeling the need to analyse or 'understand' it. And again watching from without you saw not only the 3 artists at work but the interplay between audience and artist - the curiosity on a child's face when Sam (our dancer) would offer them his hand, or the joy when finally reaching the summit of the structure they were given an illustration that they could take home and keep.

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