Telling stories with imagination.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Learning to fly

Last week Metta Theatre ventured in the unknown and not a little terrifying territories of dance theatre and contemporary circus as we spent a few days developing a piece that might hopefully see the light of day in April/May 2011 - a devised physical piece inspired by Jeanette Winterson's Sexing The Cherry called Points of Light.

Where to start - where did we start - well I know very little about contemporary circus and probably even less about dance (in any formal proper way) so I started as I start everything just by jumping in with a spirit of wonder and a childlike grin. So far so good.

Our performers for the piece are Metta regulars Samuel Collings (recent award-nominated star of The Man With the Flower in His Mouth) and Loren O'Dair (who was a video artist in our production of Cocteau In The Underworld at this summer's Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola), although Sam is currently on some far flung exotic island (very apt for the subject matter which basically follows the journey of Jordan, a sailor, to some far flung exotic island where he meets Fortunata, a dancer) so the R+D was just with Loren.

Loren trained at Le Coq in Paris so luckily I can throw random words at her, like 'snow', 'lead' and 'love' and she can just embody them physically (her 'fire' is amazing!) Which is where we started last week - finding the physical (and musical - with Jess Dannheisser - another Metta regular simultaneously improvising on the piano) languages to express a series of abstract words that I would throw at them (taken from the original text). But things really got exciting when Layla Rosa, our aerial Chroegrpaher (and co-founder of Shunt) arrived. Now it was time to fly...

I've worked with Loren on many many projects in the (relatively) few years that I've known her, and she, more than any other performer I know, has a very clear idea of her visual identity as a performer. She is always (both on and off-stage) beautiful, graceful, intense, light and mostly clad in white/silver. In fact I've never seen her in colours on stage (even in the Peter Brook Empty-Space award-winning Before I Sleep she was in grey). So learning to fly was clearly a necessary part of her ethereal identity that til now she has neglected - in fact she acknowledged the fact at the end of the R+D when she was (rightly) exhausted in body and mind by saying her entire training (ballet from the age of two, three years of acrobatics at Le Coq, a life time of playing the violin) has led to this point.

But aerial work - we mostly looked at static trapeze, a bit of corde lisse (rope) and strops (a bit of equipment Layla uses a lot which is normally used to help rig other aerial equipment) - is seriously hard-core. Aerialists make it look easy but (speaking from personal experience) it is ALWAYS painful (friction burns, rope cutting into skin & cutting off blood supply) and requires huge amounts of strength and control, not to mention years and years of training. Loren had three days. And a will of iron.

So what did we discover? Loren is a natural aeialist and was born to fly. Also she is hardcore (though we did know that already) Object manipulation is going to be a big part of the world - a violin becomes a city, a ballet shoe becomes a ship. The balance between narrative and movement is still to be found, but we think will become a lot clearer when we have Sam back in the room and the piece moves from monologue/her dancing her story to dialogue/a love story. And contemporary circus is a wonderful and rich fully three-dimensional discipline through which we can both tell a story and also create stunning visual metaphor.

Poppy's revelation of 2010 - all the work we (Metta) make somewhat dances with visual metaphor whether that be a rubber duck as death (The Man With the Flower in His Mouth), a phone cord/life cord made from 200 metres of red ribbon (La Voix Humaine) or red sand/earth as the blood of a country (Otieno). 2011 promises an even greater investment into that way of making work - Points of Light will (we think) contain little (possibly no) spoken text so everything (narrative and character) will be contained and conveyed through the image. Here's to a year of beauty.

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