Vocal improv is one of the hardest musical practices because of its necessity for surrender and compassion, as is the same in dance improvisation. Surrender and kinaesthetic compassion are things we have explored in detail in our Dancing with Parkinson’s programme.
For years, Danielle and I have been collaborating in our disciplines – connecting closely with the idea of movement and musical improvisation inspiring and arising from each other. In this way, I had been fostering the idea of combining Dancing With Parkinson’s practice with group vocal improvisation. It just made sense. Vocal improv is one of the hardest musical practices because of its necessity for surrender and compassion, as is the same in dance improvisation. Surrender and kinaesthetic compassion are things we have explored in detail in our Dancing with Parkinson’s programme.
At one of our inspiring sessions of the CID Project at Poplar Union, the worlds of community dance (on a high artistic and expressive level) and vocal improvisation (with a group of professional singers) collided. The six singers I worked with had not sung together before, thus we met earlier and tried to fuse together as a group. From the moment the dancers arrived, they were immersed in the a cappella world that does not preoccupy itself with form or technique, but rather human expression and grace.
As I said to the singers before the start of the session, we’re not here to give voice to the dancers, we’re here to reflect their collective movements back to them as sound.Then we played. After an hour and a half the singing stopped, but my mind and body didn’t. It’s hard to describe it; it was so fun and liberating to be able to connect on that level, no mediators, no technology, no wires and no speakers. We were weaving in and out of each other, creating organic shapes and communicating equally.Through the interface of this project, we brought together such different individuals that might not consider themselves as artists or creatives and gave them the chance to explore their humanity in a collective and supportive environment. Through my eyes, they’re all masters of what counts most. Being. Even if just for that hour on Wednesday afternoons.
Brian Hartley is a Glasgow based artist whose work is a combination of visual art, photography and design. Integrating these skills with his experience as a physical performer, Brian creates multi disciplinary performance events through his company stillmotion, including We Dance. Wee groove, an interactive dance performance for families and young children, which has been touring internationally since 2008.
As a visual artist he has been making drawings and paintings inspired by dance for many years, working with dance festivals and featuring in exhibitions in Uk and internationally. In recent years this eye for capturing dance and movement has diversified into dance photography and multimedia work, working with many contemporary dance companies on Scotland.
I have really enjoyed taking part in the creative sessions on Collectivity and Identity – CID Project at Poplar Union, with Danielle and her team of experienced dancers, musicians, and a filmmaker and photographer. The dancers and participants with Parkinson’s have brought a focus and investment in the work, sharing food, cups of tea together and conversation around the movement work, its feelings, perceptions and reflections, embedding a reflective practice in the work, and offering each of us a vital reflection into how this important this work is, how dance can affect, challenge and move us emotionally.
Danielle’s invitation was to reflect on the dance activities through my visual arts practice, we had met at a community dance conference in Glasgow in 2017, and after developing my dance photography work over the past few years it was a refreshing opportunity to return to using more hand made materials and ways of seeing and representing movement, and having the beautiful photography work by Sara Hibbert I felt free to experiment with a more expressive way of working and focused most on using ink and brushes on a range of paper stock.
During the CID Project I explored a variety of techniques and introduced chance and unpredictability to the work through watercolour effects, creating pools of ink, smudges, fading lines and forms blurring into one another. Conversations with the dancers offered a further resonance, introducing thoughts about language, allowing the images of dancers to become hybrid forms, resembling handwriting, a score, or trace of movement on the paper. I hope that these works portray the choreography in a way that is more individual, vulnerable, precious, and also full of presence and intention.
Sara Hibbert, visual artist on the CID Project provides an insight into her process and experience working with the Dancing with Parkinson’s Company
by Sara Hibbert
Sara Hibbert is a London-based visual artist working primarily with moving-image and photography. She graduated in 2015 from the Royal College of Art (MA Photography), and is a current participant of the London Creative Network artist development programme at Four Corners. Past exhibitions and commissions include: Brighton Photo Fringe, Alchemy Film and Moving-Image Festival, Chelsea & Westminster Hospital Trust, Two-Hundred Acres at the Pumphouse Gallery, Night Contact at Brighton Photo Biennial, and Altai Collective: RCA Dyson Gallery.
As a visual artist collaborator, the CID project has required me to move between two roles – that of a documenter, capturing and reflecting each week’s session, but also as an active participant of an evolving, collective, creative experience. There has been great value in the regularity of the workshops – getting to know everyone, seeing people each week and joining the collaborative discussions. My work has changed and developed as the dancers have worked towards their performances and evolved their individual artistry, our mutual link being a shared sense of progression under the direction of Danielle and her incredible team.
Throughout all of this I was searching for the words to explain what my work was doing – how does my perception of what’s happening differ from, or relate to, the dancers’ experience, and how can this become part of a mutual feedback loop… the theme of visibility, of sensing one’s movement and identity from another’s perspective, was something I was continually questioning and responding to. I was aware of my ‘eye’ – always looking through the viewfinder, zooming, cropping, framing – becoming a new element of movement in the space.
By cropping in on closeup movement between hands and limbs, the final images explore the notion of shared space, of presence becoming visible within the gaps, of collective timing and exchange. In collaboration with each dancer, I have also produced a series of movement portraits, which will be presented as a postcard series.
As the CID Project reaches its conclusion this coming Saturday 20 July, Danielle Teale reflects on the ambition of the project, what has been achieved and how we aspire to make an impact artistically, creatively and personally
This project – Collective IDentity, Creative Individuality, Complete Inspiration! – has all been inspired by and will continue to draw from the lives and experiences of those people with Parkinson’s that I have the pleasure to dance with.
A number of years ago I set out to delve into the concept of identity and how this impacts our way of being, moving, thinking, talking about ourselves, talking to each other when affected by a life change such as Parkinson’s. That’s what I observe in my brilliant dancer collaborators – a shift in focus and a determination to evolve alongside a new identity – a life change unlike any other which changes movement expectations, reduces sphere of influence, separates from everyday life and forces the dancers to unpick habits without warning.
Three simple descriptions of self, but one features the P-word, and has become such a fundamental part of existence that it is worthy of being listed in the ‘three ways of describing who you are’ – a question asked at the beginning of the project…
In the last two months however, we have not talked about Parkinson’s. We have danced; we have seen ourselves in the frame of artists work; we have been the feature subjects of portraits; curated music; choreographed; written poetry; learned a new language of the body; discussed beauty; had our opinions heard; had our dances observed; been applauded, acknowledged and celebrated; moved people to tears, exhaustion and hysterics! We have reached the widest potential for human expression and we’ve enjoyed every second of it! This project has not just been an opportunity to dance each week, to free ourselves from physical restriction and rigidity; far more than that, it has been a safe space for artistic experimentation, a chance to be the subject of art, to inspire art, and to be an artist in our own right.
Working with the brilliant photographer Sara Hibbert in 2017, I was inspired to explore further how the lens of another can influence and shape our perspectives on ourselves. I wanted the dancers I work with to see themselves framed by an artists gaze; to see how this would impact their self perception and identity as a person with Parkinson’s, whilst also making visible the wonderful artistic contributions that they make weekly in my workshops and classes. Community dance can so often by invisible; contained within the intimate spaces of hospitals, care homes, schools, community centres, not always shared or acknowledged for the beauty of the intimate act of dancing together. Rightly so at times, when dancers are vulnerable and could feel exposed in front of an audience – it is the process and experience that is most important, not the performance. However in this project, the process has stood alone as a fundamentally moving and affecting experience in its own right, not detracted from in any way by the fact that we have decided to share live dance performance at the end of the process.
The CID Exhibition of artwork stands alone as a sharing of our process. There was never an expectation or promise that the sharing would include live dance. Yet the anticipation of this possibility, coupled with the freedom, determination and abandon, with which the dancers have embraced this experience means it feels it would almost be wrong to deny them a chance to share physically what they have achieved.
The sharing event on 20 July will place the performers in amongst the art work. The piece is set up in this way as I often struggle with the framing of performance on stage, lifted up away from the audience like it’s untouchable. I wanted the dancers to feel seen, and part of the fabric of the space; an extension of the artwork from paper into human form. Like in an art gallery, the dancers will be the subject of the audiences gaze in a different way; more visceral and human; without expectation of perfection. This for me feels most fitting to the project as a whole, which has celebrated individuality, quirkiness, personality and eccentricity; as well as supported vulnerability and demanded wholeheartedness from every contributor. A demand that has been absolutely met from the outset.
I am delighted to present the first performance of the Dancing with Parkinson’s Company, and even more delighted that this process has been so moving and inspiring for all involved. It will take a long time to process the sheer volume of outcomes around how this project has made us think, feel, connect and shift our self perception and identity as a collective and as individuals. More to come on this soon…
One of the original collaborative relationships that initiated the CID Project was that between Artistic Director Danielle Teale and Music Director Jaka Skapin. From the outset this was to be an immersive experience bringing dance and music equally into the forefront of improvisation and creative exploration.
Featuring vocal artists: Akeim Buck Briony Green Jaka Skapin Marcia Willis Uran Apak Veronica Royet
As we rehearsed our work for the CID Project sharing this week, 5 singers under the direction of Jaka Skapin created sound improvisations, like a duet moving with us through the space, supporting us in a circle and following the energy of the movement we created. We were at once supported by and inspired by the sound they created, unsure as to which came first the movement or the music. This total collaboration brought about a trust, a dialogue, and also a tangible comfort, holding the space for our movement to be cushioned and embraced.
For our project sharing on 20 July, Jaka and I knew we wanted the work to be both physically and aurally original, and for the two to emerge together during the project. In week 6, the vocal accompaniment was shaped by the dancers who directed the singers in a merging of sound and movement which was all recorded live. From operatic voice, to poetry, to a complete cacophony of bizarre sounds, each group has curated vocal accompaniment for their choreography which will be shared both live and recorded at the exhibition.
Not only was the workshop this week instrumental in supporting the dancers vision for their performance, but also for the visual artists to cement their concepts for what would be offered in the final exhibition of work…
In week 4 of the CID project, our last guest workshop leader Kimberley Harvey joined the company to share practices from her work ‘Inky Matter’…
Kimberley introduced her work ‘Inky Matter’ as a performance installation using text, ink and the process of letter writing as inspiration. Throughout the workshop we explored tactile and sensory approaches to movement with freedom of interpretation and adaptation at the core of the investigation.
The workshop opened with an improvisation which evolved from internal to external awareness – connecting to internal sense of self and articulation of the body by imagining a drop of ink traveling around the body or inside the body gave great attention to the way we initiate movement from an internal place. Awareness of the space and surfaces of the environment around us challenged our placement of weight. Considering the way our body imprinted on the environment or how it might leave a mark led us to consider how our movement created invisible sculptures as it moved, as well as promoting a sense of openness as we imagined leaving full body imprints around us as we moved.
Our primary exploration came from working sculpturally with bodies and paper, playing lead and follow, pass the parcel, getting tied up and unravelling again as we passed a large length of paper around our groups. The paper acted as a vehicle for weaving, ducking, throwing, winding, twisting, moulding, wrapping around each other as the groups invented creative ways to move together. Connecting us together and at once separating us – anarchy descended as group members split away, playing games and transforming the dance space into a paper playground.
I was struck in this weeks exploration by the natural and childlike playfulness that the group experienced when making. The simple intermediary of a prop with a very specific artistic and sculptural approach, opened up a wide playground of possibility for the dancers, much like playing with the chairs in Bim Malcomson’s workshop on week 2. This felt like the most free the dancers have been, despite the prop itself meaning that there was more to think about in the execution of movement. We saw jumping, crawling, diving, running away, snatching and rolling as the dancers played and laughed, a lot! I was reminded of the notion of the exuberant animal, introduced to me by collaborative partner Ben Beare of National Hospital of Neurology and Neurosurgery:
exuberance and its close partners passion and joy are consistently underrated in mainstream studies of physical fitness, health and performance…
We now know more about lactic acid concentrations than we do about joy…more about body mass index than we do about passion…more about treadmill performance than we do about enthusiasm…then we wonder why people find exercise so dull and unattractive
Frank Forencich suggests that exuberance comes from play and that as adults we need to tap into childlike exuberance in order to find a healthy and happy existence. Yet play and free, abandon in movement are underrated and often unattainable in older adulthood. Not only did Kimberley’s workshop encourage a truly free and flowing exuberance to unfold, there was also a childlike quality to our free mark making as we were encouraged to respond to what we were seeing by making inky marks on paper in front of us. When in adulthood do we get this chance to make our mark freely and without judgement on paper?
The session summed up beautifully in this quote from a company dancer:
Can I just say how moving (literally and emotionally) Wednesday’s session was. The exercise with paper seemed to allow us to combine together as a group and yet allow us to be individual at the same time. What a metaphor for society as a whole.