Reflections on meaningful collaboration

Jaka Skapin (Musical Director for the CID Project) reflects on the first session of the project

by Jaka Skapin

Jaka Skapin (Musical Director for the CID Project) reflects on the first session of the project

Reaching Into The Dance Circle 

As a musical accompanist, it often feels that what I’m doing and providing is as an enabler – I should be as supportive and flexible as possible. Often from behind a piano this creates a one way stream of energy that can sometimes feel separative, no matter how joyous the music and the present moment are. Even from a physical perspective, the musician is usually on the outside line of the dance circle, which might also mean that she/he is on the outside line of the action / focus / community 

This might sound negative but is is definitely something I’ve been thinking about after our first session, and for all the good reasons! I think it’s great to explore the hidden edges of community dance and music work in an interdisciplinary setting and have the opportunity to ask questions that usually would not have been asked. In this way, we can truly understand the needs and relationship between all the collaborators that met, meet and will be meeting on the studio floor. 

When thinking about inclusivity of feeling and physical involvement between the dance and the music, the first thing that comes to mind is set-up and intention. In this particular case we have the pleasure of working in a spacious studio which allowed us to position the three musicians (drums, vocals, guitar – “band”) closer to the centre of the space on an imagined stage while the dancers filled the area that would usually be reserved for the audience. This created a semi-performance setting and really blended the distinction between the sessions’s presentation and class nature. 

Secondly, the project’s main creative tool is freedom of individuality versus collective group work – unison and community against individual improvisation. The improvisation allows the music to fully sprout from the moment and more directly affect, support and work with the group. From showcasing participant’s names to narrating the actions and possible intentions, it felt like the sound was fully merging with the flow of the workshop and managed to provide even more support and drive than usual. The crispness and freshness of the sung words as well as the harmonic and rhythmical underpinning served as the perfect bed for exploration that I have never seen it before.

Wider, deeper and braver, well done everyone!

Themes arising – week 1

In week 1 of the CID project we explored what dance means to us, how we identify with ourselves and what is different between dancing and other groups we belong to. In group and one to one conversation we explored these themes together with interesting subjects and discussions arising.

  • Creativity – the dancers in the room all identify as creative people, but when asked if they like to express individual ideas or enjoy being part of a group, there as a more divided opinion. Group connection brings empathy which enables a freedom of expression free from judgement. So individual creative ideas can be shared within the safety of the group environment – one of the benefits of a setting specifically for people with Parkinson’s.
  • Trust – the ability to work as equals and in a truly collaborative way involves a great deal of trust, and in this context the longevity of the relationship between me (Danielle) and the dancers creates a positive environment for experimentation in which the dancers are confident to explore without fear
  • Touch – the importance of the personal relationship between dancers and leader and their comfort to express themselves is shown in the way with which the dancers use touch freely in one-to-one and group tasks. I am naturally free with touch and think it is profoundly important to break the kinaesthetic barrier and connect with people to feel moved and to move others. This features highly in my work and was also a feature of our workshop exploration
  • Expression of ‘myself’ – identity is a hard thing to define, but one theme that always arises in dance is that movement enables us to express ourselves. Whatever that ‘self’ is that we are expressing it comes from an internal and visceral place of expression that goes beyond words.
  • Visibility – the CID project aims to bring visibility to an often hidden practice of dancing in community contexts. Dancing with Parkinson’s often falls within the specificity of a health practice and has a lot of visibility as a successful model, however I believe the dancers and their achievements themselves deserve more visibility – for the outside observer and from the perspective of the dancers – for the dancers to see themselves as the inspiration behind, the subjects of, and the instigators of art making.
  • Aspiration – this project provides dancers with Parkinson’s the opportunity to perform and demonstrate their achievements in an exhibition format. The excitement that comes with this challenge is palpable for some people and has raised the energy of the dancers and their willingness to give both physically and in dialogue.

CID Project week 1 workshop insight

Week 1 of the CID Project at Poplar Union started with an introduction workshop and conversations led by Danielle Teale.

This project is a very special experimental opportunity – I am really interested in finding the intersection between structure and freedom, improvisation and direction, collectity and intimacy. All this inspired by my work with people with Parkinson’s over the years, and what I have heard, seen and learned from the dancers as we’ve explored creatively and over conversation together.

Danielle Teale

The workshop took an improvisatory approach to the key themes of sculpture, play, connection, trust and support. In particular, aiming for dancers to build bonds with one another and feel a sense of achievement in a short space of time.

This project brings together professional artists (dance, music and visual arts) and dancers with Parkinson’s, to collaborate together as equals. The first day of the project was therefore primarily to enable these contributors to bond together and find a common ground in their enjoyment and interest in the project, its themes, and dancing as a whole. Working alongside, rather than in a hierarchic way in a project of this kind requires active listening on both sides, clarity in and an understanding of roles in order that everyone is exploring and contributing together, without it feeling that there are any uncomfortable power dynamics at play. I hope the end result will be an organically created performance in which all dancers work together and no distinction is made between leader or follower, professional or non professional. I believe that as professional community artists we learn just as much from the dancers we work with than they from us. So what is shared will be truly equal if the contributing artists are entering into this process expecting to learn, to be moved, and to be challenged by the dancers with Parkinson’s…

Danielle Teale

Movement in the workshop included lead and follow partner tasks, sculpture building as a collective and in quartets / trios, physical exploration of opposites in dynamic and energy, taking up space, challenging our use of spaces in between bodies. Captured by one of our collaborating artists Sara Hibbert, whose work inspired by the dance process will be shown in an exhibition at Poplar Union in July.

Some of the main features of my recent work have been conversation and collaboration – opening peoples eyes to the possibilities of creative movement with dancers with Parkinson’s, and how much we can learn when we have a human dialogue and interaction with our dancers, asking their opinions and hearing their stories. I want to blur the boundaries of lead and follow, and consider what is possible when the enquiries come directly from the dancers experience as a whole person, not how we can tailor dance only to meet one facet of their identity as people with Parkinson’s. If we open our eyes to the whole story of individual people we move with, we can be moved by their contributions and taken to much more exciting creative possibilities than we are able to create on our own.

Danielle Teale

The workshop was followed by a lunch and sharing of conversation, thoughts and experiences over food – the best place to share is at the table!

CID Project – an introduction

This summer, I’m collaborating with Poplar Union to begin the Dancing with Parkinson’s Company. In this short piece I wanted to outline the ambitions of the project and my journey so far…

This piece has been recreated from danielleteale.com/dtd-blog

It’s really exciting to be at this point, sharing the ideas for our Dancing with Parkinson’s Company at Poplar Union, as the seed was first planted when Poplar Union was only just opening. I had begun developing my Dancing with Parkinson’s programme with other partners and was establishing classes in the community – the first of which was in Hackney with St. Joseph’s Hospice – when I first met with Beth Watton over two years ago at Poplar Union. I wanted to develop two strands to my work; a classes programme, and a performance, research and making strand where dancers could take their experience to another level of artistic engagement. From our first meeting, it immediately felt like the right place for this. In the heart of the artistic, east London community, the venue is both welcoming and community focused, as well as cutting edge and forward thinking in their programming. It’s two years later, after having established a successful and flourishing class programme in east London, that this project is finally coming to fruition.

Danielle Teale

The artistic idea – Collectivity and Identity (CID) – is one that has also taken time and exploration to evolve too, and this time to think and clearly outline an artistic vision as well as a strategy for the programme has been necessary for everyone.

The Dancing with Parkinson’s Company will launch this June, with the CID project – an exciting, artistic experiment; bringing people with Parkinson’s, dancers, musicians, visual artists, guest choreographers, film and photography, together to explore how we identify with ourselves, how we generate self-belief and efficacy, and what dance brings that can harness and increase our awareness of these important areas of emotional intelligence.

in a collaborative way, movement exploration with people with Parkinson’s could be far more of a process of discovery, trying, playing, making and creating than merely learning to dance together. I believe ideas that come directly from the lived experience of Parkinson’s are more interesting to explore and share, than ideas that come from expectation, perception or are observed by an outsider.

Danielle Teale

Having danced with people with Parkinson’s for over 10 years, I have had the pleasure of taking a circular route, first learning about Parkinson’s in order to effectively lead movement in an inclusive way, then learning from people with Parkinson’s about movement itself, becoming more minutely aware of my own body in space, the value in understanding the rhythm, control, fluidity, and expressivity of dance, making me kinaesthetically more empathic towards others. From there understanding that in a collaborative way, movement exploration with people with Parkinson’s could be far more of a process of discovery, trying, playing, making and creating than merely learning to dance together. I believe ideas that come directly from the lived experience of Parkinson’s are more interesting to explore and share, than ideas that come from expectation, perception or are observed by an outsider. Therefore, my current research which will be part of my PhD with University of Roehampton, has sought initially to understand what is most important about dancing, directly from people with Parkinson’s, through interviews and focus groups with my dancers at St. Joseph’s Hospice, St. George’s Hospital and National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.

Taking the themes of space (physical and imagined); playfulness; collectivity and empathy; identity and self; (which were the most valued and notable themes that emerged in focus groups) as the beginning seeds of this project, we will be researching these together in the process of dancing together. The research happens in the doing – and the reflection and discussion afterwards, enables all voices and experiences to be heard. These themes will also be explored by visual artists making work inspired by what they see in the dance process. This strand of the project comes from a personal belief, that we see ourselves and the possibilities of movement differently, when it is shown to us through the lens of another. Not only will the dancers with Parkinson’s being seeing their own work depicted visually, the viewer will also see the body of dancers with Parkinson’s represented as a muse and subject of art, not defined by the illness of Parkinson’s.

We look forward to sharing the experience with you at an informal sharing that we will hold at Poplar Union in July. The sharing will demonstrate live dance, music and art work created from the CID project, in an informal exhibition format; with a discussion with the artists and dancers also taking place during the day. If you are interested in the project or more information, please do contact me to find out more.