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.
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…
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!