Adventures on location…

Just a week after Alistair Spalding finds himself firmly in the headlines of the national press for outlining his concerns about dance being pushed down the curriculum through the introduction of the Baccalaureate, I find myself working in a school in Bristol. I’m doing a short choreography combining live dance and film with Youth Dance Company, Rise. As we get going on this 7 day intensive I cant help but feel a little seed of anxiety growing from the fact that im here to give these 12 teenage youngsters their first taste of location filming… Champloo style. Typical of the kinds of films I always seem to end up making the odds are stacked ambitiously against us; November weather, barely enough time and a concept for a dance that we’ll only be able to see if it will work by the time its too late to do anything about it. Just how I like working then.

Planning is everything in these kinds of situations but with options for strategy limited we’re forced to opt for 5 days of devising and setting the work without the presence of the film sections, followed by a weekend of rehearsing and filming on location. Assuming we don’t have midweek gales we’ll have a nice autumnal backdrop for our film and it should look like we did it in the harsh reality of early winter for artistic reasons. Not because it was half term and the only option.

Midweek and things are going well, the material is coming together, Rise are stepping up to the plate, and the vision I had I’m my head is taking shape nicely in the school’s giant atrium. It’s even quite sunny outside, but there is still an element of uncertainty looming. Hurricane Sandy is battering New York as we work and the thought of trying to take a troupe of 12 teenagers out into rural Somerset to dance though it’s tail-end sounds less than ideal. Still, Alistair prophesy on Dance seems to be coming to light and the priority to heat the school during half-term for dance is already off the agenda. Our young dancers are freezing but every cloud has a silver lining and a little hardship might just acclimatize them slightly for a cold wet weekend in the countryside.

Come Friday; the piece is in good shape the forecast is not. As is often the case with filming early calls have to be made and based on the Met office’s best judgment we commit to 1 more day inside the school on the Saturday (which will be washed out) and 1 day filming on the Sunday (which will be beautiful). Needless to say Saturday was beautiful and Sunday morning there was flooding and snow. Thank goodness they’ve been acclimatizing all week.

English weather’s only consistency is the fact that it’s always changing and by lunch time we were up on location ready to film. Only 2 versions of a single long 4 minuet steady cam shot to get in the bag, you’d have thought we might even be home for mid afternoon tea. The combination of our home made steady cam (which weighs about the same a small Labrador and has to be operated with one arm, see photo), and a constant stream of mountain bikers, families and role playing medieval knights who, apparently, wage war on Sunday afternoons, made filming slightly arduous and frustrating. None the less we got our shots and Rise performed like brilliantly barely even mentioning the cold.  Enthusiastic, driven and committed it’s been a joy to work with them this week. They’ve given up their half-term, squeezing in coursework and jobs to make this piece possible. Its been a real joy and a privilege to work with just a few of the “Five million Brits… participating in dance classes and sessions every week.” That Alistair points out form such an important role in the dance industry. I’m proud of the work we’ve made and I’ll be sure to post up a video of it in few weeks when its filmed so you can all see it.




Wilkie Branson

Photo: Viola Berlanda

If you’ve been looking at my Facebook wall recently you’d be forgiven for thinking I’ve been leading the international jet-set life of a choreographer. On there, you’d see I’ve been in Turin, presenting White Caps in one of northern Italy’s finest gilded, red-velvet-clad theatres. Double billing at the Torino Danza Festival with Angelin Preljocaj, we gave 1500 Italians an insight into how Bboying has managed to evolve onto the stage in the less than typical hiphop surrounds of England’s West Country.

Out of four ad-hoc hand-me-down suitcases, we’ve been touring the show for almost two years now. We’ve taken it into Europe a few times, up and down the UK and even over to Canada for an outing last Spring. The people we’ve met and the places we’ve played couldn’t have been more diverse – the only thing that doesn’t seem to change very much is the vagabond nature of our adventures.

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Interviewing myself

I’ve been spending a lot of time over the past few weeks talking in different voices so I thought for this first blog it would be appropriate to interview myself:

HP:                  So Hetain you’re looking very handsome today.

HP:                  Thanks.

HP:                  Only joking. You actually look quite tired. I take it you’ve been busy lately?

HP:                  Oh… Yes, very busy. For the past 3 weeks I’ve been in Nottingham working all hours making a new piece called Be Like Water. We just previewed it last week at Curve, Leicester.

HP:                  I see. How did it go?

HP:                  It was probably the most intense making period I’ve ever been through for a single piece of work. Its been in development for the past 2 years, and during these 3 weeks, a lot of energy went into it from the whole team. I was happy with the preview. It needs a bit of work before the premiere in November but there is time.

HP:                  Great. I saw on your website that you are also currently touring your previous piece TEN. Was it easy to step back into this after the making period of a new piece?

HP:                  Yes and No. TEN is really ingrained into my memory now so it was easy to perform, even after what had been a 9 month break from it. However we had a bit of a nightmare in that one of the performers dropped out a few weeks ago so I had to find and train someone new, all during the making period of Be Like Water.

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Este ha sido un verano de duro trabajo dedicado a la creación y montaje del nuevo espectáculo, AFECTOS. Se trata de una coproducción, un proyecto común con la cantaora Rosario Guerrero, La Tremendita. En él, nos han acompañado el contrabajista, compañero y amigo, Pablo Martín y  nuestro dramaturgo preferido, Carlos Marquerie.

Ahora, después de un estreno de sueño en el Mercat de las Flors de Barcelona,  puedo decir que hemos dado a luz un espectáculo más que renovador y más que emocionante. AFECTOS es, según dicen, nuestra apuesta más arriesgada…  Yo diría que es una de las creaciones más auténticas que he protagonizado. Por encima de estrujarnos los sesos, las manos, la garganta y los pies, AFECTOS es el fruto de haber ahondado en cada recoveco de nuestros cuerpos, el resultado de exprimirnos el corazón. Ha valido la pena.

Ahora lo que más deseo es presentarlo al mundo. Darle vida a este proyecto de la mejor manera en que podría hacerlo, mostrándolo, recuperándolo función tras función, en cuantos escenarios me den la oportunidad y compartirlo con todo aquel que quiera “contagiarse” de nuestros AFECTOS.

Pero además de esta nueva producción, se suceden las funciones de otros de mis espectáculos. Actualmente, estamos visitando distintos países y ciudades con mis últimas creaciones: VINÁTICA, DANZAORA, ORO VIEJO y CUANDO LAS PIEDRAS VUELEN. Sinceramente, me siento afortunada, hoy por hoy no resulta fácil mantener activas cuatro obras como estas. Afortunadamente, tienen una magnífica acogida. De manera que, pasados varios años de su estreno, algunas de ellas siguen levantando al público. No podría cambiar por nada estos momentos.

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You don’t have to be so nice to the audience…

This is what one of my favorite choreographers in New York told me after she saw my performance “Zombie Aporia.” I understand what she means. The piece is very clear, one concept is displayed very transparently, and then another concept is displayed, and then another, and the audience can follow what is happening without too many questions like “what are they doing?” (although, I must say that there are a few questions like that.) Overall the piece communicates its ideas very straightforwardly, even if the performative tasks that we do are very complex and multi-layered. In some ways, I regard this as a positive aspect of the piece. I would rather make a clear proposal than an obscure, hermetic exercise that is completely closed off from the audience. But I do think that a performance should unsettle the audience. I don’t want to be pointlessly provocative, but I do want there to be a certain degree of cruelty or aggression. I myself enjoy pieces that are not all shiny happy people holding hands, but which contain a certain amount of disturbance and unease. I am not primarily interested in giving the audience something that gives easy pleasure, but something which forces one to be active, to think, perhaps to be bored sometimes. Something which tests, and something which unsettles.

After a work in progress showing of “Gaze is a Gap is a Ghost,” an audience member commented that the piece was very lonely and also a lot of fun. (Someone else commented that this sounded like a description of his life.) I think this is a strong comment, and I have been trying to push this aspect of the piece even further, the dualism of fun and loneliness. Because I don’t want the piece to be all frivolous fun and games, and I also don’t want it to be utterly sad and lonely. I want both of these two poles, fun and loneliness, to exist side by side, and generate a friction between them. The kind of performance that I appreciate, and the kind of performance that I want to make, is playful, but it also leaves you with some sense of dissatisfaction. With questions which still haven’t been answered. Something without an easy answer or solution; something which poses a problem which remains after the piece is over, a difficulty which still has to be dealt with. Because there are always still problems and questions that remain to be dealt with.

Today I find myself in Beijing…

So today I find myself in Beijing. I’m here on tour throughout China with Random Dance for the next two weeks and, having arrived only yesterday morning, am still fighting against jet-lag. Shortly after arriving a group of us went to visit the Forbidden City, an enormous, ancient palace complex in the centre of the city with vast courtyards and ornate stone carvings. Today we took a minibus up to the Great Wall and walked along a small stretch. Actually it was more up and down than along, as the wall climbs up and over some rather steep mountainsides. It was either a good limber up for tomorrow’s performance or a mistake I’ll only know the full meaning of when I try and get the legs moving! Still, worth it for the stunning views and another wonder of the world checked off the list.

The journey there and back gave me some time to read some more of the book I’m currently trudging through (when I managed to keep my eyes open) – In Defense of Lost Causes by Slavoj Žižek. It’s a fascinating, if slightly challenging, critique of contemporary liberal democracy and an exploration of revolutionary politics, with a bit of Lacanian and Freudian psychoanalysis thrown in there. It’s certainly shaking up my thoughts and perhaps too comfily held beliefs and will no doubt come in useful in the Open University politics course I’m studying at the moment – the last of six years of study.

As well as performing here, we’ll be rehearsing for the new piece I’m making for Random. It’s almost finished but needs quite a lot of cleaning, which won’t happen until I stop adding to it, changing bits and in general making things more complicated. It’s hard not to when I have a great group of dancers to work on, but I get the feeling they’re a bit worried about it being ready for the shows, so maybe now’s the time to settle for what’s there and polish it off. Once it’s finished that is…