A busy year.. part 2

Since the last installment of my catch up series of blogs I’ve been on a half-term run of Boing! at the Sherman in Cardiff. The end of the 8-show run coincided with my 30th birthday, which gave me pause for thought; I don’t think many people spend their 30th birthdays dressed in pajamas bouncing around a bed pretending to be 8 years old in front a hundred people.  The show itself, which was something like our 140th performance, was, for better or worse, something of a memorable outing, mostly thanks to an error on my part.


It was during a section near the beginning of the show which involves me chasing Joel around the bed with a pillow; it’s the sort of energetic chaos involving pillow swipes, bed flips and near misses that only well-honed choreography can deliver. Only on this occasion it was somewhat less well honed and I misjudged the distances involved in a pillow power-uppercut designed to miss Joel’s bottom at high speed with only inches to spare. Much to his surprise and the delight of the audience the pillow, which was perhaps slightly more than a few inches out, not only missed his bottom, which was being brandished in my direction for dramatic effect, but rocketed up between his straddled legs, once again with the kind of speed that only choreography can deliver, and caught him squarely in the balls.


Photo: Farrows Creative

Photo: Farrows Creative

Like any dancer who’s just been dealt a swift frappé to the testicles, fight or flight displaced the choreographic thought process and he defaulted to running around the bed like a … well like an 8-year-old boy that’s just been cracked in the family jewels. Once the shock subsided he slotted back into the choreography like any true pro would and all the people who witnessed the show were none the wiser to the fact they had seen a one-off special improv version of Boing!  A rare version that should probably never been seen again – I don’t think he would be so forgiving a second time.


Following on from the point I reached in my last blog , I’d just about got to the heights of the summer and the end of the Varmints tour.  Directly after this I made my way down to Plymouth with Shantala Pepe to dance in her new short dance film – a short piece based on a couple sitting in repose upon a cliff-top bench looking out to sea. It was a week-long process to devise and shoot, and the rushes looked quite beautiful; it’s currently being edited by Shantala but I will keep you posted on its development.


After wrapping up in Plymouth it was only a short journey to Dartington for the 3rd year of the annual gathering of the Sadler’s Wells Summer University. For those of you that aren’t sure what that is, it’s a four-year programme studying the art and craft of choreography, led by choreographer and writer Jonathan Burrows. It is part of the Jerwood Studio at Sadler’s Wells’ research programme, which supports the development of large-scale projects, alongside other professional development initiatives. There are 15 of us, emerging choreographers, including fellow New Wave Associates, Hetain Petal and Alexander Whitley.

© Sadler's Wells/Foteini Christofilopoulou 2013

© Sadler’s Wells/Foteini Christofilopoulou 2013

© Sadler's Wells/Foteini Christofilopoulou 2013

© Sadler’s Wells/Foteini Christofilopoulou 2013


We often don’t see much of each other throughout the year so it’s always interesting to re-converge in the light of the discussions and guest lectures to see how each others’ paths have changed.  One of the things that has always been a prominent feature of the group is our diverse range of backgrounds and practices. This year, this aspect of the group took on a new enhanced value as the group felt a degree tighter and closer than in previous years. As a freelancer often working with different groups of people, to engage regularly with a core of people working the same way as me, but totally differently at the same time, is an amazing insight as well and opportunity for reflection.  It’s going to seem very strange to think that next year will be our last, and that we’ll be without Emma Gladstone. Emma, who initiated the University and has been with us every year, is every bit as much a participant as the rest of us, in the mix of the discussion and debate as well as beside us all as we take steps going forwards in our work and careers. After moving on from Sadler’s Wells to take on new challenges at Dance Umbrella, I hope she won’t be able to resist dropping in to see us next year.


And on that note my train is drawing in to the station, and my week off is about to begin. It’s been two months since I’ve been home, and I think I should be able to fill you in on the gap between here and there in one last catch-up blog. I’ll endeavor to get that written before the intense push towards to Xmas at the Sadler’s Wells’ LBS that begins a week from now.  In the meantime, check out the tour dates for Boing! and see if you can catch us somewhere.

Film Festivals..

Over the past three years, I think I’ve sent considerably more screening DVDs than I have Christmas cards. Running, now autonomously, in the background of my life is the seemingly endless process of filling out submission forms for film festivals and sending off the relevant screening media for them. In fact, since White Caps was finished in 2010, the 3-minute extract “Stronger” has been screened and broadcast at over 50 different festivals in 20 different countries. But for all the air-miles it’s clocked up, I’ve never once been able to be there to see it being screened. This week, though, I’ve finally got the chance. Invited as “guest of honor” to the Tanz Film Festival, in Luzern, Switzerland, I went to present an evening of films – some of the early short films I made and a specially-edited version of White Caps – the first time all the film segments had been shown together as a film work.


As I sat in the cinema, I realised just how difficult it is actually to sit through an hour of your own films in the company of others. Every edit that feels slightly too long, that shot which we never could get quite right, or the ‘salvation cut’, which makes the best of a badly filmed section, all passing before your eyes accompanied by reams of sweat and heart palpitations. When we watch a film, as the audience we’re used to perfection, and we expect it, too. The organic faults that make live theatre ‘alive’ don’t find such easy acceptance with a cinema audience, and everything that falls shy of perfection seems to stand out. I think the other thing which makes it even harder, sitting there as the director, is the knowledge that I’ve personally subjected the entire audience to my viewpoint on the whole story. In film, every shot and cut makes a decision for the audience, showing them exactly what to look at and for precisely how long – a choice which is normally left to the audience in a theatre. All in all, it made me feel quite responsible for everyone’s experience whilst sitting amongst them.


After what seemed like eons, it was all over and I had a chance to speak with the festival organizers and some audience members about the work. It was great to talk with them about the process, and to hear their responses to the films. It informed me, and reaffirmed some of the errors and shortfalls of my earlier work, whilst also inspiring and instilling in me the confidence to move forward. It was useful and rewarding to go and see my films, but it certainly wasn’t quite as easy as it might at first sound: to just fly in and sit through a few films…


Film Festival

work hard play hard…

It’s been a busy Christmas. Since my last blog I’ve been out on the road with White Caps in Belgium, Jersey and the UK, as well as entertaining families with Boing! All whilst simultaneously sinking beneath the omnipresent tide of admin and associated activities that will be familiar to all freelancers out there.

For the last three years, Christmas for me has meant Boing! This is an early years piece I choreographed with Joel Daniel that was directed by Sally Cookson for Travelling Light and Bristol Old Vic back in 2010. Performing in the round, surrounded by 3- to 5-year-olds who really don’t have any reservations about giving instantaneous feedback on your performance, is still as fresh as it was three years ago. I’d never performed for this age group before, and having been on tour with White Caps where the ‘fourth wall’ is a black piece of gauze that the performer can’t even see through, it was, and still is, an experience that all dancers should have the pleasure (and fear) of experiencing.

When adult audiences don’t really like a performance they can just sit begrudgingly all the way though, and still obligingly clap for the duration of however many curtain calls you opt to subject them to. When 3-year-olds watch a show, they tell you how it’s going from the beginning, right through to the end. Fortunately for us, our show has pillow fights, midnight feasts, breakdancing robots and most of the things their parents would never let them get away with. As a result, the aforementioned feedback is a non-stop riot of giggling and excitement. There really is something quite amazing and beautiful about experiencing that. By the end of this season’s run of the show, which is about the excitement of Christmas Eve, Joel and I had lived out another 34 Christmases, with about 5,000 children. Stratford Circus, where we started our run, have kindly allowed me to show you some of the photos of the audiences from there, courtesy of Andrew Baker.

Watching Boing! @ Stratford Circus

Watching Boing! @ Stratford Circus

Watching Boing! @ Stratford Circus

Watching Boing! @ Stratford Circus

In amongst all this, I’ve also been getting acquainted with the Indian visa system. White Caps is just about to depart on a two-week tour of the subcontinent. Sorting out visas is just one of the many joys of producing your own work, but after several visa photo fails, days of collating company member details and navigating a bug-ridden internet-only application process, myself, Nic and Joel (see “Jet-Setting” blog) are visa certified and ready to depart next week.

The labour of many days work...

The labour of many days work…

I’ve never been to India, so I don’t really know what to expect, but our schedule of six shows in five cities over two weeks should amount to a 7,000km adventure worthy of White Caps. I’m going to do my best to document the experience and post it all up on here in the form of video blog. So watch this space for these appearing in early February.


p.s. follow me on twitter if your into that kind of thing…


Our tour around India.


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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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…