Evolving Motion : In conversation

IN CONVERSATION: EVOLVING MOTION
Cathy Seago (Choreography and Dancer), Ros Noctor (Scenography and Dancer), and Chris Benstead (composer and performer). Chaired by Matthew Linley (Live Producer at Dartington) after a performance of Duod at Dartington on 8 April 2010

Matthew:
Where did the ideas for Duod come from?

Cathy
There were two starting points. Firstly Ros and I wanted to make a piece which we could tour – which was economic and manageable. So we were interested essentially in duets. And what duets are. The relationships of two and degrees of twoness – the different types of twoness we could create through movement and dance. As part of that we also wanted to find a way in which we could do a lot of dancing – a duet where we would be moving a lot.

Secondly we wanted to explore levels of tension. There is a French theatre practionner called Jacques LeCoc who suggests there are seven levels of tension which can be embodied by the act in order to communicate something without text. So we wanted to see if that would work for dancers. I come from a Cunningham background where there is often less levels of different types of dynamics so I was interested in exploring more of that.

So we put these two things together and explored levels of tension, levels of energy, effort, amount of tension in the body through complex dance movement. And we did it together. In contact improvisation often there is pushing and softening (which you see quite a lot of in the piece) but there is rarely very much in between – so we wanted to see what else there was.

Matthew:
Clearly music is a massive part of this piece – at what point did music start to become part of the process?

Chris:
Cathy and Ros had spent some time working on this piece in Malaysia. When they came back last Autmn I had a look at the things they’d been working on. And from there it just materialised over time as the piece developed

Matthew
So you came away from Malaysia without a soundtrack. Did the piece change dramatically as the music was introduced?

Cathy:
We knew we wanted to work with Chris, and we knew there was a possibility we could. We also knew a fair bit about how Chris worked and about the type of music he creates so we had a sense of where it might go.

Ros:-
We’d also used music that Chris had previously made to set the material to so we were working with his music already in Malasia.

Cathy:-
And when we showed him the DVD with his music in he rolled around laughing!

Chris:-
It was not the music I had expected them to use which is always the delight of the process. The surprise – as its often the unexpected which works the best. But then we didn’t use any of that and started from scratch. It’s always a question of just responding to the movement I’d seen. So some of the music came afterwards – and some of the movement was created to the music.

Matthew
We should talk about the scenography too – as it plays such a vital role too? Were those strong ideas there right from the start?

Ros:-
Yes. Basically Cathy had a wealth of information to give me, we both discussed what we were trying to achieve, how we wanted it to look, what materials we’d use, what the costumes would be. And the look came from that – from working together, from doodling. Just discussing what we thought we wanted to use and things that inspired us to move.

Cathy
We were interested in the way that materials, behave, the way they feel and the way they appear. So we did a Dance Lab at Swindon Dance in July and at that point we did some real playing. What happens if you do this, what happens if you throw cushions at one another. We literally explored materials together at that early stage

From a technical point of view we also set our lighting designer, Pete Eyres, quite a challenge. He had to light a piece where every one is sat in the round and at floor level without blinding anybody, we wanted to create lots of very different states with just a few lights, plus work with the video and all of the white cloth which is bouncing light back and forth.

Matthew
The piece has clearly gone through lots of development stages. Can you give us a summary of the process, of how you got to here?

Cathy:-
It started a year ago with me doing practice based research – lots of thinking, reading, workshops and courses. Then I got together with Ros and we had a week or so playing around with some ideas. Then we did our first formal week of work Then we went to Malaysia for six weeks and worked in the studio a lot – everyday. Then we came back to the UK with the material and from September 09 we started working mainly in 2 and 4 day chunks. And finally we went into production rehearsals. So there were lots of various stages before it started to solidify.

Audience Question:-
Chris what instrument can’t you play

Chris:-
Lots of them! I studied here at Dartington and I was a violinist , a classical violinist. But along the way since I’ve been working with dance what I’ve tried to do is find sounds, the sound source. So the great thing about the work is its not limited to ‘am I looking for a piano, a clarinet, a cello’. You’ve heard some of those unusual sounds today. And along my travels I’ve just picked up instruments to see what I could do with them. So I wouldn’t profess to play any of them to a fantastically sophisticated degree. I just like to experiment and see what they sound like.

Matthew:-
How many different instruments are there in the piece?

Chris:-
Obviously there is the piano, pottery drum from India (Urdu), concertina, thumb piano(imbira) and the mouth harps. And of course I’m also working with pre recorded tracks that I’ve worked at at home which I’m triggering off the lap top. As a one man band there is a limit to what you can do without it getting boring if your just playing one or two instruments so I try and integrate it as much as possible so that at times your not sure whether its recorded or live material. And thats something which interests me as a composer right now.

Audience question
I wanted to say what an amazing sensory experience that was – was that something you set out to achieve?

Ros
Yes absolutely – it’s one of the key things about the piece along with it being interactive. So it wasn’t you just sat there watching this dancing and having to take it all in. We wanted you to share with us what we were going through, what we were experiencing.

Cathy
There is something about traditional theatre set ups which always seems to bother me a little bit. They makes the audience feel isolated, private. So the last piece we made was a site specific piece for galleries – the audience had to be in very specific places. With this one there was actually points where the audience would be full participants but we took those bits out. We’re really keen that there is lots of eye contact, some touching and that you as audience have choices – when to sit on the cushions and so on.

Matthew
And at what stage did you decide the piece would be in the round?

Cathy
O really early. There is something about old community theatre, that kind of ritual experience that attracts us. But actually it was at Swindon Dance when we were talking to Sue Davis and she said ‘well you could do it in the round’. And we rolled around on the floor and said we couldn’t. And then we thought about the audience around us and us dancing in the middle . It certainly wasn’t planned!

Audience Question
I’m interested in how the piece was structured, your intentions for the audience experience.

Cathy
We worked with a dramaturg on the sense of a creature, a something that seems to be growing, building, finding legs, separating, becoming independent. So thats the kind of shape we were going for – but its not narrative in anyway. A sense of things being threaded through it, threads being laid down which potentially then add up to a sense of a life cycle. But again that wasn’t the original intention it was something we worked with as we became aware of it. There are lots of things in the piece which work as metaphors.

Chris
There is a degree of flexibility within the piece. Whilst there is a very clear map for us, we know exactly where we are going in each section and the maps within the sections are clear. But still within the maps there is a certain degree of flexibility about what we do within those both in the music and in the dance. And I think that was something which interested us all in the process. The thing I enjoy when I go and see something is the question is this improvised or is it set? Your not quite clear what it is – and we were interested in allowing that kind of freedom for us.

Audience Question
I thought your focus was so strong that it made me feel I was there as well. How involved I was was incredible. And watching it I thought it was like a bit of abstract art and you can just interpret it in so many different ways. You could watch it again and again and get a different path each time

Audience Question
I really enjoyed seeing the material (fabric)– I liked the fact you were wearing the cushions and then I was sitting on them and that made a real connection for me but I never had experience with the massive sails. It felt very busy. I was just wondering in your decision making how did you decide in what way to involve the audience with the materials?

Ros
I think to begin with it was even busier than it is now. At the beginning there was a plan for each different state of tension to have a different kind of shape, texture or sensory experience. That just became too much! And it just naturally fell into that format – it wasn’t about we’re not going to let the audience experience the sail, we’re going to give them the cushion instead. It was just how it ended up.

Matthew
It must have been challenging for you as a group to work on such a visually piece when you were all in it

Cathy
It was a problem

Ros
It is hard . In terms of the material that we chose to work with it was things I felt really close to (maybe not so much the veils). I love working with masses of material and so for me when I’m in it I have that connection with it already. And also cushions – we love cushions – and its just one of those natural things!

Cathy
It’s also something really interesting about dancing and the fact that dancing and watching dancing are two totally different experiences. So there is something really interesting about when your making dance what you do about that tension – what does it feel like, what does it look like.

Audience Question
I just wonder who creatively inspires you?

Chris
I could go way back – I could make such a long list. Sibelius, Stevie Wonder, Edith Piaf, Marvin Gaye, Mark Morris. I think the information is huge – and the important thing is to stay open. And of course you build your own ideas . I would say that I do have a strong influence from dance – and that I love to work from that visual stimulus. Going in the studio and watching dancers work is a definite inspiration for me.

Audience
How did being in South East Asian influence this work?

Cathy
Over a period of about 6 years now I’ve been going to that part of the world and I think there has been a real raft of influences. What was the most interesting thing when we showed the little tiny version we had in Malyasia the audience responded very differently to it being in the round because its something they are much more familiar with. They also responded very differently to some of the mask ideas that we are playing with and equally to some of the visuals. In Malay dance there are some beautiful use of the hands which we explored for quite some time and which actually isn’t in the piece.

There is an ongoing influence about the type of movement, the size, the stature- the prominence of the movement vocabulary. And that movement vocabulary as primarily expressive and communicative as oppose to western movement, particularly theatre dance, which is much more about space and embodiment.

Audience Question
I was wondering where you trained

Ros
I did three years at the Bird College and then 1 year at the Place.

Cathy
I did a number of years at the Cunningham studio. Lots of my training was in the states.

Matthew
Where does the piece go from here

Cathy
As well as more tour dates we’re aiming to make a film version of it and an outdoor version of parts of it. We’re interested in how we can stretch it!

Ros
And every venue that we’ll be performing it in will be different, so every performance will be different . Just like tonights was

Matthew
And on that note can I say thank you to Cathy, Ros and Chris.

Find out more about Dartington’s programme of live events here
Find out more about Evolving Motion including future tour dates here

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