Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Dancing in caves: first thoughts, July 2014

After 2 very exciting days preparing for our performances of The Imagination Museum at Creswell Crags on Sunday 27th July (performances at 12, 2 and 3.30pm with workshops after the first and second performances), I have also had a meeting with Dr David Strange-Walker from Trent & Peak Archaelogy today to talk about the Nottingham Caves, and the potential for future performances as part of the 'Dancing in Caves' project.

The Imagination Museum rehearsals at Creswell Crags © Jo Forrest 2014 All rights reserved
The Nottingham Cave Survey, which is managed by Dr Strange-Walker, is absolutely fascinating, documenting many of the approximately 500 man-made caves cut into the natural sandstone upon which Nottingham sits. David was able to share with me some of his wonderful three-dimensional images of these caves, all available on the Cave Survey website, including this video documenting the vast Peel Street Caves, one of Nottingham's largest cave systems:

At Creswell, we have already learnt a great deal about the opportunities and challenges offered by dancing in the cave environment, including:
  • the potential for choreographing light in an environment which is pitch black, without electricity. We're working with torches and head-lamps at the moment (setting them in crevices of the rock or moving with them) but have started thinking about other light sources too, as well as the possibility of asking the audience to switch their head-lamps off at times so they can appreciate the unique atmosphere within the cave in total darkness.
  • the transformation that naturally takes place when moving from the outside world down into the cave. No other environment has provided such a strong sense of moving back in time, of moving from reality and into the imagination, and because of this some things that work in the 'outside world' seem less effective in the cave. For example, our eccentric tour-guide figures Mildred, Henry and Harriet from The Imagination Museum do not fit so easily into the world of the cave: their energy is suspended until we can see the daylight again. There are also many props that we would use in other Imagination Museum performances that do not seem appropriate in this environment. This means that the rhythm and the tone of the movement in the cave is very different from our other performances (and partly this is down to necessity, because the floor surface is really uneven and the dancers have very limited visibility at times). This is something to bear in mind when developing the characters for our new Dancing in Caves performance piece, and when choosing the stories those characters might tell.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

The Dancing in Caves Project

In 2014 we will begin researching a new strand to our Dancing in Museums project, which will be designed for performance in caves and other underground spaces.

Copyright Cory Richards / Nat Geo Creative / Caters News
For tens of thousands of years, people have visited caves in order to experience something out of the ordinary: to find sanctuary; to reflect; to create; to participate in rites that we cannot fully understand but that we can try to access by interpreting marks that have been left behind. Our new work will aim to continue this tradition of extraordinary experience, responding to the traces left by our prehistoric ancestors, but also speaking about the world as it is now.
“Alone in that vastness, lit by the feeble beam of our lamps, we were seized by a strange feeling. Everything was so beautiful, so fresh, almost too much so. Time was abolished, as if the tens of thousands of years that separated us from the producers of those paintings no longer existed. It seemed as if they had just created these masterpieces.” (The Mind In The Cave, David Lewis-Williams)
Our movement for the new Dancing in Caves piece will respond to the structure of each cave space, embodying the way it has been carved out of the landscape naturally or created by human activity. The places where we will perform will be accessible, but many caves are not. We will draw on the sense of mystery we associate with these places; areas where we can hide something we do not want others to find or where we are not supposed to be. We will also draw inspiration from some of the oldest known artworks that have been found in caves, reflecting on the persistence of the creative impulse and the desire to make sense of the world around us, celebrating the tenacity of the human spirit and our boundless curiosity

We want to learn everything we can about the cave environment from experts, and our research will bring together artists (writer, composer, animation/projection artist, designer), experts from sites including Creswell Crags in Derbyshire, geologists and cavers. As with the Dancing in Museums project, we will also provide opportunities for young people to be involved in the Dancing in Caves project from its earliest stages.

We are already collecting potential sites for this project; please contact us if you can think of a cave or underground space that we should explore. 

Monday, 12 May 2014

Dancing in Museums update and more performance details

The Dancing in Museums project has been going from strength to strength since my last blog update in March, with performances at Boston Guildhall, the Rhoda McGaw Theatre in Woking and Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, and a lot more happening behind the scenes. Here are a few links to images and videos from these performances:

Boston Guildhall
"dance company Made by Katie Green performed selections from their piece The Imagination Museum...the Guildhall Museum provided a perfect backdrop for it, as the performers literally guided audience members through the Museum, giving them a personalised and highly original tour of the building through their performance" (Elizabeth Bergeron, Engagement Officer, Transported)
Photo: Steve Hatton; Dancers: Lucy Starkey and Hannah Wintie
You can see video extracts from our performances as part of the Transported Past Inspired Launch Event here (video by Electric Egg). We were joined by lovely apprentice dancer Hannah Wintie for these performances. Steve Hatton also took some great photos, which you can see here.

Rhoda McGaw Theatre (part of Dance Woking Spring Shorts)

In rehearsal at The Lightbox, Woking; Dancers: Rob Guy, Jessamin Landamore and Lucy Starkey
We had a great time working with 5 groups of children from local primary schools in the run-up to our performances at the Rhoda McGaw, and 160 of these children and their teachers then came to watch our matinee on the 3rd April 2014. Rehearsal photos are online here and here.

Northampton Museum and Art Gallery
"On the day itself the dancers worked well in the chosen spaces, suggesting new ways of interacting with collections...The result was lots of happy faces by the final performance!" (Elizabeth Long, Northampton Museum and Art Gallery) 
In performance at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery; Dancers: Rob Guy, Jessamin Landamore and Lucy Starkey
There are some photos of our rehearsals and performances here and here.

Ipswich Museum
"Katie was able to work with the young people involved in the Unlocked project to support them to create their own work inspired by artefacts from our Charles Partridge Collection. The children really enjoyed the process, developing their dance skills and their confidence whilst also interpreting the collection in a new way.  Parents commented how they practiced regularly at home and spoke of little else as they prepared for the public performances." (Rachel MacFarlane, Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service)
The Museum Mischief dancers in performance at Ipswich Museum; Photo: Colchester and Ipswich Museum
You can now see footage from the Unlocked Project (Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service), with which we were involved in October and November 2013, in a series of videos here:

What's next?

Photo Chris Nash; Dancers: Rob Guy, Jessamin Landamore and Lucy Starkey
As well as working towards the performances of The Imagination Museum and Dancing in Museums workshops that have already happened, my time has been fully occupied planning ahead to our next performances for the summer (details below), and also looking further ahead to the autumn and next year. This planning involves visiting a great many wonderful museums and heritage sites across the UK. Over the past few weeks for example, these museums have included the British Museum, Saffron Walden Museum, Keats House, Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery, Dorset County Museum and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery in Exeter (you can follow my ongoing trail of museum visits on Twitter @madebyKG).

I’m finding that it can take quite a long time to put each new museum collaboration in place, and this is because it is necessary to make sure the project works in the best, most appropriate way for each context. This might involve finding the right combination of workshops and performances, identifying local schools who want to get involved in the project, visiting the site on several occasions to plan how The Imagination Museum performance can work there (the performance is never the same at any two places) and making sure we leave enough time to raise awareness about the collaboration and therefore develop an audience. I’m really grateful to the inspiring members of museum staff who give their time to show me round their sites and tell me about their collections; there’s such a wealth of information to take in, and it’s a privilege to be part of something which encourages young people to attend or re-attend their local museums and perhaps see them in a new light.

Forthcoming performances/workshops

The best ways to find out about our forthcoming performances of The Imagination Museum are to visit the museums page of our website, join our mailing list or follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Here is a quick update on our next adventures (as soon as final details are confirmed we'll add them to our website):

7th June: Keats House
we are part of the Keats Festival 2014, and will be joined by writer Anna Selby; free 20 minute performances at 1.30, 3 and 4.30pm; workshops for 6-11 year olds at 2 and 3.30pm (tickets £2); twilight performances with readings from Anna (tickets £8) at 7pm; more information here

8th June: Brooklands Museum 
we are delivering Dancing in Museums workshops on-site at Brooklands Museum as part of 6plus2artcollective's Re-store Project; workshop 10-4pm (suitable for 7-11 year olds), leading to a performance in the Wellington Hangar; tickets £5; more information here
30th June: Crich Tramway Village
we'll be working with local primary school children at Crich Tramway Village in Derbyshire
7th July: Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery
we’ll be working on-site at Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery preparing for our work with local schools on the 8th and 9th July (with South East Dance; part of Kent Dancing); final details tbc
12th July: Beaney Art Museum and Library
after 2 days in Canterbury schools we’ll be at the Beaney Art Museum and Library (with South East Dance; part of Kent Dancing); final details tbc
13th July: Horniman Museum 
we'll be at the Horniman Museum in London; final details tbc
27th July: Creswell Crags 
we'll be performing in the Robin Hood Cave at Creswell Crags in Derbyshire; final details tbc

Associated with our extract performances of The Imagination Museum at Creswell Crags, we are also excited about potential to develop a new cave-specific dance piece, and have begun researching possible ways to make this happen in the future. Let us know if there's a cave site near you that could be a wonderful place for us to perform!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Making work for a younger audience

Photo by Chris Nash
Following on from the observations I made whilst shadowing Enrique Cabrera from Aracaladanza and Full House Theatre Company early in 2013, I have had the opportunity (with support from a Surrey Dance Collective mentoring bursary) to work with choreographic mentor Niki McCretton during the development of my Dancing in Museums project in order to further understand what it means to make work for younger audiences. Niki is a specialist in creating performances for children and families and Artistic Director of Stuff and Nonsense Theatre Company. She helped me to consider:

•    ways to draw the audience in, and particularly preparing them for seeing something which they had maybe not seen before
•    how to work with the audience as co-collaborators, asking them to help with tasks the characters needed to complete
•    the significance of non-verbal communication: sometimes taking the description/text away, but then dropping it back in where necessary (e.g. in the sound score)
•    the importance of not offering any final answers about what the artefacts could be, or how they could be interpreted, but rather offering possibilities about what they might be
•    which pieces of historical information it might be important to include in The Imagination Museum
•    how to convey the passage of time in a way that a younger audience could relate to
•    how important the overall structure and transitions between sections would be to the audience (compared to how important they seemed to be to me)
•    the importance of presenting The Imagination Museum in a way that the children would potentially not have come across before in formal education, emphasising its playfulness and physicality

Photo by Chris Nash
Details of the full creative team for The Imagination Museum are available on my website here:, and I am indebted to all of these brilliant people for their hard work and enthusiasm. I’m looking forward to where we take the Dancing in Museums project next: keep updated by liking our page on Facebook, following us on Twitter (@madebyKG), visiting the museums page on our website and reading the posts on our blog labelled ‘Dancing in Museums’.

What have I learnt during the making of The Imagination Museum?

Photo by Chris Nash
The biggest challenge for the making of The Imagination Museum was that I could not cover every possible kind of museum artefact in one piece, so had to make some decisions about which artefacts to explore in more depth for our initial repertoire of museum objects. Our R&D with primary school children helped me to make these choices, but it seemed that we would need to also explore some overarching themes/questions that museum and heritage sites both raise and address in order to create a work that would contain something for everyone and be adaptable to a range of contexts.

Our designer James Perkins came up with a way of looking at each of our initial repertoire of museum artefacts from three interconnected perspectives: evolutionary, mechanical/technological and decorative/imaginative. We thought that if we could somehow cover each of these perspectives, or were at least informed by all of them in the making of the work, we could create a piece that would cross over into different ideas, contexts and opinions.

In addition there were several key concerns that informed the work:
•    I wanted the work to talk about how people try to make sense of the world around them and how objects can help us to do that (the act of interpretation, or piecing something together from fragmentary clues)
•    I became fascinated by the information objects could give us about the development of the modern human mind, particularly the earliest man-made objects (e.g. the stone tool and first works of art)
•    I wanted to give a sense of the sheer scale of time involved in the history of the world
•    In The Imagination Museum the overall structure of the work is cyclical and returns to the ‘tour-guide’ world where characters Mildred, Henry and Harriet live after almost every artefact-story (with some exceptions to ensure that the rhythm keeps shifting and does not fall into an expected pattern). It is part of my choreographic signature to use this kind of reiterating structure, but in this particular work I have chosen to use it as a reflection of the idea that nothing can be certain in the world except change. The dancers talk about this in the ‘future’ section of the work:

“Mildred: Do things have to end?
Henry: No, they don’t have to end...
Harriet: they just keep changing!”

Working with a writer

I have thoroughly enjoyed working with writer Anna Selby for the first time during this project, and integrating text into The Imagination Museum. The written element of the work has drawn on a broad range of feelings or sensations which have in turn become rich source material for the movement in the piece: as Anna describes, she has tried to incorporate awe/wonder, humour, something scary, something gory, something beautiful, and something sad/poignant.

Photo by Chris Nash
I have learnt about many possibilities for choreographing text alongside movement during the making of The Imagination Museum e.g. speaking or manipulating the sounds of the words whilst moving, mouthing or whispering to confide in the audience, singing, speaking as a group or individually, writing down notes, integrating words into the sound score (in collaboration with composer Max Perryment), using voice as a way of conveying character (we have also worked with particular props to develop characterisation), reciting and improvising. Throughout the rehearsal, Anna has written many fragments of text, developing and editing where appropriate, and the dancers have also been heavily involved in writing and re-writing. Anna’s openness to this collaborative way of working is invaluable, as it enables us to devise text in the same way/at the same time as we devise movement, and therefore the text and movement come together more coherently.

In the case of The Imagination Museum, the integration of text also enables us to draw our audience in to the work, as the characters can address them directly, encourage them to interact or answer back, and, where appropriate, signal to them what they are trying to depict with their movement. This does not mean that the movement or the text have to be literal and it is useful to leave room for ambiguity to allow for the audience’s interpretation of what is happening. However, even a single word or fragment can help to link a movement to its source material, and this may be just enough to give an audience member, particularly someone who is not familiar with dance, confidence about their own way of seeing the work.

What is The Imagination Museum about?

As we go into re-rehearsal of The Imagination Museum for our forthcoming performances at Dance Woking (3rd April, 1pm schools matinee; 6.30pm evening performance) and Northampton Museum & Art Gallery (9th April; 11am, 1.30, 2.30pm), I’m looking over rehearsal/performance footage and old notes, and thought I’d share some more updated information about what the piece has grown into since we started researching it in March 2013. I’m going to put this into several blog posts, as there’s quite a lot of information to share!

What is The Imagination Museum about?

Photo by Chris Nash
Our wonderful writer-collaborator Anna Selby wrote a series of poems and fragments in response to a range of different museum artefacts including a fossil, an Ice Age engraving, a stone tool, Roman armour and an excavated skull. This selection of artefacts was informed by our R&D with members of our target audience. Some of Anna’s writing also speculates about hypothetical future artefacts, which enables the audience to think about what might happen next, what we are at risk of losing, and what will change.

I then worked with the dancers to bring these written pieces to life through solo, duet and trio activity. Additionally, each of the dancers has created an eccentric ‘tour-guide’ character for the transitions between the artefact-stories. These tour-guides are called Mildred (who is in charge), Henry (who likes to cause trouble) and Harriet (who likes to go off into her own world), and they keep the audience entertained with a lot of to-ing, fro-ing, measuring and questioning.

The piece is highly interactive, integrating set choreographic elements as well as improvised sections that are developed in response to the audience. It has been designed so that it can be performed as a complete piece or in extract form, as appropriate to each performance context. So, for example, in a theatre the piece begins with a 10 minute ‘pre-set’ as the audience are entering the auditorium, and then runs for 50 minutes. We can also perform extracts from this full piece as a promenade throughout a museum, and we can introduce new elements as well in response to the input of children local to the museum/heritage site and/or to the particular collection/focus of each museum.

What have people said about the work so far?

Photo by Chris Nash
We’ve been fortunate to receive lots of great feedback on the work from our first young audiences and their teachers/families, which indicates that the children like The Imagination Museum’s physicality, interactivity and the way that it is entertaining but also atmospheric, and gives a little bit of historical information as well. For example:

“It was action packed...Bouncy”
“I liked it when we had to throw the boxes down to Henry and when they put the big box on their head”
“I really liked it when they came into the audience and asked us things”
“It made us think”
“I learnt about fossils and facts I didn’t know”
“I learnt some new history in a fun way!”
“I’d like to see the future, no one really knows what will happen in the future so I’d like to see what other people think will happen”
“Funny, brilliant, gobsmacking”

Kate Thomas: internship with Made By Katie Green, August - December 2013

My three month internship has involved me working alongside Katie and her company, Made By Katie Green, during the rehearsal process, initial performances and associated workshops of her Dancing in Museums project. I primarily applied for the internship because I was passionate about broadening my knowledge and experience of the professional industry that I aspire to work in.

The 5 week intensive rehearsal period was a chance for me to completely immerse myself in Katie’s creative process. I was asked to research different historical information based around the museum artefacts identified. I also took rehearsal notes, photos, interviewed the dancers for the company blog as well as completing various administrative tasks for Katie. Being in rehearsals was important to gain a solid context for the project: I had an insight into Katie’s vision so far and then watched that come to life.

Throughout these rehearsals I got a chance to work closely with the company dancers. My knowledge of being self-employed was limited, so this time gave me a chance to ask lots of questions and gain a real understanding into how they organise their work, as well as all the technical things, such as self assessment for tax and national insurance.

Seeing Katie’s organisation, hard work and passion for the project was inspiring. Her choreographic style encouraged the dancers’ input and creativity. It was interesting to see how the dancers responded to set tasks and how Katie honed their ideas and material. Katie had numerous other strands that ran alongside the creative studio work. She had to be in regular communication with the costume designer, composer, writer, lighting designer and organising marketing throughout, making sure that all aspects of the project were running smoothly. This really gave me an understanding of the time, dedication and motivation that is needed when running your own company.

As part of my internship I spent a day with Morton Bates Arts Services who offer consultancy and areas of management to Made By Katie Green. This time gave me a clear insight into how companies such as Katie’s are supported. I had the chance to observe another artist’s consultancy meeting which helped me to contextualise the role of Morton Bates Arts Services even further. I found this work experience inspiring and I was excited by the work that Joe Bates and Claire Morton do. It gave me a chance to meet someone who is at the top of their field in an area that I aim to work in, and to ask them questions.

As part of my time with Katie, I accompanied her to different events that she goes to as a dance artist. I had the invaluable opportunity to meet a number of professional people working in the industry. I had the chance to network and introduce/conduct myself as a professional, discussing my internship and my future aspirations. This led to getting some fantastic advice about my next steps as well as discussing and learning about other people’s careers and projects. I was also told about job vacancies that I might be interested in.

In conclusion, this internship has given me a chance to get invaluable experience for my future career. It has undoubtedly equipped me with skills and knowledge that I will take forward.

Since completing the internship, I have successfully been appointed as an Arts Engagement Worker of the Transported project based in Boston and South Holland ( Without a doubt, my experience gained over the course of the internship contributed to this appointment.

I would like to thank Katie for giving me this opportunity and for generously sharing her knowledge and time and the University of Lincoln for supporting the internship.
Picture from the website.