Monday, 25 January 2016

Made By YOU commission 2016 - at the Discovery Museum

Following a long gap since our last Made By YOU project with young choreographer Alexa Mason in 2011 (see what Alexa's up to now), we're thrilled to announce we are offering another opportunity for a talented young choreographer to create work that will be presented alongside a forthcoming performance of The Imagination Museum.

Katie Green and Alexa Mason working at Deda in 2011
Katie will be mentoring young choreographer Megan Otty, currently studying at Dance City in Newcastle (see the work Megan Otty produced as part of  Youth Dance England's Young Creatives 2015 here) to create her own response to the artefacts on display at the Discovery Museum.

Her response will then be integrated within Katie's professional work The Imagination Museum for schools performances at the museum on the 20th May and public performances on the 21st May. This collaboration is part of Katie's research into new ways to work with dance into museums and to involve young people as part of that work.

More updates to follow! The Dancing in Museums project is supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Made By Katie Green Audition

Made By Katie Green are looking for 1 male and 1 female contemporary dancer to understudy two roles from our touring production The Imagination Museum, and to contribute to research and development for a new production made for caves and underground spaces.

Created in collaboration with writer Anna Selby and composer Max Perryment, The Imagination Museum is a site-specific promenade piece performed in museums and heritage sites and designed for an audience of children and families. Please watch our trailer for a sense of what The Imagination Museum entails: here or here.

We are looking to understudy the characters of Mildred (created by Jessamin Landamore-Coyne) and Henry (created by Robert Guy). The piece is adapted differently to every new museum context, so dancers will learn a range of movement repertoire and then appropriate material is selected (or new material created) for each site.

The Imagination Museum at the Beaney Museum; Dancers L-R Robert Guy, Lucy Starkey, Jessamin Landamore-Coyne; Photo by Pari Naderi
For more information about our new Dancing in Caves project, please visit our company blog here. We expect that our initial research for this piece will take place in the autumn (September/October 2016) with further development taking place in 2017.

We are seeking dancers who can be part of the Made by Katie Green team across these two different productions.

Ideal candidates will:
  • have strong devising skills and an interest in creating work for non-theatre contexts
  • be quick at picking up movement and adapting movement to different spaces; sometimes the structure of The Imagination Museum changes several times during a performance day in response to the audience, so you must be ready for this challenge
  • be experienced in contact work
  • be comfortable working with text
  • be engaging performers, with the capacity to engage younger audiences and to develop a rapport with all audience members 
  • be organised, friendly and work well with current company members
Key Dates:
  • First audition (by invitation only): 13th March 2016 in London
  • Recall audition: 20th March 2016 in London
  • Rehearsal week: 28th March – 1st April 2016 in Surrey 
  • The Imagination Museum performances, Discovery Museum in Newcastle: 17th – 21st May 2016
Further information on subsequent dates to be provided at the audition (it is anticipated you may be required 1 weekend in June (24th-25th tbc), for up to 6 performances in late July and August (26th-27th July; 2nd-5th, 8th-11th and 17th-18th August), and for 2-3 performances in October (including 21st-22nd October)).

These are paid positions (ITC / Equity rates).

To apply:
Please email to katie@madebykatiegreen.co.uk:
  • your CV (2 pages max; pdf format preferred) 
  • an online link to performance footage
  • a brief expression of your interest in and suitability for this opportunity (if you do not include a statement of interest, either in your main email or as an attachment, your application will be deleted)
Deadline: Sunday 21st February at 5pm
Successful applicants will be notified via email by the 6th March. We regret that we will not be able to contact unsuccessful applicants.

The Dancing in Museums project is supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Dancing in Caves: updated thoughts January 2016

Over the past months, I have been undertaking more research into my Dancing in Caves project and the creation of my new promenade performance piece for caves and underground spaces with the working title Beneath Our Feet. This has helped me to identify some key themes I’m interested in exploring for this work and aims for what I would like to achieve. I hope this will prepare me for starting to talk to members of my steering group in 2016 (including an archaeologist, geologist, cavers and a former quarryman), and collecting their thoughts and stories to use as source material for the piece.

Photo Jo Forrest; photo taken in the Robin Hood Cave at Creswell Crags
In no particular order, here are some of the aims and themes I’ve identified so far:

Aims for the piece 

To create an extraordinary experience for the audience. I want the movement, the characters, the stories we integrate to be intriguing.

For the work to feel part of/reflect the atmosphere naturally occurring in the cave/underground space but also to contribute to enhancing that atmosphere; I have in mind that this will be a work about different sensations, from wonder/awe to fear and confusion.

I also want the work to feel universal, because it will explore a very fundamental, elemental activity of returning to the earth, connecting back to our earliest ancestors who visited caves, whether that was for similar or very different reasons to us. I would like the work to feel like a new kind of old dance, integrating live music and story-telling with movement to create something imagining the ritual dances that might have happened in caves in the past (“Two hundred heel marks preserved in the soft floor 20m from the carefully staged setting of the modelled clay bison in Le Tuc d’Audoubert suggest some sort of dance took place in the cave” (Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind; Jill Cook, p.25) and in keeping with the Oral tradition. At the moment I imagine the work to be more like a danced poem than a prose story.

To embody/re-imagine a range of stories about things that have happened in or been associated with caves and underground spaces. I’m particularly interested in stories connected with human experience that are inherently dramatic and explore the themes described below.

To integrate movement, text, music and torchlight.

For the work to feel like a journey back in time.

To embody the activities involved in creating the caves or underground spaces; the activity of carving a landscape out of the earth

To leave space within the work for the audience to experience the environment themselves and be able to make choices about how they encounter/engage with the performance and the performers.

Photo Jo Forrest; photo taken in the Robin Hood Cave at Creswell Crags

Key themes/ideas/questions

I have already spoken to several people who have done some caving about what it is that draws them to underground exploration, and there are some recurring themes that really tie in with what I’ve been thinking about. People talk about:
being somewhere where so few people have been
the length of time that something has been untouched, unseen before they discover it
a ritual or spiritual experience
the sense of risk or danger when negotiating the difficult underground environment
the feeling that this experience is different to everything else
the sense of time-travelling

Photo Jo Forrest; photo taken in the Robin Hood Cave at Creswell Crags
I would like to explore/respond to/embody:

the act of discovery – entering into an unmapped, unknown, remote, mysterious, hidden world, in which it can be tantalising to think about what could still be discovered; I would like the audience to feel that they are undertaking an act of discovery for themselves when participating in/experiencing Beneath Our Feet

"No human being has gone into these depths before us, no one knows where we are going or what we are seeing, nothing so strangely beautiful has ever before been presented to us, spontaneously we all ask ourselves the same reciprocal question: Are we not dreaming?" (Edouard-Alfred Martel)

connected to this, the act of concealing; a conspiracy perhaps

a ritual or spiritual experience – going underground to celebrate, commemorate, ask for luck, give thanks for example; or entering into another world, an underworld

going underground to find sanctuary

and on the other hand, risk-taking or danger – claustrophobia; the darkness like an enemy; or in mining, the dust you can’t see being dangerous, and the constant threat of mine collapse for example

time travel or something about the passage of time, or being ‘out of time’ or ‘without time’ when underground; connecting back to something more fundamental, with the earth, with the past

“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 these paintings no longer existed. It seemed as if they had just created these masterpieces. Suddenly we felt like intruders. Deeply impressed, we were weighted down by the feeling that we were not alone; the artists’ souls and spirits surrounded us. We thought we could feel their presence; we were disturbing them” (The Mind in the Cave; David Lewis-Williams; p.17)

mining, quarrying, excavation and also the natural activities that create the space e.g. through glacial movement or water

My initial research and development for the Dancing in Caves project will be supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and South East Dance in partnership with Jerwood Charitable Foundation.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Notes from Irish Museums Association 'Creative Museum' Event - 23rd October 2015

I was very pleased to be invited by the Irish Museums Association (IMA) to present my work on the Dancing in Museums project at their 'Creative Museum' Event in Belfast on the 23rd October 2015.

I took a few notes during the day which I've tidied up a bit and am sharing here as part of my ongoing research around ways of using dance in museum contexts:


Brian Crowley (Chair, IMA and Curator, Pearse Museum) introduced the conference by talking about how museums might approach opportunities to work in partnerships with artists. Brian encouraged museum representatives to say yes, to try different things, to try things that they had never tried before.

Dr Victoria Durrer (Lecturer, School of Creative Arts, Queen's University Belfast) talked about the
Risk
Trust
Negotiation
Challenges
Surprises
of artists and museums working together

Dr Emily Mark Fitzgerald (Lecturer, School of Art History and Public Policy, Queen's University Belfast) described the way in which museum/artist collaborations might:
expand creative practice
cultivate new engagements with artefacts and historical institutions
transform the way in which collections are seen

She talked about the way in which engagement of audiences and visitor participation became central in museums in the 1980s and 1990s instead of a marginal concern. She described the way in which collaboration between artists and museums could produce powerful “disruptions” in museum spaces (but in a constructive way), new forms of attention and new forms of public experience.

Professor Pedro Rebelo (a sound artist and composer; Director of Research, School of Creative Arts and Sonic Research Centre, Queen's University Belfast) introduced his Som da Maré project. He particularly highlighted the participatory strategies at the core of his project and the importance of not thinking of the artist as the centre of the project. He talked about the long term commitment of the artist to build a relationship with the audience over time; he also described “horizontal [management] structures” – so everyone participates in his work at an equal level, the participants are also the owners of the work. This corresponded with the equality within the organisational structures of the museums in which Pedro was working (in Rio de Janeiro).

I was interested in hear about
an activity in which Pedro encouraged participants to write or draw on the ground in response to the sounds they could hear in the space around them as a way of annotating what was happening
the role the museum had to play in incentivising young people (aged 17/18) to carry on in education/their learning
the way in which Pedro’s project with the museum reached out into the ‘city’ through guided walk sound work, as well as working within the favelas in Maré – bridging communities. The concept of the museum that Pedro described was a museum without walls, extending out into the community rather than situated within one specific building.

Nigel Monaghan (Keeper, National Museum of Ireland, Natural History Division) introduced a great variety of artists (some of whom had engaged with museum staff, some who had not) who had responded to the Natural History collection at the National Museum of Ireland. The artists included:
Conor Walton
Paul Gregg 
Ciaran Murphy 
Eva Walsh
Karl Grimes

Nigel also talked about the fact that the museum was full of ‘artworks’ – artefacts that were constructed and replicated; taxidermy as an example of craftsmanship. He reminded me of the Blaschka studio: Leopold Blaschka and his son Rudolf produced beautiful glass casts of underwater creatures; visualisations of creatures that couldn't be photographed and shared in the time the Blaschkas were working.

Dr Hugh Maguire (Director, The Hunt Museum) put forward an alternative perspective in which The Hunt Museum (which he wanted to be seen as a ‘permeable’ space) was in fact so busy engaging with artists that he had to ensure that the core collection wasn’t getting neglected. In the later Q&A session, he also talked about visitors becoming 'blind to the collections', because they were so busy 'engaging with the space in a different way' e.g. participating in a workshop or visiting the café. However, he suggested, if even a few 'cross over' from one 'world' to another, could that be considered to be a success?

He talked about negotiating the needs and expectations of artists with expectations of “traditional visitors”. He wanted the space to be permeable, but he was now in a position where he wanted to put mechanisms in place for selecting the artist responses to be presented within the museum, rather than sharing everything from everyone.

I thought Hugh gave a valuable reminder that projects that are solely artist-led could become as “arcane” or “exclusive” as the more traditional museum collections the artists were seeking to interpret in a different way because they thought they were similarly arcane. He also talked about the responsibility the museum had for explaining to their visitors how the artist responses were relevant to them, which actually I think is a shared responsibility with the artists, and is one of the things I love about the ‘Dancing in Museums’ project: I find that audience members are more likely to come up to me and talk about the work in a museum than they would in a more conventional theatre performance context. As Kate Coyne described at the PDSW/Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives event, the presence of the dancing body seems to make people feel that they have licence to see and interact with the space and with the dancers in a new way.

After lunch, Michelle Browne described her work with Dublin Castle (These Immovable Walls: Performing Power at Dublin Castle) and Louise Lowe (ANU Productions) and Lar Joye talked about the remarkable PALS project – both were really compelling case studies for artists working collaboratively with museums.

Michelle described her work curating a group of performance artists who responded to the Dublin Castle site. She talked about opportunities for participants to be allowed to hang their portrait in the building, to run along the hall, to sit in the formal chairs, to wear slippers. She also talked at length about the process of negotiation with the collaborating heritage site being an interesting part of the artistic process, and the potential challenge of the “unknown” – where she couldn’t necessarily describe to the people with whom she was working what the artists might do, because their work was unpredictable.

Michelle talked about Dublin Castle’s ‘shifting’ history, with (surprisingly) no definitive version of certain historical events that were supposed to have happened there (e.g. Margaret Thatcher’s visit) and the process of uncovering lost histories - things that happened, but with no plaques to indicate them.

Louise Lowe talked about the relationship they wanted to set up with their audiences in their PALS project. She facilitated opportunities for the audience to participate or observe (without dictating to them what they had to do) in order to encourage them to think about how they would have responded to things her characters were facing. The work wasn’t just about giving a historical account, it was also about emotional engagement:

“We are not interested in simply reenacting or recreating events that we think may have happened in the past, but with a desire to reimagine and remake everything that was radical and alive about the past in the present.”

ANU Productions were in residence for 17 weeks at the National Museum of Ireland, Colllins Barracks when they were creating the PALS project, and they continue to work on-site, using the North Barracks as studios. Louise described that lots of people from the heritage world came into rehearsals to contribute to how the work was made, and the project needed a much more hands-on experience from the partner museum, it wasn't just a case of them saying ‘yes’.

Louise also said that the PALS project engaged audiences in an unprecedented way, and the company had an unsolicited response in terms of people sending their photos of the performance via social media for example.


Margaret Henry (CEO of Audiences NI) gave a valuable insight into museum audiences in Northern Ireland at the end of the day.

She described that a lot of the reasons around people not attending museums were because of perception, and museums perhaps not ‘singing loudly enough about what they were doing’.

She gave some pointers to consider when collecting information from audiences:

  • be clear about what exactly you need to know and why
  • check what already exists
  • identify who owns the process for your museums
  • road-test and practice with IT
  • motivation and engagement - share results, regular contact, DIY (collect information yourself so that you understand the practicalities and issues around it and can motivate the rest of the team who may be involved in collecting audience data), deal with issues promptly
  • momentum is vital
  • internal and external benefits

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Thoughts from Dance and Museums discussion event (M Shed, Bristol, 15th September 2015)

Yesterday I had the pleasure of being invited by Pavilion Dance South West and Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives to speak about the Dancing in Museums project so far and some of my plans for the future.

I came away really excited by the discussions I'd had and the other work that had been presented during the day. There is so much potential to continue exploring possibilities for dance work in museums, and I am very happy to be part of this conversation.

I wanted to just note down a few of the key things that struck me during yesterday's discussion. These are very early, unedited thoughts, something to refer back to in the future:
  • Deryck Newland, Artistic Director of Pavilion Dance South West, started off the day by talking about the importance of dance organisations and museums having a "shared purpose" for their work in collaboration, rather than coming together because of a "funding imperative". The work that Trinity Laban and the Horniman Museum have done together is exemplary in showing what can be achieved through a longer term relationship with very clear shared goals. Emma MacFarland's report describing some of that work and the 'Dance & Museums Working Together' symposium that took place in November 2014 is here
  • John Orna-Ornstein, Museums Director for Arts Council England, spoke about three significant things that can happen in museums: he spoke about the possibilities for tackling difficult subjects, for remembering, as well as opportunities for discovery and learning new things
Photo Pari Naderi, courtesy of South East Dance; dancer Jessamin Landamore-Coyne
  • John also referred to the need for sufficient time to develop partnerships between choreographers/dancers and museums fully, which came up at several points during the day, including when questioning how to avoid tokenism with dance work in museums
  • Following on from this, I want to know more about the possibilities for having dancers-in-residence in museums, and longer programmes of collaboration, even dancers on the staff teams at museums, which would help to build trust as well as influencing the quality and integrity of any choreographic outcomes.
Photo Benedict Johnson, courtesy of the British Museum
  • In break out discussions we talked about the potential for using museum handling collections in new ways, perhaps integrating objects within performance, certainly using them as a starting point for creative workshops (which I also mentioned in my writing for the British Museum), and arts organisations hosting museum objects, as Trinity Laban did during 2014 as part of the Horniman Museum's Object in Focus programme
Image from early research for the Dancing in Museums project (March 2013)
  • Judith Robinson from Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery and June Gamble from Plymouth Dance spoke about their work together and a forthcoming commission that will combine a live solo and a film - this made me wonder about the possibilities for dance entering the permanent collection of a museum in the way in which, for example, the work of artist Claire Twomey is now part of the permanent collection in Plymouth City Museum?
  • Kate Coyne talked about the new Siobhan Davies Dance Company Dancing Museums project, and I was interested to hear that the project would not necessarily have a dance performance outcome, and was expected to culminate in a series of participatory activities rather than performances. Again I was reminded about the importance of taking time and the necessity of challenging what dance in museums could look like. Kate talked about it being easier, when working intensively over short periods of time, to do something that felt comfortable and safe when working in a new museum context, rather than doing something completely different. Now that I have built up a wealth of experience of working in museums through the Dancing in Museums project so far, could I return to some of the museums with which I have established a relationship in order to explore some shared questions in new ways? Which museums, what questions and what new ways?
  • Kate also quoted dance artist Lucy Suggate, who said "It no longer feels appropriate to hold the audience hostage in a black box" - at least I think from memory that the quote referred to the 'audience', but I actually wrote 'dancer' in my notes, and think that it could be equally relevant. It is increasingly possible to encounter dance in an unexpected way in a range of places outside the theatre, with "dance [entering] the museums and exhibitions spaces more and more" (Katja Vaghi). In the same way that dance is moving out of theatres, museums are also changing:"Museums are no longer places where objects are simply displayed in cases alongside factual information for visitors / audiences to see and read. Museums are increasingly focussed on 'bringing objects to life', helping visitors to interpret and understand their wider context and significance. Dance can provide an interpretation of objects which is kinaesthetic, engages the audience's emotions and imaginations and which addresses themes in a more abstract and tangential way" (Emma MacFarland, report on 'Dance and Museums Working Together Symposium')
  • As the previously clear-cut distinctions between dance and the more conventional places where dance happens, and museums and all the wonderful things they contain are increasingly broken down, hopefully there are more opportunities for exchange. Kate Coyne finished her presentation by talking about 'something about the presence of the moving body (in a museum or gallery context) that gives you licence to stop and look at things in a different way'. I was reminded of the contrast between the fluidity of movement and fixity of historical artefacts (particularly when they are contained within display cases). I was also reminded about how often audience members go back to the beginning of The Imagination Museum tour to look again at the artefacts to which we have responded, taking their own time. 
Photo Benedict Johnson, courtesy of the British Museum
  • Judith Robinson spoke about working with June Gamble and Plymouth Dance as one of the ways in which the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery could remain visible while the building itself is closed due to the development of the new Plymouth History Centre. This reminded me of the Curating Cambridge Festival which aims to move the act of curation beyond the walls of the Cambridge Museums themselves. I suspect there might be other projects and festivals such as this one...
  • Towards the end of the day we spoke about training opportunities for practitioners (I'm using this as a collective term to refer to people who work in heritage and/or dance backgrounds, but I could also use other words like facilitator, or maybe even curator? There was some discussion about the 'curator-as-artist' during the day.) to share methods and skills that could be useful when working with dance in museum contexts. However, we discussed that there couldn't be a 'one size fits all' methodology, as everyone would have their own variations, have different motivations for working with dance in museums, would want to work with different people and would therefore produce different outcomes. 
  • We also talked about the fact that the way in which a practitioner sets up a task is just as important as the task itself - so, if sharing the example tasks I give here (based on my experience of working on the British Museum Exploring Objects Sharing Cultures project) with other practitioners, it would be just as important to talk about the way in which I introduced the tasks as it would be to get into the practicalities of each activity. 
  • This discussion led on to me thinking that it would be helpful for people working in museums to observe dancers in the studio (particularly as a precursor to a collaboration) and vice versa - I would like to test out a kind of 'exchange programme' for museum practitioners to come into the studio and dancers to observe what happens behind the scenes in museums. Other people also spoke about this, and about the possibilities for minimising potential conflict, particularly with members of museum staff who might be wary about inviting choreographers and dancers into their spaces, by ensuring all parties were involved in the creative process from the earliest stages, therefore developing trust.

Finally, while I was putting together this blog post I came across the Manifesto for a Dancing Museum by Boris Charmatz, which is another very interesting read.


Sunday, 11 January 2015

Thoughts from 'Dance and museums working together' Symposium, hosted by Trinity Laban/the Horniman Museum

On the 27th November 2014 I attended Trinity Laban/the Horniman Museum's Symposium entitled: 'Dance and museums working together'. The full report from the Symposium by Emma McFarland is available online here, but I have also jotted down some of the notes I made during the day. I have not edited these notes, they are in no particular order, and they are necessarily partial as I was only able to attend some of the discussion sessions on the day.

Notes from ‘Dance and museums working together’ Symposium: Horniman Museum/Trinity Laban, 27th November 2014

Joyce Wilson (London Area Director for Arts Council England)
Importance of cross-sector working
Arts and culture are at the core of what it means to be human
Delving into the practices of different disciplines can bring new things to light
Now (facing more cuts to arts funding) is the time when we need to share resources
Joyce sign-posted the new Arts Council Create journal

Dr Bettina Zorn (Weltmuseum, Vienna)
in a museum, “the living part of the object is missing” and dance enables us to access or re-imagine that missing part
Dr Zorn spoke of collaboration with Impulstanz including a 2 week ‘Occupy the Museum’ workshop, and live performances/exhibitions, which were often durational
Dr Zorn talked about different people working in museums viewing dance performance work in different ways, asking:
- How do museum curators experience work?
- How do dancers experience work?
- How to people outside the museum and dance sectors experience work?
- What do different people take away from their experience?
She suggested that there is not always an easy dialogue between the different departments.
Dr Zorn spoke of the value of being able to use ‘lost objects’ as part of dance performance (objects that are not often on display), and of using empty spaces in museums
She also spoke about one project in which an established choreographer created a response to a particular museum artefact or collection, and then a group of young people were invited to create their own responses to the work of that choreographer, thereby creating a chain of interpretation and discussion.

Kate Coyne and Alison Proctor from Siobhan Davies Dance
Kate and Alison spoke about examples of the company’s work in which choreographers/visual artists have been invited to come together to respond to similar starting points
They also (like Dr Zorn) mentioned the value of opportunities to bring out artefacts which don’t get examined very often in galleries and museums
They discussed Siobhan Davies’ work Table of Contents as a ‘collection’ of movement pieces, like a gallery or museum collection, in which the human body is the artefact, and audiences are engaged in a conversation with that artefact
Kate and Alison described the value of durational work, enabling interaction with audiences over a period of time: in order for this to happen, the gallery/museum with whom the company are working have to be very open to the work happening, and this kind of collaboration requires the gallery/museum’s generosity in allowing a performance to exist in an exhibition space for a longer period
Sometimes there has to be a long introductory conversation before a collaboration between the company and a gallery begins, and often that takes place through the Events Programming Team rather than the Curatorial Team (although that is changing)
There are different things to consider when the suggestion to collaborate comes from a museum/comes from an artist, and the two parties have to hear and respect each other’s perspectives
Kate and Alison talked about trying to be clear with the audience about the way in which the dance work related to the work on display around it, and how much the artist needed to lead on this
In a gallery/museum there are opportunities for the audience/visitor to be close to the dance work, and there are lots of different perspectives from which they can watch
They spoke about Siobhan Davies’ collaboration with Clare Twomey, and the movement in Clare’s live visual art response: Is it madness. Is it beauty. 
Kate and Alison also spoke about:
- the element of surprise when working with dance in gallery (non-conventional performance) spaces
- the intervention can make people stay longer in the museum
- asking the audience to appreciate the body as a living artwork/artefact
- the care that Curators will take about having that body in the space, and concerns they may have about how to look after the body-as-artefact

Horniman Museum (Georgina Pope) /Trinity Laban (Veronica Jobbins), speaking about the Curious Tea Party Event that took place in July 2014 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgbXtylYGus; we’re featured in this video from 3.09 with extracts from The Imagination Museum)
The Horniman Museum/Trinity Laban will be publishing a full Symposium Report and also sharing their evaluation of the Curious Tea Party Event in due course
I was particularly interested to hear about how the project brought together youth panels from both the Horniman Museum and Trinity Laban to curate work (as part of their Arts Award work)
The event created connections between inside and outside spaces around the Horniman Museum and Gardens
The Horniman Museum sent some of their artefacts to Trinity Laban ahead of the Curious Tea Party event, and these inspired a range of off-shoot projects in different spaces
The success of the Curious Tea Party event relied on close partnership between the two venues at all levels of the organisation, and a clear mutual understanding of the ethos/aims of both organisations at all levels
Developing funding bids in partnership took much longer than it would have if the applications had been made individually, and needed a longer lead-in time than an individual application
Importantly, the two organisations monitored the outcomes for audience members e.g. asking whether they had attended the Horniman Museum before; asking for information about whether audiences would think about engaging with dance experiences again in the future (this information will be available when they share their full evaluation). This kind of evaluation is easier when given the opportunity to work collaboratively/share work/build audiences over time, rather than as part of a one-off performance experience.
The organisations worked together to co-commission artists
Artists responded primarily to the museum as a site-specific location, the museum as a stimulus for artistic work, or the museum artefacts as a stimulus for artistic work
The Horniman Museum/Trinity Laban didn’t want to differentiate between performance/participation, and integrated both throughout the Curious Tea Party event


Some thoughts from panel discussions later in the day:
There was much discussion about audience choice in relation to dance performance in museums, and ways to take this into consideration: we talked about the fact that when you feel physically closer to a performance as an audience member, you may feel like you are more ‘on show’ and may therefore also feel less likely to behave as you wish. We talked about acknowledging this in the rehearsal process, considering the audience’s potential ‘discomfort’ (although of course this won’t be the same for everyone, and audience members always have the choice to engage or not engage with something, no matter what the choreographic intention). How can we encourage audiences to do something different – i.e. not sitting down passively in front of a performance?
If there are challenges to bringing dance into museums, why are we increasingly working in this context?
- Museums are more interactive spaces, and allow a different way of engaging with the audience
- Working with dance in museums creates access to new audiences
- They also allow a new method of interpretation
- It is a human instinct to make sense of the world around us, and we can do this in museums
- Bringing dance into museums can be an entry point to talking more about difficult subjects (although again it was suggested that we have to be mindful about what the audience might be feeling, and have empathy)
- Work with dance in museums can have lasting impact on audience members
- Working with dance in museums is often about new things – breaking from the norm, thinking differently, working in a new way, offering alternatives, offering non-verbal responses to artefacts
How can we use the movement of visitors around a museum as a choreographic stimulus?
How can we use the increase in dancing in museums as an opportunity to analyse, critique the process of dance-making, an opportunity for dance to engage with its own history?
Are audiences getting used to seeing rather than experiencing dance work?
Is there an obligation on the part of the museum/heritage site to re-introduce movement into places where movement used to take place?
Martin Joyce from Icon Dance spoke about not advertising their performances at the British Museum in advance, and putting in place a social media campaign to encourage audience members to also engage with the performances through photographing/filming on their phones.
It is important to work with Front of House staff as a fantastic resource for learning more how audiences are engaging with dance work in museums.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

4. Practical tips for engaging young people with dance within a museum context

Work with handling collections: there was an excellent handling collection at the British Museum, and at most of the other museums with which I have worked to date (which include replicas and real items). These can sometimes be taken away from museums in Loan Boxes, often for a relatively small hire charge, so they can be used as inspiration for dance workshops in schools where those schools are not able to work on-site at their local museum for whatever reason.

Being able to handle items reintroduces the tactile into an environment that young people can often associate with not getting too close and not touching, and that’s why this handling activity can be so useful in setting the tone for a project aimed at engaging with museum collections in a new way.

Allow time for the young people to familiarise themselves with a particular gallery/series of galleries that will be the focus for the project: for the British Museum ‘Exploring Objects and Sharing Cultures’ project, we spent the full first day doing this, and again it set the tone for the project and excited the young people about what was possible in that space.

Photo Benedict Johnson, courtesy of the British Museum
Write things down and come back to them, especially if working over a longer period of time (or document in other ways e.g. film, photography, as long as you have obtained the necessary permission of course). It’s a useful resource to come back to as ideas develop, or to use when reflecting about the work at the end of the project. This documentation is even more effective if the young people are involved in it, or take charge of it altogether.

Photo Benedict Johnson, courtesy of the British Museum
Skills/information-sharing are important when setting up dance activities in museums, particularly when working with individuals that don’t have a great deal of movement experience. It is useful to have an alternative workshop space you can use to try things out away from the gallery. You can use this alternative space to be able to warm up thoroughly, and it’s a place where the young people can test things they aren’t confident about, where they won’t be watched by the members of the public passing through the galleries. It is also a place to talk about shared expectations for behaviour before moving into the gallery space, and to prepare the young people for what to expect when the general public is sharing the same space as them. I usually introduce an attention signal as well so that the young people know what to listen out for when they’re spread out around the space and I need to get their attention.

Photo Benedict Johnson, courtesy of the British Museum
I always emphasise what a privilege it is to have the opportunity to move in the museum space in a different way, but I have found that generally young people realise that anyway and are very respectful.

Work closely with museum staff to understand the potential challenges of a space e.g. times when tours might be happening, areas that are out of bounds, any display cases with particularly sensitive alarms

Photo Benedict Johnson, courtesy of the British Museum
Also, work closely with museum staff to understand the great benefits of working in a particular space, and create opportunities for them to share their knowledge of both challenges and benefits with the young people involved in a project, so the participants feel included and understand what happens behind the scenes at the museum.

As well as preparing the young people for how to behave when sharing the space with the general public, prepare the group leaders to be able to interact with the general public appropriately e.g. make sure there are enough members of staff/support staff for the number of participants; perhaps consider making flyers to hand out with information about the project

Most importantly, having outlined all of the potential challenges and mutual expectations for a project with a group of young people, find the most creative way of working in a space bearing in mind all of the limitations given, so they don’t feel like limitations, but opportunities.

Photo Benedict Johnson, courtesy of the British Museum