Beyond The Waves: Reflections on a Process | Signature Blog

Tom Goodwin reflects on his role supporting Chris Pavia in his latest independent choreographic project…

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Chris Pavia is a long-standing member of Stopgap Dance Company and is now stepping out as an independent choreographer with mentoring support from Stopgap, as part of Stopgap’s aim to nurture and empower diverse artists. 

Beyond The Waves is a series of three solos choreographed by Chris in collaboration with and danced by Abbie Thompson, Nadenh Poan and Christian Brinklow, with Finlay James understudying Christian’s role. Music is composed by Andy Higgs, costumes by Lucy Bennett and Chloe Mead.

The work was commissioned by Watts Gallery, with production support from Stopgap Dance Company and filmed at the gallery by film maker Ros Chesher in May 2021. The solos were originally meant to be performed live but due to the pandemic, making a film that could be shared and toured without restrictions seemed to be the best alternative option.

Although Chris had begun thinking about this project quite some time before, we started the creative process and rehearsals in September 2020, intermittently rehearsing both live and online. This was a new way of working for all of us.

Image Description: Chris sits crossed legged on grey concrete floor, he peers down as he flicks through an A4 notebook. Chris is a white man in his 30’s with short brown hair, he wears a striped blue long sleeve polo top with black trousers and shoes. He sits against a wall with grey panels and a light brown wooden skirting board.

My role was a mix of rehearsal director, choreographic coach and outside eye. I coordinated with project producer Callum Graham to organise how to continue with the project in an ever-changing landscape of guidelines and protocols to ensure all project members felt safe and prepared.

Chris is a learning-disabled choreographer. Callum and my job was to collaborate with and support Chris to help make the project happen.

As non-disabled project partners to Chris, Callum and I regularly checked in with each other to talk about our roles and about what Chris and the project needed. I really appreciated this opportunity to bounce ideas off each other and with Chris to see how he wanted to proceed with different aspects of the project: rehearsals, costume, filming etc. Of course - as so many creative projects are - it was a collaborative project. That did mean that sometimes we took more time to meet and decide together on the direction of the project to make sure it would be as successful as possible both artistically and practically. It was only about half-way through that I realised we were working to our strengths in each of our roles and it felt good to work that way.

Image Description: Chris stares up at a tall textured stone statue of a big crouching animal. He studies it, hand under chin. He wears a blue facemask.

Chris is ambitious and hard working. He is eternally creative - sometimes I wonder where all this creative energy comes from! He has strong ideas, visions and a clear sense of what he wants to see aesthetically. Callum and my job was to create a container for that as well as take care of how this translated into dancers’ bodies, rehearsal schedules, meeting deadlines, and filming logistics.

In this process, I wanted to give plenty of time and make sure we didn’t rush. This was the first time that I had worked in a role like this - a supporting role to an artist with a disability. I didn’t want to push through and miss opportunities for Chris to express his ideas and vision in detailed and nuanced ways. I learnt so much on this project!

Chris immerses himself in his process. He often uses film as a starting point and he has found a way to turn that into dance. In conversation, he can draw on a million film references.

In creating, he writes, he gets up and moves, he writes again. It’s impressive to watch.

I asked Chris how dance and his ideas work together: He will often watch moments from his favourite films on YouTube. When he sees something that excites him - usually a moment of action that he feels in his body: elemental qualities, powerful movements, spiralling and transformation. And it’s this feeling of the physicality which goes into his choreography. It seems it’s neither abstract nor narrative, but more poetic - a collection of movement moments removed from their context and intuitively placed together. And how that happens?… he says,”You know when something is right when it feels right”.

Image Description: From behind, Chris looks sideways, smiling. He wears another striped, blue polo shirt. The light wooden flooring of a studio in the background.

How we worked online

Chris and I would meet on Zoom to plan sessions. There were times when Chris was unable to come into the studio for rehearsals due to shielding, so he would join us for shorter sessions at different times throughout the day - again on Zoom. I know that Zoom is not for everyone - it can be challenging to set up a meeting, it involves codes and links, and making sure everyone knows how and when to meet. Getting on a train to go to a physical studio will always be simpler for many people So this was a challenging time for Chris.

Chris is social to the core and I see how much he enjoys the physical company of others. Working online is not a long term solution. 

I know it wasn’t easy but I was impressed with how Chris carried on - he has a unique pace of working that includes patience and non-rushing. That doesn’t mean he’s not demanding - part of my job was to make sure the dancers had enough time to rest, process and rehearse the amount of material Chris is capable of generating!

Image Description: A collection of black and white photos from the studio. In each, Tom a white standing dancer, holds up an iPad or looks into a laptop, where Chris online on Zoom choreographs and observes the studio and dancers from his living room at home.

Dance making in the studio

Chris makes phrases of movement material based on his notes, inspiration and themes he’s interested in. The dancers learn that material and translate it to suit their own bodies. Then they might create a new version of that material taking inspiration from the original phrase and how Chris speaks about his ideas. This process is repeated until we have plenty of movement material. From there - there is quite an organic and collaborative process of bringing different sequences together into groups of phrases and eventually the emerging of a unique solo for each individual dancer. Chris makes changes and developments. Although this process could last forever, another part of my role is to try to keep us to a deadline!

I think Chris could keep on working on movement sequences forever. We eventually found a strategy for this: ‘a notebook for future dances’ - a place where Chris can continue to develop his ideas for projects in the future. I suppose what an audience would see when they watch Chris’ work is a snapshot of an ever-evolving dance - a moment in the life of a living choreography. I find that quite a beautiful and challenging thought as it reflects a truth - nothing is ever completely finished - there is always more to come. And what’s brilliant is that Chris is not fazed by that. It’s inspiring.

Image Description: The team at Watts Gallery, in a large gallery space with dark blue walls and paintings hanging in elaborate golden frames. From left to right, Roz films and Callum photographs Christian as he dances in the background, Chris and Tom sit together on the floor in discussion.

Where are we now?

We had a week in May of rehearsing and filming in the Watts Gallery. This is another collaborative part of the project - working with film maker Ros Chesher and commissioners Watts Gallery to make a film on site amongst a collection of very precious art works. It was a detailed process of making sure people, place and work were all taken care of.

Over that week, Chris, Callum, the dancers and I worked with Ros to support her process of capturing the solos on film. It was a very full week and a good one too - for the first time in a long time we were all present. And I know how much Chris appreciated that.

The editing process is now underway and we’re all really excited to see what Ros has made.

In the meantime, Chris is already thinking about future works - and busy drawing together film references, photos, stories and locations. And of course we’re all trying our very best to keep up with him!

- Tom Goodwin


Stay tuned to our social media and Watts Gallery - Artist Village as they announce the next stage of showcasing Chris' work.


Images: Callum Graham, Ellen Love and Lily Norton.

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