Artistic Director Lucy Bennett explains the process and ideas behind the creativity for Artificial Things. Where did it all begin?
The creative process for me is always initiated by one striking image and although it sounds pretentious, these images often appear in dreams and in the moment before I am fully awake. The first image for Artificial Things however, did not appear in a dream, but I was only half awake.
I was walking to the Station early one Sunday to teach at Laban. Snow had fallen in the night and I was the first person to tread on the pathway. The sound of my footsteps crushing the snow, the cleanliness of the urban landscape covered in white conjured an image of Laura, perched on her collapsed wheel chair adrift in the snow. I then began to think about Laura adrift in a snow globe. I heard the sound of footsteps and played with the idea of someone observing Laura from afar before making tentative contact. I felt this was a resolution of some kind and I knew this would be the final chapter.
I began to explore the idea of a snow globe. I wanted to create the moment when you first peer in and observe the scene, the moment when the snowstorm is at it’s fullest and the moment when the snow settles and the scene reveals something deeper. A work in three movements.
This was our starting point.
Stopgap has been known as a repertoire company. We are now making our own work. Although we are changing we wanted to find a way to retain the diversity of an evening of mixed repertoire whilst allowing the audience to follow the dancers’ characters through the full work. We felt in devising together, the dancers would take ownership during the process and therefore be enabled to dig deeper into their roles.
We decided to invite the choreographer Yoshifumi Inao to create a work on us for Movement 1: because, we wanted a first impression of the group for our opening scene.
Next we worked on Movement 3 - which was led by myself using the development of my snow image: because, we wanted an experienced impression of the group for our finale.
Finally we worked on Movement 2- that was devised by the group: because, we wanted to create a storm of impressions by and for the group.
At the time of making, it was hard to tell the difference between the process’ of Movement 2 and Movement 3. For the majority of the time it felt as if I was laying down the concepts, tasks and ideas and the dancers were dutifully devising movement to suit my requirements. In retrospect I can see how we did have different approaches for each scene and this did contribute to the scenes having distinctly different feels.
Movement 3 – Mirror Process
This is the process most choreographers use when they work with us. Rarely do they enforce their story on us – they observe us and then reflect what they see in us, within their choreography. In the past this has led to beautiful authentic observations and at other times has resulted in unused non – disabled dancers and the icon of the wheelchair.
Previously when I have choreographed on the company I have been fearful of treading on familiar ground. Prompted by the change that this time I was no longer in the work, I decided to look again at the company, to witness their humility, difference and the wheelchair.
Tricking myself into seeing the company for the first time again, whilst carrying 10 years knowledge of the company - gave the process and ultimately the scene a sense of rest.
Movement 2 – Treasure Box Process
This process is about finding the keys to unlock the treasure inside. Over the years I have danced, socialised and watched the team together. I have listened to their stories, jokes and what they thought of each other. My job this time as director was to find tasks or keys to unlock these treasures or impressions.
Finding suitable tasks often took the pressure off of personal story telling and the images or stories would then find a way to jump out at us. When we found something that worked with our collective story and felt right for the dancer’s personal journey the dancers themselves could have more input, take the lead or find freedom to play.
Below are moments in Movement 2, which were influenced or led by the dancers.
Elvis Impression: Both Dave Toole and I are big fans of Elvis Presley. The team are big fans of Dave Toole. If anyone was going to represent a storm of change both Elvis and Dave Toole are excellent candidates.
Chicken Phrase and Wheels: Laura has always been in the minority when it came to unison work. Not only does she crave more dancers on wheels, but ached for unison phrase to start from her movement.
We paid close attention to the momentum, rhythm and texture of Laura’s movement. This made an awkward phrase for the standing dancers, but one that Laura feels incredibly liberated and strong. Laura’s feel is gradually being transposed to the standing dancers and the resulting unison seems clearer.
Wrestle: David grew up watching wrestling and has often used it as a reference point for contact dance. Faced with a feisty new team member in Amy, I offered David the opportunity to create a wrestling sequence with as many interchangeable duets as possible.
David took the lead and provided plenty off footage to inspire the dancers. Some of the moves such as Amy slamming Laura to the floor were shocking but brilliantly tongue and cheek.
Addicted to Music:
Amy put forward that she hungered to dance fast and with the music. I wanted to find a way to encapsulate this new energy, enthusiasm and tempo that Amy brought to the group.
Tag Teams is a scene where the group pull at the display cabinet seemingly punching in and out. This created a loop that the dancers fell deeper into.
As we built the movement and loop it became as if the dancers were feeding an addiction (an addiction to movement, music and enjoying expressive movement).
World Control: Chris loves to create scrapbooks and in the past when I have worked with him, this can be a great way into how Chris sees the world and his place in it; they are also a great source for movement material.
I asked Chris to prepare lists for his scrapbook on what he likes and dislikes about the world. Chris wanted to focus on his dislikes. I next asked him to prepare rules for the world - if he was in charge. During group improvisations Chris became to take on the persona of a dictator. Rarely did he dance willingly with the others, he found ways of remaining on the outside and posturing around the space. I vividly remember one improvisation where Chris casually suffocated Laura right at the front of the stage. This was exciting stuff and Chris and the group were keen to develop this role.