A Trip with Translation


Artistic Director Lucy Bennett explores the origins of ‘translation’ for Stopgap, and reflects on it’s development and importance over the years…

The word and dance method ‘translation’ has been a part of Stopgap’s vocabulary and choreography for some time now. In this blog I am going to share a little of what translation means to us and why it supports our dancing together particularly when our world feels so fragmented.

When I first joined Stopgap Dance Company – we worked with choreographers who quite simply and satisfyingly worked with what and who was there. As we grew as a repertoire company, we began to experience alternative choreographic methods too. In 2004 we worked with the choreographer Filip Van Huffel from Retina Dance Company. Filip often used unison dance material or dance phrases that were created on his body – a male standing dancer’s body. This was the first time we became aware of the difference in tempos, flow and co-ordination between all of us as individuals. Laura Jones and I began to look at how the non-disabled dancers (myself and Dan Watson) could steal some of Laura’s dance details within the sequence to blend the different versions of Filip’s phrase. Laura, Dan and I began to use the word adapt and adaptation to explain this process and began sharing it with other dancers and young people we were teaching.

A photo from Corpus (2004), showing a group of three standing dancers and one wheelchair dancer.

ID: A photo from Corpus (2004). In the background, Lucy and Chris are dancing together. Lucy has her back turned to the camera. She is wearing a purple top and purple & yellow rara skirt. Chris, dressed in a smart light grey suit and terracotta shirt, is turning towards Lucy, gently touching her hair. In the foreground, Laura, sitting in her wheelchair, is dancing with a standing dancer. Both have their backs to the camera. Laura, dressed in a green top, is lifting up her right arm, grabbing the other dancer by the neck. They are dressed in a yellow, long sleeved to and colourful checkered trousers, throwing their right arm out behind them.

Adaptation became our buzzword. It did not always mean the process of non-disabled dancers adapting for disabled dancers and it did not always mean disabled dancers adapting traditional dance techniques. However, in our company class adaptation did start to become a word associated with Laura and how she accessed Company Class. As much as Laura and I were keen to pursue an inclusive contemporary dance technique, it was clear Laura was frustrated with the emphasis always being on Laura and making do.

Laura explained to me recently she first heard the word ‘Translation’ in a dance context in America when dancing with Axis Dance Company. I remember back in 2010 Laura asking whether we could begin using this word too. It made sense for Stopgap as our creative methods were always about understanding one and others physical languages. We quite quickly began using the word translation instead of adaptation – but it wasn’t until we began devising our own choreography in the production Artificial Things in 2013 that we refined what the word ‘Translation’ meant to us.

I can literally remember the moment when I realised that we were all still assuming Laura was translating traditional non-disabled movement/steps even when we the standing dancers were supposed to be following Laura and translating her movement.

I tried to explain to the other dancers.

“For instance if Laura  sprints fast in her chair,  are we thinking she’s imitating a non-disabled person’s run, if Laura turns do we see a pirouette –  I think even when we the standing dancers are supposed to be translating Laura’s movement there is still the assumption that Laura’s dance is a translation of a non-disabled person’s movement”

I remember trying to find the words:

“You need to really look, you need to find a way to remove the non-disabled or traditional dance lens, look with fresh eyes, look for the details, height, direction where Laura’s focus is”.

Within a moment the movement changed, suddenly the standing dancers were lower, they were finding ways to pump their legs in the same rhythm that Laura pushed her wheels with her arms, they didn’t ‘spot’ when they turned, instead scooped their skull around when they spun as Laura did. It was really exciting to watch – an awkward mixture of original movement with Laura in the centre making every move look easy and sublime.

A photo from Artificial Things (2014) with two standing and one wheelchair dancer.

ID: A photo from Artificial Things (2014). Laura, dancing in her wheelchair, balancing on the two large main wheels, is framed by Amy on the left and Dan on the right, both mid jump, with their bodies curved, right leg and arm stretched long, left leg and arm bent, both looking to the left. All dancers are wearing turquoise-green colours. Amy's in a short dress, Laura and Dan are wearing tops with grey trousers.

Laura, Dave Toole and Nadenh Poan then began to define what aspects a standing dancer should look for when translating a dancer who has a different physical language to them – Motivation, Spine, Direction, Rhythm, Focus and Details. These tools for ‘Translation’ have now become the central method of how we create unison movement material – a feature of many of our productions and a favourite with workshop participants.

Since the release of Home Practice – we’ve been able to look back on the journey we’ve been on. We can see that we have found ourselves back in the dance class and in pursuit of a usable and progressive inclusive dance technique. Only this time we have clear guidance for dancers who have a different physical language to the teacher leading the dance class.  It is it this point we have to tentatively remind ourselves to lose the image of a ‘dance teacher’ as only a ‘standing dancer’ and remind ourselves that there are many dance teachers with different physical languages (Home Practice being one of the places you will find them).

Stopgap’s Home Practice Groundwork ‘Translation’ led by Laura Jones is there for everyone to use and for everyone to be encouraged to learn from teachers and dancers whose dance experiences, ambitions and languages are different to our own.

“Difference is our means and our method”

Maybe we should get that on a T-shirt?

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