Lisa Ullmann Travelling Scholarship Fund
Report – bluemouth inc and Edinburgh Festival, August 2016
LUTSF funded a two day visit to Edinburgh Festival in August 2016. The purpose of the trip was two fold: to meet with bluemouth inc and Traverse Theatres regarding touring plans in 2017 for bluemouth inc’s production of ‘It Comes in Waves’ and also to gain new ideas for presenting, siting and scheduling work with a view to incorporating new ideas in the Dance Village festival programme.
Having worked with bluemouth inc on their immersive production ‘Dance Marathon’ in spring of 2016 I was so enamoured with their work that I self funded travel to Toronto to see their new production ‘It Comes in Waves’. Since then we have been in contact regarding international tour plans and the original purpose of this visit was to see the adapted work in situ at Edinburgh festival this year. However, the company had to change plans early summer due to partner and funding changes, so the purpose of their visit to Edinburgh became a scouting and planning meeting for 2017.
Arriving in Edinburgh on Monday 15 August I had a free afternoon and evening before the next day’s meetings. I used the time to see two works, Dan Canham’s ‘30 Cecil Street and Sole Rebel Tap’s ‘Blushed’. These are both companies I’d seen before and was keen to see in different contexts. Sole Rebel Tap were programmed at a venue mainly showing comedy, and drew a small but intimate audience for their afternoon show. They are a company whose work I would like to appreciate more, being based in our region and who regularly apply to perform at Dance Village. A sketch based two hander, using tap and physical comedy, ‘Blushed ‘ featured re-imaginings of Fairytales. Pleasant, humorous and engagingly performed, the work felt under developed. The handling of the theme and choreography felt timid; perhaps a price paid for being over cautious in trying to make a family friendly work. The small audience all clapped in the right places and the performers worked hard to keep us with them; but especially in the context of such a large venue showing so many works, this felt too general and polite to stand out.
Dan Canham’s 30 Cecil Street was shown within Forest Fringe’s programme as the final show to be presented at their former home in Bristo Place. Telling the story of a now dilapidated theatre in Ireland, the company have always sought to show this work in sympathetic spaces. This drew a full house, as one of the Fringe events that were free and also an event that would appeal to fringe theatre ‘insiders’ who know the backstory. Dan uses prosaic, everyday movement and a soundtrack of ambient noise, soundscapes recorded voices, that weren’t always easy to decipher but still gave the impression of a disappearing and hauntedness . It was evocative, poignant and beautifully presented. It resonated all the more for the backstory of the venue, but nothing would be lost to audience unaware of this.
The next day I met with Meriel Marshall, Producer for bluemouth inc and Linda Crooks and Ruth McEwan at Traverse Theatre. Traverse are interested in a premiere of ‘It Comes in Waves’ in August 2017. We discussed the various options for presenting the work; whether as the site adaptive work originally conceived or as an in theatre production with the new sections the company are currently developing. Ruth & Linda suggested a partnership with ‘Hidden Door ‘ programme may work if ‘It Comes in Waves’ is shown in a non theatre context, but were uncertain of the capacity of he smaller independent company to support this. Ruth and Linda also suggested other programmers who may be worth bluemouth inc talking to – Southbank, ICIA and Soho Theatre Margate.
The meeting was supportive but realistic. Traverse were clear that there would be challenges they couldn’t meet alone in presenting outside of the venue, and that in straitened times it may not be possible to pull together the right combination of partner input and agreements needed. My sense is that with more UK & International touring partners to pull together, a theatre based version is proving more appealing in slightly risk averse times than the site based work.
I then went to see Janis Claxton’s work in the National Gallery, keeping an eye out for the types of locations ideal for ICIW along the way. Pop Up Duets is a free performance of nine duets moving through the Gallery. In everyday clothes, with suitcase speakers and iphones, the performers blend in with the promenade audience in a series of vignettes. Presenting different moods and pace that shifted in each new gallery, the work is gracefully athletic despite the restrictions of the marble floors. Unsuspecting gallery visitors enjoyed the surprise of the performances, catching photos on their phones. I enjoyed watching work that didn’t try too hard to relate to the individual gallery works but took a mood and atmosphere from each gallery instead to create short moments that stood alone as performance works.
In the evening I went to see another company from the SW, Joli Vyann in Imbalance. They are a company who we’ve previously programmed and commissioned for Dance Village and whose work I’m sued to seeing outdoors. I’d seen a sharing of Imbalance earlier in the year and was interested to see the finished work and also how they use lighting design. Shown at Underbelly Circus Hub to a full house, ‘Imbalance’ explores the dark side of our obsession technology. The company’s trademark is the relationship between the two artist, Jan and Olivia, one of utmost trust and synergy that allows them to perform combinations of the most daring and the most tenderly intimate acrobalance choreography without a moment that ever feels like a cynical ‘trick’.
I enjoyed seeing the company I this different setting, able to perform with more micro expressions and character moments than would convey outdoors, and with lighting cleverly used, with laptops creating lonely silos of light at the table and huge looming silhouettes of phone torches.
The next day I travelled back to Bristol with Meriel, who stayed with me for a couple of days to have meetings with potential partners for ‘It Comes in Waves’ (ICIW) in Bristol and look at possible sites. We met with Theresa Bergne who is curating the opening programme for Bristol Arena and who’d expressed interest in the work being presented in the grounds. Over conversation and on viewing the site plans as they are evolving, it became apparent that while the production elements match what Theresa is looking for, the scale of the work wouldn’t fit with the geography of the building.
We then met with a trustee of Situations, a public art organisation which is increasingly working around the region and which takes a broad and adventurous approach to what constitutes public art. This was a meeting without an agenda but as an introduction, with more of a long term relationship building view. I have since met again with Situations producer, for general conversation about the possibilities of dance performance as public art.
The following day I took Meriel to see two potential sites for ICIW, both accessible by water so that the boat travel element can be retained. The fist, in the centre’s Castle Park is a small rarely used outbuilding set in a ‘hidden’ garden area. While the location was perfect and could easily be discreetly sectioned off, the indoors space wasn’t big enough for the floor area needed. The next was upriver in Hanham, approx. 2.5 miles from the city centre. The rowing club, set amongst trees on a beautiful stretch of the river would be accessible by boat or towpath. The outdoors area would be perfectly adaptable for the outside elements and the clubhouse inside would work well for those elements.
The challenge now is securing presenting partners and funding. To keep ICIW true to its original site integrity, I would want to present it somewhere we can make feel truly magical. This costs, both in time and hard cash. Since this trip I have sought an additional meeting with another presenting partner, who are interested but who may well take a year off presenting next year, although this is not public yet. I have a meeting with ACE on 24 November, when I will have an idea of what I can apply for as Dance Village for 2017 but suspect that without the guarantee of a partner, we will not be able to stretch to presenting this alone.
I am grateful to Lisa Ullman Travelling Scholarship for supporting the travel to Edinburgh and the time to reflect on issues around programming dance in different sites, contexts and to different audiences. The support has afforded me invaluable opportunity to more closely consider:
The role of a works siting in the level of audience engagement, and in the possibilities of elevating ‘seeing another work’ to a dance work that becomes an experience. Factors that tip the balance between the enjoyable and the memorable
The commitment and artistic boldness needed to achieve this well in risk averse times; the long planning timeframes required and a reaffirmed awareness of the need for Dance Village /ReStaged to find more secure long term footing to enable this.
How as a producer/programmer working mainly outdoors, might I be able to better support ambitions of artists we work with to present in different settings. (I am meeting with local programmers on 25 Nov to explore this). Where do the roles as a independent producer and as DV producer converge and diverge?
I am especially grateful to the fund’s Trustees for this support, which as an independent producer has allowed me to feel supported and that the work is valued. It has helped allow me to time and frame of mind to consider things from a bigger picture perspective and to review what types of support I may be able to offer artists as an independent producer and programmer.