Liberty Martin, marketing officer at the Nightingale Theatre, interviewed me about my ‘Being in Place’ residency there:
LM: How has this work evolved out of your previous projects?
JS: I’ve been making marks on surfaces for as long as I can remember… (as a two year old I used to head straight for bare earth and crawl through it as much as possible – it seems I was born to be a dancer in landscape!) As a dance student at LCDS many decades ago I remember drawing my classmates dancing when I had to sit out because of injury. This started me off on something that continued through my dance career and experiences life drawing and life-modeling. This fed into the practice of making installation/performances that I started to develop when I moved to rural west Wales in 1993. The change from London (India) to the wild west was amazing: the impact of the land’s expression, the contrasting deep darkness of non light-polluted star sparkled, moonglowful nights with wide daytime land, sea and skyscapes; the un-ignorable cycles of growth and decay, life and death of the seasons. I was creating visual art at first, though there was an inevitability in the way my work couldn’t help returning to making performance through the cultivation of site sensitive and site specific installation performances and new collaborations incorporating analogue electronic devices, super 8 film and video that for me sang in dialogue with my surroundings. And a deep interest in what traces presences left. When I say presences, I mean the impact on space of materials used in my performances (I used plaster of Paris for some years), the physical imprints of audience (eg footprints in sand and earth), objects that evolved and were changed during performances.
I love sketching, finding the movement quality in things.
I had an intuitive attraction to drawing story-boards for work I was making – literally re-arranging drawn and written ideas on pieces of paper and playing with their arrangement on walls. Layering comes into this, and my [in]scape filmdance shows how I was getting more into bringing drawing into my approach to devising movement. http://vimeo.com/14159657
I like that film – I find it useful to gauge how my process is developing… I like to think I’ve come on quite a bit in my process since making it.
I began to get more conscious of what I couldn’t help doing and out of this came the development of my 5 year [in]scape residency at oriel mostyn gallery, Llandudno. In this I drew movement qualities found in architectural spaces –http://www.mostyn.org/whats_on/inscape1
There was also a promenade performance presented as part of Mostyn re-opening celebrations. Through movement and sound, performers led the audience around the new Mostyn, encouraging and enhancing imaginative engagement with new architectural spaces: a kinesthetic and aural meditation on how human presence impacts on architectural space, how architecture impacts on human presence.
I brought a creative memory of the [in]scape project to the Nightingale in 2011 and called it [in]scape traces: loops and improvisations on past and present dimensions. 
I made Dance for Neanderthal for the black box theatre spaces of Chapter and then the much bigger Wales Millennium Centre’s Weston Studio, Cardiff. The much briefer development and rehearsal period for this piece involved immersion with the other performers in landscape, transposing our experiences into a local studio, and then exploring many ways to incorporate drawings (and to a limited degree the action of drawing) into the creation of choreography. As well as refining the black box space version with its painterly, chiaroscuro lighting (by the remarkable Ace McCarron), I’d like to rework this piece for a variety of places (eg it would lend itself well to gallery spaces). I’d like to bring in a variety of performers through workshop periods… I think the device I am coming up with in my Being in Place project would lend itself well to doing this. So some kind of commission for this would be great!
In many of my projects I’ve transposed existing site specific/site sensitive work into new spaces in a site-sensitive/site specific way. For example I did this with [in]scape when I took it to Chapter in Cardiff.
Much of my work is about creatively transposing layered memories from one place to another and seeing how they can still exist somewhere else or whether they are changed by the new place. So my Nightingale Residency provides a great opportunity, and a great space, to experiment in depth with this process.
I tend to work from gut feeling (explanation seems to come later) and I guess it’s a logical progression of this experiment to work alone in places I keep secret from those I give my scores to at the relatively ‘neutral’ black box environment of the Nightingale (though actually it has its own ‘character’, though I feel it lends itself to help bring out essential qualities of what I’m bringing in from elsewhere.
The whole point is to generate creativity
LS: How has working in the space at the Nightingale influenced this project?
JS: My work is site-sensitive, so it can’t not…
I find it magical and remarkable that the Nightingale holds its own, even though it’s right bang in the middle of the hubbub of the city. The Nightingale is a nest of creativity, a very helpful testing ground. It’s like it oozes with resonance from all the creative activity that has gone on for so many years and this seems to hold it, despite all the possible distractions. And it is infused with invisible his/herstory. I love it.
There have been moments where a very present sense of stillness has seemed to enter in, and I find that beautiful in such an urban environment. And this is very encouraging with regard to my experiments in seeing whether spirit of place of elsewhere can be evoked in a totally different environment.
How does this work involve other artists?
This is a process of discovery and I am refining my role when working with other artists. This is revealing itself as a facilitator/mentor. Also I am a core member of the collective Dancers in Landscape. We get together periodically at a particular landscape in Sussex and in a couple of our sessions that I have anchored I’ve tried out some methods of developing movement material that is in direct response to place, in place.
I would like to extend my workshop activities beyond professional dance and music artists and to try out the methods with others, eg. writers, poets, young people, elders.
I’m seeing myself increasingly as a facilitator and mentor who can also go into a role of director in the making of original work stemming from the device.
I’m inspired by Anna Halprin’s approach, in which, rather than creating a ‘choreography’ that is associated with a preconceived idea that everyone conforms to, the method is to facilitate ‘scores’. For these ‘scores’ Halprin gathers together artists and takes ideas through cycles of development. These, like nature, are more flexible to change and develop with time, place, people, season etc. Performers invest their own ideas and the choreographer is more like an artistic director with the power to make choices: to be a selector… I like that this opens up possibilities of working with all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences, working in varied disciplines. I feel a resonance with my work here, even though my result is something else. When I use the ‘device’ I have developed in ‘Being in Place’, performers invest and refine their own ideas. Choices might then be made to utilize these in their own work or to entrust them to my artistic direction in which I am a selector who crafts and combines structures that frame diverse responses… I have a tendency to set things quite precisely and I endeavor to craft quite fixed choreographic structures that can frame elements like improvisation that are spontaneous. Even when my work has a very simple composition I am looking to find a distinct frame to hold the work. In fact the frame is important in all that I create.
I have an attitude that everyone is creative and I am very interested in widening my sphere of workshop participants and collaborators. I’d like to work with diverse individuals, with focus groups such as elders, young people. Who knows – I’m curious to try these methods out with all sorts of people!
This includes people from totally different disciplines. There is an element of my work with artists in the Nightingale that has begun a process of developing possibilities of translating and traversing from one medium to another. I would like to develop this further. I’m wondering about working with archaeologists and geographers in the continuing development of my drawings as well as experimenting with inviting their creative responses to my drawings.
LM: Who have you been working with?
JS: In the Nightingale I have so far worked with dancers Jo Fong, Dawn Collins, Will Dickie, Henrietta Hale, and musicians Elle Osborne, Scott Smith and Christine Cooper. I’m about to bring in Eva Daurios to see what her response, as someone I have not yet worked with, will be at this much more developed stage of the project.
So far I’ve purposely chosen to work with mature dancers and this was a conscious decision – their experience comes through in their presence and application to the tasks I give them, and their questions and responses are very helpful. Scott Smith is incredibly experienced, and as well as the beautiful material he came up with, his feedback during our session really pushed things forward and challenged me to get specific about what I am wanting and trying to communicate – particularly with regard to his long-term work with Lisa Nelson on her ‘tuning scores’. Also, I think that working with people who are pretty much peers engenders a sense of equality, which I like for this work. And I’m inspired by Asian cultures such as Japan where maturity is seen as a virtue. For example, in Noh theatre an actor(/dancer) is seen as coming in to ‘flower’ in his 40s.
Will Dickie is the youngest of the group, though we have worked together a lot now – he is a great person to collaborate with and we had a rich time devising material for the [in]scape performances at Mostyn and Chapter. This track record of working together has been very useful in Being in Place. I think we have developed a great creative trust as well as a pre-linguistic understanding of how to work, which means we can go straight in there with things. I really like it when my relationships with performers I am working with have a chance to take on this organic development.
LM: What support has been valuable to you during your residency?
JS: Simply being given the space and trust to dream, experiment, flow with the ups and downs of creation in the Nightingale nest – to hatch ideas and see where they go – or not. The staff members are so in tune with the creative process, I think because of their own extensive experience as artists. This is invaluable. As is Liz Agiss’s mentoring – Liz is so intelligently experienced and so able to have a wide angle view and also to focus in sharply, thoroughly, specifically, really challenging me to get to the point, to be thorough and to really find where this thing is leading me – her suggestions and viewpoints are invaluable and really catalyze something in me. I am very grateful for her input.
Also the practical support of the Nightingale team, whether that has been the logistics of co-ordinating the project and its budget, suggestions and fresh perspectives when things go wrong or not to plan (and there have been plenty of surprises!:)). The friendliness and trust, and snippets of feedback about what’s going on when we get in the black box space. And the dance and music artists I’ve brought into the Nightingale are a great support.
[in]scape traces: loops and improvisations on past and present dimensions
DESCRIPTION OF THE WORK AND PREVIOUS SHOWINGS
An installation with structured improvisations utilising the contents of two archive boxes from Jo Shapland/Man Troi’s [in]scape residency at the Mostyn, Llandudno (include footage of drawing during performance)
A lo-fi, self-sufficient performance process of
- selecting drawings that
- stimulate live improvised danced drawings and in turn lead to
- more live drawing
Interaction with audience (approaching individuals to invite them to choose a drawing, then giving them drawings that have been created during the performance)
Atmosphere: calm, generous and intimate (with an overall sense of quietude)
The music is pre-recorded and was created with composer and musician Dewi Evans.
When the performance process is not going on, the archive boxes quietly show and play continuous loops of video footage and music from the [in]scape project (including [in]scape filmdance).
Drawn and developed from larger performance installations at Oriel Mostyn Gallery (May and August- September 2010 and Chapter, Cardiff, October 2010).