Reflection of the challenges, potential and possibilities aerial harness dance forms as a choreographic process.
“The sun shone down for nearly a week on the secret garden. The Secret Garden was what Mary called it when she was thinking of it. She liked the name, and she liked still more the feeling that when its beautiful old walls shut her into one knew where she was. It seemed almost like being shut out of the world like some fairy place… She was beginning to like to be outdoors; she no longer hated the wind, but enjoyed it. She could run faster and longer, and she could skip up to one hundred. The bulbs in the Secret Garden must have been much astonished. Such nice clear places were made round them that they had all the breathing space they wanted, and really, if Mistress Mary had known it, they began to cheer up under the dark earth and work tremendously. The sun could get at them and warm them, and when the rain came down it could reach them at once, so they began to feel very much alive.” (Burnett, F. H. (2017). The Secret Garden. Virago Press.)
This reflection aims to explore the learning as a result of participation in four choreographic labatories that took place this week, to explore the principles of my solo practice off the ground, escaping the laws of gravity to undertake research through practice. As I continue to shape the reimagination of ‘The Secret Garden’ I am interested in combining dance, play, digital, improvisation, storytelling, aerial harness and visual arts to identify ways that I might apply my findings in this ambitious choreographic process.
I dance with my whole self, and process my learning with awareness, and dancing modes of attention between intellectual, instinctive, feeling and sensory learning. I aim to articulate my reflection in written form. 'Writing also provides a means by which learning can be upgraded- where connected areas of meaning cohere and a deeper meaning emerges.' (Moon, J. A. (2000). Reflection in learning and professional development: Theory and practice. Psychology Press. p.187)
All of my first encounters with Aerial Work have been with Wired Aerial Theatre. In 2014, whilst dancing with 12 Degrees North Dance Company, I was invited to attend a Vertical Wall professional development intensive for a partnership project with Left Coast. As a local artist, I did my very best to connect with the company throughout the years. I attended Bungee Assisted Dance Classes, I became a bungee workout instructor. I saw their performances in Liverpool and further afield and always thought it would be really cool to work with Wired. I kept in touch with the company and said yes to every opportunity. I have worked with Wired in a real mix of ways, from social media support, admin, performance and teaching. In 2021, I worked with Wired on Rigoletto as a performer where I was first introduced to double pick up harness work and working at height.
This summer I attended European Aerial Dance Festival and a Vertical Dance intensive and spent two weeks engaging in aerial harness technique- vertical dance. In January 2023, I plan to attend The Vertical Dance Symposium ‘Dissecting Aerial’ held by industry experts in the Aerial Dance Sector.
I now have my own small rig located in an independent gym in Birkenhead, Wirral. The view of the rig in film is obstructed by Gym Equipment and Machinery so film work won’t be to the standard, I would like its to be for my assessment footage. I feel like I have introduced a niche group of body builders and personal trainers in the Wirral to this young dance form, and have certainly changed the space through my practice.
Aerial Performance is depicted as an ‘umbrella term for all types of performative events happening off the ground.’ Eventually I would like to rig in Peel Park, however I would need financial support to enable this idea and ‘The Secret Garden’ to flourish.
I will reflect upon my active mode of viewing Aerial Performance Work including Wired Aerial Theatre’s most recent work ‘Me vs Me’, their acclaimed Vertical Wall work ‘As The World Tipped’, and ‘To Me To You’. I recently watched ‘A thousand feet deep’ by Periplum Circus in Knowsley as Knowsley Borough of Culture, and was inspired by the Aerial elements in the Creative and Cultural Placemaking Performance. I am really interested in how my work cultivates pride in place and I am currently enrolled on ‘Create Place’ Leadership Programme funded by Arts Council England, at The University of Staffordshire.
A piece that recently that captured my attention, was Gravity and Levity, ‘Why?’ (2021) “Why? is both a tender and exhilarating aerial duet exploring themes of life, loss, surrender and acceptance in a soft and moving way. The piece offers a visceral experience for its audiences that not only legitimises the emotional one but creates space for the viewer to bring their own understanding to it, triggering a resonance, not dictating their experience.” Butcher, L, 17/11/2022, Gravity and Levity: ‘Why?’ (2021) https://www.gravity-levity.net/productions/why/) Viewing this work and engaging with Gravity and Levity over summer led to me purchasing a rig so that I can begin to explore my own physical language using the climbing equipment and vertical surfaces. The opening statement of this reflection reaffirms the link between my creative enquiry and my interest in aerial dance forms in unconventional spaces. The Secret Garden is a walled garden and it offers a lot of potential for an ambitious choreographic placemaking experience in walled green spaces. In my visionary moments, I still have a way to go!
Through my recent laboratories taking place in the gym in Birkenhead, I have realised the time and effort required to enable this idea to take shape. I feel very distant from the desired outcome to convey embodied lived experience of grief and suicide to an audience. Eventually I will begin to engage in tender conversations with family, partners, the communities I work with, by and for, but for now it is me trying to make sense of this artist led proto- typing and refining my conversation starters.
I am aware of the emotional mapping of this learning journey, and feel like my current enquiry is a sign of the times I find myself in.
I am finding the work challenging and healing. I do prefer working with other dancers when it comes to creating my own work, however it is interesting exploring the personal lived experience through my own dancing body. I reflected on some of the tough moments began moving from there, but I soon became caught up on details and understanding the science of the movements and became disconnected to the premise of the movement exploration task. Towards the end of the session I became increasingly interested in the idea of threading and the continuation of lineage and generations within my family. For a brief moment I was dancing and the movement felt continuous and free. I am building up my vertical wall endurance again, and scheduled regular breaks to return to ground and reflect on my progress.
"Deeper and more sophisticated levels of reflection must rely on some understanding of how emotion affects. the process of reflection and, in practice, the reflection must demonstrate a practical ability to manage personal, emotional processes in relation to the subject matter of the reflection. This is implied in the process of metacognition and further, in the judgements that are made in the quality of personal reasoning. It is manifested in the awareness of the 'slipperiness' of reflection (Fraser, 1995; Fenwick, 2000)." (Moon, J. A. (2004). A handbook of reflective and experiential learning: Theory and practice. Psychology Press.)
I have recently uncovered that I have been surprising my feelings and emotions through survival mode to keep moving forwards and to live up to the idea of what an artist should or needs to be to carry out their best work. My relationships with dance has shifted this year, after a rejection from an audition that has resulted in lower confidence in my abilities as a performer. The feedback was that I was third in line for two jobs and the artistic director went with the two dancers that she felt would take the least amount of work for her to reach the desired results. I have always been a slow learner and I have always felt that I learn differently from the average dancer. My levels of resilience is thinner on the ground. I find myself questioning myself more and thinking that a younger dancer, with better training and experience would do a better job. My inner critic has become louder since starting university. This year, I did a performance where I was triggered mid performance and cried on stage. (See video below) I also struggled during two of my performance jobs and feel that currently I am not in the right head space to carry out the role of a performer. I have been running away from these feelings. I think losing my cousin, just so close to me in age, has been a critical incident in my career and personal life, and after the pandemic and the challenges of leaving my role and transitioning as a freelancer, I feel like I am holding on to my creative ideas and hope that I make it through this period of my life and make a sustainable career in dance. At this moment in time, I prefer to work with other artists and help them to develop. I am trying to build up my confidence, my motivation and grit. I am doing everything in my power to look after my mental health and wellbeing. As I shift back from working with dancers to solo practice, I have to find the discipline to overcome my inner critic and suspend judgement over the decisions I am making. Everything feels unnatural, and like other dancers would be able to dance it better. I feel like giving up. It could be my last dance.
"People's perspectives and sense of capabilities can change. Doors to new possibilities open that might have stayed closed which people jump through into new stories." (Neal, L. (2016). Playing for time: Making art as if the world mattered. Bloomsbury Publishing.)
I feel like I have regressed in my approaches due to feelings of lower confidence in my dancing abilities. I am struggling to connect to my work and facing personal barriers to stop me producing honest, work. It feels like a wrestle or an apathetic struggle. It feels like a job. It feels like an impossible fight. I feel like I started with an army and I'm the last man standing. I feel defeated. I feel like my energy is working against me. I understand this is probably a normal way to feel when you have lost someone so special in your life to suicide, and you have done everything in your power to keep going since.
I would like to also say that I have learned and gained so much as a result of this experience and I know this is all helping me to be better with people, more compassionate and to lead a whole hearted life. However I acknowledge that times don't feel easy. I hope my story inspires young dancers to keep going. I hope it results in the creation of a 'Secret Garden' and helps the audiences to accept themselves as they are, to get out in nature and to heal from trauma, and grief. "Trauma is anything the body perceives as too much, too fast, too soon" (Menakem, R. (2021) My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, Penguin.)
It is a holistic practice. Many factors are contributing to the way in which I am working right now. I feel that ground work and getting to tknow the wall and familiarise with the equipment, with the space and the obstructive gym kit to develop my spatial awareness, and understanding of power, control and mind mapping is taking longer than I'd hope for. Upon reading this reflection, I realise that I am frustrated that the rig was late at being fitted and I haven't had the required time to explore this semester. I do have the rig now and I know it's best to get up there sooner rather than later and to manage my time to ensure I get what I need. I am able to identify the opportunities if I was able to scale up the project, however I am facing limitations when it comes to exploring my physicality due to size and scale of the rig I am currently working with. To achieve the desired effect, I would need higher ceilings, and longer rope to cultivate more air time, spectacle and suspension. Flips on a short rope feel risky and hyper vigilant. However, I am delighted that I am able to explore, and dedicate some time to developing choreographic language and can feel the progress I am making to enable me to develop the material I want to be making. My main frustration this week has been that it has been like starting again on the wall, my vocabulary feels limited. However I am noticing progression, reconnecting with technique and skills, the spacial proximity of working on different planes to ground based orientation. In my labs, I have been working somatically, to develop my physical literacy, to improvise freely to find a dance on the wall. I don’t feel ready to display or film my experiments for the scratch night, however I am definitely learning as I engage with this practice based research. In the space of three days, I am moving more confidently with a calm physical state. The results from today’s choreographic laboratory feel more performative with a limited vocabulary and skills. It is felt that more time and effort is required to produce an authentic visceral response linked to the context of my agenda. At present loosely choreographed sequences demonstrate strength and flexibility, however I still feel I have a way to go to achieve the intentional qualities of movement. I am interested in accessing the truth of the experience of losing someone to suicide and similarly to Gravity and Levity’s work, to convey my personal journey with grief. The dance has been accompanied by phenomenological reflections.
I am interested in reimagining the notion of the original Secret Garden, and bringing my personal lived experience to the realisation of the character of Mary Lennox. I want to challenge the themes and outdated ideas concerning mental health. I will continue to explore with the parachute which I hope to take in the air, to embrace the wind and the outdoor elements, as I have been working in my bedroom. I am interested in the relationship between indoors and outdoors, and the physical and digital interface. Through reconnecting with the story and the premise of the Secret Garden each time, I move, I deepen my relationship with the story, and dig deeper in to the idea. At times it is overwhelming but I feel this is an idea worth pursuing. Today’s reflections offered ideas for future choreographic tasks. Tomorrow I will recreate images of the illustrations provided by the book to harness a visceral response to loss, shock and trauma associated with losing someone so close suddenly to suicide. I will play with exploring weight, space and dynamics to create a short phrase of movement. Tomorrow I will create a short solo based on looking for a door in a wall. I feel that this material could help me to express my internal experiences, and personal stages of questioning my self during so much change, and dancing in the storm.
In future I would like to create a duet on the wall and I do have the resources to do so. I would need to work out the logistics.
“Vertical Dance is a new and collaborative form of dance that typically uses rock climbing equipment to suspend dancers against a range of vertical surfaces in public spaces. It’s affects are to alter familiar systems we use to orientate ourselves in space to produce or change social spaces.” (Lawrence, K. (2017) Up, down and amongst : perceptions and productions of space in vertical dance practices. [Doctoral dissertation, University of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), University of Surrey, https://openresearch.surrey.ac.uk/esploro/outputs/doctoral/Up-down-and-amongst--perceptions/99512198002346)
I know if I have these feelings, others may be feeling like this too. I will continue to work for them. I am closer to fully forming my idea and methodology. However I am anxious about what I have to share for our ‘Scratch Night’. I feel this work could be very powerful, moving, and healing for an audience moving through the collective grief of the pandemic. I have chosen to keep going time and time again, choosing to frame my story and circumstances to help me to move forwards.
"Stories never end and we do not know how or when they begin. Only that they are threads woven across time and space, connecting people to each other... these stories grow from remembered experiences, not only our own, but all of those voices that echo in each of our hearts from other times, places, continents and people. Each story is already a fragment of a collective tapestry that is always in the making." (Santos, F in Neal, L. (2016). Playing for time: Making art as if the world mattered. Bloomsbury Publishing.)
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This section of the website will include reflections for Lauren's MA Study. This page is linked to Lauren Tucker's studies and creative practice which is broader than the work of Tuckshop Dance Theatre. Please enjoy my reflections in this learning journey.
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