Crossing Borders: 25th October with Gill Clarke

The 25th October; just a bog standard Tuesday evening one would think. Not, however, at Siobhan Davies Studios. The largest gathering of thinkers, creators and movers I ever seen at a Crossing Borders event thronged through the building’s reception, swarming their way up to the roof studio in anticipation. A credit, I think, to Gill Clarke; who’s immense intelligence and deeply somatic and innovative understanding of the body begs a substantial following of artists, scientists and dancers.
Gill begins to talk, prompted by Sue Davies, on her own journey as a dancer into a more somatic and experiential considering of the physical form. After technical vocational training, and a stint dancing for Sue Davies, Gill described how her perceptions changed radically when she started working with contact improviser and Body-Mind Centering practitioner Jeremy Nelson. Over 10 days of ‘very little movement but a lot of visualisation’, Gill proposed that her movement changed over this short expanse of time. Made more aware of bodily structure and its relationship to the ground, there is an increase in sensory information and energy flow, and movement seems to become directed by sensation rather than by specific intention. The body is more aware of itself moving, giving way to a deeply connected and grounded dancing experience and a more informed performativity.
We then move on to that ever expansive question... what is Dance? Gill remarks intriguingly that people can only recognise what dance is when confronted with something that definitely isn’t. We are constantly in negotiation, in conversation with a persistently changing environment which shifts and develops alongside evolutionary intelligence. Through our understanding of this, an acceptance of the inability to actually really pin down what dance is seems to become important. Perhaps the nature of dance itself is that you can’t capture it in one description or definition. It has the potential to take on more and more forms and meanings as our perceptions develop and deepen. Gill describes this in her approach as releasing ‘the muscular thought and bodily containment to alter our perception and find something deeper’. Movement then becomes the resource of dance. Dance is unto itself.
Gill then goes on to describe dance as a kind of currency. Like an aural tradition, it is passed through bodies and it changes and develops depending on the unique attributes of the human form that it inhabits. This can be seen through the choreographer’s and teacher’s roles. When these become more about dance facilitation; where a situation is set up so that learning is possible rather than a mere transference of information. A great knowledge seeker herself, Gill has read more books than one could possibly count, and describes this importance of learning through finding something out yourself as fundamental, an aspect of life that that helps us to evolve. Gill’s approach is naturally all about exploration; it’s less deliberate, less predictable. It’s not about appropriation; it’s about tuning in, pairing away, embracing the process and being in the moment. This ‘pairing away’ Gill describes is a little like the scientific process, such a practice also engages in the simplicity of stripping down the amount of variables involved. Everything in this process is considered and influences the final findings, and in dance terms final performance, even though they may not be immediately present. The only difference of course is the lack of a definitive answer. The results of this pairing process may well be sets of questions themselves, feeding back into the process and propelling it on, an evolutionary momentum with an indefinite amount of possibilities.
Gill then moves on to consider the influence of meaning-making during moving, especially through performance. It is important to let the movement speak, and to give imagination its role to play, however the unsayable is also valid, for example, the pulse speaks, our bodies use movement as communication without sometimes even being aware of it. Why then can’t we use this movement as our own theatrical language? Dance is struggling to validate itself as a discipline because we speak in movement, and this cannot always be recognised within traditional forms of academic communication. How do we harness language from our own practice without alienating others?
Gill stipulates that through this disciplinary openness and ambiguity there must be some element of rigor and purpose. This often comes in the form of theorising the concept that the movement provokes, rather than the movement itself. There is some form of distributed cognition that makes the dancer tune into their movement, and in turn allows the audience to see the embodiment. This, according to Gill, is the difference between dancing and not dancing. There is a sincerity and powerfulness in the ability to be able to keep the gift of experience in the moment without having to talk about it and assign it to a theoretical concept. It can be unto itself.
And so in true Gill Clarke style the talk ends in a seemingly organic circle back to the initial question of what dance is. An expertly crafted and articulated aural essay that seems to just glide effortlessly out of Gill’s stream of consciousness, deeply intelligent ponderings that settle like feathery layers of understanding to create a completely clear sense of comprehension within the listeners, who through their intent attention rapidly nod their heads in agreement.
Gill Clarke died on November 15th 2011, exactly 3 weeks after giving this talk. Her strength and determination shone through even more vividly during her final few weeks of life. She never faltered in her generosity and immense passion for dance and knowledge; a legacy that will continue within the hearts and lives of everyone she touched. It is hard to put into words how much she meant to the dance world, and perhaps true to the final statements in her last talk, our sentiments will play out through a deeper understanding of our own bodies, through her teaching.


Crossing Borders: 11th October with Guy Claxton

It might seem unusual that Crossing Border’s next guest, cognitive scientist and experimental psychologist Guy Claxton, seems so at home amongst dancers and artists alike. He appears as part of the first in a series of talks resulting from PAL’s Movement and Meaning Labs which’s aim, in line with that of the previous Crossing Borders talks, is to ponder the questions and artistic potential that surrounds cross-collaboration. However the gap between the ‘logical’ science discipline and the ‘creative’ dance world for me can sometimes seem more like a gigantic chasm rather than a hair-line border with osmotic potential. Claxton believes otherwise, and carries on to completely fuse the two in a mere hour and a half, leaving everyone in the room wide-eyed.
The cavernous space of the Siobhan Davies roof studio suddenly feels more intimate as Claxton begins to speak, his voice confident and inviting. The room bristles with excitement as Gill Clarke warmly introduces this acclaimed writer and author of the innovative success Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind. Claxton’s work to date has centred on his enthusiasm for teaching, which has been heavily influenced by his own Buddhist practice.  He speaks about his interest in the link between mind and body, and the intriguing concept of unconscious autonomous intelligence.
Claxton starts to explain the interesting ways your mind seems to work things out for itself while you are completely unaware. Giving meditation as an example, an issue that I’m sure a lot of people come across, he explained that good ideas; those which may not arrive fully if you try and will them to, seemed to come along by themselves whilst he was trying to concentrate on his breathing during meditation.
This is something I certainly came across whilst writing my undergraduate dissertation. I surprised myself by how little time it took for me to grind to a writing halt. For about an hour and half I would write continuously, with little attention paid to editing my work, however after this time it felt as if my brain had taken on a greyish hue, my eyes turned into rectangles and my face felt slanty. At this point I had to leave my seat; sometimes mid sentence – my words would just flap away like trapped birds willing to escape, and I would not return for at least two hours. I’d go for a walk, wash up, do laundry – anything physical. And the interesting thing was that during these times I had my most inspired ideas, where they came from I can’t say, but my mind seemed to store them all up ready for another 1 ½ hour full-pelt laptop marathon. Slow progress one might think, but my productivity during my writing times was increased tenfold.
It is interesting then, as Claxton brings up, how the education system in this county has developed. Children are encouraged to sit at a desk and work for hours at a time, and are taught that comprehension comes before competence. When, in fact learning through doing, through physicality, encourages wider brain usage and capacity. Claxton remarkably explains that the physical and verbal attributes of the brain actually derive from the same root. With this in mind, he asks the audience of mainly dance artists whether speech during movement seems integrated. Clarke notes that they do feel separate, and part of two different mindsets. I can partly agree with this, I find speaking and moving incredibly difficult and somehow incongruous. However using language through writing comes naturally, and as writing can be considered a physical act, I find words come so much easier through this method than if I was to speak and move. I think of myself as fairly articulate with language, but when it comes to verbally expressing myself, I struggle and often sound as if my IQ has dropped by about 50%. So it’s the physical act of writing, the movement, which encourages and develops my cognition. It’s is also the fact that writing allows you to think before you write, and also move around before you commit to paper. It could be said then that language is a tool of expression, and the verbalisation of such requires a different process all together. Claxton also mentions that movement in children is often a lot more mature than their words, and therefore if deprived of movement, children find it harder to understand. Why then is the education system forcing children to understand the concepts of things before they are given a chance to try it out? This also true in my experience as a musician, if playing something by memory, it’s a complete waste of time to try and remember the notes or picture the stave, or even hear the music. It’s the muscle memory I fall back on, the way my body moves around the instrument; which only comes if you try and disregard everything else.
Claxton mentions that the common perception is that we think in consciousness, not so, according to Claxton, in fact we think into consciousness. By slowing down we notice the act of conscious thoughts arising; in the form of ‘glimmerings’ and ‘inklings’. From a phenomenological point of view, we often disregard the act of perception as automatic and immediate, when in fact perception is active and can be directed. It becomes a form of ‘doing’. It is a building up of imagined images that derive from pre-judgements due to a lack of mental capacity and an inability to process countless possibilities and outcomes. This is what some phenomenologists call a frontality of perception. We understand something through our previous engagement with it; it is integrated into our perception which therefore feeds our knowledge.
So, if perception is a form of doing, and movement equals giving your brain some space and time to think on its own, and if this movement equals better, more informed ideas, then why do we force children to focus 100% of the time? I for one am glad to have figured this out early on, before I stick myself behind a desk for the rest of my life.
Right – I need a washing up break.


Say Something Live music night - Bear Cavalry, Random Impulse, CODA, Rizzle Kicks

Say Something, a live music night and inspirational brain child of GU2 radio has been ambling alongside Surrey’s sub-standard union events since December 2009, slowly collecting fresh-faced and eager music fans along the way like a slow-motion snowball, frosty and determined. And, a lot like a snowball, mildly unnoticed by the majority until it gets MASSIVE and then causes an avalanche. More on this shrouded metaphor later. This year it lay deep in the merciless pit of fresher’s season cheese – sorry – fun, and provided a glimmer of hope for those seeking more alternative forms of entertainment.
The evening of the 6th October was loudly shaken out of its Thursday night sleepyness by none other than Bear Cavalry. Originating from Gosport, kooky four piece Bear Cavalry give a new definition to the word fusion. A group of musicians, all sensationally talented and with the most intricately mature sound I’ve heard from a ‘first-band-on-the-bill’ for a long time. Foals inspired licks combine with calypso rhythms and a bit of thrashing metal added in there for good measure. A valiant blend of Nordic folk harmonies, Vampire Weekend inspired cross-rhythms, and all tied up with the string of indie wide-boy cheekiness. A shame to have had such an intimate audience, they truly outstood their slot in the bill.
Next up is rapper and song writer Random Impulse. Nothing really random or impulsive about this dude but his tunes are catchy enough. An NERD inspired mixture of slamming guitar chords and bouncy hip hop lyrics with a grimey undercarriage.  A little too lyrically repetitive in his choruses compared to his quick witted verse spits, but he seems to get the crowd nodding. Openly inspired by the White Stripes (I think he mentions it in one of his songs) with a twist of WTF, Random Impulse could afford to test his genre fusing impulses a little more. A nod-worthy act for the second slot, which is always a hard one to fill.
The infallible CODA were next to grace the stage, the band who were tipped to headline the last Say Something before they unfortunately bowed out. With their soaring live trombone melody backed by pumping dub step, it’s almost impossible not to dance. Currently London based, this five-piece have been mastering the synthesis of dub step with live musicians since 2009. Their sets are a trippy blend of chilled out reggae and jazz rhythms, highlighted by live electric guitar and the most rock star trombone player I have ever seen. Beach-side paradise imagery gives way to ecstatic dancing as the bass kicks in and we are thrown a gushing bucket of a remixed The Prodigy’s Firestarter, finishing the set with tremendous energy and, yes, a lot of sweatiness.
By this point in the evening the dance floor had become increasingly difficult to move on, students piling in left right and centre to catch a glimpse of the infamous Rizzle Kicks. What did I say about an avalanche?!... The Rizzles kicked their way into their set, bounding on stage in Fresh Prince inspired attire to great applause. Through the sea of blackberries and i-phones that were immediately thrust into the air,  the most I saw was a few fuzzy barnets bobbing up and down and a heavily dreadlocked guitarist who seemed to be enjoying himself. Now, I don’t want to sound like a grump, but where were all these people when Bear Cavalry got down with their trumpet? The Rizzle Kick’s songs are full to the brim with identifiable lyrics and mainstream catchiness; and it’s clear by the audience’s reaction that these two baby-faced rappers are onto a winner. Slightly disappointing that they felt the need to rap over a recorded version of Jessie J’s Price Tag – sorry- who are we coming to see here?! – a mere way of padding out their limited set by getting the audience excited by other people’s songs. Still, the audience seemed to enjoy it so that’s the main thing right? But for this reviewer, it is very rare occurrence when the first act on the bill totally trump(et?) the 80’s inspired shorts off the headliners.


Crossing Borders: 4th October with Ben Duke

Ben Duke sits at ease on a sofa below the majestic ribboned ceiling of the Siobhan Davies studios. His appearance here comes as part of Independent Dance’s annual series of talks called Crossing Borders. The series aims to challenge and question the ideas behind inter-disciplinary work, and explores the ways in which different art forms can be enriched and informed through cross-collaboration. In collaboration itself with The Place’s postgraduate course Edge, and this time also with PAL (performing arts labs), Crossing Borders brings to its platform Lost Dog co-founder and choreographer, Ben Duke. From a company renowned for its inter-disciplinary use of movement, theatre, text and live music, Duke’s seems like a perfect brain to pick to kick-start this series of talks.
Sat in front of an impressively sized audience for the first in a series, Duke begins to contemplate how the concept of crossing the disciplinary border is addressed in his own choreographic work. He talks about beginning with a story and characters, the way one would assume a theatre director would begin. However he goes on to describe how his approach to ‘story’ is not necessarily in the linear narrative sense. He speaks of expanding a single moment, and exploring the millions of possible moments that could take place within a mere couple of seconds. Almost a theatrical approach to chaos theory, Duke explains how within his work these minute moments are stretched, sometimes through the use of dance or other abstract forms, to create a sense of parallel realities. As an agent of illusion, the physicality of movement seems to emerge, dream-like and embedded through an immersive narrative as a way of generating believable frames for the dance.
To create engaging pieces of work that successfully combine dance, text, music and narrative without ending up with a spangly tits and teeth musical theatre piece requires some serious thought. It begs the age-old question, mulled over by audiences and choreographers alike, how do you make it so that the characters within a piece believably choose to dance? Duke asks ‘how do you bridge the gap between reality and an abstract reality?’.  He provides us with an undesirable example of musical theatre and its harsh changes between spoken text and show-tunes (group-shudder).
The answer to this seems to hover around a certain element of subtlety. He describes a delicate balance between providing the framing devices of narrative and character for the dance in order to tie the piece together concisely and not leave the audience utterly perplexed, yet also leaving enough space for ambiguity and imagination. The level at which an audience’s emotions are directed can be controlled through the subtle marriage of text and movement. A choreographer must take control of an audience’s emotional journey through the piece if they have any hope of communicating some tangibly emotive meaning or leaving behind a form of reactive residue. Duke describes his use of layering as a way of inducing subtlety and combating the clunkyness that could arise if movement and text are put together haphazardly. By allowing an expansion of the audience’s imagination through carefully constructing this blurred connection between theatre and dance, the audience member then has the agency to interpret what they see differently. They can relate it to their own lives to make it more emotionally relevant, rather than some distant story about some removed characters that may or may not bare any social or cultural relationship to the viewer. Duke also adds here that in the building and layering of character; when developed in conjunction with text and theatre and most importantly improvisation, a feeling of immediacy can be conjured. Through the use of improvisation, characterisation and physicality can be kept alive, leading the audience to believe (but at the same time not really believe) that this series of events unfolding on stage is happening for the first time. A sensitive balance between letting the audience know that this is a performance (yes, very Brechtian) and tempting them to become emotionally involved within the story creates this two-way pull that seems to fuse the use of dance and theatre. Almost like saying – yes, audience, I know this is completely unbelievable because two people wouldn’t ever go from a very verbal confrontation to a twisty-turny-lovely-dancey phrase in normal life but, oh, don’t we wish we could... wouldn’t it make so much more sense...


I Wish...

As most normal twenty-something arts graduates, my response to ‘I wish’ would be to write something along the well-trodden lines of recent government funding cuts to the much needed and highly overlooked arts sector. After graduating from a dance degree, you don’t just have to answer to those people with the cynical comments,  disparaging looks and turned up noses at your seemingly worthless arts degree, you also have to face up to the harshly naked fact that these people may in fact be right. It’s a slow and horrible dawning that has been hanging, putrid in the air over your head through your last few months at University, only to reveal itself now in its brutal and horribly real form. A realisation that the world of candy canes, gingerbread men and arts jobs that flourish from trees is simply the result of rose-tinted glasses. The problem is that most people know this, but are too passionate (some might say naive) to give up on their art completely and find a ‘proper’ job. But, all this has been said before. ‘I wish for a job’ isn’t going to cut it. I wish doesn’t mean I get. So, I’m going to flip the scripts. There’s a certain art in being able to see a little silver lining in that terrible head-cloud, and I think I may have mastered it. Constantly wishing after anything can have disastrous affect s; it can encompass your every being, take over your mind and soul, it is all expansive and incredibly exhausting. This is why I have stopped wishing. I’ve come to the realisation that all this struggle, debt, pure and unashamed poverty; questioning every life decision I have ever made and failing to establish the core to my very existence, is actually a good thing. If, the moment I graduated, the perfect job grew extremities and rushed to meet me with a warm embrace at my front door, I wouldn’t appreciate it half as much. Feeling like I’m struggling, head strong into gale force wind, wayward leaves and shrubbery getting stuck in my hair, bits of people’s letters (probably hefty bank statements and interview invites) flitter mockingly at my face, I can safely say when I get that job I will be pleased to have worked for it. I will never compromise my art. And having experienced stark career poverty, I’m all the more determined.


The London Rioters - In need of a creative outlet?

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last 7 days, (and let’s admit, who can blame you?) you would have been bombarded continuously by the countless news stories related to the London Riots.
24 hour TV coverage, specialist radio programmes, You-Tube videos, Facebook and Twitter posts; a media frenzy that has tornadoed through our lives, ripping across the seams of society and leaving behind a littering of moral panic.
Looting the general public of their ability to make informed decisions and tarnishing the young population with the same photo-shopping, cutting and pasting sensationalist brush. 
The digital age has brought with it access to a million points of view, all at once, and all trying to nudge us into thinking a particular way. The news has always been biased, but as a growing commercial enterprise, there’s no escape. The lines between reality and a regurgitated represented reality are being blurred, so much so that the media has an ever increasing and frighteningly high stake in public opinion.
Logging on to Facebook last Monday, about 98% of people’s statuses were riot-based, and interestingly enough there seemed to be divide between those that lived within the areas that were hit by the riots, and those that lived in, say, the Surrey or Oxfordshire countryside.
The majority of London dweller’s statuses attempted to attack the problems behind the rioting, whereas those who were not directly hit by the riots were attacking the yobs, criminals and looters. The interesting contrast here is the level of mediation that each resident has been subjected to, with questionable originality regarding the construction of these ‘opinions’.
Perhaps what we need, to combat this encroaching deluge of media influenced opinion, is to develop alternative ways of thinking.  Perhaps we can take influence from the artistic and creative thinkers of this world, who often indulge in critical analysis. If the public were to begin to recognise their own creative validity within the cultural sphere, perhaps public opinion would become more public-led, rather than led by those at the top of the media chain (Rupert Murdoch, anyone?).
So what if creative thinking could be applied as a solution to other aspects of the riots?
The arts have been one of the industries worst hit by the government cuts. Jobs in the arts are becoming increasingly rare, budgets for the arts and humanities departments in higher education institutions are being slashed, and arts companies are facing great holes in their staffing structure, which they struggle to fill through lack of funds.
The arts are seen as a luxury, a cultural-add on for countries that can afford it. But what the government did not consider is how the arts actually shape society. Art is not an extra, art is essential for a country’s social infrastructure, especially one in ‘financial meltdown’. Particularly for young people, art provides a way of expression that cannot be sought through any other means.
A favourite quote by John Martin states, ‘Life depends on science but the arts make it worth living’.
The riots came after 8 out of 13 youth clubs were shut down by Haringey Council. So how can the government think that the arts are an expendable resource?
Ok, so a lot of the rioters did just want new tellys and trainers. But what happens if we replace this obsession with material goods - this all-encompassing consumerist society, with a passion for something else?  
A passion for making music for example, or dance, or art. Creative thinking is not something that can just be switched on and off, it is a matter of displacement. Art is something that can bring people and communities together, it is something that encourages a new and different way of thinking, a way that is desperately needed, more so now than ever.


Album Review: Ritual Union by Little Dragon

Ritual Union, released in July 2011, is the third album by Swedish electronic band Little Dragon. Allegedly named after lead singer Yukimi Nagano’s fiery tantrums in the recording studio, Little Dragon have been making music since 1996. Their two previous albums, self titled Little Dragon released in 2007 and 2009’s Machine Dreams make excellent predecessors of Ritual Union, a seemingly more simplistic and paired down album compared to their previous sweeping electronic backdrops and epic instrumentation.
Ritual Union seems to take more of a minimalist approach, with the newly released title track relying heavily on an electronic baseline that’s tapped neatly out on the keyboard. This ostinato is nevertheless successfully catchy, and fits well underneath Nagano’s sensually breathy but sweetly simple vocals. 
The album is produced excellently; balancing the percussive element well as it scuttles around underneath the layers of audio, minutely whispering its presence and getting under your skin. However this means that the music’s quality and intricate nature can only really be appreciated through higher calibre headphones. Through normal-average-Joe-poor-student speakers it’s a shame to say that Ritual Union is enjoyed best as background music. Very good background music, but still background music. Not lift music though, that would just be insulting. 
The hint of Japanese influences seem to have disappeared from this album, a trait that softly lingered throughout Machine Dreams, and has been replaced by more of an 80’s vibe. Particularly in the fourth track Shuffle a Dream; slightly La Rue, slightly Blondie, and slightly suitable for jumping around to in spandex and an awful perm.
The same can be said for the 8th track Nightlight, however with a more affluent array of rhythmic patterning, Nagano’s delicate and airy vocals wind themselves cleverly around the surrounding electronic labyrinth.
It is sad to say that Little Dragon’s reductive approach to this album seems to have resulted in them perhaps taking out a little too much. From listening to it I find myself wanting after a few more expansive vocals as seen in A New from Machine Dreams, where Nagano’s beautifully and extremely capable voice echoes ethereally across a thicker and richer tapestry of sound. Everything seems a bit clipped, a bit quiet, as if Little Dragon’s new studio has been built next to a library or a maternity ward.
If you are new to Little Dragon I highly recommend a visit to their earlier albums before delving into Ritual Union. If you fancy a mix of La Rue, James Blake, with a little Cinematic Orchestra thrown in there, give Little Dragon a go. No doubt they will continue to evolve in their music making and challenge their listeners further – a respectable trait in today’s auto-tuned, consumerist music scene.


Soundwave Festival Croatia 2011

Picture this: you’re strolling along an idyllic seafront, calm waves gently lap against your ankles in pure transparency as the sticky Mediterranean climate breathes a contrastingly fresh breeze across your face. Brightly coloured square buildings line the streets with rows of orange brick roofs, these buildings garishly inhabited by shops, restaurants and apartments for tourists. The sun is setting across the sea, crimson and lilac clouds hang streaked by the brightest yellow. The tangerine sun melts slowly down towards the sea where it is distinguished, leaving behind the most beautiful sky man has ever seen. And through this the sound of heavy dub lingers in the distance, summoning you across the bay to the Soundwave festival site.
Soundwave Croatia took place between the 22nd and 24th July 2011 on the beautiful Petrcane peninsula in Zadar, Croatia. Hailed by London Lite as ‘basically The Big Chill on sea’ (www.soundwavecroatia.com), Soundwave is the brainchild of perfection by events companies Soundcrash and New Bohemia. Recognised for their effortlessly alternative and downright brilliant line-ups and DJs, the two combine to bring Croatia an assortment of the best dub step, jazz, electronic and reggae, with sets often uniting all of the above genres.
A far cry from the mud slopes of Glastonbury, the festival site itself is a thing to behold. With its intimate capacity, one stage is a mere hop skip and a boogy away from the other. By day, the well used festival site known as The Garden is a peaceful abyss. Set on a wooded peninsula surrounded by the warm Adriatic sea, festival goers can lounge in their tanned bikini bodies, watch the waves and the world go by, supping on sweet Somersby’s cider. There is beach volleyball for the more active visitor, or the sought after boat parties that sail along the coast, playing host to some of the festival’s DJs. Sound checking echoes across the beach as the acts warm up for a 1pm start, allowing the hungover to gracefully recover before partying again.
By night, the site takes on a more magical appearance. The trees are illuminated in blue, green, red and purple whilst their trunks are wound with sparkling fairy lights. On entering the site, dancing is suddenly a pre-requisite, and you feel the need to throw some shapes whilst travelling to your desired destination. This often results in some interesting new dance techniques. To your right is a collection of sea front bars; a tropical themed tiki bar, a wine bar for an optimum view of the sunset and the beach bar stage – a purpose built dance floor which suspends over the beach. Here you can bob around to some hard core dub step, club style lights flashing across the sea for braver ravers to try their moves on the slippery stone beach.
Towards the far end of the festival site is a catering area with simplistic offerings of burgers, chicken and chips. Options of wraps and salads are also available however turned out to be the messiest thing ever to be consumed during a live set. Attempting to enjoy a band while your food disintegrates in your hand is not the most enjoyable experience. However the surrounding village of Petrcane offers a vast range of very cheap Italian (!) food for most tastes and requirements.  
The main attraction of the site is of course the main stage. During the opening night this stage saw the delights of Roots Manuva and Bonobo, personal favourites on Friday and Sunday evening. Bonobo’s chilled soundscape wrapped itself around the space like a cloud of purple smoke, enveloping the audience and keeping them thoroughly capsulated. Live flute and clarinet floated loftily over murky bass notes and catchy rhythms, enhancing the richness of the audio experience. Roots Manuva’s legend status was evident as he got the whole garden singing along to his monumentous deep and poetic lyrics.
Earlier on the Friday the stage was graced by Brighton based singer/songwriter Andreya Triana. Her voice like honey, melting effortlessly across her exquisite vocal range. Andreya ran through favourites A Town Called Obselete and Lost Where I Belong, a song soulfully describing the hardships of a struggling singer, from her recent album of the same name. She then rounded off the performance with an acapella version of Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics. Using her stunning voice in instrumental harmony to great applause, Andreya grinned along with the audience, both parties feeling as if they’ve experienced something uniquely special.
Saturday was kicked off by the limitless Riot Jazz, a jazz band fully equipped with Sousamaphone, a brass instrument that winds around the players body as if he is attempting to play an attacking snake.  Riot jazz belted out covers of The Human League and Marvin Gaye, getting every member of the audience crazy dancing. As the expert MC shouted over thunderous brass rhythms, the audience responded with further hip twisting, head nodding and foot tapping. 
The ethereal Little Dragon topped the bill on Saturday night, an utterly spine tingling set. Front woman Yukimi Nagano‘s sugary tones delicately decorate the captivating electronic backdrop as she commands the stage, energetically crashing out rhythms with her hands on the gigantuous lit up drum kit. The violet and fuchsia lighting, echoing melodies and glittering percussion turns this performance into something otherworldly. Perfect accompaniment to a perfect setting. If you like good music in beautiful surroundings, I would thoroughly suggest a trip to Soundwave in summer 2012. It won’t disappoint.   


Get What You Need

Its been a while since I've had a revelation. Particularly through the deepest and darkest depths of my final year, anything other than coursework that involved more than an amoeba level of brain activity was left for a rainy day. I was enveloped by the bubble of campus as it swelled around me, warm and womb-like. News of the outside world tended to hit the outside skin and was deflected as if hitting a forcefield, not through disregard, but through a sheer inability to compute. Basic automatic tasks could be dealt with - cooking, shopping, laundry, whilst my dissertation swirled inside my head, seeming to mimic my clothes as they made a similar journey around the drum of the washing machine.
Having lived my life like this since October, finishing my degree left me feeling slightly empty. There was no jumping up and down, no crying, no whooping or hollering. The ceremonial opening of my results was met by what I can only describe as a slight noise at the back of my throat.
Then comes the avalanche of expectancy. By this I mean the sudden popularity of the phrase 'so... what are you going to do now??!' by everyone in your direct vacinity and further. The next person who asks me that question will get the death stare.
It is very common as a graduate to get that wobbly moment. Especially in the arts, there are no pre-prescribed jobs. No accountancy apprentiship schemes, no NHS shortages. But perhaps that's the exciting thing about it. No journey in an artistic career is linear or sometimes even logical.
I was in class the other day led by dance artist Matthias Sperling, who draws a lot of influence from performance artist and teacher Deborah Hay. During this session he kept repeating the phrase 'get what you need'. In terms of improvisation this can be translated as doing what your body wants to do rather than what your mind tells it. But it got me thinking about other aspects of life, and that maybe the most important thing is getting what you need.
Some people need stability, some people need to use logic, some people need to be around people. Its been a slow realisation for me that my need is in creativity. As artists, if we boil down our ultimate desires and aspirations to a single aspect, a whole world of new opportunities open up. In my opinion, a couple of key ingredients for happiness can help you find stimulation in the most unlikely of places.
If we concentrate on getting the very basics of what we need, we can learn so much along the way. So when the next person asks what I'm going to do now, I'll answer 'I'm getting what I need out of life, are you?'.


ONE by Amina Khayyam - A review for Pulse Asian Dance and Music Magazine (www.pulseconnects.com)

Amina Khayyam
University of Surrey Theatre

Reviewed By Lucinda Al-Zoghbi/Sian Goldby

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Does everything really begin with one or is it that everything ends with one?’
Forming the basis of her solo kathak work, choreographer and dancer Amina Khayyam explores the numerous concepts behind the idea of One. She divides her piece into four sections, each questioning the place of One inside worldly time structures. Where does One fit within a performance? Can One ever exist?
Khayyam’s eighteen years’ training have seen her tour nationally and internationally, for companies such as Akademi and Sonia Sabri amongst others. Khayyam’s artistic focus is a collaborative one, which celebrates the stylistic uniqueness of classical kathak dance and its place within an ever-evolving modern context.     
 There is evidence of this generous collaborative spirit between the dancer and her musicians, who share a deep understanding through the language of kathak. One features Debasish Mukherjee on tabla, Tarun Jasan on sarod and vocals from Lucy Rahman, and explores her ongoing work with Mukherjee. Khayyam converses with the musicians through body language and musical structures upholding the inseparable link between the two. There is a great informality in the collaboration- it’s almost improvisatory, a refreshing approach when compared with a Western dance format.
 Stand-out images are dotted throughout the piece as reference points for the audience.  Scattered flowers provide a particularly memorable image as Khayyam playfully collects and throws them into the air.  This image is delivered with a smile that radiates throughout the auditorium to make this observer burst into a similarly beaming smile. Equally, it is impossible to look at her face and not be immediately whisked away; we tightly perch in our theatre seats whilst our minds float alongside Khayyam.  She has transported us to another world. We follow her onto a moonlit plane, where her veil flutters softly in the wind and the musky scent of dawn envelopes us.
Yes, in one sense Khayyam’s consecutive chakkadar spins and extremely fast tatkar are technically faultless. They flow effortlessly from her centre, delicately accentuated by flowery mudras. In another sense, movement doesn’t matter. With a strong abhinaya, Khayyam can reference emotive depths that span from sheer joy to deep sorrow, showing intense artistic negotiation between movement and intention. Her head tilts sweetly with her movement as she offers it to the audience, her expression filled with humble confidence.
 When thinking back on this piece it is hard to avoid the image of Khayyam’s exquisite expression entering the mind. One hears the phrase ‘her eyes are windows to her soul’ and many times discard it as inhuman nonsense. However, with Khayyam they really are. What power there is in her dance, in her story-telling, in her kathak. We cannot but yearn to encounter her again.
Khayyam for instance, moves to the microphone and is no doubt breathless, but continues to speak compact tukras and tihais, her tongue navigating the intricacies with ease. At some points the speaking is slightly out of time, however is noted and explained to the audience, and they begin again. This adds charm to the performance, involving the audience and strengthening the communicative bond. This accentuates a shared enjoyment of the dance and, as we move to the abhinaya, we are welcomingly entrusted to join Khayyam’s fascinating journey, becoming One with the dance.  The exquisite raag of the sarod and voice craft a detailed, heartfelt abhinaya.  It is this skill that makes Khayyam’s performance so powerful.  Her thumri is augmented with an extended structure and embellished movement, the accompaniment for which is calm, tranquil and yet so powerful.  


Say Something Live @The Union featuring Sleeping Robots, Kid Adrift, Mr B and Subsource

On Tuesday 14th June, the University of Surrey student’s union witnessed an event like no other. A far cry from the usual uber-produced, auto-tuned sugary pop hits that reverberate around the union’s walls, Say Something Live is a music night designed to delight the alternative taste buds.
The bill featured four bands; Surrey University based soft rock trio Sleeping Robots, rock/electronica group Kid Adrift, the lofty and heavily moustached gentleman rhymer Mr  B, and Subsource, with their heavy rock meets grinding dub-step to headline.
The gig began promisingly, with a mild to fairly generous turn out. This may of course have been a consequence of Sleeping Robots being Surrey University students themselves, baby faced and brimming with raw talent, however their presence on stage was highly professional. Their tracks were easily listenable and bop-along-able, if not slightly tame in comparison to the following act in the line-up.
Kid Adrift were next up, complete with a shabbily dressed Iain Campbell on vocals and guitar, and the outstanding voice of Rebecca Woolls, looking slightly like a wavy-haired festival-child. In direct contrast with Sleeping Robots, Kid Adrift seemed all too used to the gigging experience. Campbell skulked around the stage looking true rock star, whilst a few audience members warily eyed the keyboardist in fear that he may knock himself out on his own instrument through violent head banging.  Although the tracks they played were good; in an I’m-nodding-along-feeling-kind-of-alternative-and-cool sort of way, one couldn’t help but notice a few slips in tuning/timing, hinting that these musicians were out of practice. Also adding fuel to the fire were the band’s claims that this may be their only show in quite a long time. That aside, they  still got the crowd roaring and jumping, frenzied by the few students that they invited on stage to smash up a rather expensive looking keyboard (possibly one reason for them not being able to play for a while!).
After a mass evacuation by what felt like the entire audience to the single union bar, Mr. B graced the stage. Dressed in a smart suit and holding a banjo, this self confessed champion of ‘chap-hop’ began rapping to the audience in the Queen’s English. This man couldn’t be further away from Eminem if he tried. As Mr. B engaged in some sort of knee bend routine, akin to a parodied police officer out of the 1950s, his rapping in RP left the audience strangely captivated. They erupted in cheers after each highly amusing if not slightly samey track, injecting life-affirming humour amongst an otherwise deadly serious line-up.
Lastly, but by no means least, were Subsource, the headliners for the evening. After a last-minute drop out by previous top of the bill band Coda, Subsource valiantly picked up the gauntlet to subsequently ‘smash it’. Their music manages to blend all the best bits of rock, ska and dub-step, into a unique sound that seemed to vibrate out from the stage into waves of crazy dancing and intermittent mosh pits. Racing dub-step beats were layered over electronic scribblings, sections of melody were cut up and fed to the audience like sweets. Heavy guitar riffs were moulded around heart-stopping bass drops. Subsource make it almost impossible not to dance... and where else would you encounter a Mohican headed raspy rock singer belting out catchy lyrics whilst playing an electric double bass??!
Numbers seemed to dwindle after Mr. B, probably due to the last minute addition of the headline act. However for those who did stick around, Subsource topped off the evening in excellent style (and sweat). Adrenaline fuelled punters left the union on music high, making a nice change from frequent tear-drenched drunken lows of the normal union nights. Say Something Live nights have been an excellent addition to the University’s events calendar, bringing high quality, cheap live music to the student’s doorstep.

The Living Room - Yael Flexer and Nick Sandiland Digital Works

On entering the familiar space of PATS dance studio, an unusual scenario awaits me. A small child is happily toddling around the space, surrounded by six plainly clad dancers who are all making an attempt to copy the child. To the audience’s cooing delight, the little girl marches around with innocent glee, completely unfazed. After a while the audience settles, softened into malleable onlookers, innocently open to a plethora of metaphorical images that will henceforth be pitched from the performance arena. Or, put simply, this familiar scene of literal child’s play welcomes the audience, so we can all begin the piece at the same level.
After this brief prelude the stage is then lined with the six dancers, now childless. The dancers address each other fondly but confidently, names and fleeting comments in different languages scatter and rebound across the space like electric currents. A clear game structure becomes apparent, as each dancer takes on the ‘character’ of a certain piece of living room furniture. Shouts of ‘I’m the arm chair!’, ‘No... I’m the arm chair!’ spark comical battles between the dancers as they crescendo; elbows rigidly marking out shapes in the space, spines snaking and hands neatly folding the air. The use of witty timing makes this simple section effectively engaging, and the immediate introduction of the dancer’s names makes me feel connected to the performers, I’m part of the family, part of the furniture.
Then comes my official welcome. Yael Flexer addresses us by reeling out a list of things that we must expect from the performance, what there will and will not be, who will be dancing, when they will be dancing, and pretty much the whole structure of the piece.  There are no illusions of grandeur here. We are all adults now and this is a time for adult conversation and reflection. The living room is transformed into that mysterious shadowy place that you imagine after bed time as a child, once play time is over and the land of the living belongs to grown-ups. Flickering lights accompany a glitchy electronic sound track. Dancers walk purposely into the awaiting space, arms slice and torsos fold and invert themselves, enveloping in before whipping in momentum and suspending in mid air. It’s as if there is another force in the room, contorting these dancers. Sounds of crackly digital sketching are combined with live cello as the dance tidily shifts between complex duets and explosive unison.  The lights blindingly flash to full beam and... we are back in the room. The piece shunts us in and out of ‘reality’ so quickly that we barely have time to stop laughing and act serious.
The piece follows this prescribed and increasingly predictable text – dance – text linear structure as it progresses. Contrasting snippets of heavy duty dance with stripped down text, designed to enhance the everyday quality of the piece. This pedestrian element is subtly interspersed amongst the more virtuosic parts, cleverly injecting elements of playfulness and humanity. A ‘solo’ is ricocheted around the stage, bandied around like an old dress, fighting for an owner.  An intimate duet is mirrored by two couples, with meaningful eye contact and rash yet warmly placed palms are pressed onto chests and thighs; sensual yet charged with dynamic immediacy. The movement vocabulary of the dancers is impressively compelling, yet is not exempt from moments of over repetition. Luckily it sits comfortably within the comparatively short time frame of the piece.
A heavily pregnant Yael sits in the corner, playing Barthes’ dead author. The piece is something she has created, yet somewhere along the way she let it go, and now it is just playing along by itself, taking the audience on a journey of its own accord. She can but narrate this resulting detritus of everyday living.
An overarching theme of the everyday, the household, the living room, infuses itself within this piece. It is like an impressionistic visit to Ikea, complete with clocks and pot plants, old married couples and newly weds, and ‘subliminal jazz hands’ cheekily appearing in the lighting department.

7734 - Jasmin Vardimon

Jasmin Vardimon Company are currently in the midst of touring their new work, 7734, and I was lucky enough to see it on the prestigious Sadler’s Wells stage. There was a buzz of excitement in the foyer, as a few hopeful Vardimon fans eagerly awaited returns from the box office. Thankfully I wasn’t among them, but I could feel the anticipation lingering in the air. This same expectant baited-breath greeted me as I found my seat; amongst chattering college students (who did provide some hilarious running commentary, including ‘he’s jokes man... obviously on crack’ referring to one of the male dancers). Needless to say, I am a pretty big Jasmin Vardimon fan. Having been following the company since 2005, with slight avid fascination, my prior knowledge and expectations for Vardimon’s new piece were probably higher than average. The company have been performing to critical acclaim, fuelling my pre-existing fire and hunger to see the work.
7734 is a powerful piece to say the least, as an audience member you are handed all of the ingredients that make Vardimon’s work so very compelling. The movement is extremely physically demanding (and bruise inducing), the subject matter heart wrenchingly close to the bone; and the performers each finding the perfect balance between breathy, undulating movement sequences and punchy virtuosity. One thing I love about Vardimon’s choreography is the excellently timed comic relief, at moments even catching the audience out (I found myself laughing right across into a Holocaust reference). All this and they make it look so easy.
This, however brings me to the use of text in the piece, Vardimon’s handling of speech left me feeling a little uneasy. Ok, so the subject matter of perception and authority was made as haunting as it possibly could have been, amongst such images was a pile of almost naked female bodies, being ‘burnt’ by a smoke machine. So for anyone to come out of the auditorium and be completely unfazed by this, I would consider them dead inside. I was meant to feel unsettled, but it was not just the harrowing images that provided this, it was also the way the choreography was assembled. The music used was loud and mind-bending, by this I mean at times a tone akin to that of tinnitus was emitted, so it was designed to mess with our heads (the college students had great fun with that one). At certain sections, music came to a jarring halt; and the dancers, all in place and ready to go as their ‘characters’ would start a dialogue. Unfortunately, the term over-acting came to mind. The sections of pure dance set against pure dialogue was slightly jarring on my senses, not to mention my inner fanatic of the previous skill at which Vardimon had effortlessly intertwined the two. This abrupt reminder of reality had the successful result of distancing me as an audience member, meaning that I left the theatre feeling slightly affronted, having entered in heady excitement.
However, Vardimon must have realised the need to distance the audience member, and if I may be so brave to claim that this cleverly displays a theme which frequented the work, that of human memory becoming less and less evocative as it fades and travels along generations, as a kind of natural estrangement to periods of high stress.
So, all in all I would highly recommend seeing this, and for all those hardcore Vardimon fans out there, you have been warned!

Are you dancin' yet? 'Cos I'm askin'

So last night I found myself in a club. This was a) sadly a very rare occurrence of late and b) completely unplanned; the result being that I found myself surrounded by all manner of ‘grizzly ghouls from every tomb’ (this was Halloween night might I add, I’m not that harsh about people’s appearance generally), whilst being dressed down in more ways than one.
The very same day I had attended a symposium on popular dance here at the University, within which there was a paper on club dance, in particular to Drum ‘n’ Bass music. The presenter carried out her research by attending Drum ‘n’ Bass events, and studying the club cultures that were present there. This fascinated me, as when you think about dance research, you normally imagine going to a stuffy theatre, surrounded by a sea of grey heads and watching a piece of well-honed ‘dance art’, whilst getting a numb bum and crick in your neck. 
So with this fresh in my mind, I entered the club scene; pulled out a few moves, threw a few shapes, and, as I glanced around the room I realised, with this new ‘dance researcher’ hat firmly in my mindset, how much I take pleasure in seeing other people completely enjoying the moment of the dance. A little like improvisation, club dancing involves the expelling of emotion, a joyous response to catchy rhythms, sharing an experience, and yes, a little alcohol. Even the creepy guy on his own at the back of the dance floor (there’s always one) dancing a little like an amputated squid and giving everyone the eye, is having (I think) the same delight at moving his body in response(ish) to the drums and the bass; the pulsing backbones of most club anthems, in drunken exultation that this is the only place where moving in that way is socially acceptable (again, ish).
I believe the power of this type of dancing must not be underestimated, or at all taken for granted. Through acknowledging the intricacies of a kind of emotive therapy that this can offer people, is perfect grounds for it to be studied, much like any other social dance form. So I ask you this; are you dancing? Because really, I think you should be.

On choreographic style

This time, I am considering choreography, and how important (or not so) it is to have a ‘choreographic voice’. After having attended a talk by world renowned Israeli choreographer Barak Marshall, which was based on his own style of making dance; through a complex politic of traditional Yiddish hand gestures, folk music and Israeli historical taboos, something started to correspond with my current studies.  Marshall spoke about his ideals of making work on himself and then transferring this onto his dancer’s bodies. This does admittedly seem very old hat, and I personally thought we had travelled away from the time when this way of making was fashionable, and have started to understand that all dancing bodies move differently and so an exact replica of movement is impossible. However, he did also make the very valid point that having the dancers create the main movement material, which the choreographers then just ‘mould’ could have a reducing affect towards the choreographer’s ‘unique voice’ and movement style coming through.
I have always felt that having a specific ‘choreographic voice’ was not necessarily a good thing. As dance students we are encouraged to expand our movement vocabulary and experiment with different ways of making and moving, as to not get stuck in that dreaded ‘choreography rut’. However, after starting to work on an autobiographical piece (as part of our course) the focus shifted towards the understanding of our own personal choreographic style. And, I suppose once you acknowledge the inevitability of actually having a style, you then acquire the ability to move away from it (or back to it) if and when you wish. A key promoter of this kind of thinking is American choreographer Tere O’Connor. He speaks about ‘getting rid of the authorities in your brain’, or taboos if you like, when you enter the choreographic space. This works to get rid of any rebellion that  you may be feeling against your own ‘style’ or how you believe your work is perceived by the ‘authorities’, therefore creating a sense of freedom.
I think style, whatever it is, and not just choreographically either, but in a wider sense of the word, needs to be something that comes naturally, otherwise it can’t possibly be yours. And it is something that is owned and acknowledged, but therefore flexible.
It was Quentin Crisp who once said ‘If at first you don’t succeed, failure may be your style.’

If you like it then you better put a label on it

The concept of labelling things; and I’m not talking apple stickers or luggage labels here before you ask, is basically society’s way of keeping everything neat and tidy, and in its own little box so that everyone feels a lot more comfortable living within the surrounding world. Even language, an essential part of human communication, is just a complex system of labelling. As dramaturg Ruth Little states, language evolved to describe the things that were not in immediate sight. So this semiotic link between what we see, and what this therefore means, has dispersed itself into the nooks and crannies of society; rendering the use of labelling essential, if not only to situate one thing in relation to another. I’ll give you an example; more often than not, the type of music that you like, will no doubt in some minute way influence the type of clothes you wear, and how you perceive your likeness to others, simply because by choosing ‘genre’ we immediately enter into a system of labelling.
One aspect of this that I find particularly interesting is the labelling of dance genres. I recently purchased a book that lists all of the perceived art styles, schools and movements conceivable. Ever heard of New Brutalism, Post-painterly Abstraction or Stuckism? No, me neither. The fascinating thing about this labelling (extreme labellism?! There you are, I’ve just invented a new one) is how completely different it is to dance, or, at least contemporary dance.
All Contemporary Dancers out there, ever been asked what ‘Contemporary Dance’ actually is and been at a total loss of what to say? And no, it’s not all about emotion and narrative, Arlene Phillips. My point is that the word ‘contemporary’ has been used to describe everything considered vaguely ‘modern’, since Martha Graham decided to contract and expand wearing a piece of swaddling (simplistic description to say the least, admittedly).
Ok, so there are a lot of different genres of dance, each with its own style. But to have ‘contemporary dance’ as a genre in itself, goes no way to explaining what it actually is. Whether this is a good or bad thing is up to debate. In a way it would be nice to be able to explain in layman’s terms what it is you actually do; having specific labels within the genre would help to conjure up that well needed and accurate mental image; therefore creating a more significant sense of validity. As John Berger describes; ‘It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world’. However, contemporary dance was originally about breaking away from the conventions of dance; including the then prevalent system of labelling.
So, perhaps contemporary dancers, whatever shape or form, will just have to put up with being a bunch of ambiguous genre label-escapers (contemporary labellescapism?!). This, in reflection isn’t too bad at all, and is perhaps the very reason why dancers past and present turn to ‘contemporary dance’ as a source of refuge and freedom.

First Steps

So I've done it. I've become A BLOGGER. I've finally decided to take this writing malarky seriously. As I stand on the precipice of graduatehood, facing the cavernous depths of reality, I try very hard not to be consumed by the ill fated question 'what to do now?'.

The answer for now comes in blog form.

But, before I start properly I just wanted to post some of what I consider the best bits from my website (siangoldby.moonfruit.com). All in the name of cross-posting.