Stories…

It’s a Friday afternoon and the room is quiet but full.

Bodies move with ease slowly through the space.

Eyes looking ahead, remembering.

It’s Friday afternoon in Preston, but we could be anywhere.

Bodies push forward, onwards, endlessly.

They pass others as if they’re there / not there.

Whispers of words dance around the space as the mass moves on.

Eyes open.

Whispers of books & places & performances & objects & memories.

The bodies slowly shake their hips, hands raise, smiles form on the lips, toes tap, shoulders relax, and eyes gently close.

A swarm of silent bodies lost in dance in a room in Preston.

The distant sound of California seeps into the veins as The Beach Boys beats start to kick in.

We are lost.  We are dancing in California.  We do not want to come home.

We are lost.  Lost in a memory.  Lost in a dance.

A dance of love.  A dance of hope.  A dance to the future.  A dance to the past.

We do not want to come home.

We do not want to come home.

*Dance with eyes closed*

New spaces, new audiences, new music, new moves!

On Friday night, I tested out some new material from The Dance Collector at The Birley Studio‘s 1st Birthday.  I was kicking off my residency there with an open performance accompanied by Kath, a live accordion player!  The performance was re-positioned in the white gallery performance space, with a light up dance floor and text adorning the walls. During the hour before the performance, I collected people’s dance-moves: their signature shapes and go-to twists, which I remembered during the performance.  Having the audience recognise their moves – albeit badly boogied by me – was a great experience.

The piece also included old and new stories about people’s memories & experiences of dance.  These ranged from embarrassing and humorous, to ones rooted in cultural traditions, to a nostalgic reminiscing of dances gone by.

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I attempted to teach the audience to dance.  I described how I looked and felt when I danced.  I dedicated dance moves to you.  Kath’s accordion roared along – her quickening beats encouraging me to move more, her rhythms & melodies responding as I slowed down.  One guiding the other, who was leading not always being clear.

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This Friday night gallery crowd watched the performance from beginning to end, much like in a theatre.  On Saturday, however, as part of Lancashire Encounter, The Dance Collector performed again to a different audience.  I still collected stories & dance moves but engaged with a wider range of people in Preston – shoppers, workers & other creatives involved in the festival.  Some Salsa dancers came over from their own demonstration to teach me some moves.  Children performed their twirls & gallops.  This performance was more open, where audiences came and went, rather than staying for the full hour duration – many encountering The Birley & Performance Art for the first time.  Kath played on, competing with the bustle of the festival outside.  Inside, a smile on my face rose as I imagined the dance moves of the people present.

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Preparing for Lancashire Encounter

This weekend, Lancashire Encounter is coming to Preston, bringing with it a range of performance, music, dance, theatre & art.  The event coincides with The Birley‘s 1st birthday and we thought this would be a great opportunity to launch The Dance Collector!

During the weekend, The Dance Collector will be out on the market as well as enticing people into The Birley gallery, to share dance moves & stories about dance.  There will also be a free open performance 6-7pm on Friday & 4-5pm on Saturday, incorporating the moves picked up.

This is the beginning of working in a new, exciting space.  I have to consider what to leave in the gallery when I’m not in it performing.  I’m trying to think up creative ways the public can leave their dance dedications for me.  And I’m think to think up creative ways to document my work in the space so that people can find out more about my project.  What does The Dance Collector leave behind?  How can you show a collection of dance moves?

Working in this durational way is a new concept for me, being used to presenting a piece of performance with a clear beginning and end.  Finding ways for the public to engage in my work over a longer time scale is the direction this project is moving towards.

The Dance Collector: Artist in residence at The Birley

The Dance Collector is the artist in residence at The Birley Artist Studios & Project Space in Preston from August to November.

Working within this contemporary art space is really exciting for me.  – My plan is to develop my work on The Dance Collector on Preston market, as The Birley overlooks this market space, so finding a way to bridge the gap between the two spaces (and two worlds) is something I will be pursuing.

My current ideas for the residency are:

Ideas for Preston Market:

  • Engage directly with the Polish community to gather their stories & histories, & their place within Preston.
  • Participate in local dance groups, perhaps showcasing their acts at Preston Market.
  • Continue to gather stories, dance moves & dance histories from Preston.

Ideas for The Birley:

  • Invite community groups in for Polish food/drink & perform for them their stories – possibly set-up a pop-up café, dance workshops.
  • Create an installation of the stories & photos whilst I remember and perform dance moves collected as a durational performance.
  • Create a link between Preston Market and Krakow’s Sukiennice (Cloth) Market – tracing one over the other, merging their stalls & stories, sketching out their histories.

I’m really excited about this last idea and have already spotted a cloth stall on Preston market.

I wonder about the woman who works on this stall and women who work on similar stalls in Krakow.

I wonder about making costumes from the material on their stalls and the dances they & I could (attempt to) dance in them.

I wonder about the generations before my grandmother and whether they worked on this market, whether they danced in the main market square.

I’m interested in the real histories and the imagined ones,

the ones in which I live in Krakow,

the ones in which I can dance.

A first outcome for this residency will be on 25th & 26th September as part of the Lancashire Encounter Festival.

The Dance Collector at Hunt & Darton’s Cafe

The Dance Collector was a guest waiter at Hunt & Darton‘s Cafe at SICK! Festival in Manchester & Derelict Sites in Preston.  I collected dance moves and performed them back as a medley of half-remembered & poorly executed (genuinely) bad choreography!

dance collector

Andrew Anderson wrote an article on it for Now Then Magazine here:

Krissi Musiol is a bad dancer. But she won’t be offended by me saying this, because Musiol has turned bad dancing into an art form via her alter-ego The Dance Collector. Travelling across the markets, community centres and theatre spaces of the North West, Musiol is on a mission to gather together all of our best – and worst – dance moves, seeking out the stories behind our terrible twisting and horrible hokey-pokeys.

“It’s a celebration of heritage, culture, community,” explains Krissi. “It is not so much about the dancing but about what it represents.” And, with the North West’s dance heritage from the ballrooms of the 40s and 50s through the Northern Soul of the 60s and the rave scene of the late 80s, there are certainly plenty of tales to tell.

I first met Krissi at Sick! Festival, where she was a guest waiter at Hunt & Darton Café. She sat at my table, and before I knew what was happening I was telling her about the dance move I used to secretly practise in my bedroom (the moonwalk, if you must know – and, no, I never managed it). This was something I hadn’t shared with anyone, but here I was telling her after just a couple of minutes. That is why The Dance Collector works – Musiol is good at making you share a bit of yourself.

“I ask people whether they like to dance, and because they are being asked by a stranger they say no. They worry I am going to make them dance,” says Musiol. “So I say ‘me neither’ – I confide in them that I can’t dance. That puts people at ease.”

In fact, it was Musiol’s own lack of dancing skills that first drew her to this idea. “Because I am a text based performer, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to make a dance piece, but I can’t dance. It frightens me, because it isn’t what I do. It makes me quite vulnerable.”

There was also the story of her parents, who met at a Polish dance event in Whalley Range. Musiol uses this story to drive the narrative when she performs as The Dance Collector, along with a sequined costume her mother used to wear. “I asked her if I could use it for the show and she said ‘yes’,” says Musiol. “It is a great talking point, because it reminds people of Eastern European traditions and it represents the entire thing – my relationship with my heritage, with my mother, with dancing and with authenticity and things changing over time.”

Her process for collecting dances is quite simple. As she did with me and my not-so-thrilling Michael Jackson moves, it is simply a case of getting people talking. She then tries to replicate the dance moves, but says that “Often the person will get up and do it there and then, so show me how it is really done.” She keeps a journal of all the moves, and already has around a hundred.

The next step for Musiol, who lectures in contemporary theatre at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, is to turn the dances into a piece of theatre, one that can be performed both in community centre settings and in theatre spaces. “The whole project is testing out how to translate those public but intimate experiences into a theatre space. Does it work, does it not? That is what I am finding out.” She then plans to write up the results in a research paper, as well as using the experience as a case study for her students.

That might sound a bit dry and academic, but really the main thing Musiol is getting from the project is a sense of enjoyment. She is clearly inspired by the people she meets, and there is one group in particular that she brings up throughout our interview. “They’re called the over-55s luncheon group – although they were mostly closer to 85 than 55 – and they had a lot to tell me about growing up with dance,” says Musiol. “There was a culture of it, every Friday and Saturday night, which is something we don’t have.”

“There were people like Violet. I can really picture the twinkle in her eye as we do the hand jive. I know all about her family structure, her dog – she dances with her dog when she goes home, and I imagine what that looks like.”

When Musiol performed the piece for the luncheon club, it was a far more interactive experience than in a traditional theatre setting. “It’s like a conversation. They might say, ‘oh it wasn’t like that. It was like this’, so I had to be very open to the fact they wanted to join in. There were bits where someone couldn’t hear and they asked me to repeat it, which would never happen in a theatre.”

Inspired by this interactive performance, Musiol is attempting to instil that community feel into the theatre version of the show. “As the audience come in I offer them a piece of cake, so there is already engagement. It blurs the edges of when the piece begins, like in the community centre when there is no ‘lights down’,” says Musiol. “I guess you could say the piece has already begun once I arrive at the theatre.”

Musiol also gives the audience name badges that relate to each dance story, allowing her to directly address people during the piece as though they were really there. “Now people are waiting for when their character will come up, which makes it far more inclusive and breaks down the gap between me and the audience.”

As well as gathering more stories and creating a finished theatre piece, Musiol is looking to tour the work to community groups through the Performing Arts Network Development Agency (PANDA). “The plan is to change it for each community I visit, interweaving stories and legends from their own area into the piece.”

Wherever the piece goes next, it is nice to know that someone appreciates bad dance moves – even ones as bad as mine. “It is about committing to that move – and in that moment you are Michael Jackson,” says Musiol. “People really believe in them, and they do it with gusto.”

krissimusiol.co.uk

Andrew Anderson

FE365 – Places We Travelled

I wrote this piece for Forced Entertainment in response to a call out to write about our experiences of the company, as this is their 30th year together. The rule is each response can only be 365 words long.

I did my undergraduate degree at Lancaster University and Forced Entertainment regularly brought their work to the Nuffield Theatre there – the performances were different and challenging and memorable.  Their practice definitely influenced my company and I remember setting out on our journey after graduating to make performances fondly:

Sharing a house together,

rehearsing at strange times and in strange locations,

cramming the set into the car,

dealing with the problem of our car being towed away from outside a venue.

Now 10 years later, reflecting on the past and making work which looks to the future made writing FE365 feel important to me. Of course Forced Entertainment are still making work, and thankfully, so are we.

http://www.forcedentertainment.com/notebook-entry/fe365-krissi-musiol/