A small performance of The Dance Collector

This week, I am performing a scratch 15 minute version of The Dance Collector to the Luncheon Club at Wishing Well in Crewe who I have been working with over the past few weeks, and then to some students at MMU who are studying Community Theatre.  On Friday, I am talking on a panel for an event hosted by PANDA called Work for Non-Theatre Spaces.

In making this scratch work in progress showing, and in preparation for the PANDA event, I have been considering what it means to make work for/with a community.  My background is in studio based contemporary theatre, but I started moving into non-theatre spaces with Making Time, which was sited in theatre foyers and cafes.  However, with The Dance Collector, the content of the piece is made up of real stories and memories from the people I have met during this project – the performance is rooted in real locations and genuine annecdotes. – I wonder whether the audience will even remember telling me the small details – like how Ruth & Mary used Liquorice Torpedoes to stain their lips before a night out dancing?  Or whether Ethel remembers telling me how her name got shortened to Etty?  Through the performance, I’m hoping the audience will learn about the people they’re sitting next to, and that it sparks conversations after I’ve gone.

And I wonder how it will be to perform these stories to the students at MMU who haven’t met Roland or Margaret or Barbara or Peter.  Do the stories and memories translate outside of our circle?

I have thought of lots of ideas whilst creating this performance – projections of maps underfoot,  mirror balls glittering over our heads, lighting designs and films of girls dancing – but in the community centre, not all of this is possible (or not within this time frame).  Instead, I am hoping the authenticity of the two costumes in the space – the Polish waistcoat and my mother’s wedding dress will evoke the drama and emotion of these stories.

My mother’s wedding dress – a dress I remember her showing me 20 years ago.  Boxed up carefully in her mother’s loft.  As a 10 year old girl, I remembered it to be disintegrated and falling apart – but now it has resurfaced and I see it is fine. Yellowed, yes, but whole and sturdy.  It has survived.

There are so many things I haven’t yet tried – a tap dance in my grandmother’s shoes, a way to embody the postures of Irish dancing, integrating the drama of Pavarotti (how do you dance to Pavarotti?), installing a maypole and dancing around it…

I imagine that with this project,

I will carry forward the stories and moves from the people I meet

into the next community

so that there will always be a trace of those memories

intertwined with new ones,

weaved together

like the ribbons around a maypole,

like the ribbons binding my waistcoat to my body,

like my mother bound to me.

Making Time – 1 Year Ago & Now

Last weekend, I was invited to perform ‘Making Time’ at Wrought Festival in Sheffield – a two day festival of one-to-one performances in a warehouse space, followed by a post-festival panel talk.  The weekend marked the one year anniversary of starting this project, which I first performed at Hatch: A Better Tomorrow at Embrace Arts in Leicester, October 2013.  You can read about ‘Making Time’ and the other performances from the event in Leicester here.

‘Making Time’ is a performance project exploring time – how we spend or waste it, how we count it away, how we look to the past for answers to how we got to where we are, how we plan for the future and the things we want to achieve.

The provocation for creating the piece a year ago was turning 30 – a time to reflect on things I had achieved & things still left to do.  I live my life by a set of lists:

lists of things I need to do

lists of things I want to do

places I want to go

skills I want to learn

things that I think will make me happy

At the end of every year, I list 3 things that I have achieved

& think of 3 more I want to accomplish.

Last weekend, as I recited my monologue to the participants at Wrought Festival, I was thinking about all those postcards I would be posting on Monday morning – 1 year on from Hatch in Leicester.  I wonder whether they are expecting it, whether they remember it, whether it comes as a surprise?  Do they still live there, have they fulfilled the thing they wanted to do? Did they even try? Will they get back in touch? Who reads the postcards that land on the doormat of the address where the writer no longer lives? What do they make of it?

After the festival in Sheffield, there was a panel discussion where one of the conversations was around keeping the material fresh and unique for each new participant.  For me, they sit for 6 minutes, but I perform it for 3 or 4 hours at a time – it becomes durational, you have to concentrate to not get lost in the repetition.  But with repetition comes meaning and having performed the piece for a year now, new nuances within the text come out, new meanings, new ideas.  The text begins with the admission that I can’t swim even though I had lessons every week for 4 years as a child.  I don’t know why I can’t swim or what it is about it that I’m afraid of.  It is also a metaphor for other things: being afraid of jumping in, afraid of failure.  A year has passed and I still cannot swim and I’ve done nothing to address it, other than admit it to strangers during the performance.  Will 10 years be long enough for me to master it.  Or at least, to try?

Reading the messages people put on the postcards is always really interesting – the ones I really like are the coded messages which only the recipient will understand.  In-jokes & clues.  I wonder whether you will remember what you meant in 10 years time?  And the ones written in foreign languages and to be sent all around the world – I like the thought of the postcards travelling some distance, going to the places I would like to go.

It is my intention to make a studio piece about the experience – to gather back the stories from the participants and to see whether I too had made time for the things I wanted to do.  And are they even important any more?

One of my favourite lines from ‘Making Time’ goes like this:

“And there’s this place where you really want to go: Brighton, Edinburgh, New Zealand, New York?  Tomorrow that’s where you’ll find me…”

I have fleeting thoughts that perhaps I will read all the postcards, make a list from them and do all the things myself – go to all the places where you want to go, learn the languages you want to speak, write that book that you intended to write…

Maybe I will.

Inside, I’m a 17 year old rock ‘n’ roller

Today, along with my regulars, I met with the Home Exercise group at Wishing Well, and they were full of fantastic stories, bouncing off each other with memories of places, dances and the people they met.  The fun and laughter in their stories was infectious – we heard about Joan, aged 10, dancing at the conservative club and being ushered off stage by her sister because when she twirled, she’d forgotten to put her pants on, so off she ran, red faced…And then in her late teens when eyeing up the boys, there was competition amongst the girls.  They would secretly tuck the other girl’s skirt into the folding seats so that when they stood up they would show their knickers, get embarrassed and have to go home.  And then years later, her husband tried to learn but couldn’t grasp it and would often end up sliding across the floor into the drum.

Margaret told us about learning ballroom dancing in the playground from the girls in her class who could afford lessons – In Nantwich, she would dress up in her Aunty’s fur coat to try and copy the London girls.  Another lady sneaked some gloves from under the Christmas tree – a present she wanted to make early use out of – but they were pinched from the cloakroom so she had to ‘fess up for taking them early.

The fur coats, the gloves, the striped dresses with 4 petticoats, stiff from starch, bought from a catalogue.  They felt like the bees-knees.  In the top of their stockings, they would hide rouge, and once out the house and round the corner, they would apply liberally and then scrub it off later.

Back before people sat glued to the television, the people would go out dancing every Friday and Saturday, all night, not for two minutes like these days – and even if you were tired and needed a sit down then there was always the hand-jive to do.  Fish & chips on the way home from Hammersmith Palace – a Southern voice enters the Northern chatter.  Her husband couldn’t dance anything – then he learnt the twist and won lots of trophies.

Names of bands I can’t wait to listen to:  Jack Parnell Orchestra, Billy Fury, Screaming Lord Sutch, Edmundo Ros…and of course those I know Roy Castle on trumpet and stories of seeing The Beatles at The Majestic on the high-street.  Closer to my own upbringing, we are told stories of Belle Vue – seeing Nat King Cole and the old Palais de Danse – Ted Heath & Eric Delaney.

Another Margaret says she grew up in the country with not much around, so she would have to cycle to the dances and she recalls one night, her husband having drunk too much and rolling into a wall.  They danced barn-dances and the Gay Gordon.

And stories of wedding dances – someone’s son danced to Saturday Night Fever, someone else’s to The Birdie Song – remember that?!

A woman concludes: It doesn’t matter how old I am or what I look like now, inside I’m a 17 year old rock ‘n’ roller.

The Hand-Jive

I met some new people at Wishing Well this week – Les, who says “he’s a plodder not a dancer” but Maggie & I caught him on his feet later on, and May & Yvonne who were lovely to talk to.  Yvonne really took to the waistcoat my mother made and told me lots of stories about her & her daughter, Tina, and the clothes they had made including her daughter’s wedding dress which Yvonne hand embroidered back in 1997.  My mother & I are currently wedding dress shopping too and we are drawn to those with detailed beading, those which evoke a history of folk or culture, those dresses which tell a story and hold memories.  I’m wondering whether this project is as much about dress making as it is about dancing.

May gets up and dances the Jive with me, she’s laughing & gets others up, she’s not shy, she’s spinning and turning and it’s 1959 and The Shadows are playing and she’s smiling, she’s smiling.  And when the track’s over, she grabs her partner close and laughs “now it’s time for the smooching songs” before she sits down.

Elsie tells me about dancing aged 7-14, all the boys & girls together for charity dances in Crewe.  Now she spots the mistakes on Strictly – she can’t get up and do it anymore but she’s still got her eye on it, she can see how it should be done.

Barbara was born in Ontario and arrived in Crewe as a young girl – she remembers Latin American dancing with swishing skirts & high heels in Crewe Town Hall on a Friday & Saturday night, and then Irish dancing on a Sunday – her father who emigrated from Northern Ireland would play the accordion.

Maggie remembered dancing round the may-pole, the ribbons intertwining, she still dances with Lou-Lou her dog around the house and she gets up and dances with me – she holds my hands and we dance, we move – she dares me to dance with Pete, with Geoff, with Roland – who’s off for two half pints of ale down the local.  We talk about Elvis, pass slices of cake around, a Buddy Hollie tape plays on in the background, we do the hand-jive and I know that Violet can do it best – she doesn’t even have to think about it, it comes naturally.