As we speak the whole of Wired Aerial Theatre is working on SLICE, a brand new outdoor Bungee-Assisted Dance show. The even more exciting news is that we have commissioned Sharon Watson, Artistic Director of Phoenix Dance Theatre, to choreograph it for us. Our own Artistic Director Wendy gave us some insight into working with Sharon and what to expect from SLICE this summer…
How did you come to the decision to work with Sharon?
I have followed the work of Phoenix Dance Theatre for as long as I can remember. I have watched it evolve and thrive and have admired Sharon’s work as Artistic Director for some time, particularly MELT, her aerial dance piece using slings/strops. It was this piece that led me to think that Sharon would be a very good choreographer to approach to work with us on the bungees. I spent a great deal of time researching Sharon before approaching her. I enjoyed finding out more about her choreographic process, her drive to keep things fresh and new and her need to keep moving forwards exploring new areas when creating work. She also spends an incredible amount of time researching, and for me, any good quality work that involves Bungee-Assisted Dance requires an awful lot of research and understanding.
What did you see in MELT that inspired you?
It was Sharon’s approach to making the work, from the perspective of feeling that ultimately dance was at the heart of all movement performed. I believe that aerial equipment can provide a way of extending movements, moments, and the dancer’s body while in the air, and while leaving and returning to the ground. This is what has always driven me to work both in dance and in the air, and of course this obsession is where Bungee-Assisted Dance grew from. Sharon and I have spoken a lot about how we are more focused on watching the dancers body form in motion, than being aware of the equipment that is sharing the space with the dancers. If we do it well enough we will lose the awareness that the bungee is there with us too.
After meeting with Sharon in 2015 to find out more about her personally and her way of working I was reminded of the fond memories I have of training at London Contemporary Dance School, when I worked with movement that makes you feel a certain way, and comes from within. Letting your individual movement qualities dance out of you! When I was swept off my feet working with De La Guarda, other things were added to the mix and became more of a focus; a whole new range of performance qualities and experiences. I am thrilled to be returning to a process that had been washed to the side of my palette a long time ago and am looking forward to sweating, rolling, jumping and moving from a place within my soul that could do with a really good shake up. We all are!
So where do you begin when inviting a contemporary dance Choreographer into your company to explore and use your aerial technique?
At the beginning! As everyone knows who works with me, I’m obsessed with accuracy. I need everyone to be able to speak in the same language so that we can all talk in great detail about what we are interested in, what we want to do, what we see and how we need things changing or developing as we work together in the same room. Of course there is a massive amount of fast tracking in this initial part of the process but I do always begin at the beginning. If we all speak the same language we can push the genre forwards intellectually, together.
So where is the beginning in this case?
I provided Sharon with a written manual of our technique. It’s a detailed reference point, has vocabulary sections in it and covers the basics of what she has in her toy box to play with when working with us. It covers both physical and technical information necessary to understand the technique and its uses, to allow her to make choices throughout our creative process. For me, even the act of clipping someone on and off the bungee is a huge detail and one that needs considering when creating the piece. A lot can be lost in a clip on/off moment from both an audience and performer perspective.
Do you follow the same plan each time you create work with a guest choreographer?
We always split the creative periods up into research and development parts before we begin working on developing the piece. We space these periods of work apart too, so that there is time for Sharon to process what she has seen and can come back to us with areas she is particularly taken with and wants to play more with. The idea is that we provide her palette with the largest range of colours, for her to paint the most intricate and vibrant picture for us.
So what is the focus this time? What can we look forward to?
Personally I am looking forward to exploring the pure movement qualities each dancer owns, including myself, and seeing how Sharon brings air to it. Seeing how her movement dynamic influences how we move on the bungees and of course the group work that will inevitably grow throughout the process. I’ve also suggested stretched fabric as an alternative thing to play with and we have all loved playing with this element most recently. I’m really looking forward to being exhausted by dancing in all dimensions!
From an audience perspective, we will explore with Sharon how the bungee can influence movement and its quality, and in doing so will arrive at a point where this vocabulary informs the theme for the piece. Having spent two periods of research and development with Sharon I can see already the dynamic she is bringing to our movement and can see glimpses of sheer exhilaration when it all starts to fit together. This is already a very exciting collaboration and will produce a breath of fresh air for all of us.
And finally, some thoughts from Sharon!
“What’s exciting about this commission is the fact we are colliding! My experience of aerial choreography goes back to when I was 18 years old and inspired by Ra Ra Zoo, the Australian company who planted creative possibilities. Not many companies fuse movement language in a way that’s seamless and intriguing. This is for me a perfect match, galvanising the skills and articulation of Wired Aerial Theatre with my athletic form, cinematic vision and musical integration!”