Behind the scenes: ‘Swapping Shadows’

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Costumes drying after our last rehearsal at Elizabeth House, 22/01/2018

Sunday 28th January 2018

‘Swapping Shadows’ premiered 5 days ago to a sold-out theatre. No wonder it took me a couple of days to land from cloud nine. I have been wanting to blog about it, without knowing where to start from. What to show? What to share? I wish you could all have experienced the piece live. How could photos and reviews account for it? Should I let you read what other people thought, or share my own text and thoughts first?

Well, let me take you backstage, where it all began and where everything took shape. Photos, texts, reviews and footage from the show will follow little by little over the next few weeks.

On Monday this week, Shivaangee and I had our very last rehearsal at Elizabeth House. Our costumes and lighting designers Akshy and Sally came to support us and check all final details. One of Shivaangee’s friends also watched us and gave us very encouraging feedback that morning. The centre’s director Nathalie Renaud saw our last run through the piece and said it took her on a journey – a journey I hope to continue further, with many more spectators…

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Four roses for my four collaborators, discreetly displayed in the dressing rooms. The Place theatre, 23/01/2018

Tuesday was the big day, with a 3-hour long technical rehearsal on stage, and the show’s premiere in the evening. The time had finally come to put our dance under the spotlights! It was a joy to tread across the stage and see everything come together, under the eager eyes of our photographers.

Between the tech run and the actual show, I took a break and shared some cupcakes with my sister who had freshly arrived from France. We stopped by the florist, so I could buy roses for my collaborators before picking up our parents and their friends from St Pancras International station. I left them shortly before 6pm to get into the zone for this long-waited-for performance.

Studio 7 was empty – a white blank page where calmness and focus would prepare me to ‘write’ the night. Between the dark windows and familar sounds of stamping feet above my head, I saw my 18 years old self, Second Year student at LCDS. There in this very studio, she used to come, solo. Rehearsing, trying again and again to make movements that would match this or that piece of music. Here she was again. Morning ballet class. Hair in a bun and leotard. Fighting for turn out, jumping, pirouetting, sweating… and perhaps not breathing enough.

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Pre-performance selfie in Studio 7, 23/01/2018

Now there I was. Singing the last tune of my piece. Same dancer, same (but even further trained) body, now aged 23. A graduate, returning, wanna-be emerging artist. Dancer/choreographer, proud to have her work programmed at The Place’s Resolution festival. To me, performing there felt like homecoming. It was The Place where I belonged.


 

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The Place where it all begins (again)

2018-01-06 The Place IMG_5281_1024Saturday 6th January 2018

I went back to The Place this morning, and got there at 9:00am (earlier than I normally do!) ready for a new year of dancing, teaching and performing.

This term, I continue teaching my lovely little First Moves (children aged 5-7) and New Moves (aged 8-9). I was delighted to see them again and meet a few new faces. Amongst these was my new teaching assistant, Theia, who studies at LCDS. She was wonderfully supportive and took good initiatives in both of my classes. I noticed that she immeditaly established great contact with the children, which was a joy to observe. The accompanist who joined us for New Moves did a great job too.

By the way, there will be more on music and musicians in my next posts!

If you follow me through this blog, you probably know how much I love to work, take classes and meet people at The Place. Of course, there are many personal and historical reasons for this.

Dance history is something I would love to research further, teach and write about, actually. This morning, my New Movers were so eager to find out more about Martha Graham, and how and when dance positions had been codified in classical and modern dance techniques… Did you know that The Place was founded 50 years ago? And do you know what connects The Place to Graham herself? More to come on this blog throughout the year!

2018-01-06 The Place IMG_5269_1024Architecturally, there is also something quite unique about The Place. No wonder that calling it ‘The Place’ seems to be enough – as if there was only one place (for dance) in the world. Even though one side of the building looks like a perfectly normal dance school (with lots of studios, bright light coming through the windows, and attractive stretching zones), a walk down the mysterious corridors of the lower ground floor and across the cafe leads directly into the theatre! And there I was. Facing a massive poster announcing ‘Resolution – The festival for new dance’. Next to it, I felt small, but determined. Small, but proud to be a small part of it. And ready, so ready for it!

The opening night of Resolution 2018 is near, and tickets are selling fast. I hope you have you booked yours. My collaborators and I will be back at the theatre on Monday, so watch this space for more posts on #swappingshadows and #Res18!


Prochain article en français, bien sûr. L’alternance continue en 2018. A bientôt !

“Swapping Shadows” : nous voilà !

Jeudi 23 novembre 2017

Aujourd’hui, c’est J moins 2 mois pour la représentation de “Swapping Shadows”, mon spectacle en cours de création pour le festival Resolution 2018, à The Place.

2017-11-23 The Place theatre IMG_4846_1024Aujourd’hui, donc, je me suis rendue au théâtre pour la session de “pré-production” offerte à tous les chorégraphes participant au festival. Nos collaborateurs étant les bienvenus, j’avais donné rendez-vous à mon équipe au 17, Duke’s Road. The Place for dance.

C’est l’occasion de vous présenter la team “Swapping Shadows” : de gauche à droite, voici Sally Somerville-Woodiwis, notre scénographe et éclairagiste, Shivaangee Agrawal, qui danse avec moi dans la pièce, et Akshy Marayen, costumière. Vous connaissez la chorégraphe !

Assises côte à côte sur les fauteuils du théâtre, nous avons passé une demi-journée intensive entre les projecteurs, hauts-parleurs, fumigènes et filtres de couleurs. Oui, la magie du théâtre était dans l’air, mais elle n’effaçait pas ma conscience des heures de travail encore à venir pour que ce projet puisse aboutir. Ces petits pincements de stress mêlé d’émotion, inévitables dans le monde du spectacle, me sont chers et précieux, bien qu’ils se fassent rares.

D’ici au 23 janvier, vous pourrez suivre l’avancement du projet sur ce blog et sur ma page Facebook. Je vous donnerai bientôt les dates de nos “previews” et répétitions ouvertes. Mes articles seront publiés en français puis en anglais, en alternance, mais n’hésitez pas à me contacter dans une langue ou l’autre pour en savoir plus !


 

Profession : prof de danse

Après un premier trimestre d’études en enseignement de la danse, ça y est ! J’ai été engagée comme professeur de danse pour enfants à The Place. J’y donne maintenant 2 cours chaque samedi matin.

Register, 07/01/2017

9h45-10h45 : New Moves, un groupe de 8-9 ans bien dynamique et déjà doté d’un fort esprit critique ! Avec 19 filles et 2 garçons inscrits, le studio se remplit et fourmille d’énergie, au rythme des percussions de Julie. Dans cette classe, nous construisons les bases techniques de la danse contemporaine par un échauffement au centre et des enchainements à travers l’espace. Puis, nous consacrons une vingtaine de minutes à l’improvisation. Nous dessinons des parcours jalonnés de bouteilles d’eau pour explorer 3 niveaux : le sol, un niveau intermédiaire et le haut, les airs.

Il me faudra sans doute une ou deux semaines de plus pour fixer les prénoms de tous les élèves dans ma tête. Mais quel plaisir de revoir les petites filles rencontrées il y a 2 ans, grandies et pleines d’énergie quand elles se lancent dans la danse !

 

11h15-12h15 : Place aux First Moves, les plus jeunes élèves de The Place ! Ils sont âgés de 5 à 7 ans, et pour maintenir leur attention tout au long d’une heure de danse créative, je me lance avec eux dans une aventure dansée, soigneusement préparée.

La semaine passée, notre leçon s’est déployée dans le ciel : on a décollé et volé comme des avions, pour ensuite explorer les formes et qualités de mouvements des nuages. Ce samedi, c’est à bord d’une fusée qu’on a embarqué, pour poser les pieds sur différentes planètes et glisser, voyager, sauter ou encore rouler à travers l’espace. Comme support visuel, j’avais apporté des images découpées dans le calendrier qu’on venait de décrocher du mur. De quoi inspirer et intriguer mes petits élèves ! Je les invite à observer les images et à les décrire avec des mots avant de passer aux mouvements.

Images from calendar 2016

Avec mes assistants, John et Robert, on a discuté d’un voyage dans le temps pour la prochaine leçon … Je ne vous en dit pas plus, mais dès lundi, je me lancerai dans sa préparation !

***

After a first term of studies in dance teaching, this is it! I got a job as a children’s dance teacher at The Place. I now teach two lessons every Saturday morning.

9h45-10h45: New Moves is a dynamic group of 8-9 year olds, already displaying pretty critical minds! With 19 girls and 2 boys registered, the studio is filling up and bustles with energy, to the beat of Julie’s drums. In this class, we build the basis of contemporary dance techniques through a warm up in the centre and combinations across the space. Then, we spend about 20 minutes improvising. Pathways marked with water bottles help us explore 3 heights: the floor, medium and high levels.

I’ll probably need one or two more weeks to remember all of my pupils’ names. But what a pleasure to see some little girls met two years ago, now grown up and full of energy when they start dancing!

11h15-12h15: Here come First Moves, The Place’s youngest pupils! They are 5 to 7 years old. To maintain their focus throughout an hour of creative dance, I embark on a carefully prepared dancing adventure with them.

Last week, our lesson unfolded in the sky: we took off and flew like airplanes, to explore clouds’ shapes and their movement qualities. This Saturday, we boarded a rocket instead, to set foot on various planets and glide, travel, jump or roll through space. As a visual support, I had brought images cut off from last year’s calendar. Enough to inspire and intrigue my little pupils! I invited them to observe and describe the pictures with words before proceeding to movements.

Together with my assistants, John and Robert, we discussed the idea of travelling through time in the next lesson … I won’t tell you more, but I’ll start planning for it on Monday!


Flexer & Sandiland in and out of sight

A circle of stools on the usual stage space. Set. Yet it wasn’t for the performers – unless spectators are considered performers … of the art of attending.

When entering The Place Theatre that night, each audience member could choose their stool, their spot, their unique viewpoint for the show. Yael Flexer herself took a seat quietly, a few stools away to my right.

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The Place Theatre, 28/10/2016

Lights went down. The piece could start. But all the way through, the lighting kept teasing my curiosity. It was all about the power of lights. What is seen and what isn’t. The visible and the invisible. What movement reveals. What a costume or props can hide.

I looked to my right, and the spotlight shone on two empty seats. The choreographer had just disappeared. She was gone, on the other side of the light. Now there she was, turning around our circle, revealing and hiding her dancers at her whim.

At her whim? No. Her journey had definitely been planned, and that is all her choreographic craft: an all-round conception of space, light, shade and their interplay. An immersive experience, for sure, with perfomers in and out of sight, right in front of me, but also behind my back sometimes, carving the space on the other side of the stools.

Everywhere, a wonderful flow of movement, punctuated by clever moments of stillness. Just enough time for questions to arise. What happened? To notice signs of past events. Somebody on the floor. Lifeless. What happened?

As it unfolded, the piece made me navigate between the realms of humour and darkness, jealousy and admiration. I was captivated by company members Nick Keegan and Julie-Ann Minaai, whose classes I had taken during the week. Knowing their movement phrases, and recognizing younger performers who stepped in later, made me feel even closer to the action. They took me on a 360° journey, and then vanished. The empty stage space was all that was left to witness.

Are all performances thus bound to be disappearing acts? If they are, fortunately, those that touch you might not escape your memories. Nearly two months have passed, but my impressions of the show are still vivid enough to tell it was a season’s highlight.


‘Disappearing Acts’ by Flexer and Sandiland. The Place Theatre, London, 28/10/2016

Choreography: Yael Flexer and the dancers
Dancers: Luke Birch, Nick Keegan, Aya Kobayashi, Lyndsey McConville, Julie Ann Minaai
Text: Wendy Houstoun
Direction: Pete Phillips
Sound Scores: Karni Postel, James Keane, and Nic Sandiland
Stage Lighting Design: Natalie Rowland
Digital Lighting Design & Set: Nic Sandiland