“This studio is huge!” The first thing that comes to mind as you climb the labyrinth-like staircase and push the double doors to reveal and revel in Circus 3. Stratford Circus Arts Centre is like any other dance studio – slick wooden floors, ballet bars, mirrors – times 10. Incredibly spacious, more that you hope to use. This has been a recurring sentiment for the past few rehearsals – Headington School’s space was equally awe inducing.
This space would hold our informal sharing of Reflections. A small guest list of choreographers, theatre practitioners, mental health sector workers, and friends gathered to witness the excerpts of our production. Armed with pen and paper to feedback.
Me, Myself, and I
Delving deeper into the human psyche using Sigmund Freud’s model of the id, ego and superego. The piece explores the cyclical impact anxiety has on the inner workings of the mind.
First shown was the trio of performers – Amy Elliott, Iria Arenas, and Emily Parpas Georgiou – displaying what I still stand by as the best piece of choreography (in terms of aesthetics) I’ve seen since Botis Seva’s Woman of Sun.
“Hair raising. Excellent performance by all the dancers. Anxiety was excellently expressed.” / “Clear that they were sides of one person. I enjoyed the cyclical nature and the return of motif/repeats. Facial expressions were strong and not overdone.” / “Amy shows emotion throughout – lovely! A very strong performer and her emotion came through more.”
The three are strong performers, there’s no doubt – each bringing individual skills to the stage. Words echoed by Avant Garde Dance Company’s Tony Adigun who was present. I’m glad Amy’s characterisation was highlighted, as her wearing of the Superego essence came to life – showing the highs and lows eloquently with an incredible range of facial expressions. Yet praises are never really what one looks for in informal sharings. The overall characterisation of this concept was the Achilles’ heel of the piece.
“The character wasn’t maintained throughout for some of the dancers.” / “I didn’t get the differences between the id, ego and superego.” / “Felt like glass ceiling concept. Dancers weren’t breaking through to audience – felt like a performance rather than an embodiment.” / “Use of character – what does it mean in your work?”
A question sticks out: “what does it mean in your work?” Quite the existential question. Amy’s showing of the Superego connected with more people often than not – the superego is after all the psyche’s projection of the self, and what we observe from each other day to day (our most human side).
The Id and Ego, as observed by the audience, were indistinguishable; as they need be less human than the superego, and individual in their primal and calculated embodiments respectively.
It’s incredibly interesting to contrast words from choreographers and mental health workers. One, meticulous in the observing of characterisation, and the other, in the emotive showing of the piece (“Clear that they were sides of one person. I enjoyed the cyclical nature and the return of motif/repeat”.) This only elicits a need to have a closer inspection of our work. Highlighting that embodiment can come in percentages, or parts – whether the facial or the isolated. Taking time to uncover every dank and dark corner of the concept so the ability to portray for all perspectives is mastered.
A fractured relationship highlighting the hidden vulnerability of a father and son. This piece is an exploration of the male ego, and stereotypes men and boys struggle with in everyday life.
Second was the duo of Myself and Tobi Oduntan, as the son and father respectively. In attendance was Filiz Ozcan, Komola Collective Director, and the one whom aided us with the acting elements of the piece.
“Very strong characters… I found it very moving.” / “Beautiful use of eye contact/missed glances. Could use and work on this more.” / “You could really gather the struggle between father and son that as close as they were physically they were apart.”
Characterisation seems to not be an issue in this case. As said before, the more human and emotive we see characters on stage, the more empathetic and connected we feel. Under scrutiny was the text, staging, and certain performance techniques.
“Beautiful poetry! Think about phrasing, pausing – louder! Try playing with where pauses are.” / “Perhaps use the stage more – whole piece was very far forwards.” / “Spoken word intervals were strong, evocative and valued – choreo disturbed the dramaturgical arch of work” / “Using spoken word – what is the emotion behind it? Who are the characters? Do they have to dance? Does this help with the narrative?”
The struggle and power play between spoken word poetry and movement continues to be a beast to wrestle. It isn’t an issue new to us, and isn’t a style we’ve mastered. Both bring different strengths to the work.
What we’ve been asked is to scrutinise the relationship between the two – in terms of content as well as dramaturgically. Does the language of the text match the language of the movement? How do we show it? The last ideas to digest to make this snippet of a father and son’s daily lives believable storytelling, and not a mere performance.
The show highlights the internal pressures we place on ourselves that can often lead to distorted thinking, low self-esteem and vulnerability. Accompanied by powerful spoken word and dynamic movement, Reflections takes you on a journey exploring the highs and lows of mental health.
Last, are two extracts of the remastered Reflections – The introduction to mental health struggles, and an exploration of the insecurity we place on ourselves, from the male perspective.
“The choreography was very striking.” / “Like that the male was the centre of the problematic ways of looking at ones self- so often women.” / “Celebration of life. Self-searching through multiple personalities.”
The first showing of group work held interwoven individuals interacting, whether as a pack or as disjointed groups to highlight isolation of one or another.
“Some of the dancers ‘perform’ and some of the dancers ‘be’.” / “You don’t have to dance to tell a story… Really use what your dancers have and find movement in them.” / “Afford to ‘go there’ especially with the issue of mental health. Don’t be afraid to reveal and depict chorographical habits.”
Self-censorship was never an issue that was at the forefront of our thoughts, yet, as this is quite a sensitive topic, perhaps subconscious ideas affected conscious decisions – in terms of physicality as well as creative development. But the portrayal of such sensitive ideas can be done carefully while still pushing performative boundaries.
The show is but a few days away. And with so many ideas to digest, question, and explore, I can’t help but be excited by the outcome; immediate and long term.
The potential of such a young company is exciting. We’ve had an incredible reception, full of praise and well-dones, and meticulous scrutiny and suggestions that both congratulates our work and ruthlessly questions it. What better way to not feel complacent or settle in a false sense of security. What better way to feel confident in the project and work, yet acknowledge there is much more to explore. As it should be.
“Maybe now it is up to the dancers to find a way to embody each of the three pieces and highlight the differences between them using performance and emotion?”
What better an answer than ‘Yes’.