Review of 2016

Feels like it’s almost the time of year when I can do a review! Especially since my updating of this blog has been very tardy!

Most of my work this year has been concentrated on community engagement with the arts for Span Arts in Narberth and Oriel Myrddin in Carmarthen. Both these brilliant local organisations have a really deep commitment to and ethos of bringing arts to the people who do not normally engage with it.

At Span Arts I have formed Caring Choirs (with funding from PAVS) – bringing singing sessions to care homes in Pembrokeshire. It has been a really wonderful project with choir leaders Maya Waldman and Molara bringing their own magic to the sessions. As the projects’ coordinator I have had the pleasure of joining sessions and observing the effect singing has on older people, many of whom have dementia. It has been moving and thought provoking to observe and I will write more on it in a separate post. As part of the project I also organized a Singing Tea Party in May (picture below).

tea-party2

With Span Arts I have also been working on creating outdoor theatre for children – a subject very close to my heart – at Colby Woodland Gardens, hopefully there will be more of that to come in 2017.

I also worked as a lead artist on Narberth Carnival making masks with a Womens Aid group and a giant wild boar with adults with learning disabilities.

I started as Community Art Coordinator at Oriel Myrddin in September and my first event was the Big Draw at half term which was very well attended and a really interesting and fun.

Here are some pictures of that:

I have continued to work on Partus with Ruth Jones and Andy Wheddon with fellow singer Maggie Nichols. The piece takes as a starting point a CTG scan of a medicalised labour and birth. The 10ft long paper trace contains ultrasound recordings of a number of bodily rhythms that record the labour. Partus reinterprets and enacts the trace as sound, mediating between mourning the medical-technological intervention in labour and  reclaiming the human experience.

We performed Partus as part of The Lab’s Platform festival in October.partus_performers_web

With Feral Theatre I co-created the amazing Thylacine Tribute Caberet for Dark Mountian‘s Base Camp event at Embercombe in September. And created a lantern tombstone to commemorate the passing of the Thylacine 80 years ago as part of Haverfordwest’s annual lantern procession.

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The Further Adventures of Madam Balwn

So. . . Jacob Whittaker made this beautiful film for me towards the end of last year with my lovely pals Rowan Matthiessen and Henry Sears. It’s always difficult to make these kinds of films where you are trying to get across an idea before you have done any serious R&D on it. Having said that I am happy with the look and feel of it and it goes some way to illustrating my vision of the show. Now I have the wonderful clown director Clare Parry-Jones and puppeteer extraordinaire Mandy Travis on board to do some proper R&D once I get down to my ACW application!

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Another film – a bit more experimental and filmed on a phone! Exploring some ideas for Madam Balwn with my Feral Theatre colleagues Persephone Pearl (performing) and Rachel Porter (directing). As part of Battersea Arts Centre’s Freshly Scratched in October 2015.

 

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Here’s a wonderful film shot by the very talented Lili Simonsson earlier this year. A taster for Feral Theatre’s new work Freaks of Nature.

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Greenwich and Docklands International Festival

So excited to be going to GDIF this weekend. So many fantastic shows on and I will hopefully get a chance to talk to people about my new show Madam Balwn.

Madam Balwn artworkHere’s a little bit about it:

In a preposterous circus sideshow booth two rivalrous clowns in spectacular costumes compete to make ever more extravagant balloon creations, doomed to be gnashed to pieces by psychotic puppets. The puppets will be beautifully crafted and operated and will be accompanied by striking and original live music.

The piece will be innovative whilst taking inspiration from European street theatre traditions, fusing my Welsh/French heritage.

As a non-verbal piece it will be accessible to the hearing impaired, people with learning disabilities, and will work across languages. It will be highly accessible to non-arts audiences.

The vignettes will be hilarious, wildly imaginative and provocative. Exploring loss, cycles of life and death, the big and little things we need to let go of in order to live more fully. It will subvert the archetype of the jolly balloon-animal clown, using that playfulness to address complex themes. The piece will see-saw between conflict and co-operation shining a light on the interplay between these urges in our lives and communities. The riotous energy of the piece will be tailored to each audience – a nighttime adult show will vary from a daytime family one within the same structure. The experience for the audience will be captivating, challenging and intense – a blast of thought-provoking madness!

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Ibis

I really enjoyed doing some prop making in May.

I made this ibis to go on the prow of a rowing boat for Dragon Breath‘s innovative new play A Crack in Time at Papplewick Pumping Station.

The ibis is mainly constructed of paper and card (my favourite materials) around an plywood armature. Over this I painted gesso (another favourite material) and the ibis was then painted gold when the boat was painted.

The design was based on the incredibly decorative interior of the pumping station – gold ibises adorn each pillar. It was built in the 1880’s – the heyday of industrial architecture.

It seems to me that making utilitarian things beautiful is very laudable but I can’t help thinking that the motivation was more a public display of wealth and power than pure aestheticism . And to me there seems something unsavory about gold Ibises adorning buildings when the living conditions for poor people in Nottingham at the time were horrendous.

I was so inspired by this little bit of making that I am planning on working more on my visual art. I have a couple of sculptures in mind – watch this space!  Ibis - A Crack in Time interiorDSCN1630DSCN1628DSCN1574

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Feeling Proud

Feeling very proud after reading an endorsement of a book I have some artwork in that is being published very soon. It’s called Playing for Time:sand birds4

‘A remarkable book… pulls no punches… The most enduring image is the poignant flock of passenger pigeons, drawn in sand by Emily Laurens on Llangrannog beach in 2014, the 100th anniversary of their extinction. It is an image that will not leave my mind: it is a message of loss, but also of hope. A message from which we must, and can, learn.’ Dame Fiona Reynolds, Chair of the Green Alliance

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The Gypsy King

I recently went to the Cellar Bards Short Story night in Cardigan and read out a story that was originally devised by Feral Theatre a few years ago. I re-wrote it without looking back over the notes I had from it’s inception. I wanted it to be fresh. We did perform it at a  couple of scratch events but I think perhaps it’s happiest home is on the page.

Anyway, here it is:

The day and night were of equal length. Shortly after sunrise a band of travelers rolled out of a dark quiet wood into a land of flat grey fields. The fields were huge and each one they passed seemed the same as the last. Covered in grey ash, last years blackened stubble and the first dull green shoots. The sky was vast and white. At last they saw a small house on a slight rise in the land. A few outbuildings thrown around it like dice. They stopped, shaded their eyes and watched. A girl was pegging out grey-white laundry. Stretching up and stooping down, stretching up and stooping down, on and on down the long taut line. When they were sure of what they had seen the travelers laboriously turned their bright painted wagons around in the narrow road and returned to the wood. The girl reached the end of the line. She looked down to the road and watched the caravan like a bright bead necklace as it retreated towards the dark line of the wood in the distance.

She stood and watched long after they had disappeared. She stood and watched until a harsh cry called her into the house. Her mother eyed her narrowly, disappointment written in the lines on her face. She pointed to the irons on the fire. She had given up talking to her daughter a long time ago. And the girl had never spoken, never uttered a sound. But her body spoke, every movement she made sang with grace and beauty. Her mother watched the hot iron swoop back and forth then went on scouring the kitchen table, the coarse brush banging into the metal bowl of water, banging and scrubbing, banging and scrubbing.

The sun moved slowly across it’s half circle of sky. The girl crept silently through the day as she did every day, not expecting love and doing her best to avoid pain.

The girls mother and father went to bed early. When the sun began to set they lay their heavy bones down on their flat hard beds and slept. The girl lay in the half light, her eyes wide open, waiting for the sounds of breathing in the next room to assume a sleep-like drone. Her next moves were well practiced. For every night since she had been a small child she had crept out of her tiny bedroom window, slid down the lean-to roof and flashed across the yard like a fox. Out in the huge stark fields the early stars gleamed down at her and her big dark eyes drank in their soft glow. The night befriended her, the night showed her love. She followed the animal paths through the fields. Tiny moths blew up around her, hatching grasshoppers pushed themselves out of the dark earth and tumbling weasels brushed against her bare legs. At the edge of the woods where the grasses grew long the hares had their scrapes. The girl stroked their long twitching ears as they slept hunched over their leverets.

Before entering the wood the girl paused. It’s interior was dark, the moon had not yet risen and the air was thick and heavy with the scents of decaying vegetation and night time creatures. The girl allowed her eyes time to adjust. She sensed that tonight the wood was different. The smell of woodsmoke wound through the trees and strange sounds accompanied the hooting owls and churring nightjars. Sounds the girl had never heard before. Parts of it were like the autumn song of the robin or the winter wind as it blew around the farm buildings with a clear lonesome whine. Then there was a Bang! Bang! Bang! Like the threshing machine only less insistent and metallic and then there was a sound like talking or shouting but softer and it meandered and rose and fell like the little streams that ran bubbling through the ditches in late spring. The sounds wove together like convolvulus in the hedges. The was drawn deeper into the wood. She leaned against a tree to listen, fascinated and enchanted, close by a dormouse shredded honeysuckle for its nest, the girl closed her eyes and let the sounds run into her until she thought her heart would burst!

Suddenly she felt that she was being watched, her eyes sprang open, and there, silhouetted against the grey-white of the moonlit fields beyond was a stag. They watched one another. Worms moved through the leaf litter and the stars wheeled above them. Then he moved and with a jolt she realised that his spreading antlers were just the branches above him and instead of four slender legs she saw that there were only two carrying him towards her. She gasped (the first sound she had ever made) and ran straight past him back onto the animal paths through the fields to the house. She left behind a fragment of her night dress on a blackthorn branch which the gypsy boy picked like a night flower and took back to his people.

Before dawn she dressed and crept downstairs to make the porridge. Her mother came down soon afterwards with the ripped night dress in her hands. Upstairs she heard her father nailing her bedroom window shut Bang! Bang! Bang! They sat down to breakfast but she couldn’t eat. She felt full of every sound she had never uttered, and those sounds bubbled and fluttered inside of her making her head spin. Her stomach rumbled ominously. With a convulsion one of those sounds crept up her throat and she opened her mouth and out flew a large furry bodied moth. Her mother and father stared in amazement as the moth flew lazily around the bare kitchen light bulb. The girl opened her mouth again and this time a couple of whirring cockchafer beetles escaped and joined the moth in dizzying circles. Her mother and father, so unused to speech, were unable to intervene. They sat rooted to their chairs as the girl opened her mouth wide and out streamed beetles, bugs, butterflies, every flying insect imaginable, one for every word she had swallowed, one for every word she had never uttered, one for every syllable unsung. The girls head was thrown back, she gripped the table and her body shuddered. In no time at all huge daddy long legs dripped off the walls, ladybirds crawled over every surface, the room became dark, the air was thick with insect life, the vibrations, the buzzing and humming was deafening and still the mother and father could not move or make a sound but sat in silent horror tiny gnats and micro moths sticking in their throats and noses, wasps and hornets crawling into the folds of their clothes.

The rising sun began to shine through the window and the girls body relaxed, the room was filled with a strange glitter of insect wings. The girl closed her mouth, stood and walked slowly out of the house, her movement causing little eddying currents among the flying hordes. In the yard she turned and looked at the humming house. Cracks were appearing in the walls, the windows were splintering, she could hear dishes and furniture falling. Slowly the house crumbled in on itself and a slow-moving cloud of grey dust took its place. She turned and walked through the fields along the animal paths to the dark wood. Where her people were waiting for her.

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This is Somatic

In December on a cold rainy day I went to Penpynfach for a Somatic dance workshop with Jo Shapland.

We went into the woods together and then alone after guidance and preparation with Jo. Afterwards we went through a fascinating process to unravel and inquire into what we had experienced alone in the woods through words and movement. As part of the process we told the story of what had happened which was then noted down by another participant. As I speak quite fast the result was not a coherent record but a really interesting account of what stood out and what was heard and noted down by my fellow participant.

Here it is:

Go. I thought the threshold was the bridge
Was interested to go over the bridge into the conifer wood
Dark unfamiliar
space place
Water flowing underneath
Symbolic of intensely emotional time I’ve had
Looking for a space to welcome me

Mossy pillow
I lay down
Incredibly soft
It held my head in a gentle loving way
I lay there and felt very happy
Jaggedy branches
Feathery light tops
Depth of being at the bottom
A few little birds flitting around in trees
I never felt so heavy in my life
My legs felt heavy
Feeling like lead
I started to move my arms around

I wanted to greet the trees in a circle
I sniffed and held them
Lovely embrace
Next one was very different
Next one felt like it didn’t want to be touched
The next one had a very different energy
It was a dead tree
Strange that it was still standing there all covered in moss
I’m not going to talk about that

It suddenly felt very ritualistic
I took a branch and moved it around in a circle
Wonderful feeling of being rooted
I was trying to hold in my head all the things Jo said
Little pauses in their movement. . . and with my breath
Just moving with the trees
It felt lovely and very held
I heard Jo calling
And had to close the ritual.

Through another process this narrative was then reduced to eight words:

Balance

Down

Held

Depth

Greet

Circle

Embrace

Rooted

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Remembrance Day for Lost Species

November the 22nd. The tides are right. And that matters when it comes to sand drawing. Starting at or just before low tide gives you time to complete your drawing and then watch as it disappears. Watch and wait for the tide to take away what has been created. And that’s why I am here, on Cilborth beach Llangrannog, to bear witness, to remember a lost species. The passenger pigeon became officially extinct on September the 1st 1914 when Martha, the very last passenger pigeon, died. She was 29 years old, and had not reproduced at Cincinatti Zoo with the male companions who died before her. At the beginning of the 19th century, the passenger pigeon was the most numerous bird in existence. Eye witness reports describe flocks hundreds of miles long, numbering billions of individual birds. With this extinction was lost not just a beautiful and unique species whose role in the ecosystems of North America must have been crucial and substantial but also what must have been one of natures most incredible spectacles. John James Audubon describes the seeing a flock: The noise they made, even though still distant, reminded me of a gale at sea. As the birds arrived and passed over me, I could feel a blast of air from their wings. Then I saw a magnificent, wonderful, terrifying sight. The pigeons, arriving by the thousands, landed everywhere, until solid masses were formed on the branches all around. Here and there perches gave way with a crack under the weight, and fell to the ground, destroying hundreds of birds underneath. The scene was one of uproar and confusion. The birds made so much noise that I found it quite useless to speak, or even shout, to the persons next to me. With the arrival of Europeans in North America their numbers began to decrease with the familiar deadly double act of habitat loss and hunting. In the 1800’s there were an estimated 5 billion passenger pigeons, by 1896 there was one flock left of 250,000 birds and just 13 years later they were lost forever. A hundred years later we wonder how we can remember them. How can we celebrate them? Is there something that needs to be done to lay their spirits to rest? Do we need to acknowledge the loss, before we can purposefully move on? We are not used to honouring another species in this way. Our culture is focused on personal love between humans, extends someway to pets, and is obsessed with romantic love, but what about the love of place? The love of nature? The love of a lost species? Those feelings are not nurtured, not valued. We need to find new ways to expressing that love and commemorating the passing of places, ecosystems and species. So with all that in mind I went to where the civilised, farmed, human dominated land meets the wild untam  able ocean. To draw passenger pigeons with my friends in that liminal space. Within those fragments of rock that sea and time has crumbled to near dust I trace their shapes with my garden rake. In the blond brown sands I draw a small flock of pigeons, like shadows passing overhead. And then I watch them disappear. sand birds5 sand birds4 sand birds2 Thanks to Keely Clarke for the photos.

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