Friday, 29 August 2014

Bobbin Dancing @ Yan Tan Tethera (part 3/3)

'We discover performance by making it' 
- Goat Island performance ensemble

It’s fair to say Bobbin Dance #3 was a real challenge. With fewer dancers available, each of us danced with two bobbins instead of one. Given the complexities of working with these (i.e. winding and unwinding pairs of bobbins in time with the music) and the limited number of rehearsals scheduled, this was probably not the wisest of choices.

The dance was performed in the garden, starting this time dancing a straight hey around two rows of fencing pins, from one end to the other using sticks only. We then 'upgraded' to wooden bobbins with ribbon, and five of us proceeded to weave something close to a 'fond the torchon' stitch with our 10 bobbins, accompanied by Ben Moss on the fiddle. Sketches used as scores in the previous dances (see previous post) seemed ineffective when holding two bobbins each, so I drew up the score below.

In comparison with the two previous dances, this one seemed to be more about the handling of the bobbins and less about dancing. We forgot about our bodies and how we moved as we grappled with the mechanics of handling the bobbins and ribbons.

photo Fay McNulty
photo Faye McNulty

So where to go from here? What elements of the dances should be reworked, cut back or explored further? Should we maybe dance without thread and bobbins? Might we present the work as an installation instead of a performance and show the weaving of the piece as film (the do-si-do, passing by right and left, figures of eight, circular and straight heys, turns and crosses, fond the torchon, Brussels stitch)? Should the performance be more of a durational work, allowing more ‘fabric’ to be woven as suggested by one of the dancers? Should the music follow the sound of the bobbins rather than leading them?

So many questions needing answers... As the work was developed with the dancers, I'll now put these questions to them. I doubt we’ll reach a consensus, but we’ll then be in a better position to proceed with making informed decisions for the final performance and event of Yan Tan Tethera.  Will keep you posted on this...

Meanwhile I'll seize here the opportunity here to thank again to all the bobbin dancers who helped make this work possible. They are Chloe Metcalfe, Jess Smulders-Cohen, Julia Manheim, Odette O’Reilly, Pallavi Jain, Ruth Bradshaw, Tina Götschi, Vanessa Trotter, Vicky Harrison, Weiyee Cheung and Zoë Gilmour. A special thank you also goes to Ben Moss and Aimée Leonard for providing the music and their encouragement throughout, as well as singers from the Cecil Sharp and Dulwich Folk choirs.

Bobbin Dancing @ Yan Tan Tethera (part 2/3)

When dancing around the Maypole, ribbons wrap around its length from the top down to create the 'weave'. When making bobbin lace, stitches are spaced out using pins on a pillow. Both the pole and the pins and pillow allow the weaving and lace making to grow. Dancing with only bobbins offers no such luxury; only a limited number of 'turns' and 'crosses' (see previous post) can be made before the threads twist over each other and the pattern disappears.

The question was then how to make the dance long enough to match the duration of the song we would be dancing to.  We explored various ways of doing this. We switched from using bobbins with fixed lengths of rope to using bobbins with handmade ribbon, the length of which could be unwound at will, allowing us to travel away from and extend the weave. This offered many more possibilities and resulted in two dances being created.

Following the performance of a circular hey, also described in the previous post, Bobbin Dance #1 split dancers into two groups of four. Stepping in opposite directions and now performing something close to a straight hey, the dancers wove their bobbins to the tune of Off Jumps Jack and Yan Tan Tethera, sung by the Cecil Sharp House and Dulwich Folk choirs. This a created a four-way plait worked simultaneously in both directions.

In Bobbin Dance #2, six dancers all stepped in the same direction, 'turning' and 'crossing' their bobbins and eventually weaving around two rows of singers performing do si dos and straight heys. The dance floor became a 'lace pillow' (with  the singers as ‘pins’) onto which a network of knots was created.

photo Fay McNulty
photo Faye McNulty
photo Fay McNulty

To rehearse the dances, various scores were produced to help memorise the moves, as illustrated below. More on this and Bobbin Dance #3 in my next post on this blog.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Bobbin Dancing @ Yan Tan Tethera (part 1/3)

When thinking of folk dance and weaving (see previous post), Maypole dancing is an obvious reference and, practicing this in the initial stages of developing the bobbin dances for Yan Tan Tethera seemed inevitable.

During early rehearsals when developing the dances, accompanied by Ben Moss on the fiddle and later Aimée Leonard on the drum, we danced as in around a maypole, i.e. forming two concentric circles that moved in opposite directions - see drawing above of a Circular Hey, from Cecil Sharp’s Country Dance book. 

Holding handmade bobbins, dancers crossed each by the left and right shoulder alternatively and weaved the knots pictured below. Images on the left are a knots 'danced' with 6 bobbins, and on the right with 8 .

Music helped both the dancing and the weaving. It made us step in unison and keep our positions and helped produce a regular weave. This in turn allowed us to undo the knots by simply reversing the steps and repeating the process in order to explore pattern variations; holding the bobbin up or down for instance as you crossed one another (either by left or right shoulder) meant a dramatic change in the pattern (or weave). We later referred to these specific ways of crossing the bobbins in terms of a ‘turn’ or a ‘cross', terminology used when making bobbin lace - see my own explanatory diagrams and score below.

Practicing these steps and figures with bobbins highlighted a clear connection between folk dance and textiles and these were used at the beginning of the first 'bobbin dance' performed during Museum Night on May 15th at Cecil Sharp House. I'll describe in my next post what came next.

Lace Tell @ Yan Tan Tethera

Time to retrace my steps a little…  A few months ago I was asked to contribute work for Yan Tan Tethera. Curated by David Littler in partnership with The English Folk Dance and Song Society, the exhibition looked at the connections between folk songs and textiles. My interest from the start was to focus not on songs, but dance. Thinking of it as a making process, I envisaged dancers working with yarn to produce stitches and knots, to be read as some form of dance score or notation - see previous post.

Fast forward to the present and with the help of a number of participants, I have now created four dances, a site specific installation and a series of objects and drawings that are currently on display in the exhibition. I'm now planning a final dance piece and to help with this, the following posts will reflect on what I've done so far.

With some of my previous installations such as Stairwell Weave-In in mind, I saw at Cecil Sharp House some potential to have performers sing as they stitched and stepped up the staircase, using the bannisters as a loom. During an early recce at the venue, David handed me a few songs from the EFDSS collection, including 'Lace Tell', a work song often sung by women while making lace.

The outcome resulted in 8 dancers working a single row of stitches each across three floors to the tune of this 'tell'. It was sung by 6 members of the Dulwich Folk and Cecil Sharp House choirs. Many thanks to Aimée Leonard, Sally Davies, Sarah Maddon, Jenny Tompson, Ian Kennedy and Sarah Lloyd for this. Over 20 minutes, the stairs gradually filled up with an audience as the stairwell filled with stitches. Two other dances were also performed that evening during Museum Night at Cecil Sharp House and I'll write about these in the next post. Read also more about this in Liz Hoggard's review of the show in Crafts Magazine September/October 2014 edition.

photo Roswitha Chesher

Thursday, 14 August 2014

the Matisse model

Seeing the Matisse cut-outs at Tate Modern was such an inspiration! I instantly got over stimulated and could hardly look at the works for wanting to get back to my studio and make my own collages. As a  result I now have a very sketchy memory of the show!

As it happens, I didn't get back to my studio that day to make a start on my own collages, but instead considered using the collage technique as an activity for one of the Meet me at the Albany Tuesday sessions. I knew that my friend, collaborator and colleague at Entelechy Arts, Zoe Gilmour had tried and tested collage with painted paper cut-outs at one of her own workshops, which encouraged me to pursue this for the planned activity.

My plan was to work large scale. With brushes and rollers attached to wooden sticks, participants painted paper on the floor while listening to live music, courtesy of pianist Arthur Lea and double bass player Ben Hazelton (Spitz Jazz Collective).  This worked a treat! Accompanied by the musicians, people danced and sang around the paper as they painted. Others cut the painted paper and, under their direction, I pinned them to a hanging fabric screen creating a large temporary mural.  A photographer from Arts Council England came to record the activity and if I get hold of some of these shots, I'll upload them on post here later. Too busy as usual to take any pictures myself.

What I enjoyed the most (apart from splashing paint around freely, which is always such a joy!) was to see how the act of painting became dance and movement, solo or in some kind of group formation. The idea of choreographing making is something I have been thinking a lot about recently, as I have been involved in choreographing dances for David Littler’s YanTan Tethera project and exhibition. I am now currently developing a fourth and final dance for the show to be performed on September 25th at Cecil Sharp House. More about this later. Meanwhile, merci Matisse!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Art - don't use!

The Festival of Thrift instructible posted a couple of weeks ago on this blog, with instructions for twining with sticks and string, might have left you wondering what the object could be used for? Is it art? Is it design? If the Festival of Thrift is about celebrating upcycling and sustainable living, what is the point of making something that doesn’t have a function, no matter how green or economical the use of materials for its production are?

Well, art does fulfil a very basic human need and if you’ve made something, if only to look at, that is functional enough for me. The picture above is something I spotted outside the Czech Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennial a few days ago which, with humour, highlights this issue.

However, to put your sustainable minds at ease, I’ve turned the modernist principle of 'form follows function' on its head, and thought of a few uses for the original instructible…

·      fill the twined construction with seeds and nuts and use it as a birdfeeder
·      alternatively use it as a cover for a fat ball by threading and suspending the ball inside the cone 
·      use an apple instead of the a fat ball (see bottom picture) to feed your feathery friends, or use a pompom from which birds might pull threads and use in their nests for added warmth and comfort (see instructions below)
·      with a larger twined construction, use it as a hanging basket for plants by lining the inside with fabric or paper
·      finally, how about using it as a lampshade, using a low voltage bulb to prevent any fire hazard

Pompom making (a speedy method)

Wrap several yarns around your fingers, slightly spread.

Bring fingers together to release the bundle from your hand. Wrap the yarn tightly at least twice around its middle before tying and cutting off the yarn, 10 inches / 25cms approximately from the bundle - you'll be using this length to attach the pompom to the twined cone.

Cut the threads on either side of the bundle.

Fluff up and trim off the longer bits to make the pompom more regular.

Et voila!  Job done once again! 

For additional sources of inspiration on making bird-feeders and/or hanging baskets, click here and here.

Apple feeders for birds, better still with sunflower seeds
pushed into the fruits - click here for more pictures.

Monday, 11 August 2014

now we are one thousand!

Something unmade remains full of promise
and to celebrate the 1000th post on this blog,
today's Dailymade will not be made.

I posted the 1000th Dailymade today! It’ll be three years this October since I started  If this project was higher education, I’d be close to graduating now. But what does my Dailymade ‘degree' qualify me for exactly? I started the blog to help me generate new work and prompt more reflection on my practice. Looking at what I've written here on weeklyweaves, this has worked very well. Am I to go on with this? Absolutely! It feels like I’m only just starting with this project, and as a three year old having just learned how to walk, I’m now eager to run.

Below are the 10 most visited Dailymades. It would make sense for me to post my own favourites here, but I think the choosing will be really hard. As I do feel I’m only as good as the last thing I’ve made, my own all time favourite has to be today’s Dailymade – see picture above. In this case of course it wasn't actually made and it goes to show that there maybe is only one thing better than making, and that is not to make!

Dailymade 120531
Dailymade 120712
Dailymade 120212
Dailymade 120713
Dailymade 120905
Dailymade 120901
Dailymade 121214
Dailymade 120611
Dailymade 130513
Dailymade 120102