Beyond The Walls

sl blog lead

Image: Age Exchange July 2016 

Beyond The Walls was a multi-sensory interactive arts performance from Age UK and Trinity Laban, utilizing cutting-edge research to improve the wellbeing of people living with dementia. The project was led by Lucy Evans and Stella Howard, two Trinity Laban alumni currently working in our Learning and Participation (Dance) department. Lucy reflects here on their experiences…

The ‘Beyond The Walls’ project followed from on charity Age Exchange’s three year’s research entitled ‘Radiql’, which investigated improvements in the wellbeing of people living with dementia when they engaged with visual and movement arts.

In spring 2016, Stella Howard and I were commissioned by Age Exchange and Trinity Laban’s Learning and Participation Team to undertake further research, the outcome of which would not be an academic paper but an actual dance performance.

The first stage of the process was a great privilege; we were invited to participate in 24 workshops with a group of older people in a Wandsworth care home.  The workshops were co-led by visual artist Mathew and movement therapist Christina.

As the weeks progressed – and as we observed the approaches and also the relationships facilitated by Matthew and Christina – we were able to interact more meaningfully with both the methodology itself, and also with the new people we were getting to know. In the later weeks, when I approached the residents, I experienced them taking my hand and warmly moving it to their cheek. We jived, sang and painted together, and shared memories (at one point a lovely lady turning to me and started to recite a verse about sowing seeds and growth – a precious moment indeed).

Of course we also met with some more emotionally challenging moments. We saw feelings of isolation and anxiety, a side to living with dementia not often evident in participatory activities. And we were occasionally told in no uncertain terms ‘I’ve grown out of this a long time ago!”.

Following the research phase, we moved to the studio to begin developing our observations and at first fragmented conclusions into movement and dance.

Initially, we worked a lot with improvisation to embody the shifting relationships and levels of engagement we had experienced and witnessed. We set up scores which enabled us to explore a variety of ways in which one could feel engaged or disengaged. We explored issues of whom or what we might choose to engage with (or not), and questioned the idea of agency: when and how did the participants exercise choice around engaging in relationships in the arts practice? There was something special for us about investigating this at Laurie Grove studio, away from our roles as practitioners at Trinity Laban, with a view of Goldsmiths and the sunlight painting patterns on the studio floor.

A further exciting element of this stage of the work was the commissioning of several artists: composer Eliot Lloyd-Short, who created an original live and recorded score; prop-maker Andy Pilbeam-Brown, who made nine cardboard suitcases which displayed artwork made by the workshop participants; and filmmaker Roswitha Chesher, who documented the workshops, the devising process and the final performance.

Throughout the process we were determined that our decisions should truthfully reflect the context, practice and its outcomes; that we should face not only the joyous but also the difficult moments. We referred to and quoted movement we had observed, whilst being completely clear we did not want to mimic or re-enact the people we had met.

We set up the stage space in the round and used multi-sensory ideas (tastes, smells and textures) to further bring the audience into the world of the workshops. Musically, Eliot used sound samples from nature (suggesting the imagined themes of the workshops), radio extracts (reflecting the more realistic sounds of the care home), and also played live guitar and viola. The majority of the composition happened in the studio, resulting in a music and dance relationship that was invested and complex. The structure of the work gave both art forms space to react to one another and improvise whilst also charting the shifts in engagement and relationships we witnessed over the 24 workshops.

Mid-process we shared our work with the most truthful and well-informed people we know: the Trinity Laban Boundless over 60’s dance group. It was nerve-wracking to test our interactive ideas on a live audience! But finding out they were both appropriate and effective in evoking an emotional response in our audience was a relief, and spurred us on to push this element of our work further.

The work was presented at Battersea Arts Centre on 2 February, following a panel discussion by leading academics in the field of dementia and wellbeing. It was fantastic to be part of a platform where music and dance, as a means of explanation and communication, held a level pegging with statistical documents.

If you are interested in seeing the work it will be shared again at Trinity Laban on the 14 June, and we’ll let you in on a secret, there’s chocolate involved!

Investigating Cultural Diversity

investigating cultural diversity

What can we learn from other cultural understandings of the body, movement and dance? Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance has been asking this in a variety of ways and now Louisa Pestell, a Projects Manager for Learning and Participation (Dance), has been awarded a Lisa Ullman Travelling Scholarship to travel to East Africa this summer and work with three established dance organisations to promote knowledge exchange.  Laura Mercer (Administrative Assistant, Learning and Participation (Dance)) will be travelling with Louisa and both will visit Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, where they will be hosted by key dance organisations including Guerrilla Arts (Uganda) Dance Forum Nairobi (Kenya) and Wesley Ruzibiza in Rwanda in connection with Amizero Dance Kompagnie and the National University of Rwanda.

The visit aims to exchange knowledge of the dance sector in East Africa with a view to developing further collaboration with key contacts in the future.  A particular focus on community and education work will be made because of Louisa’s particular area of interest and expertise in it. It also aims to research the ecology of dance in the East African geographical area in order to establish methods of working across a cultural divide in a mutually beneficial, ethical and productive way.

Key activities include:

  • Observation of grassroots engagement and  young dancers’ development and training support provided by partner organisations so as to identify areas with potential for future project collaboration.
  • Exploration of who the partner organsiations work with, how they find dancers from a young age and then how they train them and offer continuing professional development.
  • Research the potential of future cultural exchange projects and how they may (or may not) be of benefit to the key contact organisations and the British partners they work with.

Louisa and Laura’s visit to numerous dance organisations across Eastern Africa will provide an opportunity to profile the work of Learning and Participation (Dance) at Trinity Laban on an international platform.  Additionally, Louisa’s research project will offer her an opportunity to widen her knowledge and perspective of diverse activity in the international community dance sector, directly impacting on her role in Learning and Participation (Dance) and informing Trinity Laban’s understanding of cultural diversity within the Dance subject area. We will follow up with Louisa when she returns in the new Academic Year.

Louisa, who has a research interest in the manifestation of cultural identity in dance and contemporary and creative dance in education and community settings, is also artistic director of Arts Odyssey, a London Based Community Arts Organisation that ‘celebrates Unity through Diversity’.

To find out more about our Learning and Participation departments, visit our web pages here.

Further Information about the Lisa Ullman Travelling Scholarship Fund may be found here.