Beyond The Walls

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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!

Pilates Circuits Workshop: My Experience

Trinity Laban Heath is beginning a new venture and offering a variety of workshops in the evening for students to attend. Workshops cost just £5.00 and cover a variety of topics from nutrition for performers to ankle and foot stability.

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As part of the programme the department is running regular fitness circuit workshops and I had the opportunity to attend one of the first. As a work placement student in the Health Clinic and Dance Science lab I was around the studio in the day time leading up to the workshop and was able to work with practitioner Brenton beforehand while he planned that evening’s class. I got to act has his guinea pig in sampling exercises, timing them out, and seeing if the exercises would work well for a circuit Pilates fitness class. The exercises were completely formulated by Brenton and arranged in a way that best made sense but I was able to make suggestions throughout the creation process and it was really rewarding to see my opinions and suggestions be taken into consideration. The class was set up to have 5 different stations on the numerous Pilates equipment such as reformers, cadillac’s, and the chair. Each station would have set exercises and the students would visit them on a rotation basis of three minutes per station. As the class began, introductions were made, the register taken, and we were off. Brenton asked me to demonstrate every exercise on each piece of equipment; then everyone was given a printout of them as a reminder for later on the class when they would be going through the rotation in pairs. We began the class with a brief warmup to ease our muscles into movement and then paired off to start the circuit.

Ten students including myself were registered for the class, however due to an injury only nine participated, so as luck would have it when pairs were formed to go through the stations I was a solo act. This worked out quite well because as Brenton walked around and helped out students at certain stations. I found that students at other stations would look to me as I was going through my own exercises and ask for my help in remembering the exercise. Being on my own this allowed me to leave my station and walk around to offer help whenever it was needed. Assisting throughout the class was a really amazing experience and I felt as though I learned so much just from shadowing Brenton for a few shorts hours. The format of doing a circuit class is a great introduction to Pilates and its equipment if you had never used it before and a fun way of exercising. Pilates’ equipment can be intimidating but it truly is for everyone and as Brenton said as long as you are using it safely it’s no different than using the elliptical at the gym.

Brianna Figueroa, BA2 Trinity Laban Student and work placement student, Trinity Laban Health