Festival of Performing Arts

I had the great privilege of taking part in a festival for the performing arts last weekend in Somerset. You may have heard of it, it’s called Glastonbury Festival. Whilst there, a few things struck me, beyond the usual overwhelming sense of being awe-inspired.

Dance on The Main Stage

One was that several main-stage acts incorporated dance within their shows. And not just the usual seductive, eye-candy gyrations to which we have become accustomed. This time, there was a ballet duet (Stromzy); ‘Ballet-Boyz’ (Years and Years) and Christine and the Queens’ unique choreography. The latter was very much  an integral part of the performance. and it was especially interesting to see ensemble dance in which each individual was able to explore their own characteristics.

Contemporary Issues

A second aspect was that many acts drew attention to contemporary issues. Stormzy talked of the need for representation of all sections of society. Years and Years’ frontman spoke about gender issues, calling for acceptance and inclusivity. And Christine (or ‘Chris’ as they are also known) revealed how they often felt like an outsider and a ‘loser’.

Create Your World

Christine/Chris went on to say how they coped with that situation through theatre. They created their own world, one in which they could choose the role they want to portray. Standing on the Other Stage, as the final headline act on Sunday evening, Christine said they felt as though they had finally won something.

Role Models

What powerful role models these young performers are. Not only has each been able to transcend their individual circumstances, they have also created power from a position in which they originally felt marginalised. To then implore a huge live crowd – and even larger digital audience – to follow their lead is both brave and inspirational.

They stand as living examples to others who may feel similarly on the fringes of society. Whether through music, dance, theatre or other art forms, all can outgrow the limited perception of those around them. It is no accident that Glastonbury Festival has a reputation as more than just another music event. Beyond those main stages, people of all persuasions express themselves through myriad creative means.

Force for Good

That creativity seeps into the consciousness and being of all who attend. Even if, for many, this transformation only lasts for one weekend in the year, it is something to be cherished. And if we can somehow manage to recreate those feelings of openness and love in our day-to-day lives, then this is truly a force for the good.

You don’t have to be a superstar to know the benefits of creative freedom. None of those headline acts started out with the sole intention of finding fame. Each had a story to tell, a past to shed, a preconception to outgrow. And so, I would suggest,  do we all.

Festival Spirit

Maybe we should think of our whole lives as one big festival for the performing arts. Every day can’t be Glastonbury but we can at least try to bring some of that spirit into the everyday. 

 

https://www.glastonburyfestivals.co.uk

India’s Festival of Colours

 

Go With the Flow

Last week, I had the privilege – once again – of doing some work for a local charity at Glastonbury Festival. If you’re heading that way, my advice is to go with the flow.

Esoteric Healing

Among my co-workers were an assortment of interesting characters. One of these works at the more esoteric end of the healing spectrum. We spoke about our various experiences with Tai Chi, Yoga, Bowen Technique, Alexander Technique, etc. It struck me that, whilst these each offer a different approach to achieving and maintaining well-being, they all have one thing in common.

‘Flow’?… Mumbo Jumbo?

All of these disciplines share an interest in ‘flow’. Now, to some people, delving into such areas may sound like mumbo jumbo and quackery. However, my colleague takes the healthy view that if something works for you, then why not go with it? And this is an attitude with which I wholly agree.

You can perceive this flow in purely physical terms. For example, body alignment will affect the flow of gravitational pull on the various parts of your anatomy. In response, there is a flow of muscle energy, working to balance that force. And, to control all of this, there is a flow of electronic signals between your brain, muscles and nerve cells.

Cut Yourself Loose

What some will have difficulty with are things like ‘Chi’. This is an unspecified energy but could be seen as the result of all the above. Whether we choose to see this as something mystical or purely mechanical does not particularly matter. The main thing is that we ‘go with the flow’ and allow the benefits to be realised.

In our creative work, we also need to allow this sense of fluidity. As with those healing disciplines, it is useful to have a methodology and structure within which to operate. The interesting part is then to observe the outcomes when we cut ourselves loose.

If It  Feels Good – Do It

For young children, this largely happens automatically. They have not yet learned to question why or how particular movements make them feel good. But for them it is simple. If something feels good, then do it some more!

Taking the next step to using movement in an interpretive way is also of little problem to most youngsters. Why not ‘become’ a monster/space ship/historical figure/animal/feeling or even colour? That’s what children do.

Mutual Learning

As adults, we can fall into patterns of behaviour – whether emotional, physical or (dare I say?) spiritual – that block the flow. And my colleague at Glastonbury’s work as a healer tends to centre on releasing such blockages. When working with children, we need to be mindful of our own restrictions. That way, we can enable them to exceed our limitations and stretch their own boundaries.

In turn, they value our guidance and respect our experience. In this sense, there is a ‘flow’ of learning that goes in both directions. In essence, we provide the framework and the children respond with ideas. We then work together with them in order to channel these into substantial creative outcomes.

Get Moving

And the beauty is that creative flow can also reduce or alleviate health issues. The blockages that can cause physiological or psychological harm can be mitigated through creative freedom. In a  nutshell – if something is blocked, get moving!

Whatever your beliefs, it’s good to go with the flow.

 

‘The River’ Teaching Pack for Key Stage 2 Dance

 

Do Something

Empty page, blank screen - nothing to write about - do something.I have nothing to write about this week. So, what do you do when you have nothing to say?… Do something!

Keep in Shape

Believe it or not, you are likely to have some of your best ideas at such a time. The important thing is that you exercise your creative muscles.

You need to make regular use of your physical muscles to keep them in shape. The same is true of your creativity. Rather than waiting for inspiration to strike, sometimes you just have to do.

Blank Sheet

As a child, I was a gifted artist. Or rather, I was good at drawing. I therefore made the mistake of thinking I was a gifted artist. I wasn’t. I would spend hours sitting with a blank sheet of paper, wondering what to draw.

Until an art teacher at school made me produce work at speed. He had us drawing with thick marker pens. We could not, therefore, erase mistakes and start again. We were made to work fast, try different media, confront our doubts and express ourselves.

Worthless?

We produced a lot of material that was worthless. Or so we thought. Our art teacher encouraged us to keep everything. He knew that, in that way, we would learn to value the process.

If you are constantly striving to produce something ‘finished’ and substantial, there’s a good chance you won’t create anything at all. You need, sometimes, to remind yourself that it’s OK to just enjoy the doing. What comes out of it doesn’t matter.

The Reward is in the Doing

Every professional dancer, musician, actor, painter or writer understands the need to practice their art. Many of them will put in many hours that are not rewarded in any obvious way. However, the reward is in the ‘doing’ itself.

And then, every so often, all those hidden hours will result in something that does become visible to others. Then a whole new level of reward is achieved. That of knowing the effort has translated to expression. And this has then affected others.

Do Something… Anything

The ultimate aim of communicating something that resonates with an audience is, thereby, achieved. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Everything comes from a willingness to jump in and start with something… anything.

So, where did I put those pencils? I haven’t drawn anything in years…

Let Go The Reins

Sometimes you just need to let go of the reins.  Events may then conspire to make things better than you had planned them. 

 

 

 

I was recently working on a theatre production that comprised story-telling, songs, a hidden choir and surprise dancers. The choir and dancers were both embedded within the audience. The intended aim was to break down barriers between performer and onlooker. It was hoped that this would create an immersive, participatory experience.

The choir and dancers were kept secret from all concerned, except one another. They were to perform right at the end of the show, beginning from an unexpected black-out. At this point in the performance, the audience was on its feet and moving around the space.

Connections Revealed

Originally, I had asked the choir members to spread to the four corners in preparation for their singing entrance. The dancers were to make their way out towards the choir members and then move with them to the centre. Both choir and dancers were arranged into four parts and the connection would be slowly revealed as the piece progressed.

However, it emerged that the choir could not stay in time with one another when dispersed around the space. So it was decided they should form a circle at the centre, with their conductor in the middle. This, at first, felt like a compromise. In the event, though, it worked very well.

Happy Coincidence

The choir, placed centrally, used their phone lights to illuminate their scores. This created a pleasing visual effect. It also had the happy coincidence of drawing attention away from the central performer, as he secretly left the space. The dancers now began from the corners and worked their way around the space and in towards the choir.

On the night, the choir were able to stay in time. The dancers were able to easily follow their respective choral parts. And the effect was very moving for the onlooking audience.

Creative Solutions

Some members of the choir had been a little disheartened in an early rehearsal. They were frustrated at not being able to keep together and deliver a satisfying vocal performance. I was concerned that this may lead to a less than committed effort. However, by working together to find a solution, we reached an outcome that left the choir – and audience – buzzing.

Sometimes, you just have to let go the reins a little. Then you can be open to outside input. And, in this way, a practical problem can be turned into a creative solution.

Rough and Tumble – engaging boys… and girls

 

 

From Primary to Pro – It’s All the Same

From Primary to Pro - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersWhat a privilege it is to see talented dancers at work. From primary dance teachers (and their pupils) to professionals. All have the power to blow me away.

If you are reading this, there is a good chance you have heard – and possibly moved to – my music, especially if you work in primary dance. However, although I regularly compose for dance, it has been a while since I worked directly with choreography.

In this instance, I was with a group that comprised undergraduate students, a professional dancer and a pre-university student. Let’s be clear, I was just the composer in this scenario. I was not directly involved in creating the movement itself. That honour went to Michelle Rochester, my long-standing collaborator at Dance Notes.

You Can Do This

And what struck me most about the process was this: it was virtually identical to the methods we use in our teaching plans for primary dance. Michelle has a wonderful knack for facilitating. She essentially says to the participants – whether undergraduates, professionals or primary school children – ‘you can do this – off you go’. What then happens is the dancers simply move. They try things out, find ideas and experiment, without any fear of being ‘wrong’.

The Power of ‘Yes’

I know we’ve talked about that before but it is such a vital point it’s worth repeating. And the same applies in all creative pursuits. I remember a comedy improviser once talking about “the power of ‘yes'”. He explained how each person within an improvisation must go along with whatever the others throw at them. The point of working collaboratively is, after all, to feed off one another. We can then stretch ourselves – and each other – beyond our normal creative limitations.

This group of dancers all contributed and were able to critique one another’s work. They accepted Michelle’s view as the overall choreographer. And each was thoroughly invested in the outcome. As mature dancers, they naturally have experience that children do not. This gives them the ability to quickly recognize and hone distinct motifs and phrases. As teachers and facilitators, however, we can provide an external eye to help our pupils with that.

Powerful and Empowering

I regularly ask teachers how they have got in with a particular lesson. They often talk of their surprise at the children’s levels of engagement and creativity. Some find it hard, initially, to stand back and allow their pupils the space to explore. When they do, however, they quickly realize that this is a powerful and empowering experience for the children.

All Enjoy Moving

These performers were once primary school children themselves. Somewhere along the way, they discovered that dance was their ‘thing’. If you are a teacher, perhaps you have some would-be dancers in your own class. Perhaps not. But I can guarantee this: given the chance and encouragement, they can all enjoy moving.

 

Bath Spa University dance

Video Tutorials

PE? Or Not PE?…

I have found it interesting, as a provider of resources for schools’ Dance, to watch the way this subject’s status has shifted over the years.

The government brought Dance into the new National Curriculum in around 1990. They put it forward along with a raft of compulsory subjects at primary level,  as a result of the 1988 Education Reform Act. The idea, I believe, was to create consistency across the country by embedding subjects that all schools should teach.

Stretching Pupils

Dance, therefore, was given similar status to, say, English or Geography. And rightly so. Some children find it hard to express themselves through the written word. Many, however, are able to do so through movement. It allows them to think creatively. They learn to collaborate. And, at the same time, it quite literally stretches them physically.

The government later decided there were now too many areas to cover. So, these were reduced. Against the odds, Dance was not one of the subjects removed. So, children continued to benefit from this alternative way of learning.

Curriculum Reforms

David Blunkett’s curriculum reforms led to another shift in educational thinking, in 1999. Now, Dance became part of the PE curriculum. This, perhaps, could be seen as a downgrade in terms of its creative value. Staff, however, could now also consider the health and physical benefits of movement-based learning.

Wider Value

Well-being has, more recently, taken on increased importance at primary level. And this has given Dance a new role. Now, it can be seen as something of wider value: reducing obesity, promoting emotional health, helping communication and reducing psychological problems. Indeed, it is a vital tool in enabling expression in children with learning difficulties.

Simplification

The Dance curriculum itself has been through many changes along the way. The most recent saw its simplification. The guidelines are now a few short sentences within the PE outline for Key Stages 1 and 2. Dance remains a core element, though exactly what is expected is far less clear. Fortunately, most primary schools continue to recognise the value of Dance and promote its use for all ages.

Cross-Subject Learning

One thing that is not made clear by the curriculum is Dance’s immense value as a learning tool across different subject areas. By embodying ideas that have been discussed in the classroom, it is possible to really bring these to life. Physicalising ideas from science, nature, geography, literature and history can really help children to understand what may otherwise seem abstract or irrelevant.

Flexibility

What all of this shows is the flexibility of movement as an educational tool. Wherever you choose to pigeonhole ‘Dance’, it delivers. We have come a long way from my generation’s experiences of ‘being a tree’ and following a disembodied BBC recording. Today, children are able to take ownership of their ideas, explore their own physicality and develop their creativity.

So, whether PE or not PE, Dance is Dance. It stands alone, yet encompasses just about everything. Thank goodness – for the sake of our children – it has remained within the curriculum. One way or another.

 

1988 Education Reform Act

The National Curriculum 1999

2013 PE Programmes of Study: Key Stages 1 and 2

Child-Centred Learning

Take Some Time Out

take-some-time-outDo you take time out from outputting? Are you always working through literal or metaphorical to-do lists? Maybe it’s worth standing back a while and allowing for a little input.

I had the very good fortune to visit Paris over the weekend. Whilst there, I went to the Pompidou Centre. Not only is the building itself a thing of inspiration but the exhibitions are truly mind-altering.

Switching Channels

Not everything was to my personal taste but that’s no bad thing either. Some exhibitions seemed to be there purely to provoke and anger. Which they did. Others, however, were transformative in more thought-provoking and life-enhancing ways.

Describing visual art is possibly like singing architecture. So, I won’t bore you with any attempts to convey the content or meaning of what was on display. However, the thing that struck me was the overall experience. It had the effect of making me somehow mentally switch channels.

Artistic Possibility

As a friend put it, you may find yourself – after a while – gazing on a fire hose and marveling at its beauty. Only after some time, do you realise that it is not, after all, an exhibit. However, this is a sign that you have opened your imagination to the artistic possibility within all things.

Nothing in Particular

As the weekend wore on, and my wife and I had ticked off the places we ‘had’ to visit, it became possible to then relax into simply being. Time was taken to sit at street-side cafes. From there, we observed the age-old tradition of watching the world go by. A happy lunch hour was then spent lying on grass in an ornate square, complete with fountains and statue.

We remarked on the intrinsic value of public spaces, to which people are drawn in order to do nothing in particular. Rather than marveling at the statue (Louis XIII, since you ask), it was actually more entertaining to simply let our minds roam. And to watch others do much the same.

From Output to Input

Research has suggested that children require periods of boredom in order to discover their innate creativity. The same would seem to be as true – if not more so – for adults. We all need to take a breath from time to time. To switch from ‘output’ to ‘input’. Or even ‘standby’. Only then do we free up the mental and emotional space required to engage our creative selves.

Immersion in unfamiliar surroundings or exposure to new and interesting artworks can transport us beyond our mundane everyday thinking. However, should such activities be done purely by way of ticking them off a list, the impact will be lessened. We need to be present and empty in order to receive.

The Luxury of Being Bored

So, see if you can take time out soon for some real creative input. Maybe listen to a concert, go to a gallery, take a long walk. Or simply allow yourself the luxury of being bored.

 

https://www.bbc.com/news/education-21895704

Ourselves (KS1)

The Art of Interruption

On a recent walk with friends, the topic of drama workshops came up. In particular, exercises for team-building and to improve communication.

My two companions each work within arts organisations. These provide (among other things) training for the private sector. Their ideas, however, can be applied generally to aiding creative interaction.

Storyteller Interrupter

The first example given was  a game called ‘storyteller interrupter’. In this, somebody tells the story of a recent event. As they speak, other players pitch-in with single-word interruptions. These should be quite random and have no clear connection with the story being told. The main speaker then has to include these within the narrative.

Interruption is often seen as something negative but it can actually be helpful. In this game, the person telling their tale needs to remain present within the ‘flow’.  At the same time, they must accept new ideas about how to deliver this and remain open about where it may lead. The result will be richer and more entertaining than had they been just left to speak. The storyteller feels quick-witted and smart in the face of surprising new challenges. And the listeners get to hear an amusing and interesting talk.

Questions, Questions

Our other fellow walker told us how he uses a similar method. In this case, somebody also tells a story of their choice. After a while, they too are interrupted. This time, the others ask questions about what they have heard so far.

These questions prompt the speaker to flesh-out their story. In so doing, they find details that may otherwise have been missed. The storyteller must also now operate within a new, unexpected framework . It can be difficult to speak fluently on a subject when given free reign. Whereas, having parameters imposed by specific questions can actually make things feel easier.

Transcend Limitations

The parallels are, of course, quite clear with creative teaching. Children may stumble when given a task and left to their own devices. They may question the validity of their work or simply ‘dry up’. Whereas, through collaboration, questioning and mutual discussion, they may rise above their own imagined limitations.

Generally, when confronted with a question or obstacle, it turns out that we do have an answer. We may not know in advance what that might be. However, whether through imagination or trial-and-error, a new outcome will generally be reached. It really is a fine line between ‘disruption’ and ‘collaboration’. But one can quickly lead to the other.

You May be Surprised

So, rather than discouraging interruption, perhaps we can learn to use it as a creative tool. Welcoming input takes confidence and an open heart. If we remain open to possibilities beyond our own ideas, we can become more flexible, creative and tolerant.

Next time someone interrupts you with a question or observation, try responding with ‘I’m glad you asked that’ or ‘that’s an interesting point’. And then see where this leads. You may be pleasantly surprised.

When Art Touches Us All

Often, these days, when an event of global significance occurs, it feels as though there is pressure to conform to a particular emotional response.

 

Occasionally, however, such an event can illicit genuine reactions and spontaneous displays of emotion. And so it was with the responses to this week’s fire at Notre Dame, in Paris.

Personal Impact

This has had an impact on me personally, as I am about to take my wife on a long-awaited trip to the city. Though it feels a little selfish to say so, Notre Dame was high on our list of must-see destinations. For me, this would be a re-visiting of something that had moved me deeply on a previous visit, some 35 years ago.

Back then, I was on an outing, together with an irreverent bunch of colleagues, all in our late teens or early twenties. The trip included the usual sight-seeing but was mostly just a bit of a jolly. Our general demeanor had not been one of polite sensitivity or cultural inquisitiveness. Rather, we were more like a bunch of school children that had been let loose without proper supervision.

Awe-Inspiring

Until, that is, we visited Notre Dame cathedral. It’s too long ago now to recall what day of the week it was but, if memory serves, there was some kind of service taking place within the rear part of the building. This included a choir and possibly the organ as well. The effect, combined with the many candles burning around the building and the sunlight slanting through the enormous stained-glass windows, was truly awe-inspiring.

The usual ribaldry and frivolity had left us, as we emerged – one after the other – into the bright morning sunshine. Maybe because of our lack of expectation, the majesty, the atmosphere and perhaps the spirit of countless pilgrims had overwhelmed us. We were speechless and somewhat humbled by the intensity of what was simultaneously a collective yet very personal experience for each of us.

Irreplaceable Art

So, it was not surprising to witness the heartfelt prayers and impromptu singing of hymns as Notre Dame stood in flames this week. Nor the painstaking care taken by the fire crews. Or the personal risk to which they subjected themselves in rescuing irreplaceable works of art.

Even as a nation grapples with its internal politics and the world confronts a future full of uncertainty, art has the ability to unite, inspire and overcome. Just when it may – to some – appear an irrelevance, a waste of both time and resources, creativity shows its true worth. Some of the motives and methods behind the creation of such an enormous structure may seem questionable. But, to those that have provided the artistry and craftsmanship – as well those that have invested it with faith and wonder– the results transcend such mundane considerations.

Love, Unity & Hope

No doubt, we will still visit the cathedral, as planned, next week. And that visit will now take on a whole new significance. As will the cathedral itself. Already, there is talk of rebuilding and restoring. Some may use this as an opportunity for self-aggrandisement. But, for the majority, this will be a labour of love, hope and unity.

 

Lesson Plan: The Great Fire of London

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r1N2o1RjFJs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Zpw_KAEhDY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4iJVfQ8Sbk

 

We Are Family

Ever have one of those intense periods of meetings and encounters that really brings home how creatively connected we all are? The past week has been one such period for me.

 

It made me think about the true value of the creative arts – whether as profession, hobby or study.

Creatively Connected

On Friday, I was privileged to attend an undergraduate dancer’s degree show. My connection was that I had provided part of the soundtrack. This followed the student’s participation in a show I put on last year. Accompanying me was one of the dance professionals who had worked with the students on that project.  She also happens to be a key member of the Dance Notes team. In turn, she had put me in touch with the heads of post-graduate and undergraduate dance at the college. And these introductions had paved the way for including students within my work.

That same evening, I went to a gig to see a band, whose bass player I worked and toured with in another group. The producer of that band has also just mixed an album for me and among the audience were various other local musicians. One of those, I currently perform with regularly.  And, somehow, these connections made the experience of seeing this wonderful trio even better.

Let the Children Play

Saturday, I traveled to watch a performance that was the culmination of a residential course. This is run by our local music services. My son plays with the symphonic wind band they host every week. Their residential has been a highlight of his calendar for several years.

What is striking about that course is its focus on collaboration. At the concert, students presented performances in around five different ensembles. These comprised: woodwind, brass, strings, percussion and voice. However, over the course of the 3 or 4 days spent on the residential, the youngsters had worked together in as many as 30 different groups. Many of these had formed quite spontaneously and the staff are always keen to encourage such initiatives.

Old Friends

I was especially pleased to be able to attend the concert this year as I had a booking myself for that evening. I thought there would clash but the evening gig had a late start. This even afforded me time for a stop-off en-route, to visit an old friend from university. He also still works within the dramatic arts, facilitating better communication in organisations through Forum Theatre. And the ceilidh band, with which I was performing that night, is run by another former university colleague.

Reflections

It struck me that the experiences those students were having on the residential course mirrored those of my own professional life as a musician. Forging connections, maintaining relationships and finding meaning through shared endeavour are key to creative success and fulfillment. Whether this leads to a so-called ‘career’ is neither hear nor there. The main thing is the enrichment, connection and greater understanding it provides.

After all, in the end, we all are family!

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