Leading this interdisciplinary dance and biomedical project has been a very enriching experience not only for me but also for the other 5 artists participants in the project, and all audiences. This unique subject matter aimed and achieved to:
-bring together dance/art and science both in the process of making work and in performing it
-offer to both art and science audiences an opportunity to exchange opinions and to experience points of view different to their own,
-raise awareness of the relationship between biomedical science, the body and dance/art
-demonstrate how any intimate autobiographical material is at the same time universal and the value of sharing it.
-develop methods of expression and communication of those delicate issues through creativity/visual art/dance
We had 3 artist residencies for the making of the work.
On the first one we focused on:
-the somatic and psychosocial experiences of the 3 female performance artists participants with genetic conditions (Clare Whistler, Miriam King, Marina Tsartsara),
-reflection on ways of working with performance autoethnography through the notion of metaphor
-biomedical information and its inclusion in a creative, exploratory ground through movement research and use of other materials.
After the end of the first residency, each one of us was prepared to offer a 'score'/metaphor on written or visual art form to the 'healthy' dance performer Louise Tanoto, that would join us on the last residency. The idea for the score was to arrive from an experiential physical process and try to communicate/share sensation through creative writing or photography, only artistic media, without referring to any medical description. Then Louise would choreograph three brief pieces, based on the scores, that would act as responses to each personal experience of genetic disorder. Our scores were rather subjective points of view in opposition to the 'objectivity' that we were looking for from the performer's response to the metaphors offered, without the actual information on symptoms or our psychological implications.
In this way, the disorders' experience became a score to direct choreographic creation, as an art product, 'translating', transforming and communicating the depth of physical human experience from a different perspective.
On the second residency we focused on bringing the lived physical material and its metaphors into the development of choreographic work. Specifically into three short performative pieces. We used the discovered metaphors and actual materials such as ice, snails and body mask in the making of short performative works. Freedom to use anything that would respond to the reality of the individual physical lived experience/sensations was central.
During the same time, our sound artist Maria Papadomanolaki and film artist/videographer Andy Berriman visited us for interviews, discussions, recording of sounds and filming of metaphors that had emerged in the first residency. Their treatment was sensitive, looking for personal material, deeper sensations and feelings, trying to perceive and absorb through their own being as much as possible so as to express their own perception/sensation of our multilayered communication, through their own disciplines.
On our last residency we came together with dancer Louise Tanoto, Andy's films and Maria's soundscapes. Louise had worked on her own with our scores and had already prepared her movement and choreographic responses. We felt very moved after watching and listening to all that had been generated by the three other artists that had embodied our intimate experiences and had found their own ways/voices to respond to them with such delicacy. The works were sensuous, detailed and sensitive, pieces that could stand as artworks on their own rights.
The aim of the last residency was to compose a performative and filmic night with all the different pieces and layers that had been worked separately by 3 performers with genetic disorders and 3 artists responding to art material created out of the individual experiences of the first three.
Using as a starting point the individual story, we decided to link with the rest of the group through live dialogue on stage accompanied by movement improvisation, responding to each other's dialogues. This permitted us to come all together as a group, interact and offer some moments of reflection on stage.
Those moments proved really valuable for the audience, according to their feedback at the end. It seemed to be a very 'real' part that they benefited from, got informed by and appreciated its honesty and open sharing of thoughts and feelings on such a difficult to describe and intimate subject. Specifically for the audiences of researchers, it seemed like an opportunity to understand deeper the nature of each disorder, and its reality in somebody's daily life (social and personal) with all the psycho-physical implications/layers.
The performances took place at:
-the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London (NHS)
-the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR)
-Chisenhale Dance Space
At Chisenhale I organized and curated a night of medical performances with two other artists/academics participants (Alex Mermikides-lecturer at the University of Kinston- and Gianna Bouchard-lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University), so as to enrich our knowledge and the audience's experience, by presenting and sharing different ways of working, performing and reflecting on the same subject. I thank them for their rich contribution!
By performing in both medical and dance spaces we were able to reach both art and scientific audiences (researchers and medical staff) and exchange opinions on what each discipline offers to the other. Medical and personal information was valued mostly by art audiences while the artistic representation of medical issues and autobiographic information really appealed to scientific audiences. Scientists seemed to have the rare chance to get in contact with the experiential and felt side of the medical disorders, at a personal level through the performer's bodies into their own physical and emotional self, through empathy.
The Q&A sessions at the end of each performance were very rich, sharing ideas, opinions and sensations in depth. According to people’s oral feedback, the performances felt ‘honest, real, intense, deep, sensational, informative and very important to be shared’.
Reaching the end of a six month research and production period I feel fulfilled with the project’s development, learning and sharing, as well as with the dedicated involvement of all artists participants.
I feel very grateful for having been given the opportunity by ACE to develop further my research, produce a piece of valuable work to share and to collaborate with all artists, spaces and institutions.
I would also like to thank Joe Brock (National Institute of Medical Research) and Elaine Murphy (National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery-NHS) for their caring and supportive attitude throughout this project!
Feedback by a member of the audience:
‘I feel I understand just a little bit more about how people can feel who are suffering from a condition which is not obvious or easily explained and in particular to the conditions portrayed today through dance, film and sound. For me it came together through all of these mediums. At some parts I felt that I would like to have removed myself from the experience it was so effective! It is indeed a clever way to show what the individual is suffering or experiencing. Also the dances were delivered in such strong and confident manner, slow or fast which held the attention. Use of the different mediums kept interest and anticipation. It is very difficult to translate feelings and symptoms into a tangible form but using these particular mediums created a very effective mode of expression.
Thank you for the opportunity for these experiences’.
Beautiful photos by: Rash Khandker
Beautiful flyer design by: Sara Popowa
Current research project supported by Arts Council England:
Embodiment of film in choreographing illness and audiences.
The proposed research project arises from my experience as a movement based performer/choreographer with a fatty acid oxidation disorder called CPT2 metabolic myopathy. CPT2 is an enzyme in the inner membrane of the mitochondria responsible for permitting fatty acids to enter the nucleus of the mitochondria and convert into energy. Due to this condition I always had to find ways of working with those deficient cells that limited not only my physicality and way of living, but also my identity.
One of the main aims of the project is to to animate and inspire patients with genetic disease to find ways to transform physical limiting conditions into a positive, creative and inspiring expression through the arts; such as video making, creative writing and expression through movement.
Their engagement with the arts through their body and the moving image will help them:
-share their personal experience,
-open people’s awareness on the health condition and
-offer inspiration and stimulation to others that also need support.
The exhibition/performance audiences engage with the work on both a physical, intellectual and emotional level. The intention of the exhibition is to promote understanding of the disease in all levels through both documentation and exhibition/performance. The ‘live exhibition’ aims to be ‘interactive’ in a way that audiences will be invited to participate physically in space.
The research is partnered by London NHS (National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery), supported by the National Institute for Medical Research and includes workshops with patients and discussions with specialists in all areas of study, culminating into an interactive exhibition/performance event in January 2015.
The above photos document the creative processes during our first two residencies in Brighton (2014)