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'a deepening of my understanding of the mantra: ‘trust the process’; the actors bore testament to its truthfulness' MDA Member Gerrard Martin reflects on his process movement directing ...cake by babirye bukilwa this summer.





I was brought in to work on playwright babirye bukilwa’s latest piece, ...cake, prior to its critically acclaimed run at the Theatre Peckham. Despite the actual process being relatively short, due to my having been brought in by director Malakai Sargent towards the end of the play’s creation period, the experience turned out to be extremely fulfilling.


I was tasked with assisting the actors to safely navigate the play’s increasingly tense intimacy, the team then identified specific areas to pinpoint, and we physically explored the trauma and fear experienced by their characters. I also choreographed the moments of violence and joy, (which jumped from the pages of the poetic script).


Working practice started with a ‘check in’, which allowed the whole company to focus on how they were each feeling. This initial focus on everyone’s individual’s emotional state helped both bind the company and imbue it with an understanding as to what each creative was experiencing that day, and how each one of us could help support the another.


I continued this process with the actors by facilitating a mindful meditation with visualisation; this included a physical warm up, a mobilisation series and a yoga asana practice.


I used movement and text-based tasks to explore and heighten the character’s motivations within the scene work, the tasks being based on expressions of ‘surrender’ and ‘resistance’; both themes which I found were important within bukilwa’s work.


As part of my role, I presented the actors with grounding and wellbeing exercises for use both before and after both rehearsals and performances. These were designed to provide the actors with tangible tools, allowing them safe return to the present moment, and to shift emotional states safely, if ever they felt triggered by any aspect of the play.


One discovery I made, while working with the ...cake production, was a deepening of my understanding of the mantra: ‘trust the process’; the actors bore testament to its truthfulness. They were so organic and intuitive with their choices in movement and how they delivered text, that it gave me permission to be even more open and curious in my facilitation practices.


In reflecting on ...cake and how I worked on the production, I don’t believe I would have done anything different, but I would have loved to have been a part of the process earlier on and had more preparation days, both in the rehearsal studio and on stage with the company. I do intend to speak with the actors, (now the run has finished) and ask them how they felt the movement and wellbeing tasks supported them through the rehearsal period and performances and help them to find a physical truth in their characters.


The three images that would encapsulate the feeling of my movement in ...cake would be ‘Cat & Mouse’, ‘Imposed Karaoke’ and ‘Nostalgic Faded Star’; some images are more literal than others!


...cake allowed me to develop as a movement director and reinforced a need to trust my myself and my skill set.


 


Photo by Kiraly Saint-Claire


Gerrard Martin trained at De Montfort University, gaining a BA Hons in English Literature and Performing Arts; he continued his studies at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance and obtained a BTEC Diploma in Professional Dance Studies.


He has danced for Altered Skin, Akademi, Rosie Kay Dance Company, and has toured nationally with Tavaziva Dance, Union Dance Company, as well as dancing for the West End's production of the Lion King, Ballet Black, Aletta Collins Dance Company, State of Emergency, and Phoenix Dance Company.


Aside from modelling, commercial dance contracts, and film engagements, Gerrard has also danced for the National Theatre, toured internationally with the English National Opera, and the Royal Opera House.


Gerrard currently teaches on the Musical Theatre BA Hons at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, the CAT programme at Trinity Laban and has taught and mentored on the Children Youth Dance and Adult Classes & Courses programme at the Place. He is a guest Associate Lecturer at the University of Northampton, and a dance, yoga and movement teacher at RADA, (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art).


Gerrard has choreographed for Outbox Theatre, Longborough Opera, British Museum, Pegasus Opera, and the National Portrait gallery. The West Bengal Federation of Dance, India commissioned Gerrard’s choreography for World Dance Day.

He created his project-based company Gerrard Martin Dance in 2011 and has had work featured at the Place, the Curve Theatre, BHM, National Portrait Gallery, RichMix and the Emerge, Between the Lines, South Bank Urban, Let’s Dance International, and Cloud Dance Festivals. Gerrard's work has also been selected for Ident festival, The Field Film festival, UK and the Athens Video Dance Project, Greece.


Gerrard aims to produce works of emotive and socially relevant dance-theatre; to teach and facilitate creativity through movement, yoga, and dance, and wishes to collaborate and engage with artists across different mediums.

He was an assistant choreographer on the English National Opera’s (Olivier Award winning) Porgy and Bess, One Love Musical, (Bob Marley), and the 40th UAE Royal Anniversary Performance, Abu Dhabi. He has been a movement director on productions such as ‘GHB Boy’, ‘BEAM’ & ...cake


Gerrard is the co-founder of Black Artists in Dance, (BAiD) and the associate founder of The Healthy Young Dancer Project (THYDP). He is part of the first cohort of The Kerry Nicholls Dance Mentoring Programme and is a trained Yoga teacher.

www.gerrardmartindance.com


Production Details …cake was written by award winning playwright babirye bukilwa and premiered at the Theatre Peckham. …cake forms part of a trilogy of plays and is a prequel to the critically acclaimed blackbird hour. Performed by Danielle Kassarate and Donna Banya directed by Theatre Peckham’s associate director malakaï sargeant.







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Updated: May 15, 2021

Steering group member, Ingrid Mackinnon, on big questions and important conversations.

Like most movement people I am interested in bodies in space, how the bodies are affected by the space they are in and how the space is transformed by the bodies within it. And like most, I’m interested in words, particularly the order of words.


What does this have to do with anything related to movement?


Ok yes, this is a weird start to this blog post but stay with me. Some of what I’m about to mention may be difficult or even invoke physical reactions in you, stay with it. Like most potentially uncomfortable, difficult or even hard conversations it’s sometimes easier to warm up, massage and ease our way in. This is what I’m trying to do, stumbling my way into a topic that is too epic for this post but needs to be offered in the space nonetheless.


So, to relate this to movement practice think of this as the warm-up you might get to do with a company ahead of a session. Without this warm-up the approach can feel hard, possibly even too direct for some. Even injury might occur and I for one do not want to come across as the ‘mad, angry Black woman’ – oh I forgot to mention for those who may not know me, I’m Ingrid Mackinnon and I’m Black, a woman and sometimes angry.


Sorry, back to difficult conversations, the hard approach sometimes results in rigidity, bodies and minds that are so paralysed with worry about saying the wrong thing that they say nothing at all. And trust me when I say that silence is much worse. In fact when we are silent, we remain complicit in supporting systemic structures that alienate and discriminate others. That was a deep lunge that we may not have warmed up sufficiently for, but it leads me back to my point about words. There are many new words in our everyday lexicon thanks to the pandemic such as self-isolate, quarantine, lockdown and social distance and many more to boot. Another one that is rolling off of tongues currently is Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. It’s a mouthful of really hefty words that have quickly been abbreviated to EDI; I suspect to take the pressure off their individual importance.


I wonder, why does Equality come first in this title? I mean, who decided that Equality might benefit from being first? In my experience, it’s Diversity that gets the most discussion and airtime so why not call it Diversity, Equality and Inclusion? I guess if we did that, then one might think that if we have Diversity then there is Equality. Job done.


But where does that leave Inclusion? Speaking quite frankly, inclusion has become such a sexy word that many have begun to add it to their professional elevator pitch. Heavy words that float off of tongues taking a rather indirect route to silence. Ok back to EDI, my movement director brain is rejigging the blocking and thinks that we should try Inclusion, Diversity and Equality.


Hear me out, because if we have included everyone in the room, with all of the Diverse aspects that make them human, we might get one step closer to Equality?


What do you think? You see, I have given this a lot of thought. As a Black Female creative there are many times that I have felt excluded, too diverse and exponentially unequal to everyone I’m in the room with for reasons that are now called protected characteristics. Some of these characteristics are visible and some are not visible.


So, my fellow movement folks, what do you think? What do you think about EDI? What do you think about language? Has your language changed in the rooms that you lead since EDI started rolling off of tongues? I hope that these conversations are happening in private spaces and if they are, HURRAY! But now it is time for our movement community to unpack these words - EQUALITY, DIVERSITY and INCLUSION -with the same glee that we might unpack a Laban principle, polyrhythm or kinaesthetic awareness.


Hopefully I have gently warmed you up into discussion. I hope that your minds are beginning to feel ready for the hard conversations, the important conversations that affect all of us. I hope that we feel brave to take risks to say something because saying something is better than saying nothing at all.


 


Ingrid Mackinnon is a London based movement director and choreographer.


Movement direction credits include Liar Heretic Thief (Lyric); Reimagining Cacophony (Almeida); The Border (Theatre Centre); #WeAreArrested (RSC); First Encounters: The Merchant Of Venice (RSC); Kingdom Come (RSC); Typical (Soho Theatre); Fantastic Mr. Fox (associate movement Nuffield Southampton and National/International tour); Hamlet; #DR@CULA! (RCSSD); Bonnie & Clyde (UWL: London College Of Music).


Choreography and rehearsal direction credits include: The Headwrap Diaries (assistant choreographer and rehearsal director) for Uchenna Dance; Our Mighty Groove (rehearsal director) for Uchenna Dance; Three Penny Opera (choreographer) for Wac Arts; Boy Breaking Glass (rehearsal director) for Vocab Dance/Alesandra Seutin; Hansel and Gretel (assistant choreographer and rehearsal director) for Uchenna Dance; Imoinda (choreographer); In The Heights (choreographer) for Wac Arts.


Ingrid holds an MA in Movement: Directing & Teaching from Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.


www.ingridmackinnon.com


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Updated: Dec 16, 2020

We are the beating heart of a rehearsal room, and the thread that holds a company and production together.......MDA steering group member Jenni looks back at moving and learning through a pandemic


It is nearly eight months since the world changed, and despite the rhetoric around this time being a ‘pause’ for our industry, my experience has not been that. There has been upheaval, loss and we have witnessed a drastic annihilation of our cultural sector. I have rewritten this paragraph in response to the breaking news that Biden will be the new president of the USA, and whilst I am so relieved at the news, I feel deep down, that I don’t know what the world will look like in 10 days time. It feels like anything could happen. This kind of flux, of rapid change requires a huge amount of adaptability from us as human beings, and as a society. It’s hard to be adaptable when dealing with crisis.


I am sharing some lessons I have learned, and continue to learn, during lockdown.


Lesson No 1 Pain and grief are real, and it is ‘ok’ to ‘not be ok’.


Back in March, I was movement directing a production with Roy Alexander Weise at the Lyric Hammersmith. The play was Antigone: Burial at Thebes and we were in the early weeks of rehearsal, working with the ensemble and establishing the movement vocabulary of the chorus; it was physically intense and psychologically challenging work. When the Prime Minister advised people not to go to the theatre we were devastated and frightened. The week leading up to the cancellations were full of anxiety and fear of this unknown threat, unsure if we were compromising our families and colleagues by going to work, by going to the supermarket, by speaking to our neighbours.


I was booked on projects until the end of September in 2020, all of which were cancelled. I had residencies booked in to develop my own work - all got cancelled. There was so much collective grief, there was so much sadness. I felt like everything was crumbling and falling away from me. I remember being in varying states of fight/flight/freeze, as I balanced a fear for my family’s welfare, and the consequences of the lockdown. My partner and I put some paper up on the wall, listed our current bank balances, wrote down all the money owed to us from freelance jobs that had not been paid yet, and talked to our landlord.


Almost immediately, I started running online movement workshops for colleagues and friends. They were holistic in focus, using my practice not for performance this time, but to give focus to our bodies in 3D, as opposed to the 2D presentation we had found ourselves existing in overnight. It was a way of creating structure and being connected to each other, but also I was trying to create a space to engage with our own bodies. The body holds on to every experience, and it was a way of processing and allowing space for us to return, find some grounding, and reconnect with body as ‘home’.


I also remember the first slew of online work that seemed to come from every angle, and the overwhelming pressure to deliver digital content. There was a feeling of missing out or losing your relevance as a movement practitioner in this new digital landscape. As this was happening, I was also caught up in the process of ‘un-producing’ the shows I was working on, including my own work, which I had fought so hard to carve a space for. I went to zoom production meetings, and talked about socially distanced staging, we talked about digital avenues, and we drew up story boards of the work, all to be filed, whilst one by one, each project was curtailed.


As an actor, I could still self tape, I could take part in readings and workshops online. I worked with a US collective, doing live readings on a YouTube channel, and the digital world connected us across oceans in ways that we just didn’t entertain before the pandemic. As a movement director and theatre-maker, it was less clear. Movement direction is a discipline that works in collaboration with other people, but also, we deal in space, body and time. All these elements are abstracted in the online rehearsal room. Things that we take for granted when in the same physical space were fragmented, like not being able to see the whole body of the participants on Zoom, or not being able to hear breath; the elements that are not channeled through words but transmitted through being in a shared space with all the micro negotiations and non verbal communication that comes with it. I would have to radically transform my practice, or so I thought. For the most part, my knowledge and skills were even more important in a lockdown, but delivery was a different beast. What I learned was that we were all in the same boat in terms of this accelerated necessity for learning, and sharing practice became much more on the table.


I found a huge solace and solidarity in the meetings held by MoveSpace, and spoke at the online conference Digimove. These moments of connection with my creative peers had always seemed so hard in real life, due to scheduling clashes, or being in different cities, or being one movement director on a project. As a freelancer I was always tessellating projects, with barely enough time for myself, so to have space to do this was a welcome exhale. At this time, our collective fear was tangible, and yet those meetings went on to fuel activism in the months that followed. It was ‘ok’ to 'not be ok’, and sharing it meant that it was real, and could be talked about, and ultimately, quantified so that we would be able to bring it to the table when the industry started to pick itself up off the floor.


Lesson No 2 Activism, Artivism, Freelance Task Force; Our voice matters.


As the weeks went on, I realised the level of precariousness that we had all been operating at, and problematic hierarchies that play out in our industry. As freelancers we had no security and no visibility. It was frightening.


I put this rage, and sadness into working with other artists and so manifestos were written, meetings were had. I joined the Freelance Task Force. It was a way of dealing with the immenseness of it all, and also a way to putting whatever small platform I had spent ten years building to some use. Fuel’s letter to freelancers sparked hope and controversy; a call to activism; a call to the companies to create space for our voices. I was sponsored by Actor’s Touring Company, and we talked about how I straddled a number of disciplines, and that this perspective could be really useful in discussions.


My main drives were movement directors, theatre for young audiences, and anti racism and inclusion. I worked with the Dance Freelance Task Force, who were front footed in highlighting specific challenges that working with bodies and movement entail. Challenges around studio safety, movement practice with COVID restrictions, and financial difficulties faced by the sector were high on the agenda. We met with One Dance UK, People Dancing, ACE, Equity, and the brilliant MoveSpace. Some of the work that has happened here has led to meetings with Equity around pay structures, and proposal of a National Portfolio of Creatives with Arts Council England. Who knows if we will get what we have suggested, but it is the first time that some of these financial gate keepers have had detailed discussions with freelancers, and specifically movement directors.


During lockdown, the Manchester Royal Exchange streamed a reading of ‘The Mountaintop’. I had worked with Roy on this production at The Young Vic (and tour), and it had been brought back to raise money and awareness for Black Lives Matter in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Katori Hall’s words shooting an arrow into the future and our humanity. I struggled to make sense of the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd. I struggled to make sense of the murder of Vanessa Guillen. I worked with freelancers connected to Fuel to write a manifesto for change in how black artists are treated within the industry. ’The New Normal’ manifesto is currently working it’s way around buildings and unions. It demands change on a fundamental level. We need meaningful reform, and it is overdue for all those who experience racism and oppression.


All of this work, ran in parallel with the newly created MDA which is so needed. I found strength in realising how many of us have the drive to push the visibility of our work and to make sure that when we go back to work in theatres, we go back together.


Lesson No 3 Self-evaluation as a place to reset and reconnecting with artivism.


I spent so much time wondering if I should leave the industry and retrain. What is theatre? What does it do? What is my practice? What do I want to do?

What is Movement Direction?


I thought a lot about long term development, longevity and sustainability. I kept coming back to practice. I care a lot about practice, and when I look back at my journey to this point, I have spent a lot of time training, reading, watching and learning. I spent time in studios out of my depth with dance practitioners; I spent time reading about movement practice; I spent time analysing the works I admire, and the works I didn’t. My practice emerged first, then the career pathways followed. As your expression is unique to you, and only you can nurture it, and give it space and time. Think of it as enriching your creative well of experience, and it is not a one off deal, it is a life’s investment. At the moment, lots of theatre artists are opening up their practice and have become more accessible in lockdown; you can go to their talks, webinars and workshops to quietly feed your practice.


I am currently working on projects that examine the body in space. Asking questions such as ‘Who is allowed to take up space, and on what terms?So much of what movement directors do is about empowering the performer. During lockdown, I worked online with British East and South East Asian performers. In unpacking our work, we spent time talking about the racism that they encounter in the industry (which is real and present), and also the dynamics exacerbated by the recent pandemic, where members of the public feel they can openly abuse people in the street. The workshops served to create a safe space where interrogation of these dynamics was much needed; providing a holistic time to reclaim space and identity.


I see all my work as a challenge to the presented history and dynamics that society offers us. As a British/Bolivian movement director my work is a product of my relationship with the UK, and the duality of living between races and cultures. This is inextricable from my artivism.


Movement directors frequently work with communities. Throughout my career, I have worked within a number of community contexts, and movement has been the agent for reframing participation into creation. Creativity is part of our DNA, it is a necessary dynamic of a healthy mind and society. Community participants will need to be taken care of and placed at the forefront of theatre practice moving forward. It is through this practice we will be able to construct spaces to imagine and CREATE a kinder and more tolerant society.


Lesson No 4 Inclusivity as excellence


Inclusion should be the starting point of all practice.


Dealing with COVID safety measures has meant that we have been acutely aware of peoples’ boundaries and consent in the rehearsal room like never before. I have been lucky enough to be in rehearsal rooms as a performer, and as a movement director during the pandemic. We are having to negotiate space, our home commitments, shielding family members, and the work is part of that bigger conversation around consent. My hope is that what we have learned from this time is carried forward and becomes best practice. Movement direction has been pioneering this sort of work for years through various manifestations, including the ‘Me Too' movement, and the pandemic has shaken the industry into listening again.


Zoom room access to industry meetings and tables, previously denied to our disabled peers, suddenly being available can be carried forward. In the FTF, the meetings were held with inclusion at the forefront. BSL interpreters, live captioning, and methods of conducting yourself in meetings that mean that its clear who is talking and that the information can reach everyone. It took time to set this up, but it was worth it.


I have been running workshops with disabled and pre-disabled people across a number of platforms. Making sure I am communicating well across everyone’s needs takes preparation and thought. We all have to get that muscle ready to work and adapt. I am so hopeful about this, as I know we have been doing this work live in rehearsal rooms for many years and believe we can lead the way on this.


I want to see the industry, and our society learn from the Black Lives Matter movement. I don’t mean reacting to the most pressing ‘problem’ the buildings are dealing with, which just result in a simple change in optics. I want full out, systemic change. I want the principle to be learned, not just the example. I want us all to embody it, and make those changes so that we can build some equity.


Inclusion will be the starting point of all practice.


Lesson No 5 Play and joy as a source of healing.


I am all about play. Play as a state of consciousness that can be accessed by anyone, which has the power to energise, enliven and ease our burdens.


It is also “…a profound biological process. It has evolved over eons in many animal species to promote survival. It shapes the brain and makes animals smarter and more adaptable. In higher animals, it fosters empathy and makes possible complex social groups. For us, play lies at the core of creativity and innovation.” (Stuart Brown, from Play, 2009).


Play is not frivolous. Play makes learning possible, it makes connection possible, and it helps to ground the body. I try to make work from a place of playfulness. Games feature heavily in my practice, and I want to challenge the things in our society that are not working, with a playful radicalness.


Our training in finding the games, setting the parameters, creating the rules, are all designed to make play happen. Often directors want to movement directors to ‘release’ something in the actor, in the ensemble. What they really mean is ‘How do I get them to play?’. As movement directors, we are often looking for the way to enter the imaginative world of the production, where the body is engaged and the mind is active. We don’t just lay the foundations and create the fertile ground in a rehearsal room, it IS the work.


Lesson No 6 Dream big and keep on dreaming


If we are going to build back, let us build back better. This is the time to dream, so here are some of mine (I could go on for hours, but here are a few)


Movement directors as experts. Our bod(y)ies have become a battleground. Touch and proximity has become dangerous. Preserving our lives meant we couldn’t share space and be together. We are now acutely aware of the space between us.

I am worried that people think movement directors and theatre choreographers only deal in physical contact, but we are experts in space, and time too. We understand the power of the visual image, of composition, and the stories contained within and between bodies.


The future of movement directors as artists. We are the beating heart of a rehearsal room, and the thread that holds a company and production together. It is a skill to be able to make that happen. I want awards categories for what we do, and more options and career paths for us. So many of us don’t make work as lead artists. I want to see that change.


Platforms and funding for movement director development: whether that is more of us becoming Associate Artists to companies and buildings, or being funded as other disciplines are. I want to see some direct investment into the Creatives that make the work. Our practice is developing and growing, and I want to see respect and time given to it.


Dramaturgical opportunities - we get into many rooms and experience a lot of practice and forms. We are hardly ever asked to contribute to dramaturgical conversations outside the rehearsal room. Tap us, we have a lot of experience!


Boards: Get us on boards. We often experience the ‘buildings’ we work in across a season, or an Artistic Director’s tenure. We are articulate and sensitive to the cultural climate in these buildings. Use us!


Better relationships with producers. I would love for us to share knowledge and unpick some of the systems we have inherited around budgets, technical rehearsals (are three session days really that productive?), planning around company calls, understanding our prep time, and transparency in the casting process.


To reconnect with ourselves and be able to live an embodied practice. I would like to hear more talk about what we do, and how we do it. As movement directors, we curate experiences through the body. How we enable a group to enter, stay, and then exit a creative space, is something we give a lot of thought to. The structures may seem invisible when working with a company, but now we are at home and there is no delineation between work and regular life, these structures are necessarily acknowledged. What can we learn from living an embodied practice that can take us into the next phase of recovery.


 



Jennifer trained at East 15 and is a movement director, actor and theatre maker.


Movement direction includes: Invisible Summer (Royal Court), Antigone: Burial at Thebes (Lyric Hammersmith), Caucasian Chalk Circle (NT Public Acts, postponed), Wuthering Heights, Cuttin it, Death of a Salesman, Queens of the Coal Age, Our Town (Royal Exchange Theatre), Midnight Movie (Royal Court), Amsterdam (ATC/Orange Tree/ Theatre Royal Plymouth), Pops (Jake Orr Productions), I Wanna Be Yours (Paines Plough/The Bush), Parliament Square (Bush Theatre/Royal Exchange Theatre),The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart (New Vic Theatre), Be My Baby, Around The World in 80 Days (Leeds Playhouse), The Trick (Loose Tongue/Bush Theatre/High Tide), Philoxenia (Bush Theatre), Mountaintop UK Tour (Desara Productions Ltd), Mayfly, Out of Water (Orange Tree), Brighton Rock (Pilot Theatre /The Lowry), I Want To Be Yours, Island Town, Sticks and Stones, How to Spot an Alien (Paines Plough Roundabout), The Mountaintop (Young Vic), Black Mountain, How to be a Kid, Out of Love (Paines Plough & Orange Tree), Death of a Salesman (Royal & Derngate), The Ugly One (The Park), Why The Whales Came (Southbank Centre), Stone Face (Finborough Theatre), Debris (Southwark Playhouse/Openworks Theatre), Macbeth (Passion in Practice/Sam Wanamaker Playhouse), Silent Planet (Finborough), Pericles (Berwaldhallen), The Future (The Yard/Company Three), Other-Please Specify, Atoms (Company Three), Takeover 2017 (Kiln Theatre).


Assistant movement director: Lungs, The Initiate, My Teacher's a Troll (Paines Plough Roundabout 2014).


Jennifer is currently an Evolve Artist with Oxford Playhouse, and in 2019 was a Developed With Artist with The Lowry. She was appointed the 2019 Leverhulme Arts Scholar with The egg Bath Theatre Royal.


www.jenniferjackson.net

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