Dawn Hartley was due to hold a residency week at Dance Base in June 2020. However as we had to close our doors in response to the government lockdown we sadly had to cancel the in-person week. Dawn decided to complete the residency from home, working with her dancers over video calls and conversation. Here she tells us of her experience and what this new way of work brought to her artistic practice.
What now feels like centuries ago, I applied for a Residency at Dance Base and was overjoyed when I heard I’d been successful in January 2020. I was really looking forward to getting into the studio at the end of May with dancers Alan Greig, Jack Webb, Niamh O’Loughlin, new NCDS Graduate Shannon Dray and Leanne Kinnear, a young dancer studying Biology at Edinburgh Uni… I was interested in exploring movements we suppress, moves I suppress, trying not to boogie out loud in a public place or trying to earn a living by sitting very still, thinking then typing a lot…
What happens when I let the movement out? Right out... ?
Well, it wasn’t to be.
A Coronavirus began to be talked about. Then it got its own name - Covid19. All the live work I was booked for was postponed or cancelled on 16 March. The U.K Prime Minister announced Lockdown on 23 March.
After much deliberation, on 30 April I asked the dancers if they would be up for taking the project online. I knew it was a bit of an ask as some dancers might not have much space or equipment or, let’s face it, the energy and motivation as the draining terror of immediately spreading a terrifying disease to our loved ones slowly, slowly morphed into the realisation that not only the next 3 months work was cancelled but potentially all work.. Forever… Until a vaccine was developed.. Mebbe.. Or maybe that was just me?
All the dancers replied to say they were up for it and I duly emailed two tasks, designed with the camera in mind. I also extended an invite to Ellis Shirkey, a young dancer I’d worked with before in T.I.M Company who had approached me about being involved in a different online project.
Aim of the film:
Everyone sent me their contributions to the tasks and I began looking for common threads and standout moves. I searched for moments that piqued my curiosity and began blocking them into an I Movie project and tried out different orders.
I quickly became interested in the passing of energy from one dancer to another, becoming completely absorbed by the attention to detail needed to ensure the movement flowed from one another. I became more and more fascinated by recognising the micro movements that the dancers made before committing to the next move. Probably imperceptible in real live life, on screen it was possible to see the flicker of a finger, a micro blink, eyelid twitch, a minute head move, a tiny shift of weight ..and then they're off!
Aware of my tendency to over analyse and unhelpfully self critique, I decided from the start to do exactly what I wanted and if I didn't find the final result interesting, I wouldn't share with anyone but the creative team. I let myself off the hook.
I recommend this approach. I was able to relax into the process, allowing myself to follow what interested me. Immersed in the editing, hours flew by and I only stopped when my hands got cramped from endless clicking. Or I noticed my stomach rumbling..
Once I’d achieved a full edit, I talked with Quee about the strangeness of Lockdown. We'll probably be talking about that forever.
We talked about the idea of the sound being brash, inhuman, stark, uncomfortable and unmusical. Not words usually attributed to Quee's compositions!
I told him my rationale, my sort of narrative, my vague ideas of landmark references, of where I thought there was space in the resulting short film and where I imagined more driving, pushing through, energetic flow.
Quee quickly came up with the ideas of using reverb and delay as an analogy to the distance of the camera. He wanted a slightly manic vibe, echoing the editing and programmed a track of underlying beats using a moving low pass filter. We talked about introducing real instruments and Quee used some audio from the dancers’ films which he processed.
I pushed for more bass. He is a bass player....
We held an online preview on Monday 6 July for 5 of the dancers. It was so lovely seeing everyone albeit on zoom. Shannon was unable to get online as she was working in France with little wifi access and when I know what she thinks about the film, I hope we can share with the wider dance community. I’d love to have an online Preview for more people to see these beautiful contributions from these generous dancers.
Thank you to the dancers for their wholehearted contributions to the project and to Quee MacArthur for the music.
A huge thank you also to Dancebase for honouring our contract.
I look forward to getting into the studio when it’s possible.