We currently sit in the 8 weeks between the first two and final two performances of ‘Cityscapes’; a project led by Tara Baker, choreographed by Gerry Turvey in collaboration with the Dance Network Sheffield. The aim of ‘Cityscapes’ is to illuminate and highlight unusual spaces and places in different parts of Sheffield City Centre. These include the Winter Gardens, Millennium Gallery, Howard Street and Sheaf Square (train station). I’ve had thoughts gathering since we began the creative process in early May, and guess now is as good a time as any to reflect.
My first reflection is that my experience of site-specific work is pretty much zero. I have performed work outside but have not experienced the choreographic process developing in the space where the performance will take place. This is the difference between site-specific work and placing the already choreographed work in an outside space, and is one of the many things I have learnt during this project. Obviously we had a studio where we prepared the mind and body, created and developed movement ideas, responded to creative tasks, refined movement etc, but it felt more like a base, a place to set up camp in the morning and have a cuppa, rather than a place where the choreography was born and evolved itself.
The time we spent in the four locations creating the work, presented new thoughts, considerations and even complications. I had no idea how much energy the outdoors consumed! Due to the noise level, number of people (the creative team and Joe public), constant quick pace of the outdoors, and us moving from one sight to another, I felt drained but strangely energised by the end of each day.
Group discussions and receiving instructions took twice as much time and energy compared to studio work. If group discussions were thought to have finished, someone was bound to miss information resulting in a game of Chinese whispers from one dancer to the next. There were 10 of us, 15 in total when including the adult community group, which meant there was often at least one person stood down wind unable to hear properly and misinterpreting. I enjoyed collaborating with this number of people and the teamwork that came with it, (not just making up numbers for the ‘pass on the info’ game, but the creative work too). Working in such a large group, the warm ups were great for building group dynamics and focus, and bringing awareness to each other and ourselves. However, I did find it difficult to maintain the focus that we created in the studio as a group, in the sites simply because of noise, the public and lots of distractions. The world is so noisy!
As the creation period continued, Gerry’s morning warm ups began to shorten in length. We became aware of postponing work in the outdoor sites for the indoor ones due to bad weather, which, when reminded of the time schedule, we knew we couldn’t afford. We had to get out there come rain or shine (safety considered of course), to rehearse equally in all four sites. I mean, we get wet in the train station anyway, so a little rain won’t hurt – right? I feel inserting the following Old Scandinavian quote here is appropriate: ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather only inappropriate clothing’.
After noticing the fast pace of environments, particularly places where people are ‘passing through’ such as the train station, I observed that not many people simply sit in the space. Everyone passes through, not many people sit still. Until I was motionless in the space myself I hadn’t realised that I am one of these people. The architects who designed these spaces will have done so with the intention that people may enjoy them as well as use their practical functionality. (I don’t know what the architects were thinking when they deigned outdoor spaces to sit and relax in Leeds). I always knew there were nice grassy places in Sheffield where I have spent time before. However, often I am on my way to the shop, to meet a friend, walking to work, never just to be in the space, with the space and admire what it offers. To listen and to watch. From doing this project, I now have a new appreciation for outdoor spaces in Sheffield.
Writing this now after two performances of ‘Cityscapes’, I have numerous new reflections about site work…. another blog post in the future maybe. For now, I look forward to stage 2 of ‘Cityscapes’: Two more performances, two youth groups to work with, at two different Sheffield festivals.
(photo credit- Charlie Armitage)