A dance performance during a global pandemic was always going to be a bit different. At the composition session for it on 14 October 2020, we devised an outdoor dance in a park using sticks called ‘Becoming Gentleness’. The outdoor setting and the distancing from each other through sticks reduced the risk of infection from COVID-19.
There were three of us at the composition session in University Parks, Oxford on 14 October. The fourth member of the quartet was at home isolating due to contact with a person who had Coronavirus (COVID-19). The weather was extra-ordinary: rain showers and bursts of bright sunshine too. The autumn or fall colours were at their height – quite beautiful.
Our dance composition formed a score – a sequence of dance and movement elements recorded for performance – similar to the function of a musical score for a musical performance. The elements of it were from sessions that I’d been teaching/ facilitating in the previous weeks at Dance in the Park. We’d had six sessions where we’d research and investigated dancing with sticks and with each other. Some elements of the score were from my teaching but others discoveries or adaptations by the participating dancers.
The idea of the ‘Becoming Gentleness’ dance was transitioning from aggressive movement to one which was more gentle and where a stick – which could be a weapon, was used to encourage and facilitate a playful dance.
I try and make the sessions at Oxford Contact Dance an interchange of ideas and practice. For example, one of the other dancers – Aundre, introduced an exercise from the teaching of Augusto Boal and the Theatre of the Oppressed called ‘Colombian Hypnosis’ (YouTube video). It was adapted and ‘stick-ified’!
I especially liked it, as it complemented another which I’d taught about leading and following in the dance. Here’s the two complementary exercises which were incorporated into the score (and which you can see in the above video):
- Stick hypnosis For this, one person holds the stick and moves it such that the other person follows it. Apparently, the classic Boal exercise is that one dancer follows the palm of the other which is held in front of them. Hence there is an element of ‘hypnotism’.
- Stick contact Here, one person dances and the other uses the stick to touch or contact them while they dance. Thus the person with the stick follows the dancer. It is the opposite of the stick hypnosis where the dancer follows the stick.
These two exercises place emphasis on there being a dancer who is led. But actually, both leader and follower are dancing – they are dependent upon each other. It’s a duet!
This the score which we produced. It was for a trio as we didn’t know if the other person would be joining us to dance in a quartet. We didn’t know when their period of isolation due to possible COVID-19 infection would end!
Stick swinging Trio; Standing, swinging sticks, aggressive, hitting, beating.
Friezes Trio: One dancer on feet makes pose with stick. In turn, other dancers join and pose. Repeatedly moving in-turn, posing.
Trio: (Walking with stick held vertically)
All sticks on ground. Walking. Either pick-up stick and pass it or take stick and return to ground. (But not both!);
(Walking with sticks held horizontally)
while passing stick, another dancer. Also holds stick and walking – turning with another (who takes it).
Stick hypnosis Duet: One person holds a stick and another person follows it. No contact between stick and dancer. ie dancer follows stick
Stick contact Duet: One person holds the stick in contact with dancer who moves and stick is kept in contact. Change duetting dancers so each dancer has danced with all. ie stick follows dancer
Ring-a-ring-a-roses Trio: Each dancer holds the end of the stick to create a ring and explores its freedom of movement and shape formation.
Sticks on ground Trio: Sticks are place on ground in shape. Dancers arrange about sticks creating extended shape.
Ending Trio: Each dancer bangs stick on ground 5 times. All sticks are banged together above head 5 times. Repeat above one less time until only one time. Drop all sticks on ground. End!
Here’s a PDF of the score
All photos and filming/editing by Fiona Bennett.