Navigating Sentient Performativities Symposium Dartington Hall June 2022 (Part One).
I didn’t expect to be accepted to participate in this. I was pleasantly surprised by the ‘Yes’ to my presentation Disrupted Meadow and additionally thrilled to be asked to be on the Nature Speaking Nature Writing Panel led by Triarchy Press.
Will I get it together for the symposium?
Back in the eighties and nineties, Dartington had its own West End status.
Dartington occupies a space in my memory like a holy of holies.
A place of unachievable movement making.
A stage I would never occupy.
Everything about Dartington throws up anxiety and inadequacy for me so I had to work extra hard to avoid undue stress having an unnecessary impact on me.
I had conceived, recorded and rehearsed my presentation in my workroom at home, all of it down to the last second, not wanting to be thwarted by the clock and the timer. After all, the “bang on time” aspect of Disrupted Meadow was something I was very proud of. Anyone with the patience to watch it through to the end will know the perfect timing of the homecoming cows in the first iteration of the piece at Sandra Reeve’s Strata Course in June 2021. I wanted to sustain that magic.
In savouring the wonderful experience of those four days, I thought to write about it and describe the route I chose for myself through the myriad channels on offer.
I arrived just in time for the Keynote. Nina Little spoke of environmental literacy, planetary stewardship and delicate activism. She said that embodiment is political and that imagination precedes embodiment. Imagination and reaching with the imagination were her main themes. She cited ‘what if’ (for theatre practitioners – the magic if) as the basis of all anxiety and the basis of extraordinary creativity. She spoke of the problem of fantasy. She spoke of trauma as an inhibiting factor in our relationships limiting our being and who we can be.
Then it was dinner in the White Hart where our panel met to discuss what was to be done in a dark studio when we were all so used to working outside “in it” so to speak. Inside and outside became a recurring theme down in Devon. I have moved from black box studio making to site-based work over some considerable time. The nearest I get to a black box these days is my workroom in which the only dark thing is a piano. I remembered how much a dark studio can sap your energy while theatre lighting plays clever tricks. I recall my last dark work before I found solace.
They have lovely beamed rooms on the West Wing at Dartington and I was in Laban room number 21. The forever locking and unlocking of the non-en-suite bathroom and toilet rendered me, my own noisy jailer. Nevertheless, I slept a beautiful sleep.
Monday was a full day. The first presentation was Peter Reason’s song to a river in his Living in a Sentient World: an enquiry. Laura Cooper’s focus on the eyes of horses in The Future is Soft followed. Before lunch, it was a trip to Pott Shrigley one of the first places I encountered when we moved to the North West. This was curated by Sabine Kussmaul, Dr Scott Thurston (a colleague from Salford) and Gemma Collard-Stokes. I liked the title Our Common Ground – Writing, drawing, dance – a multi-disciplinary collaboration with the open pastures of Bakestonedale Moor
Over lunch, I met Mita Solanky who led a wonderful session on mudras and meditation helping my thumb stress which has been giving me grief for a year now. I was particularly happy to learn that Mita was from Leicester and that her connection and knowledge of the Mountsorrel Quarries could be quite potent. I learned this when we spoke following her encounter with my presentation. Mita wound up the symposium with the third in a series of meditations she called Saintly Amok: Garden Mud(ras) ‘Bloom’ a performance meditation. But I’ve leapt to the end already and it’s only Monday!
On the Monday afternoon following my nose, I went to Joanna Dobson and Julia Schauerman’s Human-bird encounters and the narration of trauma which included an acousmatic performance. Uncannily this work resembled some pre-occupations that have woven their way into my own work.
One of the delights of the four days was witnessing my colleagues working a durational Amerta Movement thread throughout the symposium, boldly led by Sandra Reeve:
“A number of 7-minute ‘movement punctuations’ in indoor and outdoor transitional spaces, opening the space for alternative perceptions, rhythms and ways of being together. Please feel free to witness or join in.
We shall be receiving and attending to place and to the non-verbal through movement along transitional routes. Our intention is to open the space for alternative perceptions, rhythms, experiences, movements and ways of being/becoming together.
Our question is this: how can we constantly include and amplify somatic, visceral and embodied responses as equally respected contributions to our situations and to our daily life conversations?”
This six-and-a-half-hour intermittent happening punctuated the first day and culminated in a beautiful sharing on Monday evening accompanied by the movers’ spoken thinking instead of a more predictable soundtrack.
Leaping again to the last day of the Symposium because it ties in here and comes from the same Amerta tribe:
Animate-in-animate Collective: a durational participatory event with Dr Sandra Reeve, Kristina Bourdillon, Andrew Carey, Judy Cole, Hayley Marshall, and Keith Miller
Having worked five full days in preparation prior to the symposium on the former Aller Park School site this generous offering formed part of the final day. The collective had been meeting throughout the symposium too working the site. The event was designed to be encountered rather than for extended viewing.
These threads and associated presentations gave some respite on the way to and from less familiar destinations. The Amerta thread, though not formally cited within the symposium nevertheless formed a very necessary activated fringe presence to the main body of movement, akin to outsider art and third theatre practice.
Reflecting on the extensive offer I thought of the image of a gathering of tribes and felt this one particularly necessary for inclusion since so many of its members had met here in memorial and celebration of their inspirational leader who had only recently died.
After dinner on the first day, I witnessed another of Amerta’s offerings in Hayley Marshall’s durational performance Wildcat and the Serpent: Voices of the Sensate. The performance scrambled through the amazing gardens at Dartington and culminated on a fallen tree with a phallic branch.
Hayley was perfectly accompanied by the Dartington cat who stole the limelight and reminded us all of what was at the heart of the symposium. Hayley’s piece was uncannily a rich mix of male and female in nature, her own body writing morphing in its delightful camouflage accompanied by the collective referred to above.
With the thought of my own imminent presentation the next day, I walked back through the gardens followed by that cheeky cat and retired for the night to prepare.
 Disrupted Meadow Presentation Paper June 2022. Waterfield, C.