Take A Seat at Princess Gardens
If you love dance, then Eyeview (extra)ordinary 7-16 June, has a series of treats waiting for you! Take A Seat and A String Section at Princess Gardens on Saturday 15 and Sunday 16 June will bring together a newly-formed company of regional dance artists for two unique performances. We spoke to the Artistic Director of Reckless Sleepers, Mole Wetherell, to find out more.
Tell us about your connection to Torbay and South Devon
I used to come to South Devon a lot with my family but this was after 1977, I think that the first trip was in 1979, and we’d drive all the way from Blackpool Lancashire to spend a couple of weeks in another seaside town. I always liked the idea of spending that time in Blackpool Sands Devon, but I think that we only visited it on a day trip.
In 1982, we came to visit Totnes. My dad had lost his job, well a lot of people in the north of England lost their jobs then, especially those working in manufacturing. My Dad and my Uncle Ken both worked for a company making kitchens, Eastham Burco, and a decision was made to look at options for building a new life, and like so many people they were attracted to the idea of going to where they had spent a holiday. My mum was a nurse and she’d been offered a job at Totnes Hospital, I have a vague memory of it being up a hill.
The day that we came, was the same day that it seemed like the whole town was dressing up, in fancy dress, I remember thinking that this place is bonkers and loved it.
My mum didn’t take the job, and my dad built a studio in the garden with the money from his redundancy, he became a calligrapher & sign writer, something that he’d always done as a hobby and spent the rest of his working life doing something that he loved.
I learnt a simple lesson there… and I’ve spent all of my working life doing something that I really love.
Some of that has been spent in South Devon, frequently a visitor to Dartington showing theatre projects by Reckless Sleepers, Schrödinger was the first in 1998, a project that we revisited in 2005 thanks to a commission to create a book about making the show from Plymouth University Press, which then led to a remake in 2011 - Reckless Sleepers are still presenting this project.
We’ve shown other work and I’d been invited to make work with students who were at Dartington School of Art, visiting my Auntie who was at that time the head housekeeper at Dartington Hall. My Uncle Jim and Auntie Mary live quite close in Somerset, so I’m still a regular visitor the the general area.
There is something always pulling me back to this part of the world, I’m very happy that this has continued.
Why did you want to get involved with Eyeview (extra)ordinary?
As well as the personal emotional attachment to the area, I wanted to be involved to be able to continue to have a presence in the area, and it seemed like the perfect context for a presentation of A String Section. The first ever outdoor performance of this piece was for Coastal Currents Festival in Hastings, and I’ve had my eye on finding places by the sea in the UK to present it again. I wanted also to find a way of developing a relationship with Dance in Devon, especially as Director Sue Smith had been so positive about this project when she saw it in Cardiff for British Dance Edition. We’d somehow lost the connections that we used to have with Devon and the South West, and it was important for me to re-address this.
You're working as part of a newly-formed company of regional dance artists. What's that like?
Well I can’t answer that one yet as we have just started! Its one of the company philosophies or dogmas that if we present a piece of work then we look to find other connections within the area where we work, this can be by providing workshops, or making work together with other artists, those connections are incredibly important because its builds a foundation for projects that we might be doing in the future, for instance, we’ve been asked to present a project that we made earlier this year called Its Hot its Not, a return to Dartington, in October 2019. Building these partnerships now will make a difference in when we present this work, as will I hope the presentation of A String Section, in Torquay, as will working together with local artists.
What was the inspiration for Take A Seat?
Take a Seat will be a response to A String Section, the other company work and be informed by the artists who are taking part in the residency both as a collective and as individual makers. It will also draw inspiration from the place where we present, and of course the time in which we make it.
It’s also an opportunity for me to work together with Rachel Piekarczyk, a member of the company and one of the dancers in A String Section, who has also just lost her job as a University Lecturer, and I hope that by doing this project this helps her find a way of making it possible to do what she loves in her working life.
And how about A String Section?
We’re making this new work in a period of time that is incredibly fractured, and I like what Reckless Sleepers do to address this issue by bringing people together.
So by presenting A String Section and making a new work with local practitioners this makes a lot of sense.
A String Section has a resonance that echoes this fracture, but that wasn’t the inspiration for making it, it was originally an idea of Leen Dewilde who asked a few of her friends to come to a gallery in Belgium for a group exhibition and bring a saw. Leen would bring some chairs and I was asked to bring my video camera to document it.
I, like Leen’s friends, had no idea what it was she was asking people to do. Before the performance started everyone was told that as it was in a gallery it was fine to come and go… No one, including myself did.
And I knew at that moment that this was something special.
It was just an idea, that was tried and was successful; a philosophy or dogma that is the basis for all of the projects that Reckless Sleepers make, lets try it, and see if it works if it does work, like A String Section then lets see what else we can do with it.
So following this, I talked to one of our regular supportive venues in the NW about the project, and we were invited to make the project with dancers from that or associated with that venue - Lisa, Orla, and Rachel were part of that group of local artists - we still work together. Orla has performed in another of our projects The Last Supper, Rachel in Negative Space, that initial investment in an idea has led to this project being presented in 28 different places. Torquay will be number 30!
In 2020, we’ve been commissioned to present A String Section together with 10 artists from Sydney. This is the inspiration for and from A String Section.
How will you be using chairs in the performances?
In A String Section we know what happens.. For Take a Seat that’s up for grabs! A couple of weeks ago I was in Sydney to find at least 10 sites to present the work. One of them was The National Gallery of New South Wales. On the outside of this neo-classical building there’s a list of artists’ names, carefully presented around the building, a list of who’s who, none of these are women and in response to that architectural detail I proposed letrasetting those names one on each chair of A String Section.
In Brugge this summer we’ve been asked by the city of Brugge to present A String Section outside the theatre which just happens to be 150 years old, and is closed for refurbishment. The curator suggested that we use chairs that have red velour covered seats like those inside the theatre.
What's does the simple chair mean to you?
A lot. Chairs are part of most of the work of Reckless Sleepers, an object that we return to again and again, from my first solo exhibition to the current repertoire of works with Reckless Sleepers. I was asked the same question by a French reporter in Turin…the answer I gave was ‘You’re looking at me now sitting in this chair’, I left the chair and stood away from it and said that there is a residue of my time in that object, I’m not there now, but you can imagine me or someone else sitting in it.
In 1994, I made a project called Parasite a performance where the audience of 24 sit inside a small 16’ square wooden construction…we climb over, fall through and crawl out of this box, the chairs used in this performance were the same design of wooden stacking chairs that I sat on in school in 1977.
These chairs then got used in Schrödinger, and now in Negative Space, only 4 of the 24 originals remain, but these chairs were chosen because these just happened to be the chairs that were in the Scout Hall that we used as our rehearsal space. I’ve build chairs out of books, dexion shelving, breeze blocks for station house opera, and we destroy chairs in A String Section.
You'd usually expect to see dance onstage, this will be in Princess Gardens. What's it like performing outdoors like this?
You’d usually expect dancers to move freely, but in the new project that Leen is working on, we know its quite the opposite, the dancers don’t move freely, in fact their movement is forceably restricted. My personal preference is to see dancing in a night club, or wedding disco, I used to DJ lots… I love it when a piece of music can get people off their chairs.
Performing A String Section outdoors has been incredibly liberating. Of course we try to place this piece within or before incredible backdrops, for the 6 shows with 15 dancers in Copenhagen these were all close to the water, in Sydney were hoping that one of the sites will be on the steps leading to the Opera House, in Bordeaux in front of a large water feature, in 4 National Trust sites, or with the English Channel behind, all of these places have a history like the chairs that the company sit on. Performing outside presents this project to people who wouldn’t normally have access to if it was in a gallery, or in a theatre. But like in the first ever gallery performance your allowed to come and go if you please, but what we have found is that a high percentage of people don’t, they stay. Maybe a little confused at first but like the task that is set for the performers, the audience tend to see it through.
We need a resolution…and the resolution is quite clear, a chair is destroyed, But then why do people go to watch a building being blown up, or why do I stop to watch a football match being played in a park?
For that moment when we show A String Section a group of people come together and experience something at the same time, for that brief 45 minutes or so we’re connected. And we might then all go home and switch on the TV and watch one of the 120 channels that are available and start to fracture that togetherness…But we might also stay around afterwards and have a chat with some of the artists who presented, or in the case of Brussels be visited by the local police in the make shift dressing room and have our pictures taken together, and share this moment with another group of people on twitter or instagram.
We've heard audiences will be transfixed... why do you think this is?
Well, from my first experience, and some 30 or so experiences later, I’m always surprised at what happens, because it can never be fixed, sure there is a structure, an order to what Rachel, Leen, Caroline, Orla and Lisa do, but then they are often surprised too, a chair might behave in a way that they haven’t experienced before..
And as performers we’ve worked on how to we make a connection to an audience, we all work hard at bringing the other people watching what it is we do in. And we all work hard at making connections.
I think (from what I recall) from my first experience as an audience is that it didn’t present a singular meaning. It allowed me to formulate my own ideas about what was happening, and thats then true for all of Reckless Sleepers work. We don’t say this is about, we’re much more interested to find out what you thought about what it is, or meant. We don’t present a singular meaning because if we do, that’s all it can ever be is that one thing, and life is a lot more complicated than that.
It can and has been very funny in places, it’s sometimes very disturbing, you might follow one of the company or get lost in something that they do, whilst another part of the audience gasps at something that has happened, and your gaze shifts, but you’ve lost that moment, and you might then witness something that you too respond to vocally, which in turn makes another of the audience shift their focus.
We play with this, in much of what we do.
And we play with this because we know how to interact with people who are watching us.
They become equal partners in the presentation, they effect as much as the environment, or the sharpness of the blade, or the stability of a chair, or the surface of the ground, or the efforts of the dancer sitting next to you affects how each performer performs.
There’s a simple Reckless Sleepers rule which we first introduced whilst making a new project at the Point in Eastleigh (which is very close to the airport), and that rule is when you hear an aeroplane passing you stop whatever you are doing. and everyone stops, and the audience can then hear that noise, the plane passes, and the performance continues…
We're really excited for every part of the Eyeview (extra)ordinary programme. If you love dance, go see All Told at Palace Theatre Paignton (Friday 7 June 7-8pm), Silence Between Waves at Berry Head (Sunday 9 June 3.30-4.30pm) and Take A Seat and A String Section at Princess Gardens (Saturday 15 June 2-3pm, 7-8pm, 8-9pm). Find out what's on and where: https://eye-view.org.uk/events-extraordinary