The act of collaboration involves the process of working together with other individuals to create something through your project. Here at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance that involved the joint creation between Musicians, Dancers and Musical Theatre students. I opted to choose a project that was open to all and that featured every aspect of the conservatoire’s departments. That lead me to ‘The Tempest’ – “Musicians and dancers will respond to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and create an immersive after-dark performance and installation, both inside and outside the Laban Building.”. I figured what better way than to kick-start my Shakespearian love than to start early with this project before completing my Shakespeare assessment next term. All of the projects I opted for involved contemporary dance; a style I’ve missed practising since joining the musical theatre course. It was a joy to emerge myself right back into the contemporary dance world after not doing it in so long. My Project was formed to get people from all of the different courses to come together and create something magical, and that’s exactly what we did. All this was possible due to the help and spirit from everybody involved but most importantly our team leader Monika Błaszczak.
With everything that is going on in the world today we wanted to get the message across that Shakespeare is still very relevant and can be accessible for all, not just for Shakespeare-lovers. That’s why we decided to create both music and dance as an aural/visual telling of the story as opposed to traditional spoken language. Through this piece, we try to break down barriers between people and open the borders between us, building on our differences and combining our strengths to show the combination of qualities and build something much greater than our own individual capabilities. By finding things that bring us together in an ever increasingly divisive world we seek similarities through the tale being told. Contextually, Caliban is forced into servitude after Prospero and Miranda’s arrival and enslavement of him, essentially creating a colonised island to suit those in power. What’s beautiful about our group is that we are all of different nationalities and the fact we created this work as a group highlights the importance that we need to welcome our neighbours and far off neighbours instead of closing our borders and building a wall.
Today we started off in a group discussing what The Tempest was all about and what we wanted to show to our audience. We decided to focus on four key elements to the plot – Prospero, Miranda, Caliban and the storm. As a group, we watched Peter Greenaway’s ‘A walk through Prospero’s Library.’ This was to give us an inspiration into the world of The Tempest and all the different characters that we could possibly conjure for Prospero’s installation. I found this really helped me get a sense of regality in some ways and allowed me to come up with a lot more intricate and exquisite characteristics and movement. After our discussion, we split off into Musicians, Dancers and MT students. As Mt students, we were given the option of creating a scenario between the three of us based on the play or to join either side of the other creatives. I decided to point my toes in the direction of the dancers. This is where the fun began to occur. The musicians started to improvise a piece based on the idea of a storm. In ‘The Tempest’ Prospero conjures up a storm leaving the royals shipwrecked in order to seek revenge. As dancers, we were told to also improvise what it would be like to be trapped in a storm – we weren’t limited to what we could express, we just had the idea of a storm in mind. This was a nice way of just letting go and it was nice to just throw yourself into the vast sea. There were times where we complimented the music through movement and also times where we worked against and each felt beautiful in their own way. There was a real sense of synergy between the two cohorts of people. This was something we later picked up on and discussed as a group.
What exactly was the connection between dancers and musicians? Do the dancers follow the musicians or do the musicians follow the dancers? This sparked more questions relating to the actual structure of the music. Should the musicians have set music or should they have musical freedom to be influenced by the dancers and match/follow the journey they are creating? This was very much an experimental process meaning we would only know once we had tried the ideas out. Which is exactly what we did, only this time as dancers we were given a bit more substance to think about. Monika placed images relating to a storm and ‘The Tempest’ inside the island we had created with our personal belongings in the room. This really helped me get more of a sense of the storm and the idea of being enclosed on an island with no means of escape. I found that the second time we improvised, with the images in mind, it felt much more natural and gave me more ideas to bounce off. The first time I felt like I was repeating a lot of movements without really thinking about their meaning or how they could be perceived by an audience. Therefore, I was performing much more for myself internally than for the audience who would be viewing the piece. Having said this, this ‘selfishness’ in performing for myself really helped me establish a sense of character and vulnerability on the first few days in which I was then able to export this inner performance out to the audience which felt a lot more authentic and real as it came from inside of me and was a truer reality of what I was trying to get across to the audience. Before breaking for lunch, we discussed the importance of the visual representation to the audience and how we wanted them to view the performance – with the dancers inside across the building dancing in the widows and the audience accompanying the musicians outside watching from there before heading back into the building making our piece very site specific and theatre in promenade in some ways. We also discussed that th needed to be a build-up, both musically and dynamically through dance, to get the audience enticed from the get go. Another query mentioned was the actual overall structure of the storm. As a group, we felt that dynamically there had to be moments of softer/ quieter sounds to match the minimal movement that some dancers created and felt that the score first presented to the group was a bit too much. It felt as though it was constantly at a certain level of noise and tempo without really going anywhere. To rectify this, we suggested the idea of as dancers we would pick 3 different motifs and when the musicians would see their selected dancer perform their movement they would match it however they felt it made them feel. However, speculation arose because the dancers wouldn’t be able to see the musicians due to the nature of our piece, nor would they hear them that well due to the proxemics between dancers and musicians. another topic brought up was the idea of the story we were telling the audience – did we want to stick to the structure of the tempest or devise installations of different themes inspired from The Tempest featuring key characters Prospero, Caliban and Miranda. This was to be discussed the following day.
Returning from lunch, we got our creative juices flowing in a kind of symbolic way. Going into the studio we were asked to get out our notepads and pens and think of a time in our lives where we were at our loneliest. Monika played a track that got me deep into a thought-provoking state of mind. In this calming moment, I took the pen to paper and started writing about the latter half of 2012, a devastating year for myself after losing Whitney Houston in February to losing my Dad to suicide in the November. When my Dad died, I felt as though I wasn’t really there/ connected to my family. I felt like I had to be the glue and be strong for everyone in order to get through it. I had such an amazing support at home during this time through my grandparents, aunties, uncles and family friends. Despite all this I still felt alone. It was only during the night’s I could cry myself to sleep. I feel as though this has affected me massively in terms of emotions as I always shut off my emotions until I reach the point of break. I let it all build up and keep it to myself until I crack. I still find it really difficult to cry over serious matters in front of people however I don’t think I’m emotionally shut off, I’m a very empathetic person when it comes to others just not really when it comes down to myself. I like to keep on moving forward and deal with it all later and act as though everything is fine until it evenetually is. In some ways, I was in a state of isolation, I shut off my emotions when in company, I was very much focussed on getting my family through it. Because we had to. I didn’t really grieve at all during this period. At times, it felt like I was floating through the air, I was smiling and being present and holding conversations but emotionally I just wasn’t there. After writing this we were asked to improvise movement that symbolised what we had written in which we would later present to our peers. For me personally this was an emotional experience. I was delivering the movements and suddenly I lost control of my breath, it was oozing out of me turning in to quiet cries for help. It took me back to being in that moment of isolation wanting to emotionally being there but restricting myself however this time it was all flowing out of me. It was quite overwhelming and I cried a little to myself but it was the most honest performance I believe I’ve ever given in my life. It’s in those moments that you really do see just how far you’ve come as a human being in this life you lead. Watching the others around me there were both moments of slow continuous movements and some erratic up tempo dynamic differences. It felt very raw. It was a moment between us all where we could each see a time where we were in need of help and I believe it helped me get to know my peers a lot more. Furthering from this we picked out different ways in which we could dynamically contrast through repetition, stillness, variation canon and other ways. We played around a lot with this idea over the next couple of days to embody the movement and the spirit of what we had created more.
Arriving at 10AM we were presented with a piece of text from the Tempest.
Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises, Sounds, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices That, if I then had waked after long sleep, Will make me sleep again. And then, in dreaming, The clouds methought would open and show riches Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked I cried to dream again.
Myself, Florence and Barney lead a vocal warmup and focus games to get the voice and the mind working as efficiently as possible. This really helped with the articulation and diction of the text and helped create a clearer sound. As a group, we worked around the score created to the text and played about with different ways of presenting this quote to the audience. I personally felt that if done correctly this could have worked quite nicely but sometimes the lack of commitment to the text – because this was possibly new to some people and the idea that there’s always a bit of fear when it comes to Shakespeare. However, this didn’t exactly show the text off as well as it should have in my opinion and left people a bit depleted about the experience. We were then given different quotes from the play and we were asked to interpret them in any way we could. Some of the material that was created worked really well and some didn’t. I felt as though it was a nice idea to try out and incorporate the acting side of things with stylistic dance and vocals however it didn’t always work out as well as it potentially could have. Later in the day we regrouped to work on the dancing of the storm. Individually we selected 3 movements from our choreography of loneliness and amalgamated them together as a routine where we would seek out where we could change them more dynamically, add in more stillness or reduce the tempo of the movements. We played with the idea of all being in unison also. However, I felt like this stopped the individual creativity and freedom the piece had. I felt like when we were all performing it was much more beautiful to interpret the movement ourselves and let the spontaneity of the movement play out in front of you naturally finding moments of unison/ canon and different expressions. This felt much more organic to me and a lot of the other dancers agreed on the matter. We also had to take into consideration the fact that we won’t be able to see each other dance due to the framed windows and us all being dotted about the building so each time we did it we would never truly be in unison. We did however present our two different versions of the amalgamation to the musicians to get their opinions on the matter. The verdict was one that was of mixed opinion.
Returning to the studio we returned to a few more focus games lead by the MT students to get us back in the zone. This was a fun way of engaging everybody into the room to get the hype back up about the piece of theatre we were creating. Monika also lead an energizing game across the room in which we had to copy the person’s, prior to us in the circle, movement and variety it in our own way. This was a good way to get us warmed up further. today was very much focussed on Prospero’s scene. Earlier in the week we received news from the CoLab leader that the spaces we originally wanted to perform in for our different sections were no longer available to us on the performance night so this meant that the Library, conference room and another space couldn’t be used. Instead of staying defeated we decided to utilise what we did have and that was new possibilities. Laban features a fantastic spiral staircase and we decided that once the audience arrived they would be situated upon the ramp which looks directly onto the staircase. We decided this was our new home for Prospero’s library scene in which we were all figures of his imagination like in Peter Greenaway’s dance film. Using this as inspiration we each claimed a position on and around the staircase. I chose a section of the wall and railings. This was a creative moment for us all we improvised from scratch to the musicians score and created a showing of what we had interpreted from the film. Monika sat out amongst others to get the full view of the presentation and discussed with us everything that worked and everything that didn’t from her perspective. We then discussed how it felt for us as dancers – What I really liked about this process was that we always discussed how it made us feel, what we felt didn’t work and what did together it was very much a collaborative process. I also found that by just improvising we created something beautiful and each time we rehearsed this piece new things occurred as well as what worked from before so it was very much adding on to what we already had each time. It was an evolution that could possibly carry on evolving if we had had more time to work on it. To me that says a lot about the team and project we were involved in. it was special. it was magical. Monika mentioned to me to portray the idea of the palace’s cat and this opened up different ways to showcase this regality and elegance in a quirky kind of way. I really enjoyed swinging myself across the railings and the wall creating weird positions through dance. It caught the eye of on-goers and they often stood in amazement wondering what on earth was going on. After this we decided to try out dancing our storm sequence in a different space. We decided on the windows on the exterior of the building outside. When returning to our actual spaces we found this really helped us in the embodiment of the movement and sense of imitations within the window frame.
In the afternoon, we returned to the same quotes from yesterday and switched groups to see if we could devise anything new from them. Personally, in terms of creativity and the overall concept of the project I found this the least appealing to do. I felt, like yesterday, it was fun to do and could have been effective if done full-out. Having said this there were some really effective pieces created from an acting point of view. A piece formed from the quote – “Ferdinand, With hair up-staring – then like reeds, not hair –
Was the first man that leaped; cried ‘Hell is empty and all the devils are here.’” In which Florence spoke the text and repeated it a further two times changing it each time. In the beginning, it was clear. The time after that it was a bit disjointed but you could still make out what she was saying. The last time she couldn’t speak the words and struggled to sound the words. this created a thought-provoking piece of theatre. Meanwhile there where dancers recreating this struggle and a musician, playing beautifully might I add, accompanying the performance. It was a great way of utilising all of our skills and combining them to make a solid performance and background in to Shakespeare’s play. there was something about this piece that just worked and it was challenging in all the best ways. Another piece involved us closing our eyes in a circle. Ellada went around the room whispering ‘Do you love me?’. This was an experience of the senses and left the group wondering what had just happened. This was something we thought would be nice to play about with in regards to our audience. At the end, there was a note left in the middle of the circle. Ellada knew someone would be curious to go over and see what the note was all about and we thought it could be nice to record the audience’s reaction if we added this to our piece. In the end, we decide we were going to leave letters saying ‘open me’ scattered across the performance spaces to spark curiosity into The Tempest as a piece. Due to our international family, we had now formed we wanted to play about with creating a piece that was relatable to our heritage using the quotes from the play. As part of the British team we created a very British dance similar to those danced at the palaces against a Shakespearian quote. The international team spoke in their native tongues as part of a conversation of the quotes. Personally, I found the international team’s portrayal really moving, it was such a nice moment of neighbourly love and a real sense of community. We then proceeded to the ramp to try out the different pieces in the space. Some definitely worked and some fell flat.
Day 4 was focussed on transitions and going about our movement in more creative ways. Key moments of the day consisted of dancing outside the Laban building on the grass and the hills. I chose to be on a hill looking out onto the nearby surroundings. The wind today was very, very powerful and performing this piece was almost like a battle. This was quite symbolic as we all battle through that idea of loneliness and the struggles we faced were like the struggles battling the wind. There were countless times where the wind knocked me down but time after time I continued to pick myself up and continue the movement. As soppy as this may sound this experience was very moving. rehearsing the storm sequence here was exhilarating. We had all the space in the world, we were alone yet the wind kept trying to put us off. For me I got a real sense of this struggle. we regrouped and discussed the experience. Florence said that in the corner of her eye she saw me from the opposite side of the grassy hills perform the back-bend release against the wind on the edge of the hill and it looked like I was portraying the idea of suicide but there was a beauty in this. I closed my eyes throughout this and danced what I felt in that moment but in the times, that I did open my eyes I also captured moments in my gaze where all inhibitions were gone, we were just a group of people dancing like nobody was watching. It was truly beautiful. there was something quite spiritual and zen-like about this. Adapting from this we then took our movement to another part of Laban. This time: a wall along a corridor. We were confined. Dancing inches away from each other in comparison to the vast amount of space we had on the hills. Again, closing our eyes, we tried to find moments that worked. We did this 3 times, each time reducing the space we had. Sitting out and watching the group perform really allowed you to get a sense of the themes being presented and everyone danced differently yet there were moments of similarity found in unknown unison. Things just happened without people knowing and this simplicity to me was really effective. When I was doing the task, I felt like closing my eyes really helped. I was lost in my confinement but at the same time I felt free and as though I had all the space in the world and when I did bump into people it didn’t matter, we carried on and the entanglement of bodies created beautiful imagery. You were in a way restricted but I felt like I had a real sense of the others around me and I believed it gave the choreography a fresher appeal in terms of embodiment and visuals.
By this point we felt as a group we were ready for the performance. all our efforts and hard worked seemed to be paying off and we didn’t want to lose the freshness of the improvised material by over rehearsing on the performance day. We did however do a full run through of the piece also changing the musicians’ positions as we felt that we could have the musicians on the stairs for the storm so that the audience could hear it better and then have them outside with the rest of the audience on the second performance of the night. The rest was up to the night’s performance.
CoLab for me has been an amazing week throughout. I’ve made some great friends and created something I was really proud of. In the beginning the main purpose of the project was to show a telling of the tempest and its themes and I think as a collective we worked really hard to achieve this both musically and physically. I think we captured the essence of The Tempest quite well. The process was very much that of an improvised experimentation from the start of the project. We were constantly looking for new ways to improve the choreography or differentiating between the dynamics of both the music and the movement. We started by improvising material and enhancing and evolving this throughout the week and I found this to be a really effective use of time in terms of getting movement created on time and exploring the text in a way that’s unique to us as a group. I really liked how we used a very site specific promenade piece of theatre. It got the audience intrigued and I feel as though this could lead to further future directions. Perhaps during an interval of The Tempest play or as part of a Shakespearian festival. It could also be used to produce a dance film about the Tempest or a staged danced production. It’s a quick way of summarising key themes and plot of the play in a creative way that is accessible to all. It helps easily identify the different relationships and characteristics within the play.
To check out more footage from the week click here.