Observing the Artistic Process

On Thursday, we went to watch a Tempered Body Dance Theatre rehearsal. The company was rehearsing in a studio at the Chisenhale Dance Space, in East London, where our daughter Maddy is artist in residence. As we approached the converted warehouse we heard two people standing out on the third floor fire escape, rehearsing a Shakespearean scene. Clearly we were in the right part of town.

Tempered Body Dance Theatre is getting ready for their most ambitious show yet. “Body of Work” is a full-length piece that explores our complex relationship to our bodies, “the global epidemic of body unease”. On the day that we arrive, Maddy is putting the finishing touches onto one of the last sections of the piece. She explains that it is a technical, not a creative rehearsal. Which is why it is alright for us to watch.

There are 5 dancers in the piece, all of very different body types and energies. They are working through a complex part that involves a fluctuation between syncopated rhythms and tight unison precision. I love watching a dancer’s concentration. They use a shorthand of sounds to describe movements. A dancer listens and watches the choreographer’s direction and puts it into their body as they hear/see the movement. Weight shifts, muscle movements and small breath changes reflect their inner kinetic world, as they process the information.

Dancers are always working. Like an actor in a corner going over lines, they are always marking through passages to get the piece into their body memory. When they take a coffee break, they keep stretching and stay focused.

I find myself wishing that I could bring acting students into this room. It is all about the work. The concentration is thick. The honesty unhindered.

There was a marvelous moment after they had been working on a number of small bits. Maddy said she wanted to try the whole section, and did everyone remember it? There was a deep, concentrated silence for almost a full 2 minutes.  Each dancer went through the passage in place, small gestures, spine lifts and falls, no one saying a word and then they all simultaneously looked up and were ready to go. They danced the section full out, to music. The emotions opened. We cried.

After the rehearsal, and a good post mortem over coffee, we head out for curry in Brick Lane. A lovely late afternoon meal, we stuffed ourselves with flavours and smells and watched the Brick Lane world go by. Dance is art, food is art.

One of the purposes of this trip is to allow ourselves to be surprised. While we were at Chisenhale, we found a flyer for “The Proms”. “The Proms” is the World’s largest classical music festival, with 74 nights of performances in Royal Albert Hall, as well as performances in the parks, events, lectures and activities. Tim looked at that evening’s schedule. Prom 72 was an evening of Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Ravel. Favourite pieces, played by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Charles Dutoit. We called for tickets and got 2 that were just turned in. It was a sold-out evening.

Royal Albert Hall is huge and gorgeous. And filled with thousands of people. I felt overwhelmed by the fact that all of these people were here to see the symphony not because it was good for them, but because they love it. And they come night after night. This is a crowd of young and old, wealthy bankers and poor students. Aside from the thousands in the stalls and boxes, there are hundreds of people who pay the low rate of £5 for standing room. However, I am grateful for the great seats we have, as I am sure I wouldn’t see a thing in that press of people in front of the stage. And seeing is as important as hearing. The fabulous horn section, the 6 percussionists! But the violin soloist for the Tchaikovsky was the star of the night.

Janine Jansen is a gorgeous, tall woman who plays with a fire that focused the hearts of the thousands in Royal Albert Hall that night. Never in my life have I enjoyed orchestral music this much. The piece was originally deemed unplayable. Written by Tchaikovsky for his male lover at a time when this was definitely not acceptable, the concerto is filled with a mixture of pain, desire and joy. Janine Jansen seemed possessed by the spirit of Tchaikovsky and channeled passion through her body and into the violin. She and the music were physically one and the same. It was miraculous.

It was a day of body, mind and heart.

Author: Amanda West Lewis

AMANDA WEST LEWIS has built a life filled with words on the page and on the stage, combining careers as a writer, theatre director and calligrapher. Her new book, The Pact, (Red Deer Press) was released in the fall of 2016. It has been listed on the 2017 USBBY OUTSTANDING INTERNATIONAL BOOKS LIST; selected for the 2017 ILA YOUNG ADULTS’ READERS CHOICES LIST; Nominated for 2017 SNOW WILLOW AWARD; and listed in the CANADIAN CHILDREN’S BOOK CENTRE BEST BOOKS FOR KIDS & TEENS, Spring 2017. SEPTEMBER 17: A NOVEL was nominated for the Silver Birch Award, the Red Cedar Award, and the Violet Downie IODE Award. Amanda has an MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. In her theatre career, Amanda is the founder of The Ottawa Children’s Theatre, where she teaches and directs children. She has developed specialized drama and literacy programs for youth at risk, and for children with autism spectrum disorder. She has a Certificate in Theatre for Young Audiences with Complex Difficulties from Rose Bruford College, England. In 2015, Amanda co-produced the hit play “Up to Low” is based on the book by Brian Doyle. As a professional calligrapher and book artist, Amanda is passionate about the history of writing and has taught calligraphy courses to students of all ages. She studied with Hermann Zapf, Mark Van Stone and Nancy Culmone among many others. Amanda lives with her husband, writer Tim Wynne-Jones, in the woods in Eastern Ontario. They have three wonderful grown children. Find out more on her website at http://www.amandawestlewis.com/

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