DAN SHIPSIDES (Collaboration with Echo Echo Dance) - The Cove - (VNB)
Project development blog: http://verticalnaturebase.blogspot.com/
By Lee Henry (Culture Northern Ireland)Updated: 14/09/2012
Nature and performance collide in the latest collaboration between choreographer Steve Batts and climber Dan Shipsides.
'We didn't expect this,' admits Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company artistic director, Steve Batts. 'Initially, it was just supposed to be a jaunt out to the coast.'
Batts is talking about his company's new production, The Cove, which he choreographed and co-created with Belfast-based visual artist and keen climber, Dan Shipsides, who recently had a show entitled Still Not Out of the Woods at The MAC in Belfast.
The Cove grew out of a 2011 residential exploratory project, Vertical. Nature. Base., which saw Batts and Shipsides joined by a collection of dancers and other artists to exchange ideas about nature and performance art in Donegal and Derry~Londonderry.
Batts and Shipsides were so taken with the results of that residential – so taken with the beauty and the impact of the north Irish coastline, with its nooks and crags, its flora and
fauna, its cliffs and incredible climbs – that they continued to explore similar themes post- project.
The Cove is the manifestation of the two artists' ongoing collaboration, and will tour venues across the north of Ireland throughout October 2012. The production will feature six dancers peforming on and around a specially created stage-like structure built to resemble the coastal terrain.
The collaboration between Batts and Shipsides is, perhaps, an unlikely one. It stemmed from an email that Batts sent to Shipsides after Echo Echo received an award of £150,000 from the UK Legacy Trust to develop a three-year dance and sport project. The email read simply: 'Hi Dan, I want you to teach me to climb...'
However, Batts is quick to point out the similarities between contemporary dance and climbing. 'We have much in common,' he explains. 'Both pursuits are extremely physical, obviously. They are both solitary and collective pursuits. I took a lot of what Dan taught me and incorporated it into this new production.'
The Cove is named after the cove at Port-a-Doris in Donegal, which Batts and Shipsides have visited along with the six dancers scheduled to perform in the production. 'We have all experienced the wind there, the views, nature at its wildest and most graceful,' Batts recalls.
The production is scored by emerging Northern Irish composer Christopher Norby, who has worked with the Ulster Orchestra and NI Opera on various productions.
The audience will be sat in the round, surrounding the stage structure, which designed by Shipsides and is, according to Echo Echo marketing officer, Sarah Bryden, 'a piece of art in it's own right' which several curators 'are already interested in inviting it as an installation piece after the tour'.
'It's a very important part of the piece,' adds Batts. 'Each time it is performed in a different venue, the audience will experience the movement of the dancers from different viewpoints and angles. It is supposed to reflect the changing nature of the outdoors – how everything, from the clouds to the light to the time of day, can alter your experience of nature.'
'For me it's part of my psyche that I think I need to be outside,' says Shipsides in the film above. 'To be out doing stuff, and solving problems and climbing. To me it's important, pyschologically, and for my sense of what I want to do with my life.'
Batts can see the attraction in climbing, and has grown to love it since first teaming with Shipsides for a jaunt to the north coast. 'There is something life-affirming about climbing heights, and being at the mercy of the nature. I hope that comes across in The Cove.'
Images and my initial response from The Cove performance 17th Oct 2012.
I eventually got to see the full show at the Forum in Derry. With apprehensions about what the 'dance' would become and my hang-ups about dance-ily dance I was feeling slightly sick - what was the final result of all this work and what would my platform be used within???
All these feeling melted away seeing the platform again. I've not see it since the rehearsal workshop studios. It looked great in it's initial configuration with the seating surrounding all four sides of the stage. This made it much more multidimensional and gave the audience a greater and less passive role - also confounding (if they stayed in their seat) any sense of an official or preferred viewpoint. It also echoed strongly the cove where one could take many vantage points down into it. At this show it's a full house - I count well over a 100 people with some standing. I chose to remain standing and free to circulate around the performance.
The trust and understandings Steve and I had developed began to unfold as the performance began - the dance-ily ness did not manifest and the connections with the cove, our activities, my art practice - our shared and contended beliefs all started to mix and meld in an amazing hour of performance and installation. The dancers - all women with a clear passion for movement and ideas - not skinny athletic 'body line' dancers with just abstract technique and form - but beautiful and human. And facial expression - smiles - eye contact - human contact.
The performance moved from referential part-realistic to strange and mutated - social, organic, nature and human - rational structure to irrational expansion and contraction. Beautiful, deep, complex layered - non-linear processes - multiplicity and singularity, deviation, improvisation, then tight and precise. Otherworldly at times becoming something other and then prosaic and grounded in a task and mindfullness. Deleuzian in many ways - in terms of creative expansive philosophy through - and as - a creative form. This was underpinned by the music and lighting - each developing multiplicity and repetition and an attendant breakdown and reconnection with those mutating structures.
The platform goes through stages of configuration and un-configuration - inventive use and imaginative micro narratives - then it processionally moves towards a final configuration of a unified structure - glowing in the light. It's glacial maybe - or at least the performance of it connects with geological time linking it and present time. The colour and material forms with their surface scratches and scrapes definitely had something of the folds of lava and weathering of time and nature that the rock formations surrounding the cove has. Perhaps this is where the deep embodied aesthetics and kinaesthetic derive from - bringing our actions into a continuum with deep time and place. I like that idea: making tea on a stove in a cove implicitly connecting with the movement of the tectonic plates while singing 'a message for you rudy'. dan
Much more about this project and it's development on this blog:
Project development blog: http://verticalnaturebase.blogspot.com/
and pre-Cove project info:
Features / reviews:
Michael Seaver. The Cove. Irish Theatre Magazine. Review. Oct 17th 2012. Online.
Naline Eggert. The Cove. Culture Northern Ireland. Dance Review. Oct 18th 2012. Online.
Michael Seaver. Dancing on the edge of vertigo. Irish Times, Oct 11th 2012. pg 13. Online.
Andrew Grieg. Dancing with Mountains. BBC Radio 4. Sep 6th 2012.
Lee Henry. The Cove - Launch, Culture Northern Ireland. Feature preview. Sep 2012
Simon Fallaha. Echo Echo Host: Vertical Nature Base. Culture Northern Ireland. Feature. 2011. Online.