Lights, Camera, Action!

On Tuesday 19th December 2017, I came into the studio at Storyhouse in Chester to participate in research with professional dance artist Nicolette Whitley and our director Paul Bayes Kitcher. The multi-million pound theatre and cinema complex is now home to FADT, as we are Dance Company in Residence.

We were asked to bring a selection of performance-appropriate garments, as alongside our physical exploration, we were to be photographed by company collaborator, the highly talented photographer and Photoshop whizz, Zac Sargent. Paul had shown me some images Zac had captured of members of other FADT community groups. His knack for image manipulation is phenomenal. There is something beautiful, powerful and emotive about his work. I was very much looking forward to what we could create together.

We met in the cafe downstairs and then proceeded to the theatre / studio space upstairs. Essentially a large, black cube with a glossy, tar-like floor, this was to be our laboratory for the day. As is commonplace, we huddled in the centre of the room on the floor. Paul discussed his plan for the day, we were to explore the physicality of compulsion. Ostensibly, this was for a forthcoming project this year, in which we will be creating an installation for Hooked, an addiction-themed exhibit for the Science Museum in London. Paul showed us some footage on YouTube of choreographer Marco Goecke’s work for Netherlands Dance Theatre as part of his research. Entitled Wir sagen uns Dunkles, Nicolette and I watched transfixed as the dancers convulsed, twitched and contorted. This was to be our starting point. We proceeded with a yoga warm up, always one of my favourite ways to commence working. In essence it feels like placing one’s body through a laundry mangle of yesteryear, wringing out every last trace of stress and tension, enabling us to commence our process from a place of serenity and spiritual connection.

Paul positioned Nicolette and myself in front of a large projection screen while technicians squirrelled away mysteriously behind the confines of their glass-walled domain above us. He instructed us to keep our bodies tightly together. We were to move around each other, whilst retaining the majority of physical contact. Of late, Paul has been fascinated with the concept of imagining movement as an internal action. He will direct us, encouraging us to explore what movement would be like if it were led by the neck, the rib cage, the hip, pelvis or elbow. Namely, parts of the body one might not normally conceive of moving from. Here, in the studio, my body is glued to Nicolette’s. We in turn, contort, twist, shake and shatter, while Paul observes. It is almost as if we are some sort of conjoined monstrosity from a Victorian sideshow. Or perhaps a Rubix cube, turning one way, then another and another, constantly striving to arrive at the desired combination.

After a few hours of exploration, Paul has provided various elements of feedback. “It looks better when your bodies are connected tightly at the beginning. Move very subtly at first and build it up as you go. Towards the end it looks good when you make the movements very exaggerated.” We head locally to Pret a Manger for a refuel and then return to collaborate with Zac, our man with the magic lens. Paul asks me to show Zac some inspiration images I have collated for Dark Night Ends. Claire Morris, wife of Paul and our collective brain and project manager, was most insistent that we strive to achieve a lighter aesthetic and ambience with this piece.

Paul had asked me to start collating visual information to share. I had digested information Paul had shared with me regarding the soul leaving the body. I considered what Dark Night Ends meant to me visually. Initially, the title had stemmed from an interview I had read with the philosopher and renowned writer on spiritual affairs, Eckhart Tolle. He had been discussing a spiritual term The Dark Night of The Soul. Discussing how phases of utter hardship and despair can precede phenomenal spiritual breakthroughs in which one has a re-birth of sorts, effectively shifting the landscape and meaning of one’s life and sense of self exponentially.

I cherry picked some of the most relevant images to show to Zac. We donned our performance outfits, Nicolette in a body-hugging scarlet sheath (literally the Scarlet Woman). I look like Neo from the matrix in in a black wet look PVC top and sprayed on grey denim. We reenacted some of the choreography we had been developing earlier in the day, all the while Zac has his expert lens directed at us, clicking away. We explore some other poses, individually and as a duo.

At the end of the day we are truly spent and travel on to Lark Lane with Phillip David Ashby, longterm company member, prestigious honorary award recipient, possessor of a First Class degree in performance, clown and resident “camp tramp” (he earned that moniker with his star turn in Hell Can Wait), to treat ourselves to a festive company meal at upscale Thai eatery, Chilli Banana. After Christmas, Paul asked me to liaise with Zac to share some of my research to assist in the development of our promotional images. True to form he hasn’t disappointed. He took the visuals of a starry night sky at dawn I had provided, superimposed an arresting image he took of Nicolette and I dancing in the studio, added some grass, sharpened things a tad, played with the colours, tones and scale – and voila, our Dark Night Ends promotional poster was born. This was the first poster I have been featured on during my time working with the company, which has spanned the evolution of service-user, apprentice dancer and now freelance professional artist. Every milestone in a person’s life is becomes a poignant memory and is a source of humble pride. This poster is more than a logistical piece of marketing to me. It is more like a cherished postcard or polaroid, a loving reminder of how much this once “little-boy-lost” has grown – and just how far he has travelled.

– Ian Brown