Monthly Archives: August 2014

What came first: the choreography or the music?

Hofesh Shechter, recognised as one of the UK’s most exciting contemporary artists, talks about the creative process.

That’s the first question I’m always asked; there is no simple answer to what is a very complex and to some extent random process of creating a dance and music piece. What makes it even more complex and surprising is the number and variety of people I work with to create the piece. I want to concentrate on that aspect when answering this question today.

This time, Political Mother, I have an idea — a drum loop that drives us forward, that keeps a train of rhythm that carries us down the rabbit hole. My first instinct is to steal a groove from a Peter Gabriel song — so I do. Yaron and I are sitting in the working room recording it on what is left from my old drum kit, it sounds rough, as usual I didn’t record it on a metronome click — great — that sounds real, like something you found left down the street. This miserable recording grew into what now sounds like ‘the end of the world’. Peter himself wouldn’t know it was inspired by him, and the way it sounds now I‘m not sure he’d want to.

During the whole of January the dancers are forced to hear ‘the end of the world’ loop over and over again for at least four or five hours a day without any additions or decorations — it’s an absolute sketch. Something about the sound and the atmosphere it commands inspires us. At that point it feels enough. After a few weeks enough is enough, and something about how the choreography grows in complexity demands proportional response in the music. Time for me to sing over the drum loop to define the colour of the waves the strings will bring about. I’m imagining a late afternoon in some desert city with an old Egyptian band of stings — when I say old I mean they are old, they all probably have cigarettes hanging from their lips while playing and a glass of arak within reach. I’m thinking big wavy unisons. And then I’m singing.

Next phase — Nell. I’m sending her some MP3 files by email of my singing (she’s used to that… and it does take getting used to) and she starts to record sketches of these ‘songs’ and sends them back to me, but now they are of course magical, haunting viola sounds like only Nell can create. After a few days we meet up to record the lines over and over and over again and here you go that’s my Egyptian band. We then decide to play around a bit and Nell improvises in ‘the spirit of’ and as always comes up with some genius beautiful phrases. Meanwhile in the studio with the dancers we work with a different loop.

My passion for low frequencies creates a decision between me and Nell to gather ‘the dream team’, a group of string players who I first met when we created and toured In your rooms (none are Egyptian but they play pretty well all the same), for a recording session. Again I’m exposing my singing to them — it’s unbelievable how the quality of delivering a musical line can give it its heart and body. When they play it I’m in that dusty bar in the desert. We record everything including some extraordinary improvisation sessions (on that second loop the poor old dancers are still working on) and I leave with a rich and colourful collection of sounds — that will give me a lot to play with when I’m back alone with my laptop.

Then there are many long days of trying this, trying that, in the studio with this part, with that part… sounds are flying in and out, movements are appearing and disappearing. And then suddenly the band arrives. Yaron and I are having some preparation meetings to what the drummer performers will play. I’m telling him what I want, we’re chatting about how will be best to achieve it, then we play a bit, then it’s no good, then we try again and it’s no good again, and so on an so forth until I feel it’s right. I’m sending Yaron home with quite a few bars missing… well I guess that’s the meaning of the words trust and friendship. Then there are the electric guitars. That’s a story for another day.

In the last couple of weeks of creation a lot of important things happen — now everything is here, all the movements, the sections, the musicians, the dancers, the emotions, the ideas, the sounds the instruments… it’s all there and it’s a game of choice. What’s in and what’s out and when. And how. It’s the moment where all this information, the sounds and the movements settle in together.

By that point I can’t really remember any more what came first. It really doesn’t matter.

For more information on the Hofesh Shechter tour in India click on this link

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Swapnokalpa Dasgupta: Dance and Disability

Artists before the show Miracle On Wheels dance performance on Wheel chairs by Ability Unlimited at Tata Theatre,NCPA on 07/06/2013. Photo by : NARENDRA DANGIYASwapnokalpa Dasgupta: ‘My experiences with disabled children completely changed the way I looked at dance.’

As Swapnokalpa Dasgupta, Head of Dance Programming, at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) in Mumbai, prepares to participate in the Unlimited festival at the Southbank Centre (2nd – 7th September), she shares her experience of working with disabled dancers and how perceptions towards disability in India is changing.

Disability and dance: a different mode of expression and appreciation of physicality

My background is in Science and Education and I am also an Indian classical dancer. I did my teaching qualification in India and worked in the UK as a teaching assistant in various schools and Special Education units around London I began to see how I could use dance in an educational setting and the particular impact it had on the disabled children. Dance allowed them a different mode of expression and appreciation of their physicality.

These experiences have stayed with me and I am really excited about the potential of disability arts programmes in India. The dance department at the NCPA started to work with disabled performers last year. The response from the audiences was incredible; we have realised that there really is an appetite for disability arts. We are now aiming to curate a festival for disabled dancers in the near future as we think this would be a great way to showcase their talent and share their experiences with more people.

Changing perceptions

Traditionally, it has been taught that Indian classical dance is the reserve of the able bodied and this was how I was conditioned to think from my classical training. However, my experiences with disabled children completely changed the way I looked at dance. I began to see that dance was not a competitive sport where one should strive for perfection. Nor is dance an end-result; it is the process that is important. I realised how powerful dance was as a medium of expression and thus is a birth right of every individual.

More investment needed

People’s perceptions of disabled dancers are slowly changing in India, as we have seen more disabled performers on our TV screens and in our theatres. However, disabled performers are still held back from achieving their full potential as there is not enough investment or support for their training. Generally in India, when disabled people tend to come from lower socio-economic backgrounds and attain lower educational standards, it is even more important that there is investment in scholarship schemes, for example, in order to address this imbalance.

Read more about disability arts

Find out more about Unlimited

Read an interview with Ruth Gould, artistic director of DaDaFestand chair of the commission panel for the Unlimited festival. She talks about how arts can change perceptions of what D/deaf and disabled people can do.

Post by: Emer Coyle

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An impulse to dance. Again

Hofesh Shechter Company: Political Mother

Hofesh Shechter Company: Political Mother

We’re set to go. Over the next three months India will be enjoying the best of contemporary dance from the UK. Not just by watching the performances which are a rare treat, but also by interacting with performers through a range of activities planned with dance organisations in India and young people across the country, including workshops, master classes and networking events.

All this is part of Impulse 2, the British Council’s new season of contemporary dance. The season is built around 15 performances by leading UK dance companies — Hofesh Shechter Company, Scottish Dance Theatre and Avant Garde Dance.

The first series of performances — Political Mother by Hofesh Shechter Company — brings the sound and feel of a rock concert with gritty, fast-moving visual movements and is described as “especially appealing for young people (14+) because of its fast moving, highly physical choreography”. Watching this video would definitely make anyone agree.

The tour launches in Hyderabad on 5 September and travels to Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Chennai. Find out more about show dates at www.britishcouncil.in/impulse2.

In October, the Scottish Dance Theatre, Scotland’s national contemporary dance company, returns to India (they were here as part of Impulse held in 2012 along with Akram Khan Company, Aakash Odedra Company, Protein and Champloo, where we took contemporary UK dance to seven cities over eight months). The tour will be from 1-11 October 2014 and the performances will be held in Chennai, Bengaluru, Delhi and Kolkata.

In November, we have Avant Garde Dance, a London based company pushing the boundaries of hip-hop and contemporary dance. The tour will be from 1-21 November 2014 and the performances will be held in Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Chennai.

Lots to look forward to. Follow this blog if you want to keep abreast of everything that’s happening around Impulse 2. And do send in your comments and thoughts.

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