The Grief Project – A suitably non-linear path

(The Grief Project was commissioned by Norwich Theatre, as part of Creative Matters – Loss and Grief, supported by Rosedale Funeral Home.)

Embarking on a project themed around grief felt right when we were approached in 2019. After all haven’t we all been touched by grief? And if not, we all certainly will be in our lifetime. Laura and I have both had significant experiences of grief for multiple reasons. It’s a subject that we’ve chatted about throughout our friendship and are both intrigued by. However, it wasn’t until being approached by Norwich Theatre that we maybe felt brave enough to touch on this enormous subject, which, let’s face it, can be overdone, overearnest and cliched. But that was reason enough to want to try and do it differently.

So our approach was simple. All we wanted to do was to connect to our local community to find out what people’s experiences of grief were. We were interested in what the embodiment of grief is and what is the experience of grief in our body? What is it that words cannot say about grief, but that our body knows?

[image description: a blurred image of the face of a young white male with spots of light flares around him]

In 2020 we began interviews with some amazing people with varying stories of grief. From these collected stories we went into the studio with four dancers, the recorded interviews and an animator and decided to see what might happen when we translated these stories into our bodies. We were proposing to make an interactive theatre performance…

Then COVID.

Through all of this I should say that we did not approach this subject lightly. As I said, Laura and I have had significant experiences of grief. I even had a miscarriage just before we recorded the interviews. We knew that we needed support for ourselves and for the people we were working with. We wanted to lead the way in best practice when asking artists and participants to connect with grief, and we needed to take responsibility for how the process could potentially be triggering and leave people in a heightened state of emotional arousal. Steve Peck was our obvious choice to work with. Steve has worked with fellow choreographer Stuart Waters and Rambert dance school researching the impact of working methods on the health and wellbeing of dancers. Steve worked with us on the grief project as a psychotherapist as we developed our own practice of supporting our and our dancers health and wellbeing. Putting our humanness at the centre of our experience. A practice that grew from supporting our health before anything else. (more about that in another post!).

[image description: a dancer’s hands appear to delicately reach for light spots in the space above her]

During lockdown we continued to connect with our dancers. The methods we had been trialling with Steve and as a company continued to serve us even though we could not physically be together we continued to connect to each other and tend to our own emotional needs. Eventually as we started to emerge from the cocoon we had naturally created for ourselves and our families, it became apparent that we needed to make a film. We had already recorded the interviews with our film maker John. The medium of film was still available to us when so much appeared to be off limits. But it was completely new territory for us. So, we had to approach it the way we would any of our projects. Underpinned by all of our values, the film needed to be a co-creation that sensitively shared the voices of our community.

The result is a film combining stories, spoken word, movement and animation. It is beyond what we imagined it might be. A true collaboration from all involved. We’re not even sure it fits a particular genre; a merging of the worlds of filmic storytelling, honest and remarkable interviews and contemporary physical embodiment. Above everything we hope that The Grief Project film touches people in a unique way to them and their experiences of grief. That it might help open a conversation about grief with someone. We hope that the stories are stories of hope and strength. We hope that the movement offers a part of grief that words cannot express.

[image description: a young white dancer stands in a studio in low light, looking into the distance with one arm raised]

Is this the end of The Grief Project? No. This is only the beginning. The most important part of the grief project was discovering that people need a platform to share their grief. To connect to others through grief. So, it has to continue. We’re excited to discover what form the future of the grief project will take. Who will be involved and how?

If you have an interesting story of grief you would like to share, we would love to hear from you. Please email us at glasshousedance@outlook.com

Written by co-director Sarah Lewis

An introduction to Wild Wander

Wild Wander started with two very simple questions: What do we like to do? and What do we need?

These questions probably arose whilst we were touring in 2019. Very often Sarah Lewis (fellow co-director of Glass House Dance) and I have many hours to chat whilst we are touring our show Time Machine Disco. Sat in the van for hours, or in-between shows in a tent refuelling, our imagination is allowed play, picturing what might be next for us. It is something I have missed with last years summer of Covid restrictions and cancelled festivals. Perhaps it is all the dancing, or meeting lots of people, or simply because it is full of joy and play but touring really does allow time for Sarah and I to get creative.

The answer to What do we like to do? and What do we need? was walking, connection to nature and connection to other humans. It was clear and simple. Both Sarah and I spend a lot of time outdoors both for work and pleasure. Walking is a way for us to clear our heads and allow creativity to flow. Sometimes we walk together but more often on our own or with family. We have built a reputation for making work in outdoor settings. Sometimes working with specific communities or making work for street festivals. With our participatory work we have used the natural world as a source of inspiration, but to date we have not made a performance piece about our landscape. But we want to, and this was another driving factor in the creation of Wild Wander….it’s time for us to look at our natural environment and our connection to it.

We conceived and planned Wild Wander through 2019 and applied to Arts Council England for support in early 2020. Then, well…. you know what happened. Everything went on hold. Originally the plan was to meet with a group of artists and walk, meeting up 3 times over a year. A group of artists from various disciplines who would nurture, spark and support each other.

It was clear to us that the aims of the project were still if not more relevant in a Covid-19 world and so we set to reshaping the project for these new times. We narrowed the time frame, reducing the project to 3 months, with the walks happening in October, November and December 2020. We felt people were needing the structure and close connection that a more focused period could give. Many of us have lost work during this time. Originally it was planned to be over a year to fit around busy work schedules and project commitments. That didn’t seem so relevant now. What was important, was that everyone felt supported and that the group could enable each other to be artists again.

On reflection I can’t think of a better time for Wild Wander to happen. As the end of the year was getting closer and the days were getting shorter we were giving space for some introspection. As the natural world began to quieten we went inwards through walking outside. Giving ourselves time to reflect on our own artistic practice and ask that question again What do I need? And perhaps What do I want?

Winter is a time for gathering around fires and telling stories. This was our equivalent. Grouping in a socially distanced way to see, hear and feel. Winter gives us time to prepare before going back out in to the world and the light. A time of healing and working on ourselves rather than doing stuff Out There. By listening to the rhythm of nature I hope that Wild Wander did this for the group (from feedback it seems it has). Usually we don’t have this time. We keep up the pace, keep regular time. Even through winter, hours of work rarely change. Wild Wander felt very precious at this unusual time, and although I don’t want this pandemic to continue and I am deeply saddened by the loss of life, it has made us reflect on where we are going. A pause. And I am grateful for that.

This third lockdown has felt more appropriate to the season, a deliberate slowing down. It felt such a contrast last Spring when we would normally be emerging and doing more. We are now getting our first glimpses of the light and spring returning. Hopefully soon there will be a gradual emerging and waking up from our lockdown slumber. And perhaps Wild Wander has played a part in preparing us for that.

Wild Wander is an artist development programme created by Glass House Dance and funded and supported by Arts Council England, Dance East and Norwich Arts Centre.

Written by Laura McGill, Co-Director of Glass House Dance

Inspiration: Wildwood

My final post on inspiration behind ‘Space to Move’. I love this book. At the heart of it Roger Deakin writes beautifully on how important trees are to our culture and our lives. The wood is where we go to ‘grow, learn and change’.

Roger Deakin: Wildwood

“The Chinese count wood as the fifth element and Jung considered trees an archetype. Nothing can compete with these larger-than-life organisms for signalling the changes in the natural world. They are our barometers of the weather and the changing of the seasons. We tell the time of year by them. Trees have the capacity to rise to the heavens and connect us to the sky, to endure, to renew, to bear fruit and to burn and keep us warm through winter.”

Inspiration: Nature Cure

In an attempt to give you a taste of ‘Space to Move’ I am posting some of the writing and images that inspired the workshop. First up is a quote by Richard Mabey from Nature Cure.

“We constantly refer back to the natural world to discover who we are. Nature is the most potent source of metaphors to describe and explain our behaviour and feelings. It is the root and the branch of much of our language. We sing like birds, blossom like flowers, stand like oaks, eat like gluttons, breed like rabbits and generally behave like animals.”

Space to move

In August 2013, we hosted a 3 day yoga and dance summer school In North Norfolk for adults over the age of 50. Our intention was to create an environment for creation, exploration and play. A space to take time and slow down in a beautiful location.

The aim was to facilitate an environment in which the dancers could achieve a state of flow and presence in which the aim is never to arrive at a future event, but to be ready and present in every changable moment.

Dance Scientist, Elsa Urmston writes about her research on Flow and the Dancer on her blog here; http://elsaurmston.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/reflecting-on-fly-a-project-with-made-by-katie-green/

We decided to host the summer school outside of Norwich for several reasons. We wanted to get out of the city! We both really enjoy being outdoors and in beautiful countryside; this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do it. We are keen to take our work into communities rather than expect people to come and find us. We are also really keen to make more work for outdoor spaces so the more time can can spend working and creating in these environments the better. There was another unforeseen outcome of taking our place of work to the beautiful village hall at Swanton Novers and this was the feeling of a retreat. Taking ourselves and the participants out of the hustling city and to a more secluded environment physically and metaphorically created space for ourselves to play and explore more freely. The ‘free’ time was spent together in the communal areas and in the glorious weather we were blessed with and as such, a lot of the ice breaking was done in these times too, making a close and cohesive group of individuals.