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