I’m just back from a dance-full two days in London – great to move, watch videos, and talk about dance with my clog dancer friend, Toby Bennett.
Toby was another of my students years ago when I worked for Eve Leveaux. When we first met he was a biology student living in Nottingham, where he first learnt clog dancing. He was in my contemporary dance class for a brief period, before leaving to dance in London and then Belgium, then back to London.
Toby is always so intellectually, and intelligently, engaged with whatever he does, whether learning Cecchetti ballet, or playing the fiddle, or clog dancing. He’s a great researcher and student, combining an analytic approach to technique whilst keeping alive the energy and passion required to do whatever he does really well - and then even better. He keeps questioning – both his own approach and the approaches of others. I always think of him negotiating that connection between intellect and physicality so brilliantly.
Anyway that said – it was a delightful way to spend the morning, sitting with coffee at the kitchen table and watching recent videos of Toby dancing, as well as clog dancers old and new - Jackie Toaduff, Sam Sherry, Nic Gareiss, discussing what worked, what we liked about each performer – enjoying the precision of footwork, so neat, so deceptively casual, as if the dancer had just decided on a whim to develop a relaxed walk into something extraordinary. It was beautiful to see a dancer combining a sense of flow in the upper body – a kind of linear journey through the steps, alongside such dynamic footwork. Something so exciting about the quality of lyrical flow juxtaposed with complexity of rhythm.
I especially love this clip of Toby dancing at Sidmouth Festival this summer - the way his dance builds in energy, his expansive use of the space, and the playful sense of freedom and joy he discovers and communicates.
I was recently persuaded of the benefits of signing up to Twitter. A few weeks in I’m not at all sure I’ve got it – but then maybe I haven’t tried hard enough. It reminds me unfortunately, of a very noisy infant school
playground with lots of bigger people pushing. I’m not sure where all that noise will get us.
That said it did bring me back into contact with an old friend, dancer and choreographer Ben Wright, a long ago student of mine. I taught him contemporary dance at Derby Academy of Dance run by the marvellous Eve Leveaux, who is still going strong after decades of teaching - launching the careers of many young dancers, Ben included.
Ben sent me this image of a programme of dance – must be at least twenty years ago – and now I remember but little of those hours in the studio working with him on his solo Blue Bird I’m With You. We’d have had fun and laughed a lot as well as worked hard – he was always great to work with, so quick and insightful even as an inexperienced dancer, full of wit and a spirit of bounce. He’d have had plenty of quirky ideas – a choreographer in the making even then. What remains in my memory is a sense of the fluidity and line of his dancing – the way he moved with such apparent ease, even when he had a back injury – a kind of easy grace. He was so good to watch.
I haven’t seen him dance for years. I'm not sure he still performs himself. But I’d like to see his company bdance. You can read about them here.
Three weeks ago I was walking across Sydney Harbour Bridge at the end of my two week trip to New Zealand – home via Australia. It was a glorious winter day and I knew that in less than an hour I had to tear myself away from that beautiful city after not nearly long enough. I was enjoying every step and the changing vista, soaking it all in, promising myself I would return one day for longer than a brief visit. I stopped to take this photograph and at that moment the seed of a plan I’d had back in England about teaching dance and movement, suddenly seemed huge and very exciting. I was stopped in my tracks, overwhelmed by a Big Idea!
I used to spend a lot of time in Ireland and was always aware of how different life was there. One of the things that struck me most – maybe only amongst the people I hung out with was the prevalence of big ideas. These always popped up in conversation, quite casually as we sat round the kitchen table after eating. How great it all seemed at the time as drink flowed and the night moved towards morning – full of energy, passionate argument, possibility – a brave new world. God I loved those nights! I was once talking to an Irish friend about how different from the rather more sedate conversations - even drunken ones – round the table back home. ‘Oh yes,’ she said. ‘It’s all great here in Ireland, but nothing ever changes. It’s all forgotten next morning and nobody ever does anything.’
Well I’m sure that’s not entirely true – but it made me think how easy it is to have ideas, and how hard, even mundane, the work to follow them through.
It was a great feeling as I stood on the bridge that morning in Sydney, a kind of drunken happiness, a sense that everything is possible and achievable however outrageous. Back home I’ve taken some time to come down to reality. Has life indeed changed? In some subtle way it seems to have done. I’m sure now that
my idea isn’t nearly as big as warranted such expansive explosion of energy. But maybe that’s not the point. It’s more about integrating that joyous madness as it felt at the time – bringing it into the body and psyche, into everyday life. And part of that is to explore the idea for what it might be worth – to do the
hard work of manifesting something.
Today I will begin.
I’m struck by how often assumptions are made and rarely questioned.
Amongst my group of friends – many who are artists - the assumptions are that we’re all left wing – left being the moral right, feminist and atheist! We also roughly believe in Darwin’s principles of evolution – even though the notion of what this really means is often sketchy. For me this neither sits, nor fits, easily. The world seems altogether more nuanced, and full of anomalies and exceptions. The older I get the more I perceive the elusive quality of truth, and am ever fascinated by people’s different ‘points of view’ – by personal truth. I like Keats' idea that we live in order to grow the soul – whatever the soul may be – a strange notion in our largely secular age.
I’m not atheist despite being brought up by ardent atheists. From a very young age I had a sense of the presence of God – not as some spooky grandfather in the sky, but more as an emotional experience of goodness – there seemed at times to be an opaque whiteness in the ether that came with the sense of something very lovely, touching everything around me, making the commonplace extraordinary. Some would say this is because my brain is configured in a particular way. Perhaps this is true – all human experience must be grounded in the body, and if so I feel very fortunate to have the God Gene – it brings depth and wonder to life! There is a downside too, the experience of hell – a sense of utter aloneness, absence of everything wholesome and good; a feeling of being abandoned, totally cut off from love.
From my perspective now I see the absence or presence of God as particular states of mind, something that can certainly be developed if we work hard enough, meditate long enough – something that is within the mind, rather than an external manifestation.
But this is too simplistic, and doesn’t account for the times when in the throes of the most extreme misery, there is, in an instant, the profound and lovely sense of benign presence redeeming everything. The mind then is beyond self control, is something mysterious and unfathomable - frightening and wonderful.
I don’t mind the assumptions people make – they’re a smoke screen. Things are rarely as simple or as complicated as they seem to be. Nor as obvious.
Tricia Durdey dances, writes, and teaches Pilates.