Made by Katie Green ‘Dancing in Museums’ at Pulse Festival, Friday 31st May 2013

I had an interesting chat with Marguerite Galizia just after seeing Katie Green’s dance piece at Ipswich Museum. What did I think? she asked. I explained that I’d pretty much fallen off the train from Cambridge and into the Museum. A bit of a crazy adventure to be honest. Not just the logistics and the expense but also the caution of a seasoned theatregoer. I’ve had mixed experiences. I’ve learned not to go too far out on a limb. I’d had second thoughts at Cambridge station. But I’d had a visit to Pulse in mind for weeks and in the end I thought nothing ventured… So I bought a day return and put myself on the train. The upshot of all this is that I was feeling a bit dazed and off-centre. I factored this in to my appraisal. I said I’d liked it. Marguerite invited me to say more…

I’m sure there are a lot of different approaches to writing and theorising about dance (I’m far from an expert!) but the one I have in mind right now is thinking about how a piece like this one can encourage an audience to move through a space like Ipswich Museum in a non-conventional fashion. Stuart Waters and Lucy Starkey’s movements were good and interesting, but here I’d like to focus on the movements of us the audience and some of the different formations we found ourselves in :-

  • Near the start there was some direct audience participation. I found myself crammed into a small space with about 10 others (about half of the audience) and instructed to hold up the walls of the Museum resulting in a Twister-esque tangle of limbs and unexpected intimacy (the other group were instructed to do breathing exercises);
  • We stood roughly in a circular formation around the dancers as they performed in the shadow of a life-size stuffed Woolly Mammoth the gallery downstairs;
  • We followed the dancers to the back of the gallery where we watched some dance in a ‘corridor space’ between a number of different exhibits (it was also possible to view the dance through various glass cases including the very large glass case holding a life-size taxidermy giraffe);
  • We were invited back to the central open space of the downstairs gallery. Lucy Starkey disappeared and then called to us from a hiding place in the gallery upstairs. This had a feeling of a childhood game of tag about it – a playful ‘come and find me’. I had the urge to run after her – I think some others did too – but the conventions of museum behaviour prevailed & we proceeded at a sensible pace.
  • We stood as a group all more or less facing in the same direction watching the dancers perform on opposite sides of the gallery.

None of these formations is likely to have occurred without the dancers acting as our guides through the space.* I’d like to ask what kind of looking each formation might facilitate. One way into this is to consider the implications of different types of staging on the way an audience experiences any given performance – what is special about staging a piece in the round as opposed to end on, with or without proscenium? for example. In Ipswich Museum we had the opportunity not just to watch the performance from a number of different positions and in a number of different formations but also to look at the exhibits in relation to the performance and vice-versa. How did the dancing affect our experience of the exhibits I wonder?

*I think it might be worth clarifying that although we were invited to watch the dance from various positions mainly by the dancer’s beckoning and allowing time for various members of the audience to move into position, there was quite a degree of flexibility built in to the piece about where and when we could move. Likewise it didn’t feel necessary to watch all of the dancer’s movements directly. I spent some time sizing up the mammoth and the giraffe amongst other taxidermy creatures. Imagine 15 people standing in a circle in silence in amongst all that taxidermy without the dancers. What would it feel like to be part of such a formation? How would we understand such an event? As some kind of esoteric, possibly masonic ritual perhaps.


Wikipedia entry on Ipswich Museum


About hughchapmansblog

Poet and performance maker based in Cambridge and London

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