Part of the Invisible Diaries series:
Week 5 / Day 7
A few years ago, I was part of a workshop called TEST, hosted by South East Dance and Dance4, and led by dramaturg Martin Hargreaves. One of the exercises involved each of us making overlapping schematic drawings of spaces we inhabited in our work and lives, on one large piece of paper. (I can’t quite remember the instructions or the original stimulus.) I’d drawn a whole load of sketches of various rehearsal rooms, the train, theatres, studios, my desk, and in the middle of it all was a big armchair. This was the chair in which most evenings, after putting my daughter to bed, I sat waiting for her to go to sleep. It represented a very regular moment of stillness in amongst all the madness of itinerant working life and parenthood at that time.
A fellow participant noticed that while much of the drawing was very busy, the space around the armchair had remained clear. It was also big, and dominant in the drawing, indicating for her the evident importance of this daily moment in my life.
I do often think back to this drawing and that comment because I still live that moment on a regular basis (usually, every other evening). Bedtime is a pretty consistent ritual that has barely changed over the last two or three years. Yes, I am sometimes frustrated at how long I am trapped in a darkened room when I’m hungry for dinner, or needing to get on with the evening’s load of cleaning or work; being held back from doing any kind of ‘useful’ activity.
But in the end, it is a moment in the day when time slows down when I have nowhere else I can be and so I simply succumb to being there, in the dimness, listening to my daughter’s slowing breath, reflecting on whatever’s been happening or about to happen. The day pinpoints and expands in that one moment before I eventually tiptoe out and time speeds up again, ready for my evening of cooking, cleaning, catching up on emails, and if I am lucky, a bit of reality TV.
In my first post for this series, seven days ago, I wrote about how as a dance dramaturg, I attend to the body in space. I left out the third important element – time. A piece of performance unfolds through time. As spectators, our sense-making process is temporal as much as anything else. We constantly move forward and back along the timeline of the piece as we watch, using our memories and our cultural references to help us. We reframe our understandings of what is going on constantly while watching, remembering a repetition here, a reprisal there. Conjecturing a possible progression of future storyline or noticing a hint at an emotional moment to come. The fulfilling or confounding of expectation makes us revisit what happened before and rethink it in the light of new information. This is very often what I attend to as a dramaturg, triangulating my experience of the body and space with the progression of time.
Triangulation. A mural on the wall of the Roca Umbert arts centre (Granollers, Spain).
As theatre-makers and dance-makers, we have power over time. We can stretch and compress it; we can even make it feel different to individuals who are sharing the same space at the same moment. We allow people to travel backwards and forwards in time. A piece of theatre exists in four dimensions, and the fourth is only activated by the spectator’s temporal experience.
But for all that, we are also slaves to time. The funding available will only cover a certain amount of rehearsal time, paying no heed to the needs of the creative process. The theatre will only programme one night (oh and by the way, you can’t get in until 2 pm). And whilst during a performance our spectators might abandon common time altogether, ultimately, what’s left once the time is up is just in our individual memories. Often in theatre and especially in dance, there is no remaining object that can withstand the tests of time, like an amphora, a tapestry, a mosaic, a canvas. The work is limited in time to the long or short life of the person’s memory who saw it, once upon a time.
In my first post, I also wrote about the sense that at the moment, like a gigantic version of the evening’s bedtime ritual, my world has simultaneously constricted to a pinpoint and expanded beyond all limits. Time is both incredibly meaningful, measured out with new implements – spoons of coffee, Saturday pancakes, dusk garden-watering, early morning run – and at the same time meaningless. For the first time in my life I have not been able to make plans that go beyond one or two weeks. It feels like a woolly blanket surrounds my fate-line, muffling all sense and all imagination of what lies beyond. And at the same time again, time continues unstoppably and takes with it, day by day, the lives of hundreds and thousands of people.
My time is running out, at least on this particular task of writing daily musings on my body, my space and my time. Let’s take this moment of pause at the end of one day before the evening begins. We’ll read a story, sing a song, turn off the lamp, settle down, pull the blanket up to our shoulders, watch the light fade around the edge of the window blind, listen to the cars going by, gradually fewer and fewer of them, let our eyes soften, breathe more slowly.
Gather our energy for what’s to come.
The end of the day. In rehearsal with Attila Andrasi.
Miranda Laurence is an independent dance dramaturg based in the UK, with over 10 years’ experience working in the dance and arts development sectors. She collaborates with dance artists across the UK and internationally, recently working with Johanna Nuutinen (FI) and Attila Andrasi (HU/ES). Her practice and professional development has been supported by awards from Arts Council England, Oxford Dance Forum and South East Dance.
Her collaborators work in a range of dance forms, from Kathak to screen dance. She is also in demand as a workshop leader, recently invited to Arhus by the Association of Danish Dramaturgs, and by London Studio Centre for their MA in Dance Producing.
Miranda has also directed the Dance & Academia project based in Oxford since 2008, convening a number of seminars and conferences engaging movement practitioners and academics in many different disciplines.
Alongside her freelance practice, Miranda is employed as Arts Development Officer at the University of Reading, where she is developing a strategic arts programme for the University including leading on new public art commissions.
Photography courtesy of Miranda Laurence.
This week's Invisible Diaries were edited by Sarah Sigal.