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Life in Lockdown: Ruth Anna Phillips

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#GDLifeinLockdown Part 3

Life in Lockdown is a blog series initiated by Greenwich Dance which features community and professional artists close to the organisation sharing how they are staying creative during these isolating times.

Ruth is as a director, movement director and dancer teacher in London and the midlands. Ruth draws on a range of experiences in her movement and directing work, in particular using expressive and somatic methods. She is passionate about inclusion, co-founding the Inclusion Collective, particularly in relation to body acceptance and fat liberation.

Ruth is also an associate artist with SpeakUp Theatre who aim to tell the stories behind closed doors, with previous work focussing on the stigma around mental illness and mental health. She has trained in 5 major dance disciplines at The Lee Academy of Dance and Drama and currently teaches online with The School of SOS and The Curve Catwalk. Find out more here

MONDAY - SNOW DAY
AM
I wake up to icy scenes. Sun glistens over vast expanses of white as the snow has covered fields. The snow is a welcome change to the scenery that has started to become over-familiar. Displaced by COVID for a short while I am grateful for the fields, open spaces and sounds of nature. I decide to take a walk in the fresh snow and find some playfulness, some intrigue, see what the snow makes my body do. The field I’m in is empty so I have the joy to move freely without the fear of being interrupted.

As an artist and person, I am heavily influenced by music, rarely ever leaving the house without headphones. But, I have found in this lockdown, that has shifted slightly, I think possibly the large amount of open spaces without development has encouraged me to walk with just the sounds of my breath, natural sounds, and on this day, footfall on snow.

As I finish my walk I free write in my phone, a kind of stream of consciousness I find helpful to process and articulate things to myself. I dwell on the lack of inspiration currently holding over me, with projects cancelled and teaching schedule unchanging, inspiration and creative projects now feel harder to grasp.

PM
In the afternoon I look forwards. I am someone who is a big goal setter, quite practical and process-based and normally, someone who enjoys new year as a time for reflection and resolutions. But this year – things have been hard. Everything feels covered in hazy film, like tracing paper, unable to fully be realised. But I’d been planning to take some time out and reflect and plan so this afternoon I use a Goal Setting event from School of SOS (a company I’m a dance instructor with) run by mindset and success coach, Kat Horrocks (@kat_horrocks) and professional dancer Lili Hodge (@lilihodge_x). The class focussed on the idea of manifesting and embodying future success, which as a movement person really resonated. My practice and teaching focus a lot on empowerment and self-acceptance in order to create, but I realised I was not bringing this into my personal goals. Kat emphasised the key step – embody your success and goals so your body is ready to receive the success and goals when they come.

TUESDAY - PLAYFULNESS
AM
As I get dressed, I look around at the room that is starting to become familiar but also feels so far from normal. I see the flecks of hair gathered in corners and caught under my desk from where I gave myself yet another home trim. I see the brown circles of coffee stains from the endless cups fuelling my current and constant zoom fatigue.

So, I clean. Hanging up clothes that had gathered on a half empty suitcase. Wiping away the stains and hoovering the corners. I light a candle I hastily ordered and stop to smell the hot scents of lemongrass and ginger. I water my plants and wipe the dust from the leaves, enjoying the sense of touch and care. It feels good to pay attention to the space, acknowledging it that is has potential to fuel creativity, not just be a rest space or point of limbo.

PM
I am someone who often gets inspired by particular issues, human experiences or social constructs. I really admire people who find inspiration in their daily activities, as they live it, often coming back through the live conversations I have with them.

However, this is something I’m discovering more through this time and something I hope to carry forward. This afternoon, I was doing a simple stretch routine, working through things from my movement heritage (dance, ballet, body conditioning, free dance) and had some soft lighting and candles going. (For someone, who lives as much of my life as I do in LED lit basements or movement studios, it’s ironic that at home I live purely through soft lighting). As I was closing up, I noticed some patterns my shadow was casting on the wardrobe behind me. Normally this might have passed me by as a nice image but I felt an impulse to play with this, explore the movement and creative potential in this. Like the snow from Monday but more spontaneous. It’s an aspect I hope I can continue to nurture.

WEDNESDAYS - ONLINE INSPOS
AM
I wake up early, tired but excited to teach. I get dressed quickly, picking out some rare colour from the rows of black and grey. I am teaching at The BRIT School this morning, working on actor movement for some Shakespeare projects. The lesson goes fast, focussing on devising techniques which I’ve drawn from Gecko and Frantic Assembly and adapted for online. The students work well but energy is hard on both sides. In the break before my next hour, I make a coffee, and take some time to stretch and move. My body welcomes it.

PM
In the afternoon I have a meeting with Rich Rusk, director and theatre maker who has worked extensively with GECKO theatre company, Les Enfants Terribles, New International Encounter. Rich offered skype calls with emerging artists to chat about their practice, work and how to stay creative in lockdown. The meeting was incredible: inspiring, honest and validating. Rich offered some amazing practical solutions and suggestions to issues around working in lockdown, solidifying process and mixing up my practice.

After this meeting I was on fire – brimming with ideas and passion and excitement, a quality I see often in other movers and admire so much. Recently I’ve been worried that I am not that kind of person, that I am someone who doesn’t get inspired, who doesn’t have a brain overflowing, words pouring out of my mouth faster than I can articulate or gather. In amazing collaborators and friends I see their eyes burn with passion and I’ve been scared – that the fire had gone from me, extinguished, burned for the last time. But this chat with Rich blew into the embers and stoked them – and made me look back on times I have felt it in the not too distant history – even in small things. It also made me realise, sadly, we are living in uninspiring times – yes there is inspiration in everything, nature, arts, interactions with people. But, sometimes you’re not in a place to receive that. And that’s okay. It will come back. When you’re ready and when things count.

THURSDY - BRAIN FOG
AM
This was a tough day. My brain had given up – so I relied on my body. I’ve always had a complex relationship with my body and exercise, something I’ve drawn on in research and projects. As someone who lives in a fat (mid-sized) body I have been through the process many do - of hating, dissociating, blaming and battling to change my body. That’s why some exercise and language around that can be hard and in fact dangerous for some people, a point I advocate for in the movement community. But, something I have found, especially during lockdown, is an appreciation for the stability and reliability of my body. For Thursday this was through simple cycling on an indoor bike.

Days like these are hard, when my brain simply isn’t there to help. And as someone with depression, it isn’t an uncommon experience. But this current state is different. With my depression, I can feel it, it comes like a storm, I feel it brewing like air pressure and sometimes the clouds break and the rain falls and it hits (explored in a film I made in lockdown, Sturma ). I never know for how long – I am lucky in that it is often for not too long, maybe up to a week. But it’s such a clear familiar feeling. But in this lockdown period I have these in between days, of tiredness, ‘brain fog’, a sluggishness that makes things not impossible, but 3 times harder. And that’s when I’m in this in between:

“The constant battle of give up and give in
Or push on through the syrup and marble,
taking a centimetres’s progress as a victory”

(A quote drawn from some freewriting on this day). I think I’m not alone in these days, but that doesn’t make them any easier.

One thing I have found useful, something I started in the first national lockdown, was doing one ‘productive’ thing a day, and I use that term lightly as there’s an insane pressure to stay productive when we are in a situation we have never been in before and so productivity shouldn’t be a key focus. But I have found completing one thing that feels vaguely useful or building something has been a great help. So today that was a small period of moving my body. I went for a short walk this day as well. Other things that I’ve found can be tidying my space, baking or cooking, clearing my emails.

It makes me think a lot of the ‘spoon theory’ a way of discussing chronic illness. I hope this time brings more awareness of the realities of that.

FRIDAY - BOOK CLUB
AM
The brain fog didn’t go today. I woke up and it was there, resting on the outside of my eyelids. So I decided today would start as a day of reading. I struggle with reading, when I was young I read all the time but I think through education , reading became a necessity and so I stopped reading as much for leisure, as it didn’t feel as relaxing. It reminded me of work, not what I needed in my free time.

And it is work now – but on topics I enjoy much more, plays and research topics. And then I have that one fiction book on my kindle I’ve been slowly working through over the last two years.

Currently my pile of books nestled up near my sofa is:

Fearing the Black Body: The racial origins of fat phobia by Sabrina Strings. An incredible and fundamental book for anyone interested in fat activism and body acceptance, something I’m very passionate about and also currently researching for a presentation at a movement symposium, and some funded dance research with collaborator, friend and fellow inclusion researcher and movement director Christina Fulcher. It answers the question that I have asked and many people ask me, where does a hatred of fatness come from? Shock – it’s racism. It’s taking me a while to get through, as it’s so detailed and has so much rich information. Plus I’m stopping every other sentence to circle something or write a quote.

The Frantic Assembly book of devising. This is useful at the moment because a lot of my work is currently about devising movement online. Most of the exercises involve contact so it’s been interesting to adapt these for online.

Happy Fat by Sofie Hagen – this is a re-read. I’ve read this book before and it’s just as powerful second time round. And I’m using this as my relaxing read/down time – a nice fun book about systematic fat-phobia and the struggles it brings. But I do find it comforting – partly because of the humour Danish Comedian Sofie Hagen puts in, but also because I find it so relatable, I see on the page written down thoughts from my inner critic, experiences I’ve had and thoughts I’d never verbalised. And that’s only as a mid-size person. I cannot comprehend the good this book will be doing for others larger than me. I remember when I first read this book – a line hit me so hard and so deep, connecting to something I’d never realised but was so clear in my subconscious, I dropped the book straight onto my lap on the tube (uhhhh - remember tubes, northern line I can’t wait to be reunited) and stared at the poor person opposite through glazed eyes, using everything I could not to burst into tears. But all surrounded with the warm embracing words of Hagen “we are going to be okay”.

P.s The page was 141 for you nosey people.

PM
This afternoon I got playful. As Rich has suggested applying some of the work I’d been doing with students to myself, I explored the space I was in, finding routes through the space, exploring interesting framings and pictures on screen and in the space. Playing, pure and free. I found different music from my regular playlists to mix up and find new rhythms. Afterwards the space felt charged, coloured in with the memory of playfulness and finding and breaking convention.

I then took this exploring outside, say hello to the sheep that live behind my house, and am reminded of animals and I wonder if they can sense the change at the moment. I take some time to explore outside. I notice the wall I used to sit on when I was young has now cracked, the slate shifting. I play some games with myself and also give time to let things build – I walk on lines, I find patterns in nature, I run, I challenge myself to be sustained when I love to be sudden, or straight when I love to be curved. I notice lines between buildings and the pictures they make, the composition of roofs and fields to pull focus. I listen to birdsong and the wind rustle, I hear my trainers release my weight onto the textures below, grass, gravel, slate. I free write.

I realise I find movement without a project often hard, I love to apply it, to use it’s power for story and articulation and impact. But in this quiet Friday afternoon I find joy in moving for no reason. I promise myself to try and find more time for that.

Now I sit at my desk, now once again with coffee rings and I reflect on my week. I found moments of joy, creativity and inspiration. I made new things and revisited old patterns. I moved and breathed and talked. But a lot of these things – I wouldn’t have done without this project. I have found it very hard to stay creative in lockdown and I hope – I believe - I’m not alone in that. With projects cancelled and circumstances always changing, my inspiration and creativity feel like a luxury I can’t seem to hold onto. This week reminded me that it’s not – that its always there, if you’re ready to receive it. But if you’re not that’s also completely okay.