Life in Lockdown: Sally Marie
#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.
Admin 7.30-3.30am no stopping. Then a walk in the sunlight that tastes of Spring, And where I findout that little yellow butterflies fly really fast. New signs have appeared in the park telling people not to feed the ducks; it encourage incest. The ducks look quite disconcerted. It’s been a feast a year but now they’re on a diet. Because apparently the constant snacks doesn’t encourage them to fly away. And so then bad things happen. Quandary. ‘Shall I fly thousands of miles away to find food, or shall I stay here and stuff my face?’ You can see their point.
At 5pm I watch back four rehearsal videos from a woman called Kate Taylor who I met by a bus stop after a show and who is making a new work about what it is like to dance and also be a mother. My mentoring tends to go through me re-reading Liz Lerman’s advice on it, followed by then just saying what I think. sigh. I always ask myself though - is it true, is it necessary, is it kind? Luckily there is so much wonderful stuff happening in the studio that it’s easy to pour excitement through my words to her. I also want to see more mothers making work about motherhood; it’s fascinating. Then a call with the producer takes me to 7pm. A long day / but a lot done.
Artistically speaking; pretty much nothing of course / yet I wonder later, what is our own essential question? And what are the questions, that open our work / ourselves into the deeply personal and thus the universal?
I have recently fallen off the bandwagon of my new years resolution - to not apply for commissions for a year. They hang like hopeful baubles; it is so tempting.
I wrote these laughing at New Year and promised myself to stick to them. Ha : /
The 10 Commission Commandments:
1 Never Ever Apply to Anything if you do not know someone on the panel.
2 Never Ever Apply with what you want to do. Make you sure apply with what they want you to do.
3 Never Ever Apply for a commission during a world wide pandemic.
4 Never apply to a Live Art Commission. You are Dance, it is not your tribe, they will not let you in.
5 Never Ever write an angry letter in response to someone refusing you a commission. I have only done this once. Yet I think it’s safe to say that Sweetshop Revolution will not be appearing at____ any time soon ;)
6 Never apply for commissions abroad because yeah, refer back to 1. Unless someone offers you a residency from Facebook because you are friends, I am not sure it’s worth the hope/ful/less effort.
7 Be really wary of British Council applications to go to great places; the applications are a real ball ache. That said, even though our one for Canada failed, the programmer paid for me to go anyway, which was nice. And also, everything the British Council stands for is profoundly brilliant #softpolitics. It’s an organisation full of passionate extraordinary people. p.s They also have a thing where they prefer artists under 35 - although it’s not dead set - so that nice :)
8 If you can’t write, are dyslexic, yet still dance intelligent, find a friend that went to a posh uni / or can really Write and give them dinner / money / anything to help you. Don’t let words stop you / find someone who can. Also ACE applications are meant to be getting simpler from April #hope.
9 If anyone wants to start a therapy group called ‘I can’t stop doing pointless commission applications’ - give me a shout.
10 Only write the application if it makes the hairs on your arms stand up. And then, just as you’re about to start, STOP! Because the two weeks in full time preparation, two visits to the museum, another to the site, talking to historical societies, emailing 30 community organisations, speaking to 25 mermaids, arranging everything, the team, the schedules, the COVID, and then the 10 hours of non stop inputting it into their portal that crashes 14 times, will not have been worth it... Because as they say ‘one of your permissions was not in place. Boom. Also, they are almost two weeks late telling you from the date they stand you were to have heard - by which time, it would have been too late to start the project anyway. I’m not bitter yes I am.
10 We could be making dance or cake or love, in tiny and magical new ways, and within new structures that the faeries are imagining as we speak and who will whisper quietly to us over the coming months. Do not worry. Time isn’t finished yet. We will dance again and it will be so nice.
p.s ACE is ace / even with double the number applicants and half the chance. They remain / to me / ever heroic. Because no matter what new tiny hoops through which we must jump, they are truly the only people who / can make / larger projects / past the £500 commissions possible.
No disrespect is meant to the people whose job it is to create and then administrate these
commissions, it comes sincerely from the heart no doubt. I’m just on sabbatical.
Or I was.
Before bed I watch an interview with Edith Sitwell where she says her hobbies are music, reading and silence. This is followed by a documentary on Shakespeare’s mother, who it would seem, was apparently a very good storyteller. Sadly, in Tudor times a third of children died in their first few years. There were books written then - telling you how not to grieve. Yet of course people still did. At one point, Shakespeare’s family lost all their money and his dad got really depressed. That was until Will went to London and did quite well, buying his family a lovely new house in the centre of the village and a happiness ever after.
Anyway, here is a picture of a puffin and also a studio database we just made that we
thought might be useful.
We start rehearsals in three weeks and so I try to think of everything we will need. I start with four shopping trips and spend £200 and gaze now at 20 plastic bags and suitcase of food. I didn’t want to miss anything, and now seem have everything; we are forming a bubble. I’m even bring sushi mats!
I know from a zoom about Covid that when we eat, we have to try to eat outside, and that we musttake a test 3 days before we go. Each person must be picked up individually by private transport, and then another test. I also know that the tests are free from government now for companies / which is great. For rehearsals we plan to work at 2 metres for the first week and then have 3 weeks in a safe bubble.
One of the dancers is finishing at the opera house that night so we’ll pick him up from there. Everyone else will have been in self isolation as much as is possible for the previous 14 days. I am still deciding whether to buy a fumigator for the space. When I zoomed with someone from the Royal Shakespeare Company, she said even the ‘natural one’ made her chest hurt.
We have an older person in her late 70’s in rehearsals, so I am very much hoping everyone is being careful. We’re working in Liverpool at Wired Ariel. They’ve given us their space and accommodation for free - it’s the most tremendously generous thing. Worth thousands. Three of our dancers we just met when we auditioned by zoom. In the first auditions a long while ago, we were able to pay the dancers to return on days three and four. Yet on zoom we saw people really for just an hour. I think some people found it hard. We ourselves did it really. Overall, we found that having four to a screen or even three was the best. I do think zoom can be way to see people if they live abroad or at the other end of the country though / going forward.
I know three dancers with long Covid, and three acquaintances with it / one of whom is now registered disabled. My friend knows two musicians who are now seeing neurological and heart specialists. And so it’s still something to be taken very seriously by choreographers I think. I also know of a well known musician who was very careful with food delivered etc. But then went to meet her brother in law for a socially distanced walk in the park. He had it, yet didn’t know and gave it to her. She survived; he did not. The Covid co-ordinator from the Royal Shakespeare Company talked about how one performer she worked with used to laugh and say it was flu. Then his sister
brought it home and their father died.
The other thing she said was that to remember that masks do not really protect you, because you are breathing the same air. It’s about the tiny micro sprays inside the atmosphere that infect, which is why crowded rooms are so devastating and thus why I think dancers need to be so careful. In classes and rehearsals which may appear safe with masks, yet are not.
It’s only a few months more, and come the summer, hopefully we will be all able to re-connect up again. The Covid Co-ordinator warned against trains for obvious reasons, yet I have found it really hard to find space outside London that doesn’t incur huge costs in terms of accommodation. The airbnbs I searched around 11k a month for 8 people. We were to have gone to an old school in Norway, but the doctor in the area decided he didn’t want eight British people visiting..
I think endlessly of the dancers out there in their twenties, trying to stay strong - must be so hard. And then the third years in this strange underwater silence, and all of us really. In a kind of suspended state of a certain grief.
Each day I carry on, there always a great deal to do. Yet as soon as I awake, I am filled with a great unease. As if suspended above me is a large thin layer of ice, which breaks, as fears come crashing through. Then I get up. I look always immediately out of the window and if they sky is blue I feel happy and if it is white I do not. Though when I walked in the park this evening; the dusk all soft, I did feel happiness there amongst the people - as if they could see the end. The air seemed lighter. I think it was.
This picture is of Ann Louise Wall, from one weekend in the early Autumn where we went to make a dance film in Eastbourne. It’s still being edited; the filmmaker caught Covid. Though not while we were there.
What I like about dance on film is that it let’s us in to new perspective, it has an immediacy - a depth due to it’s closeness.
And so, here’s to our return, to that beautiful time, when once again / find ourselves sitting in theatres / waiting there in the darkness - for it to begin.
I want to make movement made out of feeling more than steps. Movement which hugs us in texture / in honesty / and in risk. Work that is made out of moving, but not for movements sake. Coming from the abstract, and yet in conversation with story.
I want to see thought,
I want to see people
I want to see relationship.
And story at the heart of something made visible through the physical/that only dance can do.
The new piece surrounds me / like a tree of petals in all sorts different colours. Everything morphing from day to day. I’ve had dreams which suggest the piece needs to start as still as earth and then move upwards through the layers of leaves, and then up higher - into a light filled sky. And then it’s opposite / back and forth.
Glen Miller talked about a sound he imagined that he was always searching for and I feel the same about dance. I want us to be able to drop into another world. One where the movement sings in it’s phrasing like music might and the sound in equal conversation with the visual. And then how we might bring the outside world into the interior and our internal selves out into the air.
Anyway, the hardest book I am faced with just now is a book about cadavers. Did I mention our piece is about death? Yeah. We started it before the pandemic and have stuck to it. And right now it’s either a really bad idea or really culturally relevant ;) It’s also not only about death really, but about how to live. We’re wanting something tender, provocative / about love, devotion, loss, memory and resolution. And also funny. Because right now, we really need a laugh don’t we! In the research so far, I ‘m fascinated by the afterlife - yet less so about decomposing bodies. I literally run away from the book sometimes! But still, it’s part of it, so onwards. The most profound book I have read so far and one which I can’t encourage you to read enough, is a very slim volume called Life After Death by Elisabeth Kubler - Ross, an early leader in the hospice movement. It’s extraordinary and you can buy it anywhere.
I don’t know who said it, but I always like the words, ‘death is but a night in the life of a soul.’ Sort of a comfort there somehow. There’s a the pull between the digital revolution and the live experience right now isn’t there. I think they can work so beautifully together. It’s so deeply exciting to experience things live for sure, but then, once we can truly grow in how we make dance for film, then that can be revelatory I think.
For some reason Im suddenly remembering these words that I wrote to some ballet students on whom I as making a piece a while back. There’s something in live work / of the brink / the edge of something / the only once / with that dancer / on that night / that I love. There’s a profundity of communication shared in live work / that digital can never reach; a different focus, an immediacy, an intimacy.
This was written to them the night before the premiere, and I don’t know why, but somehow it spoke to me of performance. And how precious it is and what great dancers can do, and how special what they have to give us is..
‘In each of your performances, have fun, have a laugh, let yourself pour sadness/be lost/ hopeful/take flight/ with possibility. And let yourselves be dark…so dark, so glittering I no longer know you.. And remember too, when looking into that audience, that you’re talking to each and every open broken heart as well. You’re dancing for all those who sit there, hopeful in their pensive silence; awaiting some illumination / some answers perhaps to questions not yet formed. And so the ballet is a little bit sad and a little bit funny / sometimes at the same time! So be sincere, go far, take the audience with you. Each of your journeys through it can be totally different and yours alone. Each audience member’s eyes will seek out something or someone they recognise within themselves. And because it's a story, you can surf it and be the waves as well. On your acting, I’m simply amazed how much deeper and further each of you go with every rehearsal. As dancers, we just need to actually feel it all I think, with our imaginations and our
experience. Ask yourselves over and over - how might I react to this, how might I feel about that - because you can make your own choices certainly, yet sometimes the moment itself suggests something back and that's kind of fun. For each part of the piece / whether it’s the endless saddened loss on the way to becoming ice. Or the joy and elation when your friend makes it back - to the dark malevolence towards Giselle, surprise yourself with hate and hurt, the heaviness and JOY. And at the end, fly like sunlight so bright it’s white. Lastly, realise that you yourselves are perfect, right here right now ok. A short while then.. till the velvet darkness drops around the shoulders of that 7.30 hour.
I've loved watching you.
I know the audience will too.
So much love, so much luck.’
The sky is blue! Here are a few dancers I like, check out their Instagram.
And a dancer I met on zoom for the new show:
And another I met at the live audition.
And another dancer I worked with before - before summing up what lockdown has felt like / on certain levels.
And here is a new favourite pasta recipe: Raw tomato, shredded basil, capers, some red chilli, garlic, leave to marinate for an hour and then sprinkle in grated goats cheese and then hot pasta.
Lastly.. the wheel is good, because we need that to get there. But really, isn’t going out in the evening the most brilliant thing ever invented by human beings :)
There was always violence against women, yet much of it not talked about. I went to a talk by some survivors of the holocaust at Kings Place a few years ago. And what these women said, was that no one in the history books mentions the mass rape of women in the camps. Because it’s almost easier to talk about death than it is about rape. For the victims especially, the shame involved is so intense.
And when I think about violence, I am not only thinking about men. There are statistics that domestic abuse is 50% women to men. It’s hard to statistically to get on board with though, because as someone observed, ‘women come of much worse’. But still, once again. The men cannot talk about it. And actually I find as I try to write this, neither can I.
If we look at history, then the Russians pouring into Berlin in the last month of the war stands out. It was so bad that whole families were committing suicide before they got to them. Women were being raped twenty times a day, the troops totally out of control and in gangs. Yet those in command doing nothing about it. Apparently, things are less violent than they ever were on a societal level. Still 80% of pornography is apparently rape porn, yet there was a 1.7% success rate for rape prosecutions this year.
In terms of violence that is not obvious to us, sometimes I think we need to be more specific culturally, to clarify what things look like so that we can recognise them. The film Slalom is a good on MUBI. And I just watched season 2 of Big Little Lies on Amazon. There is a moment in the courtroom, when the abuse has only been talked about. Only the night before the hearing, the women is looking through her son’s i-pad and finds something he has filmed - a tiny clip, filmed through a half open door, showing what violence actually looks like; utterly terrifying - smashing out through the screen, past words, past empathy, to the unbearable.
Someone asked me the other day what can be done about it. Firstly we must write to our MP’s, to the police, I suppose going groups and also, simply not accept. And we must warn our children growing up about violence can be. Especially in terms of porn and young men.
May the men step up and out to also own it and defend women. May their heroic be in the courage to fight for women’s lives. And may we as women, listen out for our own kind of violence too.
Violence isn’t all women. The worst article I ever read was about rape used as a weapon against men in war. They were unable to sit; their sense of self and masculinity is demolished. Heartbreaking. When i stood up after reading, my knees collapsed.
One way, I feel as a woman I can stand up to it, it to have the courage to confront those that have hurt me. Much to my own shame, about 18 months ago I was at a conference about international touring. At the end, someone looked over quizzically at me and I returned the look, He said, what’s your name? And when he told me his, I replied breezily, oh of course, you sexually assaulted me in a studio. Well over twenty years ago now. I remember I laughed and warned you not to do that kind of thing because you’d get the sack. And you did. OK, it wasn’t serious sexual assault, he went, shall we say off piste whilst correcting me. I was incredulous rather than upset. But for many they would have been devastated. I wish I had stood up to him then when I had the chance. And feel determined to do so in future.
Sex was never simple. We worked shortly with an older dancer in the last process, who said to me, ‘ when I worked in psychiatric hospitals, there were still women who had been there for 30 years for being a bit too ‘free’. Her own grandmother in 1888, had asked whilst pregnant, ‘where is the baby coming out? She thought her belly button.’ I love that the women are coming forward and refusing to put up with it. It was the one great thing about Trump. He was such a deeply hateful misogynist, that it fired a lot of women in to action. More sadly and close to home, a young friend of mine said, ‘ I feel like an accessory in men’s porn fantasies’.
Of the men in dance, we know of plenty don’t we, yet nothing has ever been said. The men I worked with were an absolute delight. Maybe the women from the opposite will one day want to come forward. But it’s their journey and their story and time will tell I suppose. Most likely silence will prevail.
Of Martins in New York, I heard he was casting his own Nutcracker again and making sure all the soloists that came out against him lose their solo roles.
And Jan Fabre seem to continue.
Here is a devastating link about what is going on for young women in schools right now.
And here is a picture of two women from the last show we make called BeautifuK. This section was about warmth connection softness as much as sexuality.
I watch a film about men training for Vietnam, and the message seems to be, that to be a real man in that environment - is be to be the psychotic, fearless and violent, yet with a witty turn of phrase. They think the pressure on women is huge, but what about the pressure on men in what it means to be a ‘man’ in popular media and also - the patriarchy generally. Women get to talk their emotions as they grow up, yet men seem only to have anger as a legitimate place to put theirs. The fear, the vulnerability all seems to end up in the anger file for a lot of them and it’s not fair.
I must say, I find the young men of now, generally softer, more open and more accepting of different parts of themselves. But then I am talking about the kind of young men who choose dance as a career hey...
To finish, I have to remember all the glorious men I have met, have worked with. So many
individuals are so extraordinary. And I want to end with that. Because as dancers, we risk our lives at times. And not a single man in dance has ever let me down.
It is day two after my jab. I avoided all symptoms by my deep scientific knowledge ;) I took lots of vitamin C the night before / drank lots of water and then swigged an litre of fresh orange juice on the way to the appointment. I also had a chat with my body when I woke up, which went something like this.. ‘ something is going to happen today, but don’t worry, you can totally deal with it / we’re not going to get ill ok, because who wants 3 days of vomiting and fever. Neither of us - so I am with you / let’s just trust it’s going to be fine ok.’ And it was.
I had expected one of those long deep needles where there mixture feel like it almost fills your bones, but it was a tiny pin prick, and straight after I walked for three hours in the sunshine to avoid blog clots and to try and kind of trick my body into thinking nothing happened. It worked.
Everything was pink and white and blue and yellow / the daffodils in happy clumps of gold and the blue sky all full hope. I saw some tiny Egyptian goslings / just as a seagull swooped down to try and grab one / a disconcerting sight within the idyll and a reminder that it’s bird eat bird out there. The walk let my body think nothing had happened. And the idea came from something that happened in NewYork a long time ago. I was doing a grand jete, when in the corner of the studio, there was a small unnoticed one inch step, which took me by surprise. And down I crashed over on my ankle and into the door like flying goose gone wrong. Was dramatic and embarrassing even by my standards. As I tried to stand quickly,I realise it’s a bad twist or maybe a sprain. Yet suddenly, looming into vision is a guy who grabs my foot as a sit gingerly down again, and starts moving the ankle joint forward and backward, round and round, while my eyes as gobstoppers gaze back blink-less. He says,’ just trust me ok, just trust me.’ And I’m like, ok, so this is New York. Maybe it’s different here - as I imagine England then and the call for a bag of frozen peas and concerned looks from dancers at some a distance as not to crowd. And so then boom! On go my shoes no tights, and out into the freezing NewYork winter as I limp carefully across town to a show at New York Fashion Week - where the girls sashay / so thin they / they look not far from death death. But then this is the 90’s and heroin chic, so it’s somehow fine. That movement and the cold and the moving through it -well I was back in class fully functioning three days later and I never forgot it. Because somehow the body had kept moving, absorbed it and along with a climatic icepack on the way to the show - it was like the injury never happened!
Tonight I spoke to an old friend, Alessandro Magagnia. He was there in New York when I was and stayed. We used to bump into each other all the time at the Lincoln Centre Library and although so much friends at that time, I don’t know why, but we had never stayed in touch. I suppose it’s something about early friendships and being in our twenties. One day I was looking at his Instagram and messaged him, to say just that I was thinking of all the friendship we never had because we had lived our lives in different cities, and that I still thought of him and hoped he was well. At almost exactly the same moment he messaged me to say something of the same. Literally
a synchronicity and not in reply. So here are two people who have barely spoken in years thinking the same thought at the same moment. We’re all so oddly connected across time and space aren’t we really.
And so tonight we caught up properly for a couple of hours, after literally twenty years. I thought to myself that connection is one of the most precious things we have. Thats definitely been proven in the last year hasn’t it / how beautiful will be this summer when we can be together in person again.
Alessandro has worked as an actor a great deal over the years and yet always comes back to dance, because he loves the sense of non linear and the physicality. And I was thinking how for me tonight too - how devised dance theatre studios with great dance artists, can be one the freest places I know artistically. Such a space for intimacy, honesty, revelation, revolution.
Here is a picture of Alessandro when I met him and now.
I wake up early and am in the park not long after six am. This makes me sound like an early riser. Considering I have spend lots of this year going to bed at 3am, that wouldn’t be entirely true. We start rehearsals soon though and I will likely be awake every day at 3am so am trying to pull myself into the other way round if you get me.
Actually, sleeping 3am-9am and then doing Isolation Consolation - a Feldenkrais daily lesson from Ed Woodall - is great. The Facebook group is changing into The Flourishing Body and will launch in the next few weeks and I can’t recommend it enough. There is something about Ed’s voice and entire being that makes me move all lightly grounded and happy into the whole day.
Insomnia eh / so many ways to quietly fight it / or in my case during this time / embrace it. From cherries, bananas, lettuce before bed, to dimmed lights, hot baths, no alcohol - they all have their place. But an utter revelation - given kindly to me by a psychologist who I was talking to about working with Sweetshop Revolution suggested this: You breath in for 3 and out for 6. Or in for 4 and out for 8 or in for 5 and then out for 10 - deeply into the belly. If you do this while you lie in bed / it literally takes you to sleep. Doesn’t mean you won’t be awake two hours later mind, but still, it’s a wonderful start.
And so there I am walking in the park, all empty silence and branches that reaching / fine black veins / against the sky. I long for blue, there is none. The weather’s seemed stuffed into the dullness for months.
I can’t wait for the opening up, for new people, new thoughts, ideas, connections - can you?
p.s Here is a wonderful person I worked with on administrative tasks over the last year. Can’t recommend her enough. Her name is Bella Watts: firstname.lastname@example.org