A year ago, I was dancing outdoors on the Walthamstow Wetlands. This week in Cardiff Bay, we’ve started to take Annwyl i mi from the studio in Dancehouse to a piece of grass nearby. Because our first iteration of the the Rygbi Project will be outdoors, it’s been important to build this experience of responding to the unpredictability of environment, public and surface into the choreography and into the dancers’ knowledge. Though we’re building a structured performance, we’re also improvising with the material regularly so that we are practised in adapting together to whatever the necessities of performance that arise. On grass, in public space, in the open air, that adaptability is a necessity if we’re to remain open and responsive to the possibilities of the place we’re helping to make through our performance. It’s been exciting to see how quickly the dancers have adapted to the challenges of being in a public environment, with people passing, children playing etc and how they’ve still held the focus of the work. Better still they’re finding how to be porous to that environment rather than trying to fight against it for attention. So we can see the butterflies that pass through while someone dances a solo or notice the wind rustling through the trees as the group flows across the grass, and they’re not distractions but enhancements of the work. And they’re gifts that we’d never have in the studio.
We decided to use the fact that Annwyl i mi is an outdoor piece to have one of our regular open rehearsals in Bute Park this week. It takes quite a lot of work to ‘show up’ on the grass of a public park, particularly since we wanted to set up a surround sound system to try out Tic’s music. There are permissions from the council to secure, power sources, toilets, parking, as well as all the extra technical kit to put in place. It’s not quite the same as the pop up solo dances I’ve inserted into public spaces in the past. But the effort was worth it. Seeing the work in the beautiful outdoor setting confirmed that it works in the way I’d hoped and the dancers showed really commitment but also pleasure in bringing the environment, the sensations of the grass and the brightness of the evening sunlight into their performance. The audience, both for our official Open Rehearsal and for the earlier run though we did, was engaged. In our discussion session after the rehearsal, people talked about how seeing the dancers engage with their environment made them appreciate their own sensations of the place. They also recognised the emotion of the piece which pleased me especially.
One of the dancers commented afterwards that doing our rehearsal in the park made them feel like we’d arrived in Cardiff, by which they meant that we were able to connect with people, incidental passers by, that would never come and see us working in the Dancehouse. I’m proud that the company can show its ability in this generous and porous way. And I know it takes effort, skill, resilience and care to be that generous and porous.
I wanted Annwyl i mi to be an outdoor work to demonstrate our resilience and to show the ability of dance to resonate in worlds beyond the stage. I’m happy to see the dancers proving the power of that resonance already.