Moving Appearances: Dance Under Suffolk Skies

Moving Appearances: Dance Under Suffolk Skies

Moving Appearances: Dance Under Suffolk Skies

Producer, Director & Facilitator: Sam Moss

Filmmaker: Roswitha Chesher

Choreography: Sam Moss & the dancers

Composer: Amy Mallett

Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, by Ipswich Borough Council Area Committee Fund, DanceEast and Suffolk Libraries.

The Project:

What a joy and privilege to work with the dancers of EncoreEast as part of Moving Appearances. They were curious and interested both in the natural themes and in continuing to develop their movement practice. This participatory arts project culminated in the filming of Dance Under Suffolk Skies during the summer of 2021. The cast were from 6 groups, also including primary schools and Dance Unlimited (now Kinetica Dance Collective) – adult community performance company. Young children and their families were gathered through an outreach programme in partnership with Chantry Library.

In Dance Under Suffolk Skies, 114 dancers aged 2 to 80 take us on a journey from open heath to wide river shore, woodland to arable land, flowered meadow to ancient oak in a celebration of Suffolk landscapes & the wildlife within them. The young children lead the audience in their wonder at and exploration of the big outdoors. Expect to be caught up with their delight, enjoy the wry humour of the elders and be reminded of the calm, restorative power of the natural world. With an original sound score by local composer Amy Mallett. A range of music genres are interwoven with birdsong, prose and poetry written by performers.

Dance Under Suffolk Skies was later shown at Ipswich Film Theatre, The Riverside Woodbridge and Chantry Library in September and October 2021 and is now online.

The Process:

Following early Zoom discussions with the group and Dance Unlimited, we wove a path through the COVID lockdown restrictions and other simultaneous projects being undertaken by the group. Thus, we began our movement research and explorations of the elements of wildlife that I had selected for the group in four Zoom sessions. Together yet separate in our own homes, this allowed us to build a shared movement vocabulary and understanding, for each dancer to create unique sequences to contribute and for me to better grasp how to enable and support them in our process.

Beginning with the breath as our impetus, we opened and closed our body shape, introducing unfurling, curling, spreading and spiralling, inspired by ferns as they grow. We played with gestural and facial responses and reactions, like gossips in a Bridgerton society dance. We then linked this with the bobbing, stepping and ‘arguing’ of magpies with long tails like a train on a dress. The group rose to the challenge of this with ease and a lovely sense of ‘not taking themselves too seriously’! With some Latin grooves to help us we got rippling through the shoulders, spine and arms then twisting and coiling keeping adders in mind.

When we met for the first time in a breezy Henley Village Hall the apprehension of keeping to guidelines and staying safe was almost immediately superseded by an enormous sense of relief as the dancing friends had not met face to face for about a year. The day was full of hilarity, hard graft making duets and learning the ‘Magpie Minuet’.

In order both to keep Covid-safe and to prepare for dancing on location, all our subsequent rehearsals were outside – and thankfully the weather wasn’t too bad.  We enjoyed the wide, open field at Bredfield Village Hall and the barn-like shelter at Foxburrow Farm, Suffolk Wildlife Trust being one of the partners of the project.

From the start, I shaped the work according to ongoing feedback from the group. My choreography embraced the creative ideas and movement input of the performers. Having enjoyed structured improvisations, we created group sequences paying attention to the detail of the movement and its impetus. Duets and trios were developed within the characteristics of their inspiration, sparkling with individuality brought by each dancer. I also encouraged the dancers to extend their technical dance skills and explore inner connections through the body. It proved essential to find an ease in the legs to help balance on uneven ground.

Nearing the dates for filming we went to their locations: Dunwich Heath, Orwell Country Park, and Hallowtree Scout Activity Centre, Ipswich. With some long walks from base or car park to the specific film location, the dancers wondered where on earth they were going! These days provided enjoyable cross over social time and dancing with Dance Unlimited.

Many of the dancers indicated their heightened awareness of & interest in the plants & creatures used as stimuli. They enjoyed the sense of freedom, wellbeing and connection with the natural world gained by dancing outside. For some, dancing amidst the rich green ferns, opening up to see the leafy canopy with the play of light through the silver birch trees was powerful and profound. Others were moved by their sense of connection with each other and the ancient Oak tree, magnificent in girth with gnarled and knotted bark.  All the dancers invested themselves fully into the work, even through the drizzly, clouded moments.

EncoreEast are like a community, looking out for each other, supporting each other and carving a dancing way forward together. I only wish we could have captured their banter and chat as they were mid-Magpie-movement to add to the sound score!

The Making of Dance Under Suffolk Skies – an insight into the
process of making the film, 2.5mins:

By Sam Moss March 2022