Samphire’s Crossing the Bar

Samphire’s Crossing the Bar

In 2021, The New Carnival Company on the Isle of Wight, created an original programme of 13 short and longer walks celebrating the Island’s coastal footpath.  In a weekend in October 2021, people were to sign up for guided walks that would showcase the beauty, heritage and culture of the island. The plan was to engage walkers at crossover points with community art installations and short performances, and the event would be entitled ‘Crossing the Bar’ (inspired by Tennyson’s poem of the same name).  Samphire were asked to create a performance inspired by, and to be performed at, both Bembridge Lifeboat Station and St Catherine’s Lighthouse, Niton.

It was September, quite soon after our summer break, that I was approached and asked to create a dance.  With such short notice only six out of the company of eleven were going to be free for the event, and these six met for two Saturday mornings where we blitzed all our ideas and got the bones of the dance together.

It is not the first time Samphire have danced ‘al fresco’; we have been known to play improvisation games on sandy beaches and create dance films in woodland.  But this was the first time we were to dance outside in front of an audience.  We were definitely up for the challenge.

We wanted to create a piece that would be relevant to both the Bembridge Lifeboat Station and St Catherine’s Lighthouse, and the sea, and its dangers, were the common denominator.  Through a range of tasks and improvisation games, the dancers explored movements that represented the sea and the work of sailors.  We created motifs involving pulling that made it into the final piece and also tableaux of sailors at work.  We had fun playing with rope and working out how we could use it to inspire movement.  Ideas were coming thick and fast and at the beginning we had too many ideas and I had to hone things in.  As director of Samphire, I never choreograph on the dancers.  For me, the ethos of Samphire is to empower older dancers and to give them opportunities to learn to dance, create and perform, and this piece is as much their dance as it is mine.  I feel my job is to create a safe and supportive environment to explore ideas and to pull everything together to a cohesive conclusion.

One of the pieces of music we tried dancing to was Julia Kent’s, ‘An Invitation to the Voyage’. It had such a haunting feel to it.  In the back of my head, the festival event’s title, ‘Crossing the Bar’, was influencing me.  Tennyson’s poem is about a man contemplating his death, but it’s full of images of sailors and the sea.  I don’t remember how it came about, but we then had the idea of sailors being led to their death – like in Greek mythology when the Sirens, half woman, half bird, would sing haunting songs and lure the sailors to the rocks and ultimately to their deaths.  We got really excited by this theme and so decided that we would definitely dance to ‘An Invitation to the Voyage’ and set about editing our movements and adding an almost hypnotic feel to the moves, as though the dancers were being influenced by an outside force.  We concentrated a lot on how breath initiates movements and we slowed everything down.  Working with Samphire is a joy.  I am always bowled over by their energy in rehearsal as they take an idea and run with it, and our piece soon began to take shape. 

On the weekend of the performance, the October weather was glorious and the settings for our dances provided the perfect backdrops – particularly St Catherine’s Lighthouse, which is the performance we chose to film.

We were delighted that local filmmaker, Paul Windridge, was able to film this dance for us and that Julia Kent gave permission for us to use her hypnotic music.

Ultimately, this dance does not aim to tell a story.  However we hope that we have managed to evoke an ethereal quality that does justice to the haunting melody, and a piece that complements the beautiful lighthouse which over one hundred and eighty years, must have been witness to many a ship, and sailors, in difficulty.

By Michelle Hainsworth, Community Dance Artist and Director of Samphire

Book your place at HOST