Andrew Loretto knows something about matchmaking. He knows about dynamics and temperaments, work ethos and attitude, about hunger and curiosity. As creative producer of Right Up My Street, Andrew knows about bringing artists together to collaborate and challenge and expand each others’ practice….Which is just what’s happened to me last month, working with Rationale in Doncaster – hip hop theatre.
Andrew put lead artist Nathan Geering and I in contact weeks before the residency, and we quickly achieved an open and engaged correspondence. The company are researching and starting to make a new piece of performance, inspired initially by visual impairment. As a viz imp myself, I sent through a lot of research material – from vlogs by visually impaired people addressing FAQs (‘how do you put make up on if you’re blind?… What do guide dogs actually do?… Do visually impaired people ‘see’ in their dreams? etc, etc), some beautiful videos about blind visual artists (that paradox in terms got brains buzzing) and also work written from within disability arts and culture about visual impairment, including my own first piece ‘Fragments on a Fragmentary Vision’, first published over twenty years ago.
A dramaturg’s role will change in every context, and in this one I was initially encouraged to inform and educate the company around visual impairment and related disability issues, both culturally and politically. Andrew also has a visual impairment, so once we were in the rehearsal room together, there was embodied, lived experience available, as well as the research material I had provided.
In a very short time it became clear that what the company were exploring was not partial sight per se, but ways of seeing – different perceptions. Rationale shared some exploratory choreography with us, and Andrew and I both got excited – not just at the invention and gravity-defying moves the performers made, but from our realisation much of the work, when low on the floor, was more readily accessible to us than other dance forms. This, combined with the company’s interest and commitment to the area shows great promise for the future – especially as Nathan wants to train and work with VI b-boys. (Would any individual or company interested in exploring this with Nathan and Rationale, please get in touch via their contacts at the end of this piece… They come highly recommended and I want to see viz imp hip-hop and street dancing!)
What I loved most about working with this passionate and open company was how they brought me immediately into the heart of the company, challenging me as much as I did them. They got me up in the space, reading ‘Fragments’ in a loop as they improvised and responded physically to the words. Hung Nguyen pushed me to dialogue with them, changing the tempo-rhythm and speed of my reading to create counter-point and resonance with their power moves. Alongside the exercises Andrew gave us, and the tasks Nathan set (‘this includes you, Andrew and Kaite – get into the space and move!’) I spent as much time on the floor working with the dancers as I did sitting outside, being that dramaturgical ‘outside’ eye.
Another impact Hung, Nathan, Torrell Ewan and Sarah Hobson had on my work was the realisation the meter I had written ‘Fragments’ in was strong and particular and not always conducive to their rhythms and moves. So suddenly the dramaturg is wide awake in the small hours writing text for the company to explore in meter and rhyme (I DO NOT WRITE LIKE THIS! HOW EXCITING!! I kept writing in my notebook like Adrian Mole circa-1986).
At the end of the three days together, not only had the company moved on considerably from the starting place, but they had seeded some potentially exceptional work utilising the speed, precision and emotional engagement Rationale have become known for. Their work is virtuosic, their minds open and hearts full. It was a privilege to work with a company so grounded whilst their dance flies and I am grateful to Andrew Loretto for his careful steering during the workshops, and his fabulous match-making.