The Aging Body In Dance: A Cross-Cultural Perspective

Kazuo Ohno's hand by Takayuki Nakatake

Kazuo Ohno’s hand by Takayuki Nakatake

Some years ago I was selected to give a paper at a conference in Berlin, organised by Nanako Nakajima and Gabriele Brandstetter on ‘The Aging Body in Dance’. This emerged from my research as a Fellow of the International Research Centre ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’, at Freie University, Berlin.

My paper discussed the aging, changing body, and how acquired sensory impairments can bring more to our creativity and practice than they take away. I wrote primarily about Silent Rhythm, a Liverpool International Live Art Festival commission at Bluecoats I received with my collaborators dancer/choreographer Denise Armstrong and visual artist Alison Jones. The description of the project is as follows:

15-19 November 2004. Liverpool Biennial Live Art Festival at the Bluecoats Art Centre
Brief description of  ‘SILENT RHYTHM’.

This ‘work in progress’ is a fusion of live art and experimental performance practice from a Deaf and Disability perspective. ‘Silent Rhythm’ is a multi-sensory exploration of space, smell, text, and choreography. This collaboration between writer Kaite O’Reilly, dancer Denise Armstrong, and Visual artist Alison Jones is informed by their sensory impairments, using them as a source of inspiration for creativity. Utilizing written and spatial languages- ‘what words look like in the air’- combined with Deaf choreography, harnessing the ‘inner tempo; the silent rhythm’ within an installation. The live art performance transforms, and possibly erases, aspects of the original installation.

The essay also touches on the work of visually-impaired poet Alex Lemon and dramatist Alex Bulmer.

The collection of essays is edited by Nanako Nakajima and Professor Gabriele Brandstetter, and will be published by Routledge on January 26th 2017.  Details follow:

What does it mean to be able to move?

The Aging Body in Dance brings together leading scholars and artists from a range of backgrounds to investigate cultural ideas of movement and beauty, expressiveness and agility.

Contributors focus on Euro-American and Japanese attitudes towards aging and performance, including studies of choreographers, dancers and directors from Yvonne Rainer, Martha Graham, Anna Halprin and Roemeo Castellucci to Kazuo Ohno and Kikuo Tomoeda. They draw a fascinating comparison between youth-oriented Western cultures and dance cultures like Japan’s, where aging performers are celebrated as part of the country’s living heritage.

The first cross-cultural study of its kind, The Aging Body in Dance offers a vital resource for scholars and practitioners interested in global dance cultures and their differing responses to the world’s aging population.

Table of Contents

Introduction, Gabriele Brandstetter and Nanako Nakajima

Overview of the Aging Body in Dance, Nanako Nakajima

Section I: The Aging Body in the late 20th century: American Postmodern Dance, German Dance, and Japanese Dance

Yvonne Rainer, The Aching Body in Dance

Ramsay Burt, Yvonne Rainer’s Convalescent Dance: On valuing ordinary, everyday, and unidealised bodily states in the context of the aging body in dance

Johannes Odenthal, Der Tanz ist eine Metapher des Lebens (Dance is a Metaphor of Life)

Tamotsu Watanabe, Flowers Blooming in the Time of Aging

Section II: Alternative Dancability: Dis/Ability and Euro-American Performance

Ann Cooper Albright, The Perverse Satisfaction of Gravity

Jess Curtis, Dancing the Non/Fictional Body

Kaite O’Reilly, SILENT RHYTHM: A Reflection on the aging, changing body, and sensory impairment as a source of creativity and inspiration

Susanne Foellmer, Bodies’ Borderlands: Right in the Middle. Dis/Abilities on Stage

Section III: Aging and Body Politics in Contemporary Dance

Petra Kuppers, Somatic Politics: Community Dance and Aging Dance

Kikuko Toyama, Old, weak, and invalid: dance in inaction

Janice Ross, Dance and Aging: Anna Halprin Dancing Eros at the End of Life

Section IV: Perspectives of Interweaving

Mark Franko, Why are Hands the Last Resort of the Aging Body in Dance? Notes on the Modernist Gesture and the Sublime

Nanako Nakajima, Yoshito Ohno’s Figures of Life

 

Congratulations to all contributors and to the editors. It is a privilege to be amongst such company.

Creative Wales Awards 2017

I’m delighted to announce I am one of the artists from Wales fortunate to be granted a Creative Wales Award.

The awards, presented at an event held at Cardiff’s contemporary art gallery G39 on Thursday 12 January, “recognise the very best talent and potential of individual Welsh artists applying for this development opportunity.

The annual Creative Wales Awards offer up to £25,000 to enable artists to take time to experiment, innovate, and take forward their work. The aim is to develop excellence by offering a period of research and development to some of Wales’s most interesting artists.”
Phil George, Chair of the Arts Council of Wales said:

“The Creative Wales Awards is the Arts Council of Wales’s opportunity to recognise some our country’s remarkable talents. They are awarded to the artists at significant stages in their careers and as they take the brave decision to explore new ways of developing and making their art. We look forward to seeing how these awards will impact on their work and to how their creativity flourishes in the future.”

I am immensely excited about this award, but also phenomenally grateful to be living in a country which recognises life-long learning and development in an artist. For me, just writing the application for the award was stimulating and useful – it encouraged me to perceive where I ‘am’ in my career, and possible new ways forward.

My Creative Wales is based on my love of words and the incredible joy I experienced when writing my new version of Aeschylus’s ‘Persians’, directed by Mike Pearson site-specifically on MOD land for National Theatre Wales in 2010. You can see a promotional video of the project here.

Apart from starting a love affair with the remarkable poet-playwright-soldier Aeschylus, it introduced me to composer John Hardy, long-term collaborator of Pearson and the brilliant Brith Gof. I knew John’s work intimately, but hadn’t had the opportunity to work with him, before. At the read-through of the first draft, he said to me: “Do you write for opera?” and I answered in the negative. “Well, perhaps you should think about doing so,” he replied – words that remained scorched into my mind for six years – until I started thinking about a Creative Wales Award. I am happy to say John Hardy was immensely generous in our conversations about form and process, dialogue which helped me shape a programme of learning when drafting my application. He, alongside David Pountney of Welsh National Opera, and Michael McCarthy of Music Theatre Wales, were incredibly encouraging as I stumbled in my ignorance through possible approaches. I hope dearly to have the opportunity of observing process with WNO and MTW, and developing material alongside John Hardy during my experimentation.

But my award is not solely about writing libretti. It is about exploring the performative power of language with music. The gift of a Creative Wales Award is remarkable – it is not product-based, but about process, learning, experimentation, creative exploration. I will spend months exploring different form and approaches – from underscored performance poetry and verse drama through to exploring contemporary libretti.

Perhaps this exploration was inevitable. I won the Ted Hughes Award for New Works in Poetry for the text of ‘Persians’. This extraordinary honour both humbled and bewildered me (“but I’m a playwright, not a poet!!”) and started me off questioning what the relationship might be between the poetic and the dramatic. It is perhaps no accident that new friends and collaborators are themselves accomplished poets – Samantha Wynne Rhydderch, Gillian Clarke, Sophie McKeand and especially Chris Kinsey, who has consistently nurtured my interest in poetry, and encouraged my own practice through inviting me to read alongside her at public performances. I’m excited about where my journeying into the poetic may take me, and I’m thrilled that Owen Sheers and Gillian Clarke will give me some masterclasses in poetry and verse drama in the first stage of my Creative Wales.

All I need now is to get through the next four months before my exploration commences. I’m trying to curate an experience which will stretch and challenge me, forcing me to grow as an artist perhaps into unexpected places. I am so grateful to all who assisted me in the application, and those who wrote supportive letters. My greatest thanks, of course, goes to the officers of the Arts Council of Wales and that sterling institution which has such vision and understanding about how to grow mature artists within Wales. I know my colleagues outside Wales are envious we have such opportunity – and it is one we must cherish and jealously protect in uncertain times in the future.

 

 

2017 residential masterclass with Kaite O’Reilly 19-23 June 2017

Ty Newydd

Ty Newydd

I know I’m biased, but nothing beats the wild Welsh landscape on a mellow Summer’s day…. The view from the library at Ty Newydd is spectacular – over the fields and down to the coast: a view always tempered for me by the knowledge this was once Lloyd George’s bedroom and this was the view he looked at during his last days…

It’s been my great pleasure and privilege to lead an annual residential course at Ty Newydd for more years than I care to admit to. Each year I create new content and writing exercises, as I find the process symbiotic. I relish trying out new approaches and stimuli as I engage with the participants in particularly beautiful surroundings…… not that participants get to see much of them, as I’m notorious for working everyone very hard (but we have also been known to dance on the lawn under the full moon after midnight – but I’m telling tales, now….).

tynewydd_back

So it is with the greatest of pleasure I announce the course for next year… I’ve been fortunate in being able to negotiate what I feel are the ideal conditions for an intensive retreat – a hand-picked group of only eight writers will join me for five days in June. Please read below for details, or check here and contact Ty Newydd to reserve a place.

What follows is from the Ty Newydd website:

PLAYWRITING AND PERFORMANCE MAKING

Mon 19 Jun – Fri 23 Jun 2017
Tutor / Kaite O’Reilly
Course Fee / From £395 – £495 per person
Genres / Drama Performance Scripting
Language / English
This course is a creative exploration of the mechanics of writing for performance. This enjoyable, packed week will challenge and stretch your creative muscles with specially formulated exercises to work both your imagination and understanding of craft. Expect workshops on dramatic structure, effective dialogue, character, and creating the world of the play or text. One-to-one tutorials will give you the opportunity to address your concerns or further develop your work in progress. This course’s group size will be smaller than usual to create an intimate, supportive community of playwrights, poets, and performance-writers working intensely but effectively to bring participants to the next level.

Tutor

Kaite O’Reilly

Kaite O’Reilly works internationally as a playwright, dramaturg and tutor. She won The Ted Hughes Award for New Works in Poetry for her dramatic retelling of ‘Persians’, produced by National Theatre Wales in their inaugural year. Other prizes include The Peggy Ramsay Award, M.E.N. best play and she was a finalist in the international Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for women playwrights and James Tait Black Award for Drama. Her work has been produced in eleven countries worldwide, most recently her play The 9 Fridas was performed in Taipei and Hong Kong. Her work is published by Faber, and her critically acclaimed selected plays, Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors, was published by Oberon in 2016.

http://www.kaiteoreilly.com

The Verb: Friday 25th November 2016, 10pm, BBC Radio 3

bbc_radio_three

Ever aware of my backlog of blogs – the tour to Taipei and Hong Kong in particular – I ask forgiveness and avert your attention instead to an event I’m immensely excited about, next week:

I’m delighted I will be appearing on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb on Friday 25th November with C Duncan and Caoillin Hughes, aided and abetted by the wordsmith Ian McMillan. I’ll be speaking about my selected plays, Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors, with the sublime Celyn Jones, a long-term collaborator, reading extracts from plays. Celyn and I last collaborated on the critically acclaimed The Almond and the Seahorse at Sherman Cymru in 2008, directed by Phillip Zarrilli. Celyn has since been remarkably busy and successful on the large screen (just a taster with Set Fire to the Stars), so it’s a great pleasure and a bit of a scoop to have him back performing live.

Further details of the programme follow – as will the blogs once I finally get home after so many weeks on the road.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0833yq1

Staging Mortality: Kaite O’Reilly and Adrian Curtin in Conversation November 18 2016

university-of-exeter-staging-mortality-provocation-conversation1.jpg

university-of-exeter-staging-mortality-provocation-conversation1.jpg

What can we learn about mortality from contemporary theatre? How can dramatists and theatre-makers help us to understand this quintessential aspect of our humanity? Theatre has an ephemeral quality. It also has the potential to make us uniquely aware of our finite existence. Adrian Curtin, from the University of Exeter, will discuss this topic and enter into conversation with award-winning dramatist Kaite O’Reilly, whose recent play Cosy offers a darkly comic take on ‘making an exit’.

DATE AND TIME
Fri 18 November 2016
18:30 – 20:00 GMT

LOCATION
Clifford Room, Barnfield Theatre
Clifford Road
Exeter
EX1 1SN

This free event is part of the 2016 Being Human festival.

TOLD BY THE WIND – when performance is ‘quiet’

Jo Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli in The Llanarth Group's Told by the Wind

Jo Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli in The Llanarth Group’s Told by the Wind

Jo Shapland, Phillip Zarrilli and I first collaborated on ‘Told by the Wind’ in 2010. Fascinated by Japanese aesthetics such as Quietude, and intrigued by what we might co-create together, we embarked on a project which is now in its sixth year. An intimate two-hander, the production has been presented all over the world, from Chicago to Tokyo, Berlin to Wroclaw, and now returns to the UK for a short tour 9 – 17 October, at venues, below.

I am immensely fond of ‘Told’, but I have never lost my sense of curiosity about this unusual and ‘hypnotic’ piece. It seems to create a ‘time out of time’, and the reviews of the production over the years have been remarkable, and evocative, often referring to the poetic and meditative impact of the work.

It is also a fascinating process to return to an ‘old’ performance to re-stage it. The connections seem to be deeper and the work more mature. It is a privilege to observe Jo Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli reassemble the piece, and support them as ‘the outside eye’. At 52 minutes long, the performance only has 10 minutes of dialogue, the rest taken up with their delicate and precise movement work and Jo’s dance and choreography.

Phillip has recently written a feature for Wales Arts Review ‘Beneath the Surface of Told by the Wind’ and Joanna an ‘In My Own Words’ for Art Scene in Wales. Both are fascinating insights into process and influence, and well worth a look.

…at a threshold…two figures…two lives…multiple time spaces…

 TOLD BY THE WIND ‘dances’ an inner landscape. Interweaving movement, dance, lyrical text, and silence, Told invites the audience to enter this imaginative place of possibilities where two figures and two lives are always poised at a threshold…

UK PRESS:

“…hypotic…a haunting, painterly beauty…[with] the astringent purity of a haiku poem…intense meditation in movement…the performers have a remarkable presence…”  **** THE GUARDIAN

“…perfection in movement, text, staging…a beautifully contemplative sixty minutes…”    BRITISH THEATRE GUIDE

INTERNATIONAL PRESS:

“…minimal…mesmerizing…evokes both later T.S. Eliot and haiku…parallels…the work of Merce Cunningham…two memorable live performers…” SEE CHICAGO DANCE

“…Beckettian magnetic poetry…all dropped like shapeless stones into a moonlit lake of silence…Each dances the other’s absence. Both are beautiful movers…” CHICAGO TIME OUT

 Video Trailer: https://vimeo.com/170952365

The Llanarth Group

TOLD BY THE WIND

Co-created by: Kaite O’Reilly, Jo Shapland, Phillip Zarrilli
Lighting Design by: Ace McCarron
Performers: Jo Shapland, Phillip Zarrilli

Dramaturg: Kaite O’Reilly
Venues:

SMALL WORLD THEATRE (Cardigan)
Sunday 09 October, 3pm
Online: http://www.smallworld.org.uk/
Telephone: 01239 615952
Tickets: £6 (preview)

 

CHAPTER ARTS CENTRE (Cardiff)
Wed & Thurs 12th -13th October, 7:30pm
Online: http://www.chapter.org
Telephone: 0290 20304400

 

EXETER NORTHCOTT THEATRE
Monday 17 October, 7:30pm
Online: http://exeternorthcott.co.uk
Telephone: 01392 726363
Tickets: £8-£15
Age guidance: 15+

Theatre as a study of what it is to be human

atypical-plays-for-atypical-actors

This September has been a remarkably rich and exciting month owing to the Unlimited Festivals at Southbank Centre in London and the current one at Tramway, Glasgow. Apart from immersing myself in the art exhibitions, performances, discussions and many events around disability culture and issues of diversity at these festivals, I’ve been ‘in conversation’ and launching my selected plays ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’. On Saturday 24th September, 2-5pm I will be in conversation with Nicola McCartney and then leading a short workshop/talk ‘Atypical in Action’ at Tramway, 25 Albert Drive, Glasgow G41 2PE. 

What follows is a guest blog I wrote about the workshop and talk and my work, collaborators, and why accessible and culturally diverse work is so essential:

The Study of What it is to be Human…. 

Guest post for: http://www.kimaskswhat.online/2016/09/guest-post-by-kaite-oreilly-theatre-as.html?m=1

Theatre could be defined as the study of what it is to be human. For millennia we have come to sit communally – a group of human beings watching another group of human beings pretending to be other human beings. We are endlessly fascinated with each other, yet a place purported to be about the range of human possibility has for too long been circumscribed and limited, especially towards a quarter of the population.

As I have discussed at length elsewhere, for thousands of years in the Western theatrical canon, the atypical body has been used to scare, warn, explain and explore human frailty, mortality and the human condition. Disability has been a metaphor for the non-disabled to explore their fears and embedded societal values. Although disabled characters appear in thousands of plays, seldom has the playwright been disabled, or written from that embodied, political perspective. Some strange untruths have therefore been created and recycled in our dramas for stage and screen; the rich, rewarding reality of our lives replaced with problematic representations which work to keep ‘us’ different, ‘special’ and apart.

That, thankfully, is changing, with more disabled and Deaf artists coming to the fore across artforms. This is partly owing to the fruits of the UK and US disability civil rights movements, out of which disability arts and culture grew, and the disability arts forums, organisations, and festivals which supported and still encourage this growth. It is also down to initiatives such as Unlimited, keen to promote, commission, and embed the work of disabled and Deaf artists in the ‘mainstream’ on a level never experienced before.

As a multi award winning playwright and dramaturg who identifies as a disability artist, I have been exploring this territory, informed by the social model of disability, working across and between so-called ‘mainstream’ culture and what I coin ‘crip’ culture for several decades. I consider disability a social construct – I am a woman with a sensory and physical impairment, but it is society’s attitudinal and physical barriers which is disabling, not the idiosyncrasies of my body.

In my work I am interested in creating new protagonists, with different narratives, and with different endings – and to challenge and expand the actual theatre languages at play in live performance.

Paul Darke and other Disability performance scholars such as Carrie Sandahl have written about the limited plot lines for the disabled character. Often, as seen again recently with the film version of JoJo Moyes ‘Me Before You’ – it is emphatically ‘better dead than disabled.’ In films and plays stereotypes rule – the blind wise ‘seer’, the evil and twisted mastermind, the hero who overcomes her impairments to ‘pass’ as non-disabled. From Tiny Tim to Richard III to Oedipus, we have been the personification of uselessness, or evil incarnate. These stories and characters are so prevalent, Paul Darke claims the audience believes they understand and know disabled experience, even though it is through a filter that isolates, individualises, medicalises or finally normalises the character. What the audience is experiencing is not the ‘truths’ of our lives, but the long cultural and linguistic practice of ascribing meaning to the atypical body. We are metaphors – something my actor characters in ‘peeling’ are fed up with, and wish to rebel against.

So as a playwright, I try to present different protagonists and different stories – often challenging contemporary representations of disability. The survivors of TBI (traumatic brain injury) in my 2008 play ‘The Almond and the Seahorse’ subvert notions of brain injury splashed across the media and questions who the real ‘victims’ are – if indeed there are any. Protagonists, their journeys and outcomes can be subverted and changed – offering more possibilities and rich, engrossing drama which avoids stereotypes.

I am also involved in ‘aesthetics of access’ – embedding audio description into the text of my script ‘peeling’ – working bilingually in visual and spoken/projected languages. As a hearing woman, I have been blessed with generous Deaf collaborators – Jenny Sealey, Ali Briggs, Denise Armstrong, Ruth Gould, Sophie Stone and especially BSL expert and visual language creative director Jean St Clair. Through our experimentation across spoken and visual languages, they have helped me develop into the playwright and dramaturg I am.

What these devices do, along with what I coined when AHRC creative fellow ‘Alternative Dramaturgies informed by a Deaf and disability perspective’, is make work more accessible, yes, but also challenge the ingrained assumptions and hierarchies in contemporary theatre and culture. When we change the bodies which perform, design, direct, create, and commission the work in our pleasure palaces, when we change the theatre languages used, the processes and practice are inherently changed, too. We can then truly be a place which celebrates all the possibilities of human variety, challenging notions of ‘difference’ and revoking the old stories and their predictable endings.

Kaite O’Reilly will be launching her book Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors, followed by a workshop exploring the aesthetics of access used in her award-winning work, at Tramway on Saturday 24 September 2016, 2pm – 5pm

Book tickets here

More information here