Detailed and expansive conversations with Ruth Little

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I first met Ruth in December 2011 during a professional development programme I was part of at Sadler’s Wells. She came to give a talk about universal patterns in nature and how they relate to creativity. I was captivated and inspired and I have asked her to mentor each and every subsequent project that I’ve initiated but the dates have never matched up. She has always responded with curiosity and interest in the work that I’m proposing but has simply not had enough space to take on yet another project. So what a delight and a pleasure it was to have her on board for Is this a Waste Land?

I’ve never worked with a dramaturg before, and I didn’t quite know what to expect. We arranged for our first meeting to be at the South Bank Centre. We found a quiet space at the top of the building and spent the day there together. I thought it might take a while to get Ruth ‘up to speed’ with the project (which I’d already been working on for 2 years), with my ideas. But it didn’t take long til we were deep in the detail and thick of the ideas/my concerns/the draft scripts/the sites and their histories. Ruth had arrived prepared – she had read everything I’d sent her, she’d researched other things too that related to the site we were going to be working on, the themes and priorities of the project; she’d thought about it. We poured over my draft mapping of the whole work – the chunks of activity I was planning, the images I was trying to create, how they related to each other and how they might be received by our audiences.

Between day one and day two I emailed her the draft scripts for the audio material. By 10am the following morning she’d read them all – not just skimmed through, I mean she had read and assimilated all that complex information: text of 5 strands of simultaneous audio that was inter-related and would (hopefully) unlock choreographies/meanings/spontaneous relationships that I was struggling to visualise despite having devised it. She had questions, suggestions, thoughts. And the response took in both the bigger picture and the small details of that particular word, that particular moment/action/relationship. I was thoroughly impressed!

We spent a day together on the site in Corby. We listened to some earlier test audio drafts I’d made the summer before, we imagined what was possible, we took time to simply be there, in that space, looking and listening and witnessing.

The questions continued and new questions emerged and with them arrived new possibilities and dilemmas. I was relieved to feel less alone with the project and with the governing ideas.

Ruth has this remarkable ability to challenge and to reveal the inconsistencies and the weaknesses of your work but somehow without making you feel defensive or attacked or lesser for it. This is by no means easy, and I am absolutely grateful. She doesn’t shy away from the difficult conversation, because she is simply intent on supporting whoever the artist is to make the best possible work that they can. I came away from the time that we spent together expanded and stretched – I had been challenged to step-up a gear and really face the complexities that the work demanded – to seek out the strongest images/structures/actions; to keep striving to find the image that sits alongside the thing I’m trying to say rather than pointing directly to the thing or making a weak imitation of it.

Together we came up with a series of questions that I took into the rehearsals with me. That sat close by throughout the creative process – to refer back to; to reflect on; to potentially incorporate into the final texts. And they did all of those things.

In the course of our time together and the conversations that followed, I was able to let go of ideas that I had been clinging onto for a long time but no longer served the work. This felt liberating and exciting. I felt supported and challenged in equal measure.

After the final performances as part of Dance Umbrella in October, Ruth and I spent our final day together. It felt fitting that she would be with me to look back and reflect on all that had happened and how audiences had actually encountered the work, rather than how we imagined that they might encounter it. It was important that Ruth was part of conversations about what happens next with this work; how other elements of it might be archived; might make their ways into new artistic ventures. I am keen to create a written publication which documents both the process of making and also invites other writers/artists to write about some of the themes of the work. I imagine Ruth being an important contributor to this.

Best of all, it has become clear that Ruth and I will work again together. She has expressed a strong desire to be involved in new projects as they emerge and I feel inspired, stretched and stimulated by each meeting that we have. Next time, I just want to be able to work with her more!

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