After spending time in the studio as a writing roadie for Marc Brew Company’s BREWBAND (Scotland’s new super band – that blurs boundaries and challenges people’s perception of identity) this is a glimpse inside some moments of remembering, construction and rehearsal at The Work Room, Glasgow in early April 2017. Sitting alongside band leader Marc Brew (Artistic Director of Marc Brew Company) and assistant director Alex McCabe, there’s Graeme Smillie, Jill O’Sullivan, Peter Kelly, Martyn Garside, Marta Masiero and Alice Sheppard who make up the band.
It’s been six weeks since the company were together in the studio and Monday marks the beginning of the slow polish; with the premiere two weeks away and the physical and audio tracks in place it’s time for the company to refine the performance rhythm and amplify the emotional tone of the work. Marc reflects on how this process has been different: “I normally work quite fast, but I’m having to learn to adjust as things take longer because people are learning new skills. Having created and made the body of the work the last time, now is the chance to work on transitions.”
There’s a heaviness when the bodies come back into the studio as they have the residue and movements of six weeks of non-BREWBAND movement in them and part of Marc and Alex’s role is to shed that extraneous movement and re-find the original material. The moments when the dancers pick up an instrument and the musicians are asked to rehearse their choreography the ease and fluidity in their bodies stiffen and it takes a while for Marc to loosen that tightness. Jill is very aware of her own physicality: “A guitar is a lumbering thing which takes up a lot of space and sometimes I hide behind it. It’s awkward and restricts your body movement whereas I feel a lot freer with the violin; it’s smaller, lighter and I can move more which encourages me in the duet with Marta.” When bodies and minds freeze a rigidity appears but the muscle and musical memory is strong as by the end of the day the company have revisited all the tracks/sections and there’s a noticeable difference in confidence: “It’s good to have these two weeks to bring the album back into the body” says Martyn.
A significant addition to this part of the BREWBAND process is the creation and integration of a new set of collaborators who will ensure a depth of access for audiences. Yvonne Strain (BSL Interpreter/Consultant), Emma Jane McHenry (Audio Description) and Jamie Wardrop (Visual Projections) are in discussion with Marc, Jools Walls (Production Manager) and Susan Hay (Producer) as they need a complete record of all the words – including songs, speech and interactions – in the performance. These need to be refined and agreed 10 days before the premiere so Yvonne and Jamie are able to film, programme, caption and create the projections which ensures BREWBAND is as accessible to as wide an audience as possible.
The early BSL projection visuals see Yvonne being filmed in both positive and negative as the reality of touring means the majority of the venues will not have a white cyc but a loose black curtain on which the projection will be presented; the idea of projecting in negative is a neat solution to ensure the most amount light is available as Yvonne is concerned about losing valuable visibility of the projected body and kinetic typography. For audiences who are Deaf or hearing impaired Yvonne is aware that any BSL interpretation should be as close to the origin of the action as possible and when Martyn sings Proper Job there’s a discussion that Marta and Alice could be a pair of BSL backing singers/signers/dancers to ensure they are in close proximity. This awareness and sensitivity shows a team and an Artistic Director who are exemplary in their attitude, thinking and execution for access; I cannot understand why dance companies who are in receipt of public funding are not required to build access into the heart of their work as Arts Council England’s Creative Case for Diversity and Creative Scotland’s Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan are such high priorities.
After running each track on Monday Marc calls the team back together on Tuesday morning for feedback over how he thought the first day had gone. Whilst being generous and nuanced with his words and acknowledging the day one energies there was a frustration as after each section had finished there was a dispersal of attention; some people would leave the studio or talk or improv meaning that if he had any notes he’d have to repeat himself and waste time: “I need everyone to focus so that we’re able to digest notes and understand where we are”. This shifts the tone and focus and the company are tuned in from that point.
The role of an Artistic Director is multiple; not only a choreographer, but a holder of collective memories, someone who models a behaviour, a maker of decisions, a builder of confidence, a balancer of people and many other roles. A question for the future is also raised about what will happen with BREWBAND in the future – which is prompted by a late offer for a performance this summer but not all of the cast are available and the company is loathe to turn down a well paid performance. A wider discussion needs to be had about the longevity and re-touring of work when the people who originated and were instrumental in the creation may not always available; this is a daily reality for independent dance artists as they’re often unable to hold on performers on the promise of an if – an if doesn’t pay the bills.
Having danced with and for Marc in a number of his own works, Axis and when he was invited by GDance & Ballet Cymru to make Stuck in the Mud Alice says: “Every choreographer has his own habits, but what is different here is that Marc is having to grapple with the music more; it’s challenging him in a different way.”
Reflecting on his role and the emotional tone of BREWBAND, Marc offers an insight into his choreographic approach: “I mix the energies, sometimes putting things that I know will work well together, but sometimes putting things together which might not immediately feel good but will spark something else off between the collaborators. It goes something like this (imitates a rollercoaster and rolling hills) there’s a hard shell, but once you crack it open there’s a softness and tenderness to some of the moments and emotions as some of the material has come from a really personal place.”
As Jake and Elwood collide in The Blues Brothers I agree with them: “We’ll put the band back together, do a few gigs, we get some bread. Bang! Yeah, well, getting the band back together might not be that easy Jake.”