Choreography for outdoor sites by Virginia Farman

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This blog reflects on some of the questioning underpinning the creation of outdoor site responsive dance work Children’s Games.  Although Children’s Games is not finished, experts are being shown as part of the Brighton dance Trail, Brighton seafront, May 11th, 12th 13th 2018 at 6pm.

As I sit down to write this blog, I can’t resist looking back to 1997 when South East Dance awarded me one of their first ever commissions to make a new outdoor work called The Race. The Race was created for a seafront spot only yards from where the extracts of new work that make up Children’s Games is being shown.

This blog muses on (some of ) what I’ve discovered about (my) site – responsive choreographic practice in the long years since that early work was made. It’s taken a lot of tough work by lots of talented people to arrive at the present era in which site-specific-site-responsive-site-generic-site-located- site-everywhere-but-a- theatre- stage has found an audience, but I think we can agree, it has! People no longer ask ‘why’, when I say I work outside, instead they say ‘how’, and this ‘how-ness’ fascinate me;

How can my choreography accommodate the liveness of the site and all its’ demands?

The demands made by making for an outdoor site are different to those of a theatre ( building) space. Outdoor sites provide audiences that are mobile ( and can walk away); a 360 degree ‘front’; an expanding and ‘cinematic-wide’ horizon; the possibility for actions and interventions of people, animals, traffic, and weather, to happen in, around, behind and in front of the performance. ( Once when I was performing the Original Pedestrian someone tried to give me mouth to mouth resuscitation!). The outdoor site does not give you wings, lights, guaranteed weather, a static horizon, a singularly focussed audience, a plugged in sound system, or cosy backstage changing room.

In Children’s Games these ‘hows’ are answered in multiple ways; The dance takes place amongst the crowd rather than on a staged designated area, 9 but it also has sections that settle in a place where it dwells for a while). The dancers perform in a manner that accommodates the fluctuations in the audiences’ attention; they don’t mind if you drift off because we are not trying to keep your focus as there are other lives in the site that can be entertained ( remember the animals, weather, traffic!). Dancing is directed to be task like manner, their job is dancing, and their art is corresponding with the space, audience and elements.

The choreography in Children’s Games has been made to fit in the space by considering how movement images communicate when seen against, in this case, the sea and sky. Some images may be held or repeated in order that audiences can see it against the shifting world around it, and the movement is apparently simple; drawn as it is from the natural momentum found in play.

The work is approached in a completely different way than that for an indoor stage; all aspects; time, rhythm, focus, content, and performance focus, are effected by the site-context. For me it is like composing with life, and very similar to playing Children’s Games.


Virginia Farman May 2018/ photos by Charlotte Macpherson

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