Early on, before I started using film, I documented my experiences of my evolving practice by scrawling some thoughts in a notebook. This was one of those arty, gifted notebooks with a handmade vibe: lovely textured paper and a thick fabric cover that makes the book slightly impractical to actually use. I found it in the back of a cupboard with a handwritten note on a torn-off scrap of paper glued into the front of it. I recognised the poem as something a peer of mine was tasked to write in response to my dancing at an improvisation workshop we attended while we were at uni. I must have felt a fondness for it, for I had stuck it in the front page as if to declare this slightly-too-pink-for-my-liking notebook ready to be filled with similar evidence of the whimsy and idiosyncrasies of my unfolding art form.
A decade later, it remained otherwise empty.
Fortunately for my present self, I did fill this notebook as I continued my process (wrestling as best I could with the thick elastic that functions nicely to hold the covers together, but causes a significant bump under the left-hand leaves when you try to write). Reading back over the entries from my first sessions in the studio, I am surprised to find how clearly some of my gibberish allows me to remember how I was feeling at the time.
This was in early December 2020, when I let go of the scores I had been working with, turned off the sound system and set a timer for a 20 minute ‘open’ dance.
Time to morph and change and notice
The smell of asphalt is so strong as to almost be sickening
Many noises of work
Beep, beep, growl, growl and the buzzzzz of the air con not quite managing to keep the air fresh.
Skeletal creature with tendons and toes but no sight
Some shadowy shapes creep in, but I am inside of myself, in my bones.
My aching shoulder blade is a phantom from a past in which I was a different creature, sociable, muscled and self conscious.
Now I am here in my box of solitude and asphalt smells, emerging in my own time into this theatre of memory and defiance.
The comedy creeps in, physical and absurd but with moments of recognition that do nothing to allay the absurdity of what it is we do.
The uncertainties are many and uncomfortable, but more appealing than before.
Perform for your empty theatre; experience your bones, your abstract structure, your memory filled expression.
But it is you, your collection, your time.
There was something interesting about situating my attempts to return to and redefine my dance practice in a space that heavily influenced its formation. QL2 has always felt like a wonderful home base, yet on this particular day it lent a strange, spectral context to my practice. Working in the theatre, I was very conscious of the time I had spent as a teen and a young adult creating and performing in that space.
A pearl of wisdom (or someone’s opinion at least) that has always stuck with me is that we leave memories in space, like an unconscious, lived-in version of Sherlock Holmes’ mind palace. This is why when we forget why we entered a room we return to where we just came from to try to recollect the thought. Or why when we wake from a pleasant dream we hope that by falling asleep again without shifting position we might return to the dream where we left off. That day I felt almost like I was performing a duet with a past version of myself that I had left in that space: there was a remembered physicality and mentality put into conversation with my immediate physicality and consciousness.
You can probably guess the phrase that most stands out to me from that day’s scribbles (hint: it’s the title of this post). It’s a sentiment befitting the beginning of a new project, but I also think it describes how I feel every day that I choose to continue to be an artist. Maybe you can relate? Also surprising was the word ‘defiance’, as if in dancing with the memories in that space I conjured up a sort of bold rebelliousness to meet the uncertainty and discomfort I felt in embarking on the project. In any case, I remember feeling pleased at the end of this session. My previous attempts at being alone in a studio had often resulted in flailing, frustration and not much else, but today flew by and left me feeling energised and optimistic.