MY INSPIRATION: Olivia Paddison | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Words: Olivia Paddison

Joining Fertile Ground as one of a small group of four dancers (Ashling McCann, Kiran Kumar, Megan Otty and myself) in October 2018 for the Twilight Dances 2019 tour has been the start of a very intensive period of professional development for me as a dancer.  I grew up in Darlington, training there and in Leeds before attending Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London, where I graduated with a BA (Hons) in Contemporary Dance in 2015. Since then, I have worked with Madrid-based companies Compañía CaraBdanza as an apprentice and as a company dancer with Elephant in the Black Box Company in their 2017/18 tour of Romeo and Juliette in France and Switzerland.

I was initially apprehensive when I returned to the North East in 2018, but was thrilled and encouraged by the increasing levels of support and opportunities for young dancers and creative artists in the region. Founded in 2013 by Dora Frankel and now directed by Malgorzata Dzierzon and Renaud Wiser, Fertile Ground employs young professional dancers with strong connections to the North East and offers them the opportunity to perform and tour new work by internationally renowned choreographers, building strong networks and relationships with schools, colleges and collaborators and cultivating and developing the North East contemporary dance scene in doing so.

What has been really innovative and exciting this season is the range of different work proposed – an ambitious new creation complete with live music for Schubert’s Death and the Maiden from Fertile Ground’s artistic directors and choreographers Malgorzata Dzierzon and Renaud Wiser, a newly commissioned film from movement and theatre artist Wendy Houstoun and the learning of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s seminal work Rosas danst Rosas directly from long-standing cast member and Rosas company dancer Cynthia Loemij, to then work with students to re-create extracts from this piece. It is unusual and a real joy to have the chance to experience such a range of dramatically different work in such a short period of time, and I find that it makes for an environment that is refreshingly dynamic, challenging and extremely exciting to work in.

My involvement in Fertile Ground has really made me appreciate how much commitment and excitement there is for dance in the North East

The choreography for Franz Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 Death and the Maiden was devised over a number of weeks of working in the studio with artistic directors and choreographers Malgorzata Dzierzon and Renaud Wiser. The piece pairs live music and movement as a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life; the elusive quest for youth, the inevitable decay, the slipping away and the holding on. We created material from numerous creative tasks involving text, poetry, images, ideas of ritual and preparation of the body, improvisatory tasks and even drew inspiration from specific on-screen scenes such as Meryl Streep’s performance in the 1992 film Death Becomes Her. The result is not a narrative, yet passes over moments evocative of our quest for everlasting youth, the inescapability of loss and decay, struggle and resistance and ultimately the euphoria of togetherness in energy and motion.

We are working with two different string quartets, the first being a group of young musicians at a similar stage in their careers to ourselves who will perform alongside us for the spring tour dates, while the autumn tour dates will feature the international Quatuor Voxpopuli from Montreal. I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of meeting and working alongside the musicians. There is a real joy uncovered in the moment of ‘liveness’ when movement is performed with live music and I feel that this is heightened due to the musicians sharing the stage with us. As a performer in the work, this makes the experience come alive in an immediate and powerful way that is both intimate and expansive at the same time, and I feel that this is something really special for all of us involved and I hope for our audiences too.

We adopted a very different creative approach when working with movement and theatre artist Wendy Houstoun. Through a collaborative devised process, we worked on the creation of a short film to be shown at selected venues during our upcoming tour, exploring ways of challenging and subverting the norms of performance and presentation. We did this through experimenting with various different techniques and specific tasks introduced to us by Wendy often combining text and movement, location work and durational improvisations involving sound, movement and props. This, alongside Death and the Maiden, was a real test of versatility and demanded a lot of creative input from us, which I hugely enjoyed.

Image: Fertile Ground dancers with Voxpopuli musicians. Photograph Kevin Wong

Rosas danst Rosas is a challenging, seminal piece created by Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker for her company in 1983. Elements of the piece have become very well known in recent years in part due to large sections of the work being ‘borrowed’ by Beyonce – De Keersmaeker’s response to this was to invite people all over the world to film themselves dancing this section of her piece, instructions for which can be found online. This ‘Re: Rosas!’ is what we are teaching to school and college students through a series of workshops, culminating in informal performances of the work we have done together. We had the privilege of working with one of the most experienced dancers in performing the piece, Cynthia Loemij, who taught us extensive sections of the repertoire, meaning that we could experience firsthand the original intention behind the movement, making the experience very authentic.  I hope that we manage to convey some of this to the students – so far they appear to really enjoy the challenge of it and we have been really impressed by their focus and determination to master the structural score of the piece. This extended experience of leading workshops has been invaluable, as not only does it integrate us as a company into the area and create positive connections, but I also really feel that it will help me take on teaching work with greater confidence and efficiency in the future.

My involvement in Fertile Ground has really made me appreciate how much commitment and excitement there is for dance in the North East. There is now a lot of support being provided for dancers here, with Fertile Ground playing such an important part in this. I feel that I am being presented with many opportunities to increase my versatility and grow in confidence with the skills necessary to progress in the profession, and am glad to be working with such a supportive and encouraging team of colleagues and artistic staff every day. I am really looking forward to bringing our work to audiences in theatres, schools, town squares and other non conventional performance spaces regionally and nationally and am excited to be part of Fertile Ground and its work in helping make the North East a great place to experience dance and the arts.

The Twilight Dances tour will take place at Sunderland College Arts Academy on Monday 20th May at 7pm, Jarrow Hall on Monday 27th May at 1.30pm, The Maltings in Berwick-upon-Tweed on Friday 7th June at 7pm, Gosforth Civic Theatre on Sunday 9th June at 5pm and Newcastle’s Dance City on Thursday 17th October at 7.30pm.

Tickets are available here.



Twilight Dances from Fertile Ground on Vimeo.

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