Dance Artist, Jade Adamson, gives insight into the last week of Playful Tiger by Barrowland Ballet, in collaboration with Ellie Griffiths, research and development.
For the last part of our research and development for Playful Tiger, we focused on exploring ways of interaction through physical contact and vocalisation as well as trying out more of the performative sections of the show. Through working with some of the pupils at Isobel Mair School and the insights shared by the creative team throughout, what stands out and is extremely exciting for me about this particular work, is that it is fundamentally about being in the moment, listening and responding, inviting the audience on an artistic and experiential journey and sharing that experience. The interactions and exchange between the audience and performer become the essence of the show. The challenge as a performer is finding the balance between immersing in close up, one on one, interactions whilst keeping within the structure of the wider theatrical journey; looking at to what extent we are aiming to control the pace, atmosphere, environment and choreography and how much we are willing to let go and be in the moment.
As dancers and physical performers, listening and communicating through movement and body language is a skill we have really been able to draw upon and utilise during our research. Not using verbal language hasn’t been so much of a barrier and I felt comfortable and enjoyed experimenting around this. We were also very lucky to have had a session with thai massage specialist Juan Mases, who shared some deep pressure techniques that we were then able to put into practise when working with the pupils and with each other. This added a whole new layer to our toolkit and opened up the possibilities on how we might achieve the sense of collective calm towards the end of the show, after our wild Tiger adventure. Through this focus, I have been reminded of the power of communication through touch and physical contact, and have noticed my own mind opening up to the potential of this. I think in this day and age we are discouraged more and more from any sort of physical contact, particularly with children and young people, and therefore physical contact is seen as a taboo when it is actually a primary method of communication and grounding for some people and is a powerful sensory tool that we can all benefit tremendously from using more and not being scared of.
Through working with the young people and the discussions and learning resources that Ellie has shared and initiated over the past two weeks I have also been thinking a lot about inclusion, or having an ‘inclusive practise’. As a person who is non disabled and neuro typical, I am reminded that my experience and thinking is from this perspective, regardless of my intentions or attempts to understand different experiences of the world. I can try to understand the perspective of a person who is profoundly autistic for example, and can attempt to learn about how different brains work in order to communicate or measure how much I have managed to ‘engage’ as an artist and a person but I feel like I need to detach from my own preconceptions of this and simply appreciate that each person will take and offer something different and I shouldn’t be disappointed if someone is not ‘engaging’ in the way I have intended or expected. I think I just need to keep being open to possibilities and developing my toolkit and experiences.
What I am aware of, is that the world is generally not designed with and for people who are profoundly autistic, so I find it no wonder that over the past two weeks that as well as witnessing a huge amount of positive interactions and reactions I have also seen high anxiety, frustration and sometimes strong, physical behaviours coming out. This can be challenging to experience but at the same time, as far as I can gather, is just part of that person’s natural way of dealing with the world around them. The more we experience working with neuro diverse audiences, I think the more we will learn about the different ways that people might engage and communicate.
What has been amazing about the last two weeks is having the space to play, learn and think with the creative team, as well as getting to know and work with some fantastic young people and school teachers. Having the chance try lots of different things, discovering what works for one person might not for another and having permission to explore has been great. The bigger picture is that everybody should be able to access dance and theatre and that opportunities for this kind of audience are so very limited. I’m excited to create the show in September and then getting it on the road but also seeing how the audience development side of the project might have a longer-term effect on who goes to the theatre in future.