This blog explores the act of walking and its ancient connection to philosophical thought. It will reflect on the process of Walking Piece, a project where 50 people will come together in South London to create a performance around the everyday movement.

More widely, these findings from the blog will also attempt to answer questions surrounding the impact of the Arts on those involved and those who are not, looking particularly at participatory dance.

Watch this space for interviews, photos, articles and other materials that we find in our wanderings.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Interview with Matthias Sperling and why it's not really about walking...

Could you tell me about some of the ideas/ findings that have arisen during your research and development?
One of the things that has come up in my first few days of research to develop approaches for this project, is that it…isn’t really about walking! The walking is a kind of necessary part of it, but in fact, what I’m interested in about the idea that I have proposed is that it’s a framework for interaction. So it’s not so much about the movement, it’s about the interaction.
So what I proposed is that 50 people form this single file loop which moves through the Siobhan Davies Studio building and that it is continuously moving. And then along the route, many different tasks are mapped to a particular space. As each participant passes through each of those spaces, they perform a particular movement task, but in their own way. So it should be possible to see this mapped out score that moves around the building, and it should also be possible to see each different individual’s response to the instructions. So there’s an interaction between the participants, in that they have the individual responses to the same set of instructions and there’s also a close interaction between the performers and the audience because they are sharing the space – sometimes very closely, sometimes less closely, but the audience move around this loop structure freely in and amongst and around and along the route. That’s the thing that really interests me about it, it’s like an installation that is always there whenever you come upon it, and you can navigate your own way around seeing it, experiencing it. It’s always happening, it’s always changing, it’s always varying, it’s always there.
Another thing I have been thinking about is how to make the dynamic relationship between individual activity and group activity a visible subject of this work. Both choreographically and generally, I would say that the two extremes of that spectrum - everyone doing their own completely different thing and everyone acting in complete conformity- are relatively easy or habitual things to achieve. Negotiating a way of balancing those states together somehow is the tricky, but interesting and necessary thing to try to achieve.
There’s one more thing, a compositional thing. - just the simple fact that all of these mapped out tasks will not only be happening one after the other but also alongside each other. It’s a sort of double composition because it needs to work in both senses  - it’s not only about what comes next but about what counterpoint you are seeing side by side so it’s quite tricky actually! How can something quite simple work in both of those ways at the same time, and without the co-existing elements drowning each other out?

This hopes to be a participatory dance on a big scale. Does that affect the artwork, and how?
I think the first thing to say about that is that the idea for the work, from the beginning, is grounded in being a large scale participatory piece. So it’s inherent in the idea. A smaller group of people would not be able to span the circuit of the building in the way that I’m picturing. It also comes out of a lot of my interests. I’m interested in working with trained and untrained dancers because of the kinds of questions I’m asking about dance and movement. For me virtuosity is a question rather than a given. It’s a really live question for me, because it’s something I feel as though I spent a lot of years working on, and something I still enjoy in certain ways, but I also question what physical virtuosity really gives to an audience and whether there are also other kinds of virtuosity that might support the making of choreographic propositions.

I’m also interested in mind body relationship. What I’m often thinking about now is that you can think about dance in a very different way from how I have in the past. I like to imagine that dancing might be whatever I’m doing when I am learning something about the relationship between my body and my mind. That can be a very wide range of things. I’m interested in seeing people engaged in that. It doesn’t necessarily require conventional dance training. That sort of fascinates me.

What are the impacts or effects for those who are going to be involved in this project? Particularly those who perhaps have less experience of being involved in dance or big participatory projects?
I don’t really think I can anticipate what people will take away after the project. What I can say is, I hope they have a good time! I hope they have the opportunity to participate in something creative and to challenge themselves in ways which are interesting to them. I think that if you end up presenting this as a written piece rather than an audio piece, people won’t get my enormous long pauses between words which are typical of me.  But they are indicative of what I think people who participate in project will notice, that things take time with me! That’s about the creative process. I like to think about things lots. I’m interested in sharing process that requires quite a lot of concentration and stamina. I think often in dance experiences people enjoy them because they are very entertaining – you put on some music and you have fun. That’s great, those are wonderful things to do but I’m just not always able to come up with a focused and coherent result as an outcome of a process which is only characterized by the desire to have fun. I think people might find it challenging in terms of concentration and to go further and deeper into things which might seem quite simple on the surface. I hope people can come out of the project feeling as though they have been a part of something and that this group of people, for a short time, will have a community that shares something. And that that invites other people to interact with it.

At this very beginning stage what are some of the challenges you’re facing with this work, and what are your hopes for it?
In the research I have been trying to open my mind to completely changing the idea. I have been exploring lots of different options because I don’t take it for granted that my first idea is the best one. I realised that they were things I really like about the idea and some pretty strong challenges.
I think that my original idea – with all the tasks mapped out along the route - will demand a lot from the participants, and I think it’s worth demanding that for the sake of the audience. If the tasks are really mapped to specific portions of the route it gives the audience something fixed to hold on to. There may be up to 50 different tasks in the score. So there’s something about the concentration and physical engagement  it will demand to switch between activities very quickly. And to get into a particular activity very fast, doing it fully so that it registers as a performance and then very quickly switching to the next thing, and the next, thing and the next.  The danger is, it won’t leave performers a lot of time to sink into things so that they become fully embodied, So it would require people to learn how to make that kind of embodiment happen perhaps more quickly than is easily accessible.
What do I hope? I hope that it will become an artwork. I hope that it will be a professional artwork in its own right. I hope that it is clear enough and that it is about something clearly enough that it is worth doing again in other places with other groups of people. I hope that it’s not a one off event but that this is the beginning of this idea and that it’s a full treatment of the idea.

Yeah, so I hope it’s good.

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