Touching the Earth

I am yearning for the land. Hearing the wind outside it is not exactly inviting but I feel a pull, a need to connect with layers beneath me feet – rock, sand, mud, grass, the earth’s bone against my bone.

At Eridge Rocks

Over the past few years I’ve been moving outdoors, relating to the natural environment through movement – as I did in a workshop, River Women, earlier this year. In the last year or so I have tried to make a short video, a movement video. It is about the earth, about woods and the sea. I felt a bit lost during the filming and was going to call it “What have I lost on the path?” a phrase I remember writing and illustrating in my diary many years ago. I felt that I had lost something on the path – in the earth – and the film was about acknowledging this. Originally the video was going to be a filmpoem – a film of a poem – but I’m no poet so I decided to keep it simple and see what would arise. I can’t dance or move very well either, but it’s just an experiment :)

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River Women

The river is our mother…the land is our mother

I have just attended a workshop, River Women, down on Dartmoor. It was run by dance and movement artist and musician, Denise Rowe and was about connecting to our ancestors and the land. I have been interested in my ancestors and recently researched my family tree mainly on my father’s side. When I think of ancestors – especially on the female line – I can now name real people; Iris, Eileen, Alice, Frances… but about their lives, I know little.

In a village hall, we lay on the floor and moved gently, stretching our spines, loosening our joints, feeling our backs into the floor. I heard somewhere that we hold our pasts in the small of our backs. Denise brought out a mbira – a spiritual African instrument – and sang gently while she played it. The mbira dzavadzimu is the voice of the ancestors to the Shona people of Zimbabwe. It is important for cultural identity and is brought out at religious ceremonies. The music calls to the ancestors who are believed to be closest to the gods. Their spirits are invited into a spirit medium who is then able to assist with community problems.

River Dart

Banks of moss, grass and fern. Green, green, green.

The notes fell like water in a mesmerising stream of music. We drew pictures and wrote whatever came to us. Then we took ourselves to Newbridge on the River Dart and shared lunch in a grassy meadow. The sun emerged and warmed us. Denise told us about a project she is working on to remember the persecution of witches back in the Middle Ages, Dolls. She wants to gather five million little cloth dolls and suspend them from trees over Dartmoor so they can dance freely. We spent a few minutes making little dolls to add to the collection.

Trees over the River Dart

Looking up through the green layers of leaves.

The afternoon session began with various exercises such as walking barefoot in silence keeping our focus forwards, relating to trees and other natural objects aware of their being and retaining a respectful space. Eventually we arrived at a stretch of the river where the banks were green with trees, ferns and moss. We each chose a site on the bank to settle in, to move in and to move from within ourselves not from our minds. In silence for an hour, taking in the river, I felt held by the land beneath the aspens, the oaks and the sycamores. It was lovely to see women curled up in the mossy embrace of the earth.

River Dart

Sometimes shoes on, sometimes shoes off…the water was cold but not so very cold.

River Dart Root

Some of the tree roots were like hands gently playing the water.

wander in dream her banks
with joy and grief in your heart,
give your soul the earth
a soft singing

she hears, she hears

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Moving Below Vulture Rock

Blue tit, tree creeper, bullfinch;
fallen acorns and the dry crunch of dwarf oak leaves;
scent of lemon and lavender as I wade through cloud fields
flower husks, the dry, deadhead suns of Autumn,
burnished mists, soft on the gaze.

A cricket zips past with a flash of blue sky in its wings;
a praying mantis strikes a combative pose on the path, quizical, as I walk past lonely ruins,
rocks that could be sacred.
And above me, vultures caress the currents and gather on the pink-grey vulture rock of vulture cliff.

What is the land saying?
It sloughs off Summer insignificantly,
in layers and earth warming browns,
in shards and bones,
in dry, bone trees in skeletal stances,
twisted and rattling,
abrasive and catching at my trousers.
Birds flit from tree to tree,
tick tick, tack, tack…
browns, honey, straw colours, beiges…
Even the snake wears beige.

In this basin of rock outcrops,
place of layers and silence,
shades of blue fade to more watery, distant, blues,
a valley of liquid air,
a valley I fall into with my gaze,
that I could almost swim into if I reached out…

I am the cliff,
I am the vulture,
I swim the valley and push to fly;
I am the knarled tree,
the scissoring cricket,
the lizard’s liquid escape,
the overarching sky.

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Forest Inspiration

I stumbled on this inspiring film, Falling, directed and performed by Ayelen Liberona. It explores the natural world combining forest, water and dance in a strange and interesting way :)

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Dancing in the woods

I’ve been riding a sinuous wave, up and down and then thrown about in some crazy whirlpool. Then quiet, life shifting below the cool surface of things. Blue butterflies again. And blue dragonflies; not so many this year it seems. Drawing a sort of butterfly mandala — a night sky of wings and stars.

Mary Oliver’s words seem so apt:
Butterfly Blue

“..to have wings
blue ones — ribbons of flame.
How I would like to open
them, and rise
from the black rainwater.”

Sultan Valad’s words too:

“…Sufferings are wings for the
bird of the soul
A bird without wings cannot take flight
So weep and groan and lament my friend
So you can free yourself
from this prison
And fly to that placeless
place …”

I’ve had such a need to feel free.

I thought,

What am I not doing? I paint, draw, spend plenty of time in the sunshine and out in nature. One thing I’m not doing is moving.

I went to the woods, with Kevin with a camera, to find a space to move, dance and be free!

I found a spot amongst sycamores and dog’s mercury, sharing sunshine with hoverflies holding their own in shafts of light.

It felt good to be moving. Here is my spontaneous dance in the woods. Perhaps I should have called this post “Bimbling about in the woods” :)

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Springtime dance in an orchard

Pink candle

I have a yearning for beauty, a yearning for Spring and finally it’s arrived. Sunshine, birdsong, cherry blossom in the park – it’s beautiful and I want to soak it up! And I want to move, dance somewhere beautiful in nature too.

I love the beautiful dance prayer for Japan by Lee Atwell. Inspired by Butoh, Lee dances to celebrate our connection with the Earth and has recorded her beautiful and inspirational dances since 2009, The 50th anniversary of Butoh, on her blog.

Inspired by Lee’s dances, I went to the Stanmer Park estate to find a quiet space in which to move in nature. I discovered an apple orchard that I didn’t know about tucked away near the church. I like orchards, there is something magical about them. There are ghost memories in the moss, the lichen, the contorted branches and earthy dampness; …lovers meeting in secret, children steeling in to play beneath the blossom or to scrump, …a quiet pause in time, a moment captured forever. There’s a hint of something forbidden too – perhaps I was trespassing! Apple trees are steeped in folklore and symbolism.

Orchard dance I felt awkward at first but soon allowed myself to simply move naturally feeling a mixture of joy and sadness. With Spring here I feel like celebrating but there has been some sad news for my partner Kevin. I danced both this joy and grief in the orchard amongst the knarled and lichened Bramleys and Cox’s Pippins all awaiting to flourish their first leaves and blossoms.

Feeling grass beneath my feet – a tingling sting of young nettle, a dampness of moss. I moved to a light mosaic of birdsong and the silent conversation of trees.

Spring dancing woman

I am including this painting, Spring Dancing Woman, that was painted around New Year. Its definitely about Spring. It has a dotty technique, unlike some of my other dancing women paintings. I like the colours but I’m not sure about the technique!

Enjoy the sunshine while it lasts!

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.”. Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Dancing through the Elements

Earth Seed WomanI went to a new drop-in movement session on Monday evening run by Caroline Carey founder of Alchemy in Movement. It’s called ‘Movement Medicine’ or ‘Medicine Dance’ and has grown out of the 5 Rhythms. We were taken on a dancing journey through the ‘elements’, Earth, Fire, Water and Air. There’s something special about the elements that never fails to ignite me, something profound, something simple, natural and, well, elemental!

Earth is heavy, I imagined it encasing me like soil, sticky, fertile, moist with moss, wood and roots. I have had a thing about roots recently, a need, perhaps, to refind mine. We sent imaginary roots down through our feet for stability and grounding. To dance earth I think of strong, low movements and trees with only their upper most branches swayed by the breeze. At first my legs were stiff as cinnamon sticks but soon it felt good and I liked the idea of drawing up sustenance from the depths. The music was deep with digeridoos and natural sounds; I bathed in it. My picture of Earth is of a seed harbouring an embryo self, like an insect imago, roots reaching out.

We moved to Fire. Looser music, looser dancing; I travelled the length of the room, to dance with the fairy lights and candles. I cared less about how I moved, fire shooting up within me shredding the overlay of Winter. Burning, smouldering flames, the gentle creep and heat of lava. That did me good.

Swim to the Stars

Water transformed me into waves, moving back and forth, bobbing with flotsum and jetsum. I was adrift, tumbling with breakers, moving constantly. Then I became a weed, tethered in a stream, helplessly flailing in the clear rush of torrent, washing debris away downstream.

And Air, the zephyr, feather light and soaring, a floating miniscule pulse. Air was for me, still, quiet, paused, a tired sigh. I was happy to lie and roll on the floor while Caroline took us through a closing meditation. The evening had been gentle, but alive with imagery, music, sounds, subtle and not so subtle dancing by everyone. It was good to be dancing freely again with other people.

I felt inspired to create so I’ve worked on a couple of pictures in mixed media – acrylics, collage, scrim and stitching – Earth Seed Woman and Swim to the Stars. However, other people’s artworks come to mind. For example for Water, Bill Viola’s films like The Messenger or Brighton based Mim King’s lovely dance film, ‘Dust’ an excerpt of which can be seen here.

I think of Ana Mendiata for Earth and for Fire. I’ll work on my own Fire and Air creations soon :)

Ana MendiataDust by Mim King

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Vertical Road

Vertical road - from Akram Khan's website

Vertical Road

A few nights ago I went to see Vertical Road, the latest dance work by the choreographer Akram Khan. The Brighton Dome programme said “the work takes it’s inspiration from universal myths of angels that symbolise ‘ascension’ – the road between the earthly and the spiritual, the Vertical Road“. As I’m intrigued by angels, myths and mysteries I was keen to see it.

Akram Khan is a dancer trained in both classical Kathak dance and contemporary dance. He has successfully incorporated elements of kathak into his own contemporary style. As he says in interviews, his new work, Vertical Road, is spiritual, drawing inspiration and using dancers from many cultures.

The performance gripped me from the start. It began with the sound of water. Behind a giant screen at the back of the stage, a figure could just be seen, his hands tracing circles in the fabric as though attempting to find a way through. Frozen dancers became high on energy; they danced exhortation, torment, blind servitude, listlessness, frustration, grief. No obvious story, but what I saw was people in the grip of relentless mechanical lives, almost regimented in their pursuit of something higher than themselves. They went through times of despair or ecstacy, often overlooking their simple, united humanity.

They tilt their hands upwards
looking into bright sound – whirling and moving in their thunderous lives.
Worshipping amongst the dust of ages,
seeking solace amongst statues, the shattered wings and stone cold hope of angels.
United in regiment and yearning,
they struggle.

And then, the seed,
a particle of light and sound, a moat floats and stills, in sweet silence,
emerging from the dawn,
and hands, from beyond, reach out to touch
alien faces of a peopled creature.

So simple, so quiet.

The reaching out is touching.
The wait is over.
Found.

There was something universal about the performance. I found it quite moving.

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Moving, dancing and fragments of the sea

Mud MaidWe’re emerging from a long, bleak winter, Spring is nearly here and I yearn to move. I have felt like the Mud Maid in The Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall, taking her long sleep in the earth. The figures in my pictures are stiff too, like winter, but now its time to stir and move.

I felt the desire to dance and move return to me strongly when I picked up a flyer the other day about an exhibition at my local library in Brighton, 14th-27th March that’s called “Inside My Dance”. The exhibition tells through oral history, photography and film the story of the dancer and choreographer Angela Lane and how every aspect of her life was affected by her daughter’s profound disability. It is a collaboration between Angela and oral historian and photographer Noelle McCormack. The film is of dancer, Holly Holt, dancing a piece choreographed by Angela entiltled “For Cherry”. You can see a short trailer here.

Moving and writing can go together. I found some words I’d written in a movement workshop taken by Miranda Tufnell called “Body, Space, Image” (like the title of her book). I’ve made them into more of a poem:
Seaweed

Moving with the Tide
I lie open
Hands the fronds of seaweeds shifting in shallows.
Rolling I greet the studio’s wooden floor,
And catch a warm light cascade from high windows
Aswim with a thousand moat boats.

Sinuous my spine,
Pebbles my vertebrae.
Starfish, wave, anemone,
Salt, snakelock, dahlia.

I rest, a little drunk on backwash
While the tide slips over and spills me back into ocean-swallowed waters
And the pipes on the wall become pillars of the pier,
Strong and steely red with tommorrow’s rust,
And I cling encrusting like coral or the all-muscle of barnacle,
Pulling the earth.

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Water

Sometimes I hate words, they fill up my head like beans in a jar, all crammed in, words upon words. But then, words can be like water, spilling, flowing, spreading across the page in a shifting stream.

I fell in love with water images a while ago. Photos of sea and sky, beach, pebble, seaweed, waterfalls; the glistening light on water mesmerised me. Perhaps I should try harder at photography with its lenses, glass, transparency. And voids. Words can fill voids.

And then I discovered cave pools in Laos. I stripped off and went into sparkling, pristine water with a baking, morning sun overhead and shadows that cut the shallows with cool. I’ve done this before, I thought, – sacred cenotes in the Yucatan, rainforest rivers in Costa Rica, serpents threading the water beside me, almost alone.

alexi-in-laos-pool-cave-2.jpg

There’s something so precious about swimming in natural, wild places. Water joins up memories like one, giant underground river.

I stumbled on photos of a dancer in water while searching the web. This is of Salma Nathoo, an ecological dance artist taken by Ben Ellis for a ‘Waterdance’ project.

salma-nathoo.jpg

Water, nature and movement, my interests all coming together. Soon, I went out and bought myself an under water camera case. I haven’t used it yet, but watch this space. I have Roger Deakin’s ‘Waterlog’ from the library ready to read and the other day I stumbled on wildswimming.co.uk. It’s a challengue for a feeble swimmer like me.

To get back to words, there’s Alice Oswald’s poetry that I’m just discovering as well. Here’s a quote from ‘Sea Poem’;

What is water in the eyes of water
Loose inquistive fragile anxious
A wave, a winged formsplitting up into sharp glances

What is the sound of water
After the rain stops you can hear the sea
Washing rid of the world’s increasing complexity,
Making it perfect again out of perfect sand….

alexi-in-itchen-for-blog.jpg

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