t is with great pleasure that I am now collaborating professionally with Jonathan the Jester.
Jonathan was European Jester of the Year 1999, Children's Entertainer of the Year 2001, and is proud to be The Official Jester to the City of Salisbury. Described as "winning acclaim all over Europe for his innovative style using traditional props, his show normally features topical jokes thrown in between astonishing feats, using a 7ft unicycle, balancing on a freestanding ladder, juggling with knives or fire and globe walking. While doing this he talks to the audience with a routine which turns modern stereotypes completely on their head and attacks contemporary prejudices (we all have them)." As well as performing, he is heavily involved with youth work. He started Salisbury Community Circus (which performed in the Olympic Park at the Paralympic Games), runs a youth cafe and has recently initiated the Buzz Action Roadshow - a series of events taking place in suburbs or villages enabling and encouraging kids to have a go with various toys (unicycles, diabolos, devil sticks etc) and find that circus magic.
One huge observation i've made over my years working with children around the world is the importance of working with individuals who are at a disadvantage, be it geographically, socio-economically, mentally or physically.
And that is exactly what Jonathan the Jester's newest project the Buzz Action Roadshow is all about - of which I proud to say I am involved with. This project that brings circus skills to isolated areas, villages where there is little to do (much like the one I grew up in) and where children might not have the opportunity to be taken to a town / city, where there are more fun opportunities and activities. It is fully inclusive, meaning no kid is excluded from participating for any reason (unlike a lot of creative activities and events in bigger areas which come along with a hefty price tag).
Now whilst I am grateful that I grew up in a village and spent my childhood outside, playing in cow fields, making rope swings, rolling down hills and jumping in rivers and I hope the growth of technology hasn't stopped this among today's village kids, I still believe in the power of bringing external inspiring figures to these places, to stimulate their minds in new ways, to teach them new skills that can be adapted to different aspects of life and to give them confidence they may be lacking. Sometimes I wonder how my life would be if I had had the opportunity to do all these things I love as a child (I started playing with devil sticks at 19, hula hooping at 25, and juggling at 26). Obviously I don't dwell on this - everything happens for a reason and at the right time in life. I am perfectly happy with the fact that I have finally found my passion and can share it and inspire others through it. But maybe, just maybe, if I had had support from an inspiring figure at a young age who gave me the confidence that I could do a lot more than I thought, then instead of cowering in the background watching on as the 'pretty, popular and sporty girls' were hula hooping and doing the splits, I would have been in the middle of it all with a smile on my face, turning those negative thoughts into positive life-changing affirmations.
I love the warmth I get in seeing kids enjoying themselves whilst bouncing around on stilts, learning a new hoop trick, balancing a ball on their head, and most of all, realising they CAN. They CAN do that thing they didn't think they could, that thing that other people at school can do but they'd never had the chance to try, that thing they see people doing on TV or at the circus. They CAN do something that they didn't know they could do this morning when they woke up. The power of CAN connects to my work in the USA with Starfish Circus - a youth circus education project aptly named so after the famous story of the Starfish-
A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean. “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?,” he asks. “Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.” “But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.” The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.”
When kids know they can do something and they feel like Superman or woman, even if it only lasts a few minutes, it makes a difference.
As part of my globetrotting, I found myself in Leeds where I attended an intensive one-day awareness through movement course, which I won through IdeasTap (great website, check it!).
The workshop was described as offering ‘an introduction to the practise of paying attention to being present. What does it mean to be present, to be aware of ourselves, and how we move? How do we know presence when we see, feel, hear, or sense it?’ This struck a chord with me, as my recent trainings in various somatic studies have helped my awareness to the ‘present’ not only with my movement practise, but in everyday life. I was and am always keen to explore new methodologies regarding ways in which I can be fully present in my physical performances and practises, with the ultimate goal of finding my own approach, enabling me to be a better performance artist.
Teresa Brayshaw is a certified Feldenkrais practisioner, performance artist, director, university lecturer – the list goes on. The focus of this course was on the Feldenkrais Method, of which Teresa is one of the UK’s certified practitioners. I have been interested in Feldenkrais for over a year now, and dabbled in bits and bobs here and there. This unique approach combines ‘movement, breathing and body alignment in a context of mindfulness’. Right up my street!
In a Feldenkrais-based ‘ Awareness Through Movement’ session, participants typically go through a sequence of movements so as to raise their awareness of the body parts involved, this releasing tension and creating new movement possibilities. We started by doing some small, seemingly easy things, which offered us an illustration of movement patterns we have created, which can be unlearned and relearned. For example, we mostly fold our arms with a ‘dominant’ arm in front / on top of the other. So we then tried folding our arms the opposite way to which we usually do. Interestingly, most of us found this quite difficult, because we need to break down the movement sequence we have subconsciously created.
We spent the day working on a few different exercises in ’presence’. My favourite were the more active, drama-type exercises which I shall describe –
Many-layered name-and-concentration game throwing us right into the present moment – This game had three parts which were finally all combined together. Part one involved someone saying someone else’s name, this person saying someone else’s and so on, until we reached person one again. Then we kept this pattern and repeated it over and over.
Part two involved walking to someone and taking their place. Before we arrived in this person’s spot, they had to already be on their way to the next person in the sequence (which is a completely different sequence to that in part 1). We repeated this over and over until we could do it with ease at which point we then incorporated part 1.
Part three involved tennis balls. A tennis ball was thrown around the circle sticking to a specific pattern (again, completely different to before). Eye-contact is super important here, and once there was a ’flow’, another ball (or even 2 more) we introduced. Finally, we combined this with both parts 1 and 2. The immense concentration and focus required means that you cannot be anywhere else except the present moment, with awareness of all the people around you whom you are sharing a space with.
The magical-stick-exercise – This was high up in the wow-factor of amazing drama-based exercises. In pairs we held a bamboo stick (about one foot long) between the tips of the right finger’s of our right hands. We took it in turns leading, being lead, or we shared the leading/ being lead. Moving around the space and relaxing into the task, we then played with eye contact. We moved our eyeline to the point where our finger met the stick, to the eyes of our partner, away from our activity, and finally, we explored both leading and being lead with our eyes closed. We did this exercise for a while, really feeling it, being in the present (if you lose concentration you will drop the stick). Then we progressed to the part of the exercise where you remove the stick but act as though it is still there.
The stick activity lead to some interesting observations. I realised that we can take whatever we want from an exercise. If, using Teresa’s expression, we have our ’director’s heads on’ then we will be looking for meaning created through the movements, facial expressions, use of space and so on. Or, we could use this exercise as a bonding exercise – it will feel entirely different doing the same exercise with a different person- to strengthen the ties between two co-performers. Teresa mentioned that this activity is sometimes done by actors who are rehearsing a script together, so they are taking the focus away from the words and multi-tasking. Eventually the way they move with the stick will complement the words and subconsciously a movement-piece will have been created.
I became much more aware of my body and felt a very ’awake’ internal energy. In fact, a 15 minute ATM exercise made me feel similar to a one hour yoga session, yet with ATM we do no physical exercise. After one exercise involving focusing on our right foot, I walked around the room as though my foot belonged to someone else. It felt so foreign to me, because I was AWARE of it – aware of every single bit of tough skin, of the sensation of every part of my foot as it made contact with the groung. I am keen to attend more Feldenkrais workshops – aparently the German football team were trained in Feldenkrais (and yes, they ended up winning the World Cup!) – for increased body awareness and for the freedom of movement it opened for me.
A very interesting day and nice to spend a bit of time in Leeds!
It was a sunny but cold Saturday in December when I made my way to Zen Bar in Senta, Serbia, to play at an International Jam Night organised by a dear friend.
It was here I met some fascinating people, who filled me with inspiration and ideas on various things, but most particularly how to combine elements of music and movement.
Dimitris and Dafne are a beautiful young Greek couple who travel around playing music, together and solo. Equipped with a bazouki, guitar, saxophone, a very elaborate sock puppet and an impressive string puppet (both hand made), these guys were interesting, creative people on a musical mission with no boundaries.
Dimitris, from Athens, describes his 'One Man's Noise Project' as follows-
"I do acoustic concerts in houses, squats, open places, stairways, tunnels or any crazy place. What we do mostly is make a big circle and do some singing, music games with improvisation, all together. I worked a lot on preparing 1hour - 1half set of singing-rhythm games/ songs/ theater/ puppets/ stories.. And after that we can jam all together."
When I first read the above description on the facebook event page, I was excited to meet D. Of all my musical experiences, I have never met anyone who offers such an interactive approach. Being a drama teacher I loved this idea of getting the audience involved in the musical magic through the games - which in my opinion would help the audience appreciate the music more because they are a part of it, as well as act as a bonding session, bringing us all together as one through music, with no distinction between 'musician' and 'audience'.
Through our chats, sharing of stories, and generally just 'being', I quickly got a lot of positive energy from the two of them
As well as their huge passion for music, people and sharing, their determination to live for what they love shone through and inspired me to keep on following my heart.
I took some very interesting things from this duo.
I discovered that whenever Dimitris meets new people, he asks them to sing him their favourite song and Dimitris will take from this what he pleases.
I love this element of showing an interest in someone, encouraging strangers to share something personal and something which could contain numerous stories. It also offers
many outlets of creativity, as each individual is offering their 'story' through song, which could be turned into a new medium.
Whichever country Dimitris goes to (with or without the lovely Dafne), he will learn traditional music specific to his surroundings. I love this element of caring and learning. His
desire to learn as much as he can about every place he travels to, through their music, is fascinating. In fact, a lot of his set consisted of 'island songs' traditional to a
specific Greek island where he once resided for a year. This willingness to discover through music is interesting and also inspired me to start brushing up on my English folk songs.
I was most inspired by how Dimitris managed to combine music with movement. Not just through the obvious sense of traveling the world (in just a couple of months he has been to and
performed in Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Holland, England, Germany and Ghana! But through his interactive musical storytelling.
Before their set he asked if, with my drama background, I would join in a part of his set, which consisted of a musical story. I would be the storyteller and could tell the story (which he
first told me) however I wanted, provided I got the audience to join in with specific actions. It was nice story, about the sky being too low, and all the individuals of a certain village were
encouraged to push the sky up with staffs, resulting in what we now refer to as 'stars' in the sky. Whilst telling the story, Dimitris would offer his interpretation / accompaniment through the
This idea of audience interaction combined with music, movement and storytelling was so inspiring to me. I will now start exploring 'musical stories' - I think there is a lot of freedom
to just telling a story, rather than thinking too much about 'lyrics' and whether words 'fit' or 'rhyme'.
One of my missions is to combine all my interests into one (music, theatre, dance and circus) and Dimitris gave me plenty of ideas.
I look forward to meeting these wonderful musical masterminds one day very soon!
French Adrien Gaume is un vrai artist, a self-titled 'nomadic choreographer and butoka performer' he stopped in Budapest en route to Istanbul to give a weekend workshop in Butoh. He feeds his creative process through ‘Life Art Process’ and sophrology and his nomadic style is seen in that his workshops are usually outside, where nature allows us to be more still and focused.
An impro-butoh session consists of physical tuning through Do-In, Pilates, Body Weather, Jinen Butoh & Life Art Process methods. Followed by guided improvisation work and exploration.
The main idea I took from this workshop was the variety of different tools one can use as a guide /stimulus/ path to movement improvisation. We explored spatial, bodily, verbal, facial and sensory means of stimuli for movement. Below are a variety of exercises taken from the workshop.
’Pulp’ – the concept of focusing on and feeling sensations through our fingertips (our 'pulp') which can be used a stimulus for movement. We explored this pulp by touching another persons fingertips against ours. I saw and felt this as more of an energy, a flow or current that would come through my fingers from one of my partners and rush through my body triggering movement. Adrien was constantly telling us to balance the giving and receiving, which I understood as a balance in energies, and also that neither was following another, but we were moving together. I found I could really tune into these energies and with Adrien's directions to ’open our spines’ and move with these sensations I felt I could move very freely and relaxed , especially from my waist above. We then took the sensation we experienced and recreated it with our own ’pulp’ , found either through contact with a wall or floor, or the air. We were made to contemplate what the pulp brings to us? What stories does it tell?
Masks – we spent one minute molding our faces into a mask, representative of the ’now’. As usual we were encouraged to not think but to simply follow the movements and impulses.
Sounds – we made a sound, any sound, and asked ourselves what information does this sound give me? What story does it tell? How can I follow this with movement?
Impulses from others – a standard contact improvisation activity in which students move through space – in this case we ’walked normally’ and ’focused on our walk’, and when we touched someone in any place, this initiated in them an impulse for movement.
Spacial - Our instruction was to be directed (like a magnet) to a spot in the space (on a wall, cieling, floor, other person), and to focus on this spot, before we felt the force to move to a new spot. After familiarising ourselves with each spot we were drawn to, we were asked what they represent? They could have been places, people,emotions, or something more abstract. From this information how do we then move as we go to / leave each spot? What stories does this create?
Verbal - In our own languages we used flow of consciousness to tell a story, any story, without pausing and then move with it, using the verbal as an impulse.
Playfulness was something we also explored. On the Sunday morning, before the workshop had officially started, we were each presented with a collection of magnetic balls, which we immediately engrossed ourselves with, as we played around creating different shapes and playing with various possibilities. After about ten minutes we then took this energy and used the space as a 'playground', as we sculpted the other participants around us to suit our own playground reality, with the help from various objects and props, again, creating stories. After playing and exploring this ’playground’ for a long time, we then took what it meant to us and put it into a dance within a very restrictive space.
Adrien emphasised the notions of NOT THINKING (which many masters I have studied from in the past have also said) in order to find our true movement, portraying our own, personal narratives,unique to our individual selves. He also stressed how the stories and movements should have beginnings, middles and ends, as precisely as possible.
A very inspiring person and a very enjoyable weekend. :)