Street performance is always open to chance: that day it was the risk of rain but also, charmingly, the attention of Saturday shoppers. This was the end of an eight-week journey, a trip full of hitches, hazards and delays, and places to stop where a story could unfurl. SlowMo is a grand experiment, a risky gamble, a proof of process, an exercise in putting your money where your mouth is. SloMo is a brave and generous adventure, open-hearted while being supported by meticulous planning. When the planning broke down opportunistic improvisation leapt to fill in the gaps, like a hard-headed and pragmatic artistic superpower. Let me explain.
The company Instant Dissidence travelled through Europe from Cloughjordan Ecovillage in Ireland, to Limassol, to Stockholm, to Helsingør, Paris, and Bristol. People who had settled in these places sent the company letters talking about their arrival there from elsewhere. The letters were looking forwards, looking back, making links across continents. How fitting it was that the dances started in Cyprus, that maritime crossroads, that convergence of sea lanes, that island where Africa, Asia and Europe face off against one another, there in the middle sea.
SlowMo is a grand experiment, a risky gamble, a proof of process
The company took phrases from the chosen letters to create a word collage. From this they devised choreographies for the five cities in sequence as they travelled towards each one. In these dances, the performers embodied, celebrated, explained the letter writers, the places where events had happened, the routes that led them there, the history of it, dancing the conjunction: the crossroads place where all that stuff could emerge together into coherence. They danced in each city, ending in Bristol.
It’s complicated to explain because there are so many moving parts to this work, not least the choreography which was devised and performed on the move under unpredictable conditions and time limits. All parts of the journey were made by train or public transport in order to have a low environmental impact: the journey from Ireland to Cyprus took twelve days. There was no air travel. Sometimes there was very little sleep. All the while the company was devising, conditioning, rehearsing, editing and working on the next set of dances, and somehow sustaining that heightened state of openness and concentration needed to make something new and fine.
The beginning of a rhythm that starts soft and subtle. The dance begins.
In Bristol we shoppers and invitees on the street chase after our guide from staging place to staging place in the pedestrianised centre: we are looking for the dancers, who are being followed round the streets by an adapted bicycle hauling big speakers in an eco-conscious manner. At one point our guide asks someone with a billboard politely to move on (that person isn’t very happy but none of us are at all sure this isn’t part of the show). We surge through our shopping district like a little demo of the contingent processes that had brought these stories to us. Circles within circles, a moving model of the searching and travelling that engendered the stories to be danced.
We quest along. Ahead there is a clear space among the shoppers, and a person dressed in soft, strong colours. This person looks poised. What will happen here?The big block of speakers is nearby on its bicycle ready to play spoken phrases, or the beginning of a rhythm that starts soft and subtle. The dance begins.
There are four dancers and they appear in different combinations depending on the story being told. Spoken words set it out in fragments. Filling in the gaps, the performers dance tenderness, conflicts, street smarts; in mindscapes of discos, kitchens, factories, streets. They dance meetings and partings, alliances, loneliness, happiness, leaving and coming back. The shapes of the stories appear and dissipate like clouds, melting into the next scenario. When one set of stories finishes we walk along the re-imagined route, to the next re-imagined city, finding the next set of stories.
People stand round the edges of the active space on pavement, first puzzled and curious, then entranced. As we walk from staging to staging through the shoppers the following crowd gets bigger and bigger. The active area, the area where something is shared, where something is going on, where there is a turbulence that might mean change, might mean an active complicity, might mean a sudden insight streaked with empathy, that active area gets bigger and bigger, with more and more people in it.
Filling in the gaps, the performers dance tenderness, conflicts, street smarts; in mindscapes of discos, kitchens, factories, streets.
That area is where the performance pulls the audience in through the heart. Pulls them into witnessing and into a long view of how we are tumbled along our lives by time and chance and place. The project traces routes and meetings through the past and over land. The dances, the touring methodology and the commitment to it, the staging and strategies of engagement, and the general difficulty and contingency of making the work: these lay a path forward into recognition and self-recognition for the audience. The intention is transformative, to extend outward that courtesy of feeling, of knowing, of recognising. Circles expand from circles with unpredictable consequence. That intention is not hidden exactly, but it is heavily implicit in the work and arises from the context of its creation. Instant Dissidence doesn’t name the current circumstance of desperate global immigration driven by war and climate breakdown but that is what underpins this work, and gives it its purpose and its power.
The performers embody the letter writers, but I think the audience is infiltrated by those writers too, though I can’t describe exactly what happened, nor can I exactly understand it. I can recount the steps that led along to it. Were we transformed? What would the result of that look like? The thing that happened watching SlowMo, which I can feel warming me right now in recalling it, is, like a flame, emergent.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Folake Shoga is a Nigerian/British artist living and working in Bristol, using among other things moving image, sculpture and drawing. Folake explores both practice and critique in live art. She writes under the name Osunwunmi, a name that invokes the Yoruba Orisha as an exemplar and as an inspiration.
Instant Dissidence’s SlowMo, an incredible dance travelogue through Bristol’s streets. Beginning at Nelson Street, SlowMo was inspired by the artists’ epic 8-week journey across Europe to Bristol by train, making new content as they travelled inspired by the people and places they met along the way.
All images: Paul Blakemore