I didn’t realise I had so much to say about this until we began this conversation
We’d come to Nottingham, to Dance 4’s new International Centre for Choreography, a space, a place for dance artists of the world, of life, to research, explore, choreograph. We came to make a dance, with nine new girls and five familiar men. A choreography that celebrates their movements, their ways of being, together, their relationship, their presence, them.
Often thought about as the art of making dances, ideas about what choreography is and does are expanding. Some people think about it as the exploration of movement, of experience, the design of patterns and dynamics in the world around us, the movement of people, of bodies and objects, landscape and architecture, eco-systems, political structures, communities.
Beyond the wide windows of the studio we worked in is a park with a playground. In the sky above, drift clouds and birds. On the ground people, adults and children play on swings and slides, turn round about. Down the hill, around the corner, the traffic passes a newsagent, a pub, turns a junction, on to a crossing, a carpet shop, a library, a leisure centre, an outdoor market. And across the way from the clock tower in the square opposite a couple of cafés, an easy stroll from that park full of people and Dance4's new home is Sneinton Market.
Here - as with each time we make Men & Girls Dance - The Talking Place appeared. In a bright white, glass unit trimmed with grey. Alongside other such spaces with open windows on to the world, in a new creative quarter for Nottingham. We’d come here – as we do - to listen, in the hope that folk would come - as they do - to talk. And hour by hour handfuls of people passing by, in ones, in twos, in threes and fours and gaggles, families and friends going about their weekends, wandered in to ask what is this place?
During our weekends here it filled with light, with people, with words. For men and for girls. For dance. For risk, for touch, trust and play. In this place we learnt where local people go to dance at night - the Jam Café, The Lace Market, Rock City, Tilt - and about dance offs between crowds of visiting hens and stags because Nottingham is the place to party. We heard about a big urban dance scene, skate and bike parks, about the Caribbean carnival, the beach in the centre square, where generations gather, to share and relax, enjoy.
Recollections came of Sneinton Market in the sixites. As a social space where adults from all over town would come to meet, talk and hang out. Where children would play - watched by neighbours and strangers, stallholders, whoever happened to be there that day - were held aloft if they went astray, someone would yell, whose is this one?
They’d meet and go up Hockley,
down to Sneinton or come over from St Anne’s
Everyone would socialise on the market,
people wouldn’t spend any money,
they’d just wander about and have a great time
Everyone was equal, all different cultures and mixes of age
Better than a community centre
People came in and spoke about what it means to be physical, the exercise and activities they do for fun. How it makes them feel good, to move, to sweat and to smile. And they spoke about how, what and where, as children and as adults. And as they did, outside boys sped by on their BMX bikes, as folks with lots of shopping walked along with their dogs, window cleaners abseiled, arc, by arc, down the side of a tall building and a man lay asleep, at its foot on a step, in the sun.
We were latch key kids
Spaces, where kids can play outside, it’s a lost art,
It’s a paranoia but that’s built by the papers
Those children are having a very limited existence
People are nervous now, to help anyone, if they fall over,
people are quite wary
They say some children don’t know how to walk on land that’s not level,
they live in a very artificial world
Sneinton kids still play cricket in the street
You just jump around for two hours and you feel better
It’s a time you can let loose with no judgments
I say steady on my feet,
to be loose on my feet….
Do you get a rush when you’re dancing, like when I’m on my bike?
As a child – I was born in Kenya –
you have a dance for everything
We heard thoughtful musings about wrestling with siblings and roughhousing with nephews, then nieces, then worrying what the neighbours at the party might think. And with that came some thoughts about gender and play. About what kind of garment or its colour says for who gets to muck about and get sweaty or messy, charge around and be free.
Not if she’s wearing her dress
Well it’s alright for the boys but not little girls
That’s a pink job
They’d say be careful with her,
What about me!
Then came considerations about different kinds of schools and sorts of schooling – nursery and secondary, infant and junior, Montessori and Steiner, private, public and home - along with anxieties about what’s right and the pressures of exams on the GCSE results day. People shared their philosophies about living and learning and loving young people, precautions and precarities with pride and with joy.
It was a long walk to school
It was probably vital, it was probably the only way I got to relate to other people of my own age
All the parents are on the watch out now
There was a child in a playground stuck up a tree,
I wasn’t sure if I should help
Schools are having to push out the arts
Where are the places where we nurture things now, I’ve gone to look after allotments
They are all beautiful. Brilliant.
I want them to know that
I don’t want to live in a world where I can’t give someone a hug
We watched as stories were spelt out carefully in chalk – here and after the shows - about what it is to dance with men, with someone you love, someone you trust. We listened to tales from teenage years about inhibitions and expectations, isolation and expression. About adolescent bodies called awkward as they grew. And what those things did for being with others and being with self. We heard about loss. How spaces where you feel confident, can go quiet, disappear. How there's a time you silently stop clambering with funny family members, give up going to discos, a time you learn to forget you can fly.
A performance evoking the happiness I felt dancing on my Dad’s feet
I never had anything like that from my Dad,
I’m really glad your doing this,
because some fathers don’t and it’s sad
They laughed when they saw me bopping in my bedroom
and they laughed at parties at school
but, even still now I’m sometimes caught by the grace of how my arm can move through the air
I remember as a child being excited to see my uncle
as he would let me climb all over him
and do rolls and flips by walking up his belly
The only thing that makes me sad
is that I’m not a little girl who can do that
One of the hardest things about the transition from little girl to big girl
was the loss of flight,
I suddenly stopped being able to fly
and feel weightless!!
We remember in Nottingham the knowing nods of passers by. The human traffic and people sitting in circles reading the paper and then sat outside in the sun, chatting over coffee, giving time to listening. We remember people sat on benches in the studio, smiling and breathing, laughing and weeping. Then sat on stools in the foyer saying they were so moved but weren’t sure why.
We remember people talking ideas, as actions, like dances that disappear, having made something new. And we remember people spoke about what encountering the project opened for them. They talked with us about reclaiming language, remembering we can choose our words, choose our dances, how we can choose to make changes by wondering why. We remember our weekends in Nottingham were sometimes cloudy, sometimes grey, with occasional rain and strong breezes, and that they were filled with sunshine, hope and flight.
Friends have told us about how they are looked at when they are with their children
because of being different kinds of couples
- race, sexuality, gender-
if you weren’t here, we’d not have had talked about that
There are thoughts and some feelings
but no words to describe them
Assumption, presumptions, acceptance,
a single story in dangerous
Play allows us to experience
I didn’t realise I had so much to say about this
until we began this conversation
All quotes participants of The Talking Place Nottingham