The project I'm developing at Rough Mix starts with the idea of walking. This is something I've been thinking about for a while, but it was only with the approach of Rough Mix that I began drawing together source material.
Among the major reference points for me are Thoreau's essay Walking
, W.G.Sebald's book The Rings of Saturn
(as well as Will Self's Sebald-tribute Spurn Head
in his book Walking to Hollywood
), Roger Deakins' Wild Wood
, and Apsley Cherry Garrard's The Worst Journey in the World
. As I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, I've also been gathering together music with walking connections or references - including Eric Satie (who often composed while walking), Schubert's Die Winterreise
("The Winter Journey"). Trying to find ways to tie some of these disparate sources together, I've been experimenting with juxtaposition - here I've been influenced particularly by Robert Rauschenberg's experimentations with this. I was very struck by his comment that he avoided "images that are fixed. You get that, and it is just illustration."
At this stage in a development process I find that I'm often just following a hunch and seeing where it leads. Sometimes this leads to useful discoveries, sometimes not - but nothing is wasted as even discovering that what seemed like a great idea is actually a dead-end is a guide.
Among my dead-ends over the last few days have been an attempt to create two contrasting movement sequences to "Gute Nacht" - the opening song of Die Winterreise
- the two actors I was working with did some great work on the idea, but it became clear that, as Ian Spink observed during the session, "it's hard to compete with Schubert". It took me a day or two to understand what was wrong with what I was trying to do, and then I realised that I was guilty of breaking another of Rauschenberg's statements "If I ever see...cliches of association, I change the picture." I needed to find a way to approach the material more obliquely.
At the end of last week I set four of the performers the task of going for a walk and notating it as they went. I asked them to walk for five minutes in any direction away from Dance Base and to then look for a tree. Once they'd found one, they were to spend five minutes around the tree, noticing details about it and the environs it was in . Once they'd done this, they were to retrace their steps, noticing again the things they had noted on the way. Since then, we've been working with some of the material from these walks, building up parts of the journeys as units of text to work with. At the same time, I've been gathering together some visual materials to counterpoint the text (including some photos that Kirstin Murray took of the rather forlorn ash tree she found, growing into a metal fence).
Today, we began working the texts and some associated movement work, together with the results of assignments given to two other actors. One had prepared a short presentation on The Worst Journey in the World
(Cherry-Garrard's book mentioned above) and another had created a description of Caspar David Friedrich's painting The Wanderer Above the Mist
(a quintessential work of the Romantic period). Tomorrow we'll try to add music to the mix.
One of the ideas of Rough Mix is to create an environment in which people can be more experimental about how they work. This is because taking a new approach to a full-scale project can feel very risky, but Rough Mix gives an opportunity to test ideas and approaches out. I've been approaching the walks material in a much more tangential way than I would usually have done, and am enjoying and learning from the results.