Magnetic North Blog
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This year’s Rough Mix (our multi-art form residency) will take place at Perth Theatre from 7–18 January 2019.
We have a great group of artists coming - Lesley Wilson, Diego Bagagal, Rosanna Irvine, Nichola Scrutton, Ailie Robertson, Bob Bennett and Lise Olsen. Find out more about some of them below.
Please join us if you can for a sharing of work at Perth Theatre on Friday 18 January at 6.00pm. Book a free ticket here.
In autumn 2017, I was delighted to be awarded an artist attachment with Magnetic North to develop Deer Dancer, an interdisciplinary project investigating the mimesis of deer, specifically, representations within traditional dance forms.
The attachment has enabled me to take time with my research – a rare opportunity in a production-focused art world – allowing me to follow the seasonal nature of the traditions, guided by the deer. I've made numerous field trips to observe dances, interview practitioners, and learn steps directly from tradition bearers. This has further been informed by experiential research: observing deer in their habitat(s), animal tracking in the Sonora desert and deer stalking at Trees for Life rewilding estate.
In a nutshell, my focus has been to examine how the imitation of deer behaviour within dance constructs ideas of 'wilderness' as the site for the cultivation of hetero-masculinity and, informed by posthumanism and eco-queer methodologies, I have also been exploring aspects of 'technology' and 'costume' as practices that extend the body and expand perception within 'gender performance'. I plan to realise the resulting body of work in two stages, firstly as an audiovisual installation, incorporating music, costumed choreography on film and visual scores, to be exhibited next year, and then, eventually, as a live performance.
Three dances and their wider ecological and mythopoetic contexts form the roots of my research: the Deer Dance of the indigenous Yaqui of Sonora, Mexico, and their Pascua Yaqui descendants in Arizona, USA; the Highland Fling of the Scottish Highlands; and the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance of Staffordshire, England. Each dance is mimetic in some way, with movements that imitate (or are said to imitate) deer behaviour and gesture. Another common feature, is that they are (or were) all traditionally performed by men and, with their displays of muscular strength and athletic endurance, they are all thought to have their origins in (or associations with) hunting ritual practices.
Held during the Easter fiesta, the Yaqui Deer Dance enacts the wilderness world through a series of songs that address the deer. Beginning at dusk and ending at dawn, a graceful and athletic dance unfolds. A single deer dancer becomes the spirit of the animal, emerging as a timid fawn and growing into a virile adult male. Wearing a stag headdress and carrying rattles that represent the front legs, the dancer's gestures imitate the various movements of a white-tailed deer.
Similar antlered headdresses to those worn by the Yaqui were discovered at Star Carr – a Mesolithic site in Yorkshire. Archaeologists have suggested that these red deer frontlets were worn as part of costumes within hunting rituals, allowing the wearer to harness antler effects and gain access to the perspective of the animal-in-action.
This prehistoric practice finds echoes in the ‘modern’ Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, a Staffordshire folk-dance believed to be a memory of a medieval celebration of villagers’ hunting rights in what are today the remains of the Royal Needlewood Forest. Like the Yaqui dance, it is mimetic: six men bearing mounted antlers at shoulder height move together in a parallel walk, and lurch head-on, as if rutting. Other characters include the Hobbyhorse, Bowman, Fool and Maid Marian.
Rutting is also said to have inspired the Scottish Highland Fling, thought by some to have its origins in an ancient warrior’s dance of triumph, imitative of deer. Legend tells of a boy who encountered a stag. When his father asked him to describe what he saw, lacking words, he danced the animal instead, his movements emulating the capering animal, his hands held aloft for antlers. Though there are records of similar mimetic dances, such as black-cock lekking, this origin story for the Fling is disputed, and it is more likely that the dance was invented by a Lowland dance teacher in the 18th century, as a caricature of a 'wild' highland warrior. Whatever its origins, until recently it was the traditional preserve of men and, nowadays it is the classic solo danced at modern competitive dancing events and Highland Games.
Within my research, I have concentrated on exploring the tacit and cultural knowledge embodied within the various deer dance-steps, studying the ways in which deer behaviour and movements are emulated within the choreographies. With gestures that range from iconic imitation to stylized metaphor, I have become particularly interested in how the mimesis of male deer behaviours, from the capering of the fawn, to the bravado and display of the rutting stag, inform a 'performance' of masculinity by male dancers.
The costumes and props also play a significant role, and often, but not always, feature elements of attire made from animal parts, physically extending the body, allowing the dancer to take on attributes of the stag and step into a space between male human and male deer. As traces of hunting rituals, how are these dances to be understood within a contemporary context? What are the implications of these gendered performances in society today?
In an intersection of ecology, gender and class, by bringing together and comparing these practices, I've become acutely aware of the striking relationship between our cultural perceptions of 'wilderness' and ideas of 'masculinity'. For example, in Scotland, deer and the way hunting is practised is central to the degradation of the Caledonian Pinewood ecology. Beginning with a mass cull of predators, in particular wolves, the destruction of habitat through deforestation was followed by a craze for stalking – itself a mimetic performance of vernacular hunting traditions, re-interpreted and distorted into a form of macho display by landowning classes. Across timescales and cultures, it seems our relationship with deer as a totemic and ideologically powerful animal has contributed to a construction of 'wilderness’ as an 'imaginary landscape', setting 'nature' apart from 'culture', often defining and/or impacting 'real' ecologies. Parallel to this, the idea of 'wilderness' itself has been adopted as a site for the cultivation of heroic-hetero-masculinity that appropriates indigenous cultural knowledge. Is it possible to shift our relationship to the world and renegotiate these dichotomies?
I am now at a stage where I am distilling my research and excited to be preparing to go into production. Working with processes of fragmentation and reconstruction, I hope to create a body of work that uproots and plays with deeply cemented nature:culture and gender binaries, embodying alternative ways of becoming-in-the-world through practices of assemblage and connection. So, what happens next? This weekend I will be heading up to the Trees for Life rewilding estate in Dundreggan, to begin work with a choreographer and dramaturg. I don't want to give too much away, but I can say that I am working on a series of debossed visual scores that trace the fall of the deer dancers' feet. Merging animal tracks with dance notation, these scores will form the basis of a choreography that I plan to perform to camera in the guise of different costumed characters, each one a construction of 'aspects' drawn from a male:female gender spectrum and a human:animal spectrum. I also plan to work on an accompanying vocal composition using technology to augment my voice into 'male' and 'stag' pitch ranges... so until then... watch this space and listen out for the bellow!
Our next Space Time retreat will run from 13th-18th March 2019 at Lyth Arts Centre in Caithness and the application process is now open. Experienced artists from any art form are welcome to apply by the deadline of 1pm on Friday 21st December.
Space/Time is a paid creative retreat for experienced artists from all disciplines that asks the question “How does an artist keep developing?”
It aims to refresh participants through a stimulating examination of creativity. During the residency, we will explore how creativity can be nourished and how artists can continue challenging themselves to develop.
The residency combines facilitated dialogue - built around a series of self-generated questions - with time for individual reflection and work. It is led by Nicholas Bone and Alice McGrath.
Magnetic North is looking for young musicians in Glasgow and Edinburgh to be part of our new production, Lost in Music, in March 2019. The musicians will learn a new piece of music and will perform it alongside the professional cast as part of the performances. We are looking for people aged 16-25 who love music and can sing, play an instrument or both. You will be required to commit to take part in two performances and six rehearsal sessions. This is a paid opportunity. Please read the information sheet (link below) before applying.
Deadline for applications Friday 7 December 2018.
For more information and how to apply please download the appropriate information sheet by clicking one of the links below:
Artists and performers can apply now for Rough Mix 2019, our multi-artform creative lab.
ROUGH MIX is a paid multi-artform creative lab for early-stage ideas and practice development. Developed and run by Magnetic North, with this iteration running in partnership with Perth Theatre, Rough Mix is a two-week practical opportunity for artists to try out new ideas or new ways of working. It brings together a small core group of experienced artists from different disciplines – previous participants have included playwrights, composers, choreographers and visual artists - and gives them time to start developing new projects in a supportive and collaborative atmosphere. The artists work with a group of performers and two early-career artists over a two week period before making a work-in-progress showing at the end. There have been 9 editions of Rough Mix already, leading to a wide range of new work.
Applications are accepted in three categories:
- Experienced Artists
- Early-career Artists
For more information about Experienced and Early-career Artist places, please follow this link.
For more information about Performer places, please follow this link.
For more information about Rough Mix, look here.
The closing date for Artists is 1pm UK on Wed 17 Oct, with decisions advised by Fri 26 Oct.
The closing date for Performers is 1pm UK on Wed 24 Oct, with decisions advised by Fri 2 Nov.
Late applications will not be considered.