The Memory of Movement

Why keep a record of rehearsals, when ultimately it is the performance that matters?

Why make public that which is often necessarily kept behind closed doors?

These (and probably many others) are questions that any account of a creative process must address in some way — and perhaps especially one that puts itself in the public domain using social media.

So, by way of introduction, let me say who I am, what I am doing here, and, what I hope that this blog may be able to do through my participation in it. I am a Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Performance at Queen Mary University of London. I’m neither a dancer, nor in some respects a dance scholar, although dance has often been a major part of my research. I’ll say a bit more about that slightly evasive set of qualifications shortly, suffice to say for now, that my role might be thought of as that of the interested stranger, a curious other who sits to one side, observing, noting, thinking but not intervening. Although much of what I write will inevitably involve an effort to transcribe the detail of what happens, and to try and illuminate the details with my own thoughts and reflections, these will inevitably be partial. I don’t pretend to be about to report on the whole thing. In fact, it’s really only certain details that will follow – those that stand out, those that are curious, anomalous, or revealing – and that, despite their partial nature, might help to give a wider sense of what is going on. Similarly, I’m not going to pretend to be impartial. What you read is inevitably refracted through my own experiences, both in the rehearsals I watch, and those I bring to them.

In writing and thinking about dance, I’m less concerned with the ways in which we might think of it as especially different from other art forms (although in its technique, and some of its modes of expression it may well be). Rather, I am watching it and thinking about it as a theatrical form (live, public, staged) that is meaningful because of what it does, says, shows and affords through movement.

This piece, Jonathan suggested several weeks ago, concerns the memory of movement. It is in part a memory of technique, of steps, sequences, patterns and rhythms that are personal to each of the dancers, but it is also shared amongst them as repertoires, trainings, teachings, and predilections intersect. Part of what this blog, and the videos, photos, and interviews that will contribute to it will be trying to do, is to point out and illuminate these individual and intersecting memories. It will also attend to the memory of movement necessary to making and rehearsing the piece, and to the acts of remembering that serves (and in some respects become) the act of performance, by noting and reflecting on it as it happens.

It is already clear in the process that age serves a certain sort of remembering, evidenced by the timing, effort and awareness in movement of a collective body as much as any individual one. As a curious, not-dancing other, who sits to one side of the rehearsal room, I will be using the blog as a forum in which to try and bear witness to some of this. However, the memory of movement is also what connects dance to the rest of us. The feel of turning, sinking, sliding, spinning or coming to rest are present to all in our own feelings of moving through the world, and in the way that the world of things and others moves and moves with us. Watching dance is a memory of movement elsewhere.



photos: Andrew Lang


Why am I doing this?

Originally posted by Kenneth Tharp on The Place website on 25 June 2014 (link):


Today (25 June 2014), eight and a half years after my swan song, and after nearly seven years working behind a desk, I’m back in the studio… as a dancer. Why am I doing this?

Late last year, I had a lunchtime meeting with Jane Hackett from Sadler’s Wells, who told me about an idea they’d been cooking up at Sadler’s Wells to do a dance project involving older ex-dancers, people like me, who had been professional dancers but were now no longer dancing. I was fascinated by the idea of what that might entail, in the way that one can become fascinated by terrifying insects, and then Jane asked if I would consider being part of it. I smiled. I thought for a brief minute and then said I’d be really interested in giving it a go, if I could make it work with my busy day job at The Place.

Today is the first rehearsal. The reality of that is sinking in and I’m sitting here at my desk in-between one of many meetings, asking myself why am I doing this? Why on earth am I doing this? I think I’m still in denial. It’s been rather a long time since I’ve danced in that way. Nearly seven years in fact, with one small exception. So why put myself in that position again now?

Let me rewind a little.

In December 2005 I had my swan song as a dancer, at The Place, in a season called White Christmas, in which all the walls of the theatre had been painted white. I was dancing a short solo called The Swan, choreographed by Siobhan Davies’ to Saint-Saëns Carnival of the Animals, music known most famously as the accompaniment for Anna Pavlova’s The Dying Swan solo. The costume was normally white, but because of the white walls everywhere, I wore a black shirt and trousers and became a ‘black swan’.

I thought that would be my last fling on stage and then in October 2006 I found myself unexpectedly back in the studio rehearsing Aletta Collins’ Stand By Your Man for a Dance Umbrella Gala Then again in summer 2007, I was invited by choreographer Kim Brandstrup, for whom I’d danced for many years, to take a small supporting role in a short film/installation commissioned by Opera North from Kim and the Brothers Quay, to celebrate Monteverdi’s centenary. Entitled She So Beloved, the work featured Royal Ballet Principal Zenaida Yanowsky, with the music, Monteverdi’s Orfeo, sung by her husband Simon Keenlyside. We had a fabulous few days in a studio in Rotherhithe, where all the costumes for the Royal Ballet’s Tales of Beatrix Potter had been made. We had fun and it was a joy to dance with one of my favourite ballerinas. About a month later I started my role as Chief Executive of The Place.

I didn’t have time to even think about dancing for the next three years, until as part of The Place’s 40th anniversary celebrations in 2010, I agreed to take part in a revival of Victoria Marks’ Dancing to Music, where I found myself on stage with Richard Alston, Eddie Nixon and second year LCDS student Dominic Mitchell-Bennett.

That was the last time I performed on stage. My only steps on to the stage these days are for public speaking, welcoming guests at fundraising events and the like.
So why am I doing this?

I am not entirely sure; it’s easier for me to articulate the reasons why I am not doing it:

• I’m not doing it for the money, or for the sound of applause and I’m certainly not doing it because I have spare time to fill!

So… I suppose I am doing it most of all because I’m curious:

• I’m curious to know whether it will feel alien or familiar to try and behave and think like a dancer after at least seven years
• I’m curious as to which will have withered more with age, my physical instrument and its possibilities, or my ability to learn and remember movement and work creatively with a choreographer
• I’m curious to see how a choreographer and composer will want to work with a group of old has-beens
• I’m curious to know whether in the years of watching, and not doing dance, my knowledge and skills have somehow magically increased
• I’m curious to see how I, along with my fellow brave explorers, will cope with this whole journey, something in me says it will be character building
• And so, I’m waiting to see over the next couple of months what that journey will be about and I appear to be regarding myself as both the scientist and the object of scientific study at the same time.
• And I’m trying to ignore the fact that at the end of this, sometime in September, it will involve stepping on to a stage in front of an audience at Sadler’s Wells

Oh well, here we go….

Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp

Photo information:
Dancer: Kenneth Tharp, London Contemporary Dance Theatre (LCDT)
Photo: Bill Cooper
Work: Three Dances for Trois Gnossiennes (1988)
Choreographer: Christopher Bannerman, LCDT




Quotes from Jonathan Burrows during Friday’s Elders Project rehearsal:

A friend from the theatre once gave me a note about speaking on stage: The audience will hear you, if you want them to hear you, no matter how quietly or loudly you speak. So imagine you’re on that big stage and that you want the audience to see every detail…

I pay my money to watch the dancer actively figure out the thing that they’re meant to be doing (William Forsythe) – that’s it in a nutshell.

You don’t have to show us the installation, you are the installation. (Deborah Hay)

It’s all Matteo and I seem to rehearse: it’s not what the material is, it’s the gap between this thing and the next thing. If it gets too stretched, we lose the logic, we lose the story.


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