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Flash Review Journal, 7-12: Far Out and Free
Flash Field Trips in the UK Yield Wonders Great and Small

By Colleen Teresa Bartley
Copyright 2001 Colleen Teresa Bartley

LONDON -- Two site-specific dance events took me out of central London last week and were well worth the trip. Protein Dance performed at Wapping Power Station on Saturday June 30, and Apart From The Road, a dance, poetry and film installation opened at Barking Central Library.

Choreographer Rosemary Lee teamed up with film/installation artist Nic Sandiland and poet Chrissie Gittens on a year-long project with children from Marsh Green Primary School, which culminated in the library installation Apart From the Road. Go if you have any interest in collaborative projects, children, or community projects.

The project is part of A-13 Artscape, a unique three-year long project in Barking and Dagenham to bring art to public spaces along the A-13 road that runs through the area, as well as Year of the Artist, a scheme that commissioned artists to make work in unusual settings to emphasize the integral nature of art in everyday life. Marsh Green Primary School is located across from the Ford factory in Dagenham, near the busy A-13 motorway. With the help of East London Dance and the arts officers in Barking and Dagenham, the artists worked with the children over the course of a year to create dances, poems and film which were then built into the library at Barking.

This is no ordinary primary school. Many of the children are refugees, and the school population is very transient. They also have limited access to arts activities. It is significant for the artists to have chosen to work with children who don't have much visibility.

What stands out in this exhibit is the presence and energy of the children -- their bright faces, stories, and voices are tucked away in different areas of the library just waiting to be discovered. Be warned: The movement is raw and the poems and dances are segregated in their themes.

When you get there, youâll find an old-fashioned card catalogue atop a desk which contains poems tucked in between file numbers for books, and a larger standing file cabinet with signs instructing visitors to open the drawers like the "eat me" and "drink me" signs in Alice in Wonderland. Inside the drawers are tiny monitors on which images of curled up sleeping children appear and disappear. Other drawers contain speakers which spout the whispering voices of the children reading their dream poems.

You'll also find a study carrel in which to sit and read a book of wish poems written on curving, swirling lines. On each side of the cubby at eye level are tiny screens with images of individual children running near a fence and tagging the next child. The editing cleverly makes it seem as if the children are on an eternal game of relay. It places them in a context outside of school, in the urban landscape of a city sidewalk. They seem out of place, yet naturally belong there.

There are also microfiche machines which allow visitors to travel through drawings, notes about children who have moved on, and other notes about the process of the project.

A floor to ceiling bookshelf with three monitors tucked between the books features, on one side, a scene of a playground. The children dance across the space, hopping and popping with unbridled abandon. On the other side are three more monitors which show individual children in a school hall performing solo dances, then creeping up close to the camera to write invisible words with their fingers and noses. It is quite stunning to see the young faces fill the screen. You can see them thinking and remembering the next part of the sequence, and behold their joy in getting it right.

A few stunning projections show the children dancing atop a green hillside which spans the length of hanging signs on which they are projected. The children seem to exist in an imaginary place, very different from the urban setting in the other films.

A photographic exhibit documents the process in a small gallery-type space created for the A-13 Artscape project. Photographer Paul Ros has worked with the group throughout the process.

You can browse at your leisure, visit as you like and catch a glimpse of some very special children and the artists that have shaped their stories.

PROTEIN's performance as part of Jerwood 10x8:Stairworks 2001 was a different experience altogether. Set in the bustling restaurant/art gallery of the recently renovated Wapping Power Station, it featured a cast of 10-men performing on a metal stairwell alongside the building that is visible through two large windows inside the space. This highly technical piece was humorous and very challenging.

Luca Silverstrini and Bettina Strickler choreographed the piece on their own company, including Eddie Nixon, Jean Abreu and Robin Dingemans, with additional performers from the Laban Centre London, the Roehampton Institute and in the person of a chef from Wapping Food.

In front of a dinner crowd, the piece began with John Milroy reading a news report about foot and mouth disease from the counter that separated the kitchen from the restaurant. Behind him the staff prepared meals as waiters rushed back and forth. The action then shifted to the area at the far end of the restaurant in front of the door that led to the staircase.

Dressed as a chef and holding a slab of meat, Luca Silvestrini argued with another chef before being abducted through the doorway and into the stairwell by a cast of men clad in white towels. The reason for this remained unclear as it was difficult to hear what the newsreader said about foot and mouth disease.

Stricler and Silvestrini made use of the windows, the seen and the unseen by having the men appear and disappear like rising and falling waves, while lip synching to Vivaldi's ăGloria.ä The entrances and exits of dancers, particularly the way they moved their limbs, was not only beautifully funny but very difficult to accomplish in such an awkward space. One dancer swung in and out of view of the lower window as if on a parallel bar. Others scurried up and down the stairs. It was interesting to have limited sightlines and see only glimpses of the dancers. It gave the illusion that there were hundreds of them back there. They were like a chorus of angels, perfuming in unison and appearing from no where and strangely out of place -- men in bath towels in a stairwell?!

The choreographers also used doors next to the windows which opened into the restaurant. There was no way down except to jump, which is exactly what the main character, Luca, did to escape the half-naked boys who rustled him about in the stairwell. Then he brushed himself off and went back to work. While the meaning remained a bit mysterious, the piece was clever and entertaining.

The piece was commissioned as part of Jerwood10x8: Stairworks by the Womenâs Playhouse Trust for the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, in association with the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, and was guest curated by Siobhan Davies. The series continues with Jamin Vardimon on August 16 and Kristina Page later this summer. Apart from the Road is at Barking Central Library through the end of July.

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