Clod Ensemble movement workshop with osteopath Leon Baugh

As an actor and puppeteer with many years of dance classes behind me, I am greatly interested in how and why my body moves the way it does. This is particularly true when it comes to injuries that impede my movement, and how to both deal with them and prevent future injuries.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to take part in a free workshop on the body and how to keep it moving and performing the way we need it to. The workshop was run by osteopath and former dancer Leon Baugh, and aimed at dancers and other performers for whom movement plays a key part of their work.

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Leon Baugh working with a client

Leon is a qualified osteopath, Anatomy in Motion practitioner, acupuncturist and sports injury massage therapist working in London. Before training as an osteopath he enjoy a career as a professional contemporary dancer, dancing with companies such as the Hofesh Schechter Company, before becoming an Olivier Award winning theatre choreographer.

On a snowy Sunday in early December I made my way into London (the trains were miraculously running), dressed in my usual movement get-up of leggings and baggy top, armed with a water bottle and notebook. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but the following seven hours would turn out to be some of the most useful of my career.

Persistent back pain

About nine years ago I injured my back. I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but over a period of several days a pain started to appear in my lower back and grew worse and worse, until one day I couldn’t move without horrendous painful spasms coursing up my spine. I’ve seen physiotherapists, osteopaths and chiropractors. I’ve tried pilates and swimming. Although each of these things gave me some immediate relief, it never lasted (though I can credit the swimming with improving my mobility and getting me walking again). After two weeks the intense pain had settled down to a persistent dull ache, and I was able to move about more or less as I had done before, with one exception – fear. The pain and immobility had been so terrifying, that ever since then I never made any sort of bending movement without an element of fear that it would happen again.

In more recent years I have injured the cartilage in my left knee playing badminton, and also feel niggles in my right. Perhaps lower back and knee problems are not the best recipe for a life as a puppeteer, but I think it can have some advantages, in that it makes me more aware of how I need to look after and protect my body when I’m working.

I’ve often wondered if the knee issues could be directly related to the original back injury, and through Leon’s workshop I discovered that this could very much be the case. I learnt how, when we suffer an injury, our body adjusts its centre to cope with this. However, long after the injury itself has healed, the body can continue to perceive this off-kilter centre as its true centre. This leaves us with a greatly reduced amount of mobility. Could my body have readjusted its centre when I hurt my back, and when it didn’t revert back to its true centre once my back had healed, could this off-kilter centre have put extra strain on my left knee, making it more susceptible to injury?

Listening to the body

Leon took us through several exercises to tune into our bodies and become aware of any trouble spots. Alongside my work in the theatre I work in communications at a university, which involves sitting at a computer for most of the day. Recently I’ve been very aware of how I’ve almost tuned out my body as I jostle the crowds in the tube, cram onto the train, or sit for hours staring at my computer screen. Leon’s workshop reminded me to listen when my body speaks, and to actively ask it how it’s feeling by taking the time to tune in.

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Leon Baugh

Most of the other participants at the workshop were professional dancers, but the majority of what we covered could be directly applied to working as a puppeteer or other kind of movement practitioner. The warm-ups Leon took us through will be particularly useful, following the basic principle of preparing your body for the work ahead by doing a lower-intensity version of that same activity (for example, if you’re going to be jumping lots in a rehearsal then it makes sense to prepare your knees by doing bends and low-impact jumps). One revelation was to not always bend knees over toes when warming up (shock horror!). You cannot guarantee that in a rehearsal or performance you will land perfectly every time, so you need to prepare your knees for those times when you don’t.

There is so much useful information I took away from the day that I can’t possibly include it all here or I’ll end up writing a book! Suffice to say, that one workshop alone has changed the way I think about my body and its pain, and I can’t thank Leon and the organisers, Clod Ensemble, enough.

This workshop was organised as part of Reboot, Clod Ensemble’s free artist development programme for emerging and established practitioners. The programme provides a space for performers and performance makers, teachers and academics to explore ideas and develop their practice.

 

Images: courtesy of Leon Baugh

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One Good Man scratch performance

I recently had the pleasure of working with a bunch of super-talented and very lovely actors on a project called One Good Man, a piece of devised theatre about protest. Directed by Eloise Lally and Rosa Manzi Reid (of RIAN Dance), the project involved a cast of ten actors, including fellow E15ers Carol Ellis and Dimitris Chimonas.

One Good Man

The work included a mixture of movement and text-based scenes, and involved the input of the whole ensemble in suggesting ideas for devising work, although it was guided and shaped by Eloise and Rosa. Writers Tom Mair and Jack Flanagan penned some of the scenes, exploring different types of protest and what it means to different groups of people.

Along with myself, the cast included: Carol EllisSheetal Kapoor, Greta Wray, Amy Leighton, Suzy Whitefield, Georgina Periam, Kate Austen, Luke Anthony and Dimitris Chimonas.

Research for the project included cast members bringing in protest art and verbatim text, and retelling our own experiences. I joined the project after its initial stage of research and development, as rehearsals were about to start. One piece I brought in, a verbatim account by my sister of the student protests in London several years ago, made it into the scratch performance. She spoke of how her experience of the protest was completely peaceful, yet social media was going bezerk with mentions of smoke bombs and rioting. I remember texting her that day as soon as I saw the reports on the news, checking she was ok and asking her to get the hell out of there. My favourite comment from her account really struck a chord:

The tweets made me realise how negative and easily led people can be. How lies can run round the world before the truth has even got its boots on.

Earlier this month we gave a scratch performance of One Good Man at The Place in London, in a studio belonging to the London Contemporary Dance School. An audience of invited industry professionals provided feedback, which we are hoping to take on board in the future development of this piece.

I loved working collaboratively in this way and with this group of people. With East 15 and Mountview graduates, amongst others, we brought different perspectives into the room, which enriched the process and the resulting work. I can’t wait to get back into the studio.

NCTJ Production Journalism exam

Last Thursday I took my NCTJ Production Journalism exam. I’m studying for the NCTJ Diploma via distance learning, and after putting my studying on hold while at drama school, I recently decided to pick up where I left off. The Production Journalism unit is one of my two optional units, the other being Business of Magazines, and it teaches you the principles and practice of sub-editing.

As a distance learning student living in Putney, I sat my exam at the nearest centre offering that unit, which was Lambeth College. The exam lasted 2 1/2 hours, which I thought would drag terribly, but once I’d got stuck in to the tasks it flew by and I had to step up my rather relaxed pace in order to give myself some checking everything over time at the end!

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While I was preparing for the exam I re-familiarised myself with Indesign by creating some mock magazine spreads. You can see one of the pages I created above, using text from previous blog posts. Unfortunately you can’t see the edges of the page in the jpeg, so it looks like there’s a hell of a lot of white space!

Considerations when creating this spread included:

Fonts/typography: I used a serif font for the main headings and subheadings and a sans serif font for the main body text. I think a sans serif font is easier to read for features, though many magazines do use a serif font for the main body text and sans serif for the headings.

Use of colour: I chose one of the colours in the image (the girl’s cropped trousers) and tried to find a colour similar to this for the main title, subheadings and pull-out quotes. I also used the same colour but knocked back to about 40 per cent for the border around the review. By doing this I hoped to create a theme for the colours so they worked in harmony across the spread.

Breaking up the page: The unit teaches you the importance of breaking up a page to keep the reader’s interest, so I tried to do this by using pull-out quotes, subheadings, placing the image appropriately and laying out the review slightly differently to the main article (placing a white text box on to a coloured box and laying the text out in just one column rather than two).

My practice spread has a very clean and simple layout, which I do like to see in magazines, but I have also come across some rather busy-looking spreads that I love, mainly because of the harmony of the colours, beautiful designs and illustrations, and the skill of the sub in ensuring everything is still clear.

Below are some of my favourite magazines in terms of layout and design (click on the name of each to go to their respective websites – unfortunately the websites don’t always give you a good idea of the hard copy magazines so I would of course encourage you to pick up a printed copy if you can):

Oh Comely magazine

Aesthetica magazine

Elle Decoration

Little White Lies

Please feel free to comment below and share your favourite magazine layouts!

 

Le Corsaire – ballet at the Mayflower

Le Corsaire review for blogMy review of English National Ballet’s performance of Le Corsaire this week at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton. A true delight. I’m not too happy with the headline though. As the reviewer, we don’t write the headline, and though the subs normally do a fantastic job of picking out a phrase from the piece to use as a headline, they haven’t got this one quite right.

Although I do describe the second act as ‘athletic’ and mention the ‘magical mix of athlete and artist that is the beauty of the ballet dancer’, calling the show a ‘mix of athletics and dancing’ is too simplistic. There were no standalone athletics in the ballet. There were athletic elements to the dancing, but I feel that to separate the two in the headline like this misrepresents the piece.

Still, a wonderful evening and my thanks to The Portsmouth News as always for giving me the opportunity to review such brilliant performances!

 

 

Sunday at The Southsea Show

This weekend saw the return of the Southsea Show, revamped and with a vigorous marketing campaign behind it. Heading down to Southsea Common on Sunday, I had only some idea of the wonders that were in store…

Awesome drummers in the carnival parade

Awesome drummers in the carnival parade

After overcoming the first hurdle of trying to get my wrist band on (which really wasn’t that hard), I managed to walk past the beer tent (a ‘wine tent’ would have been a different story), and make my way to the food stalls. Dan Dan the sausage man was very reasonably priced but the others stretched the purse strings just that bit too far.

We wandered into the various tents, admiring home-made jewellery, discussing the fate of Southsea Pier, and giggling at a dog who ran up to every plant at the Southsea Greenhouse stand, sniffed its flowers then proceeded to cock its leg up to urinate, at which point the horrified owner would yank its lead and pull it away for a second before it found the next unsuspecting plant.

In the corner of one tent I discovered the lovely Steve from Joy to Create, who run textile art workshops in Horndean. Only recently returning to needle craft, I’m on the lookout for some good workshops to help me learn new techniques and different ways of working with fabric. We discussed how to recycle old clothes into a funky new bag and he introduced me to free motion sewing, the skill of, in effect, using a sewing machine to draw. This struck me as particularly impressive, so I can’t wait to sign up for a workshop. I don’t actually have a sewing machine yet, but that’s not a problem as they provide all the materials you need at the workshop, along with a homemade lunch.

Colourful costumes in the carnival parade

Colourful costumes in the carnival parade

Two o’clock marked the start of the carnival parade, so we shuffled our way to a spot with a good view and watched as drumming bands, belly dancers and an assortment of intricate and colourful costumes made their way past. One lady in a beautiful elaborate costume with what looked like huge butterfly wings stood her ground against the wind, by now whipping across the common.

Once the parade had passed we headed over to the outdoor theatre area to see my friend the beautiful and talented Leigh Cunningham and co-star perform a rehearsed reading of a scene from One Off Productions’ Present Laughter, by Noel Coward. Both actors fared admirably against the booming music coming from various other tents around them. With mic in one hand and script in the other, they still managed to transport us into the world of the play, and I watched on in delight.

Me and the Boxmouth Theatre dragon

Me and the Boxmouth dragon

After another wander round the tents, this time admiring the handiwork of Tinder Theatre’s cardboard dragon for their new show Boxmouth, we returned to the theatre area via the donkey enclosure, me deliberating whether it was possible to sneak a donkey out past the security guards and keep it for a pet. Common sense prevailed, along with the thought of what the RSPCA would have to say about my plan, and we left the adorable creatures munching grass while the next group of children were hoisted into the saddles.

The next show was The ‘Ouses in Between, a Cop The Needle Music Hall-style performance about the ‘Father of Southsea’, architect Thomas Ellis Owen. Jamie Aspden, Nathalie Gunn and Patric Howe harmonised perfectly and played the comedic touches with perfection. It was a lovely fun piece, and the three performers looked completely at home entertaining an audience.

Sadly I left before the circus show that closed the weekend’s festivities, but the afternoon I’d spent at The Southsea Show had already proven well worth the £8 ticket price. Ways to improve it next year? A discount if you buy a ticket for both the Saturday and Sunday. Oh, and a free glass of wine on entry. Okay, maybe not the last one. It is a family show, after all!

6,000 miles away part 3: Bye

Photo: Bill Cooper

Photo: Bill Cooper

The piece we had admittedly all been waiting for, Guillem’s solo Bye, arrived at last. Choreographed by Mats Ek and set to Beethoven’s last piano sonata, the piece was a delight to watch.

Mats Ek is not only a choreographer, but has also staged productions of various plays in his native Sweden. A former stage director and ballet dancer, he has become a guest choreographer for many of the leading companies in the world. His style is known for conveying the feelings and emotions behind a storyline rather than just the narrative itself.

This style is beautifully apparent in Bye. The choreography bounced from flowing arms and legs to clunky child-like movements, channeling joy mixed with discovery. Guillem’s exuberance and energy filled the stage as she leapt and bounded about, belying her 48 years. This looked like a woman rediscovering freedom, breaking free from the confines of her daily life and revisiting that childlike joy of dancing just for the sheer pleasure of it.

As first the cardigan and then the shoes and socks were removed, I sensed the carefree abandonment of youth, like when you strip off your socks and skip across the slippery stones to paddle in the icy cold river, knowing you’re late for dinner and will surely get a telling off, but just wanting to feel the water run between your toes.

The staging of the piece included a screen the size of a doorway, on which we were first met with Guillem’s eye looking around at us all before the face pulled back. The projected video footage showed Guillem trying to figure her way out to us, a human leg unfolding from around the side as the film Guillem stuck a leg out beyond the parameters of the screen. This use of film in harmony with the physical, tangible dancer delighted the audience.

The ending of the solo saw Guillem put back on the cardigan, socks and shoes and return to the world of the screen, where a curious crowd had by now gathered to watch her dancing antics. As she returned from whence she came, the people seemed accepting and the crowd dispersed as they presumably went back to their daily business. It conjured in my mind images of village life, where everyone knows your business and leaping through the fields would most definitely draw a crowd. Once returned to the flock and what is considered as ‘normal’ behaviour, the interest wanes and you return to routine… until the next time you venture out without your shoes and socks on!