We've just finished our week of R&D on Return, working on the beach at Dunraven Bay. It's been a week of seeking, foraging, exploring, wind, sun, rain, and the constant roaring of the tide. We found an entire tree washed up as driftwood and gave it new life by planting it on the beach, we made installations in rockpools, danced on windswept cliffs, built a loom out of driftwood, and enjoyed the splendid isolation of the site - no mobile signal,wifi, or shops makes for a perfect space for reflection and experimentation.
The aim of the week was to explore possible sites for performance and to experiment with what that performance might be and how the audience might experience it. We began with a tour of the site from local Ranger Paul Lock, who generously shared his extensive knowledge of the site, from its geology to its human history of habitation. We each spent many hours walking the site, interrogating areas, and placing objects and bodies . We are interested in the macro and the micro; the site has huge and imposing cliffs, dating back over 150 million years, coupled with tiny rockpools (themselves remnants of the cliffs, and signifiers of the passing of time and the change wrought by the tide), and individual stones crammed with fossilised wildlife. Then there are the birds - a loud chorus in the mornings! The sea, a constant roar, and the layers of civilisation found on the cliff, from an iron age hillfort to the foundations of a Victorian house and walled garden.
Some of the ideas we'd had prior to our visit were thrown out straight away - our intention to place a piano on the beach and explore the sound as it weathered through contact with the tide quickly seemed like madness when confronted with the ferocity of the sea at high tide. Other ideas stayed and were developed in the context of the site: weaving is present in the original source material of the Odyssey, as Penelope weaves and unpicks a shroud for her father - weaving became a theme, as we found shreds of fleece scattered across the site, and experimented with threads reaching out to sea, wrapping around trees in a ritual dance, and working a homemade loom. A section of the cliffs form the shape of a face, and we made offerings to this guardian of the sea, a presence continously looking out for the return of the ships. Against the backdrop of the epic cliffs, we created miniature versions in the rockpools, a tiny coracle set adrift, watched from the house on the hill. The discovery of a rope anchored into the sand led to the creation of a clock face made of stones, and a woman tied, going round in circles, marking the passage of time. The ghostly Blue Lady became a presence as we discovered a perfect costume and created a series of vignettes of women looking out to sea.
We wanted to work primarily with found and natural materials, and during the course of the week the sea brought us many gifts which inspired installations and moments of action - our driftwood tree (thanks to everyone who helped carry it over the rocks and up onto the cliff!), the anchored rope in the sand, and even a starfish.
Sound is always a challenge in an outdoor space, and we tested ideas for headphones and discussed how we might make these work in the context of the story, weighing up the benefits of isolation for audience members, with the experience of hearing and feeling the site. We are interested in augmenting the weather using sensors, with sun and wind influencing the sound score, and text being layered and perspectives shifted to give a sense of timelessness.
There are so many layers of stories on the site, and we want to acknowledge that, and to add the stories we've collected from our visit to the barracks, and the myth of Penelope and Odysseus. We are trying to create a performance in which the mythological sits alongside and echoes real lived emotions of waiting for a loved one to return from war, intermingled with the history of the site and the modern occupants - the dogwalkers and sunseekers who will undoubtedly become part of the performance through their presence and curiosity. Through our explorations we have clear ideas now of the basic structure of the performance, the costumes, and which parts of the site we want to use. We have a suggestion of what it might sound like, and we have begun thinking about access and infrastructure.
We completed the week with a sharing to a small audience, who helped us explore possible journeys through the site and tested some of our ideas for gentle audience interaction. Thanks to everyone who came and shared their thoughts and impressions of the site and our responses to it. We are also very grateful for the support of Waleslab in helping us to realise our ideas and to dream of what seemed impossible, and to the rangers at the Glamorgan Heritage Centre for making us feel so welcome and putting up with our somewhat bizarre exploits, and to the regular beachgoers who shared their smiles and stories with us.
Now we have plenty of thinking and reflection to do, making sense of our notebooks and photographs, and developing the story we want to tell. We are interested in discovering more lived experiences of being a military child or spouse, and we hope to connect with the local military community at St Athan. We would love to hear from anyone who has experienced a partner or parent being away at war, and in time, we'll be developing this aspect of the piece through workshops and conversations, and the opportunity to be involved in what we are making. If you'd like to get in touch, or find out more about the project, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading!
Alison (on behalf of Bread & Goose)
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