Moving Off Stage Symposium Report, September 2020

The Moving Off Stage symposium took place at the University of Chichester on the 12th September 2020. The event was organized by the University’s Dance Department in collaboration with the department’s newly launched ‘Dance Studio Theatre’ initiative – an Arts Council funded venture that aims to promote and develop dance programming and production from under represented groups. Myself and the Dance Studio Theatre producer, Becca Thurston, worked together to compile a programme of talks, workshops and performance that explored a range of approaches to moving and dancing in non-theatre contexts. The event was attended by twenty participants in the studio space and around sixty online participants via Zoom.

A live performance exploring Bharatanatyam and clay pottery from movement artist Vidya Thirunarayan, choreographed by Debbie Fionn Barr

When we first began discussing and planning for this event back in 2019, little did we know what lay in wait for us around the corner. In my opening presentation I commented on where find ourselves now, and how our fields of practice are now in much changed circumstances and reflected on how questions of where and how we move, and with whom have taken on a new meaning and poignancy in these times of restriction.

Whilst the event was not solely about dance and the pandemic per se, during the current Covid-19 crisis and associated lockdown the nature, potential and future direction of movement practices in non-theatre spaces has taken on a new significance for those engaging with this type of work. As we move off stage (and online) questions arise regarding what this work is, what it does, what remains, how we engage with it, what its purpose is, what it might become, and where it might go.

Workshop participants Abi Mortimer and Carrie Whitaker exploring an audio movement score from choreographer Virginia Farman’s ‘Souvenir’ project.

The event initially began life conceived as an informal sharing of practice and ideas stemming from a growing body of work from my colleagues at the University of Chichester dance department, in which their dance and movement practices were moving away from solely staged or proscenium arch environments and towards real-world locations. This work aligned quite nicely with my own research area of site dance practice and theory and from there, the ide to share some of this research was born.

The one-day event incorporated presentations from a range of practitioners and academics from various geographical and disciplinary areas, and included online presentations from Beatrice Jarvis (University of Kingston), Ines Bento Coelho (University College, Cork) Nadra Assaf (Lebanese American University, Byblos) live presentations from Natalie Rowland and Andrea Vassallo (University of Chichester) a workshop presentation and guided audio score from Virginia Farman (University of Chichester) and a live performance exploring Bharatanatyam and clay pottery from movement artist Vidya Thirunarayan, choreographed by Debbie Fionn Barr followed by a question and answer session led by Sarah Whatley (Cdare).

The presentations that spanned across a range of practices and fields. Some explored dance and movement practices ‘off stage’, others responded to an expanded notion of choreographic or movement practice and incorporated moving with materials, long distance walking practice and body-architecture relations encountered in installation art and aerial dance practices.

All of the presentations provoked reflection on the body and its materiality, its movement on and off stage (and on and off screen) and raised questions regarding how, why and where the moving, expressive and responsive body is situated both within the various practices and also in response to them as we received the presentations either in person or at a distance.

As we neared the end of the day, I was heartened and grateful (and quite excited) by the presentations and their articulation of creative responses to the current Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. It gave me assurance that creative work, ideas and thinking does and will continue to evolve into the future and some (quite magical and thought provoking) dance and movement work will continue to be produced due to the creative resilience of the individual artists, scholars and practitioners within our field.

For further information please contact Vicky Hunter at the University of Chichester Dance Department: