The other day I had the joy of seeing a live performance of Matthew Bourne’s ‘Early Adventures‘ at Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry. Not only was I blown away by the dexterity of the dancers, the cheekiness of the characters and the sheer brilliance of Bourne’s ingenuity, but also by the unique use of starting points and props. The towelography was a high-light!

This blog will look at some sections of the performance and provide some ideas for how you could base some of your own performance exploration and movement on ideas in the show. I will also link the ideas to some theorists and devising approaches.

Let me explain what inspired me……The show begins with ‘Watch with Mother‘ as the title of the first section, thus creating movement based on a time for watching the television with mother, which was part of Bourne’s childhood. We are led through a school playground, living room and street full of playful, awkward, shy, rambunctious  and adorable school children decked out in shorts, pinafores, school ties and highly polished uniform laced-up black shoes. During this section there is a piece where two boys show their friendship and rivalry, all through the use of two scarves. The movement speaks for itself and the idea was so simple, yet so effective.

The next section that really caught my imagination was the section entitled ‘Town and Country‘, based on a high society magazine. In this section we start inside the living room of a wealthy home in the city, complete with maid and butler. The comedic playfulness starts with the simple act of every guest piling their heavy coats onto the patient maid, as she slowly starts to disappear (and we hope she will not give way!) under the growing pile of outer clothes.

The lord and lady of the house then appear with their butler and maid, respectively, to have a bath. Here is where the stunning towelography took place, and had all the audience tickled.

Here is a section:

If you would like to experiment with the use of objects in choreography or be inspired by space, location or characters in a space and time, then here are some ideas you could use:

  • Character work: Grotowski’s ‘Plastic exercises’ – these ideas are taken from Dalcroze and other European methods. These exercises explore oppositional movements of the body – hand circles one way and the elbow in the opposite, and contrasting images – hands accept and legs reject. Exercises explore walking, jumping, rotating, rhythm, posture and unexpected movement (Ref: ‘Towards a Poor Theatre’, Grotowski, 2002. p139-145)
  • A new perspective: Laban’s ‘planes’ or ‘levels’ – this approach to movement allows the body to move in three zone: high (leaping and springing off the ground and reaching above the body), middle/centre (leading with the core and being quite sensual leading from the hips) and deep (low earthy movements directed towards the ground). By exploring these three planes the actor open up new possibilities for movement as Laban says of working on these 3 planes – ‘apart from increasing their mobility, it gave them a new perspective, in particular enjoying the experience, sometimes calling on it to assist in their improvisations.’ (Ref: ‘Laban for All’, Newlove and Dalby, 2004. p57)
  • Working with objects: Complicite’ ‘Language of movement’ – during a devising process Complicite has a couple of exercises to explore the potential of an object, and the potential of an object to inspire and influence movement. Below is what they do:

1. Look at objects and materials you have around you – a ball being bounced, a jumper being dropped, a plastic bag unfurling after being scrunched, a sugar lump dissolving in a glass of water or a match being struck.

2. In groups of three or four, ask your students to carefully observe and then re-create with their bodies the movement of these objects. Encouraging them to be precise and specific. This exercise is not about inventing new movements but about observing and re-creating what they actually saw.

(Ref:Complicite: Developing devising skills‘ which can be downloaded from the Complicite website. Here is the link to the teachers’ devising pack pack.)

If you are interested in the potential of space and movement in it, across it and through it then look further into movement theorist Rudolf Laban, and then Anne Bogart and Peter Brook.