Fresh from a recent performance at the 2011 incarnation of the Resolution Festival in London new(ish) dance maker Rachel Lawson tells us about her work, plans for the future and making work for more than just one show.
Tell us about your work 'Frugal Feasts'
The work we performed was called 'Frugal Feasts', we started working on it in February of 2010, nearly a year ago, and we had chunks of time including a residency at Clarence Mews. We had our first performance in Hoxton Halls in September and we received a residency and some financial support from them.
We then had a further 3 performances in the autumn to kind of run the piece in and then we had our performance [this month] at Resolution.
It's been a very long, very intensive year developing quite a hard and quite a draining piece and we've also spent a lot of time going back and going back and going back and re-working it.
I started with ideas, basic ideas of playing with size because the other performer [Khyle Eccles] is taller than me so we played with our relative size and our strengths and playing with the very simple idea of pressing and squashing and rolling, very simple tasks. After that began to emerge ideas of conflict and aggression and passive-aggression and sort of care and trust, all those ideas began to emerge.
So in the end we ended up with a work that is actually, in some ways, quite narrative though that was not what we had been focusing on. [Also] it is a male and female couple so a lot of people are reading a relationship story into the work. We're aware that's what people are going to read but we decided at one point that we weren't going to place our focus solely on that.
[So] what we do is stay focused on our very physical ideas and and the stories or narrative that people want to read emerge out of that.How do you turn your ideas into movement?
Well, it was a very slow process, we really did just play. We started playing games and we played those games for a very long time and those games evolved into tasks that were a bit more directed.
Then we just let [those games] settle into a set vocabulary. Some of the sections have remained slightly improvised because we discovered that once we set them we killed the what was interesting in them.
This became very hard because it's the kind of piece that once you start rehearsing it gets cleaned up and what was interesting gets lost. At the same time were obviously trying to set something so that we know what we're doing but also wanting to maintain the interest and the enthusiasm we had for those ideas when we first started.
Is this your first time at Resolution?
No, I did Resolution a few years ago and at that time I made a piece [specifically] for Resolution which was a horribly stressful experience. It's quite a short time to make a piece and there was a lot of focus on this one day and that day didn't go particularly well for me so it was awful (laughs).
This time I felt that we were making the work for ourselves regardless of where and when we were going to perform it and this would be a good opportunity to get it out to a slightly larger audience and obviously it's a lovely venue to perform in. It [also] has a slightly higher profile than some of the other venues we've been performing at.
Do you think it's a bad idea to focus on making work just for Resolution?
I think [that] for me it wasn't useful at all, for some people it may be useful to have that goal to make a work. I mean, I'm always making, I have regular research space but I just found it last time [to be] quite a depressing experience.
I think this time as well we very much enjoyed the opportunity to share work there and didn't feel too pressured because we've had many audiences responses and reviews before so we were fairly confident of what people were going to see.
We aren't banking on this being the definitive experience of this work
Do you feel there is too much emphasis being placed on Resolution, too much work in too short a space of time?
Well I do find that I minimize the number of Resolution performances that I go to because it's quite hard to absorb that amount of information. Obviously you are competing to get your audience in and that's quite hard because people don't have much money, you have to ask them to pay for tickets and it's very hard to nag your friends to come along and do that.
I do think there is value [though] because for people who perhaps otherwise wouldn't make a piece and having this focus, this platform, The Place are quite supportive with the workshops and things they run around [Resolution], there can be quite a lot of benefit to taking part.
How do you inform your work and your movement?
I think I'm still developing my style, most definitely, the last two years I was very lucky to have a lot of opportunities to work and to study choreography abroad. That's been fantastic, I've [studied] a massive range of styles and experience that I can now draw from [for my own work].
I have this belief that I go away and do lots of reading and research and thinking then in the studio I work very instinctively and very physically. I just play these games and complete these tasks. I kind of have a faith that at some point those elements [join] together and unite into an actual piece.
I definitely like working with extremes of physicality and pushing one idea, one physicality to the absolute limit.
But yes, of course, I'm still evolving and I hope to keep evolving and keep learning (laughs)
Do the cuts to funding make you concerned about your future in dance or does it make you more resilient?
A little bit of everything! I think it's good to be aware that it's a very hard time to try to be launching anything especially in London. But being in London has always been hard because there are so many large and very strong companies here, it's not particularly easy for younger artists to get funding opportunities but i think also that i see it as an opportunity.
I'm part of a much wider community of artists, independent dance artists that fund their own work and find many ways to make [work]. This is the time to go away and do my research and do my growth so hopefully at some point when the economy recovers I'll be in a strong position and feel confident to try and get my work out there.
Is your progress as artist dependent on you or is it dependent on the support of producers, theaters and agencies?
It's half of one and half of the other, I have support from mentors that offer me studio space, mentorship and support so I feel like I am very well supported creatively at the moment in London and elsewhere. What I'm lacking at the moment is anyone saying "here's some cash" (laughs).
It's obviously important to build relationships. It has been frustrating for me in that I've felt that sometimes I contact people and they say "I don't know who you are" and they don't necessarily have the time to stop and listen and find out
But [with that] it's also my responsibility to keep making work, keep doing my smaller performances, keep researching and telling people what I'm up to and eventually, at some point, my name and the work I'm doing will start to register.
At that point I can start contacting those directors and those producers. I think it's a question of the long hard slog and working hard and needing to develop myself and also, very slowly, start the climb towards that network of more established dance managers.
Do you try to establish relationships first or make work at use that as a bridge to those relationships?
The strange thing is that I was away so much that this is really the first proper piece that I've made in London that I've wanted to share because the last piece I made was mostly performed abroad.
I do keep in constant contact with the people that I have developed relationships with. Sending them a newsletter, sending them some video links, trying to be as non-bombarding as possible. Then I use opportunities like this show [Resolution] to invite people and say "you've been hearing what I've been up to, now please come and see it".
So yeah, it's a little bit of both.
How do you gauge reaction, do you pay attention to the reviews?
I see reviews as another opinion, a very valid opinion bit I also gather opinions from lots of people. I do this all the time, anyone who came [to previous shows] and I happen to know personally, I email them and ask them to write a few lines. Not necessarily of praise but just feedback, response or reflection to try and gather a fuller selection of responses.
Obviously it's great to have the Resolution reviews but I try not to put all my store on that. We've had an awful lot of feedback and response to work in progress showings so I had a clear idea of the range of opinions and views that people have on the piece before we performed.
I wasn't waiting for what the reviews said to know what people might think.
Is it too easy to become compartmentalised in dance?
I don't really know to be honest. I think what I like about working in the independent dance sector and identifying myself with that group is that, especially with my work at Clarence Mews which is a studio in Hackney where I work as a programmer manager, is I see a lot of incredibly diverse work with people really exploring and really experimenting.
I think that environment and the support of this community of independent artists does allow people not to pop themselves into a box and not get stuck in one style. I imagine that once I become more established it's [going] to be harder to avoid that because you have a responsibility to deliver what the funders have asked of you or what the producers have asked of you, perhaps that's a difficulty I'll come across in the future.
Do you have a long term goal?
I love teaching and I love my work in arts administration [and] I love performing for other people. I also do feel at the moment, this may change, that my work is about growing through my own body so I wouldn't want to make work on ten other people and sit back.
For me it's about me exploring what my physicality can do with maybe one two or three other people.
So I can't really see myself ever settling down with an established company. I think I've enjoyed a range and diversity of work [over the last few years] too much to want to do that.