Backstage
Some notes on the production of

'Dance to the Muzik of Time'



'Next' from Capital Arcade 1997/9

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Cromford Mill set


Postcard from Matlock 1907 t

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Bull Running, Stamford

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Newstead Abbey backdrop



Southwell Minster backdrop


Curve study


'Ciao' from Groundhogs

see also notebook 8 for related studies

I wish to compose pictures on canvas, similar to representations on the stage; and farther hope, that they will be tried by the same test, and criticised by the same criterion... I have endeavored to treat my subject as a dramatic writer; my picture is my stage, and men and women my players, who by means of certain actions and gestures are to exhibit a dumb show. William Hogarth from Autobiographical Notes reprinted in Jorg Immendorff's catalogue to 'The Rakes Progress' (pub. Barbican, London, 1995). I was asked to picture 'iconic locations in the East Midlands featuring professional dancers' for this work, commissioned by Arts Council England, East Midlands and supported by the University of Derby.   The idea engaged me because for some time I have been interested in the paradox of still, silent images depicting movement and sound.   Poussin's bacchanals particularly come to mind.   I had in fact referred to his 'Dance to the Music of Time' in my Capital Arcade series.   So the title came to me early on, and once established led me to read Anthony Powell's odyssey which also refers to this painting. Ideas take time to percolate. Using a toy theatre had been in the back of my mind since I had first seen the marvelous Frank Bradley Collection at Pickford's House Museum in Derby.   I started to read around the subject and found 'Toy Theatres of the World', an illustrated history by Peter Baldwin (publisher Zwemmer, London 1992) particularly useful, as is his tiny shop in Covent Garden.   Then by chance my wife found a 'sixties Pollock remake of the 'Redington Large' toy theatre in a charity shop. Designed by John Redington in 1857, the proscenium arch shows Victorian couples in boxes to either side of the stage, with Shakespeare, female charioteers and the masks of Tragedy and Comedy painted on the panel above.   Now that I had a stage I decided to look no further, accepting the discipline of using only one theatre, so that the series would have the continuity of an actual performance.   ' World Theatre: an Illustrated History ' (pub. Michael Joseph, London 1968), Bamber Gascoigne's scholarly account of the history of stagecraft and set design (publisher Michael Joseph, London 1968), confirmed my attraction in the role of visual illusion in theatre. Space is created in theatre through the illusion of vanishing point perspective within framing flats and a proscenium arch.   In Photoshop layers similarly articulate space, acting like transparent cells on which objects can be placed, and moved around like theatre scenery.   Disjuncture is intrinsic to both processes, and the suspension of disbelief.   I intended to emphasise the artificiality of the stage set by shifting viewpoint away from its centre, so that its working mechanisms become visible.   The device of using a model theatre, inhabited by real dancers, would reflect on the illusory nature of both theatrical and digital processes through manipulations of context, space and scale. To speak of 'a picture postcard view' is usually a pejorative assessment.   I have to admit though, that I have always enjoyed the odd painterly quality of tinted postcards from the early part of the twentieth century.   And so I started to collect cards relating to the East Midlands as a way of getting to know the area. I found some with strangely montaged flying figures and bull-baiters. At the same time I read Nikolaus Pevsner's guides to the region's architectural history, and alongside the postcards, started to imagine what these places might be like.  I had an idea of devising an actual route through the region, which also acted as a timeline charting historical events. It would echo the line of development from the medieval pilgrimage, through the C18 Grand Tour, to modern tourism.   A self-imposed rule was that I would not cross my own path.   So I pinned a map to the studio wall, and started marking places and dates.   It began to look like a military campaign. The weather was cold but the sun shone over the two weeks I spent on the road. The planned route worked well and I also visited some additional locations. Over the years I've grown to very much enjoy engaging with the histories and cultures of England, accompanied by my knowledgeable companions, Nikolaus Pevsner and Celia Goto. Back in the studio the location photos were worked with to form backdrop, and the stage sets photographed. I sometimes made radical changes to restore a place to an approximation of its original historical appearance, or to aid the narrative.   By using day-for-night effects I transformed locations, and for the Rutland set created an underwater scene. The Belvoir Castle backdrop is after of a painting Turner made there, though mine is rather more romanticised.   At Cromford Mill I restored two missing floors to the structure, but at Gt. Sturton and Newstead Abbey inflicted damage on the buildings in order to better tell their stories.   At Lincoln Cathedral I use the medieval convention of showing the interior and exterior simultaneously. I also replaced the west window and over painted the whitewash applied at the Reformation.But there was another idea I'd had been thinking about from the beginning, and it was to do with the viability of national histories.   What sense do national histories make in a migratory world and for citizens of differing ethnic and historical origins?   Rather than see history as fixed, might it not be better to think of it as a site of negotiation, a platform for debate, where the relationship between the past and the ever changing present is in constantly rethought?One of the great things about the present day East Midlands is its vibrant diversity of cultures. But there has recently been a backlash against multi-culturalism by some politicians and establishment figures, who campaign for a Museum of Britishness, and promote an oath of allegiance and the saluting of the Union Jack.   A homogenized nation is in my view a dull and dangerously unthinking people. I worked with the breakdancing troupe Groundhogs, Kathak classical dancers Manushi (both from Nottingham), and Bollywood dancers Desi Masti (from Leicester).   The costumes I conceived were deliberately anachronistic, mixing period costumes with contemporary street and club fashions. I made sketches to work out my ideas and show the performers, but we also improvised during the sessions and many of the best ideas came from the dancers, who were wonderfully enthusiastic, humorous, creative and talented. The best part of the year this project has taken was spent in the studio painstakingly combining images.   It is an absorbing process, but to the outside observer mute, as the dialogue is internal to each image. My thanks to Fiona Mitchell-Innes, Tina Browne, Katy Pinnick and Jill Hutton at Arts Council England, East Midlands; Prof. David Manley, Chris Owen and Scott Green at the University of Derby; Denise Stanton for costume research; Atiqa Redman at Leicester Theatre Trust; Retina Dance Company; Stephen Munn and Chaos at Derby Dance; Russell Youth Club, Nottingham; Hetain Patel; Shona Powell at Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham; Vicki and Sarah at The Community Wardrobe, Nottingham; and all the dancers, especially Vina Ladwa and Kali Dass of Manushi, Anand Bhatt and Subhash at Desi Masti and Leo, AJ, Samuel and Junior Bryan of Groundhogs.   Finally, for their interest thanks to Nicole Stanner at Galerie f5.6, Munich; Kyung Hee Whang at Gallery ON, Seoul; Dominique Fiat at Galerie Dominique Fiat, Paris; Susan Zadeh at Eyemazing magazine, Amsterdam; Lee Thomas at Flux magazine, Manchester, and last but not least Celia Goto.

 

 

figation, with a shared stage area at the intersection of the loops.   The backstage workings of the theatre are on public display, occuring as they do in an outer shell which can be viewed through the glass-fronted facade from the street, or engaged with whilst circulating within the building.Curve replaces Leicester Haymarket Theatre, which was known for its outstanding musicals.   Notable productions included Me and My Girl; Follies; Merrily We Roll Along and most recently The Wizard of Oz, directed by Paul Kerryson, who will become co-artistic director of Curve with Kully Thiarai. From the window to the left we see another award winning building, the Masjid Umar mosque, which was completed in 2000 to a design by local architects Kent Porter Warren.   Leicester was once a centre of the textiles industry, and is now celebrated as one of Britain's most multicultural cities, with more than 25% of its population originating from South Asia.