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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Highly visible in the making
Animated, Summer 2001. During the Second World War Plymouth was heavily bombed and the old heart of the city destroyed. Post war planners and architects rebuilt it incorporating a radical use of lines and grid structures. Armada Way, a wide pedestrian area flanked by shops and retail outlets slices through the centre, reaching out towards the sea. Manmade waterways pervade the landscape interspersed with babbling brooks, fountains and small pools. And a series of curved and circular walkways, sitting areas and planted spaces, soften the rigid linear cityscape. This was to form the backdrop of Lois Taylor's latest work

Like most city centers, the fountains are blocked and spurt sadly. As you gaze dreamily into the ornamental pools, fag butts and bloated carrier bags stare back. Cider bottles and lager cans congregate by benches. Yet, the sound of running water and the colour and foliage of springtime is soothing in the urban rush. The open spaces and ample seating invite people to gather, to take time out - creating a living, impromptu, interactive studio come stage, perfect to explore the creative process.

It seems a far cry, from the comfort of our office when several months earlier, sitting watching fishermen unload their boats, listening to the screeching gulls, I began daydreaming. Languishing in the notion of a fantasy project - one which would allow me to take part in a creative process and enable me to indulge in a little artistic development along the way - but which would not incur the responsibility or indeed the need for an end product or the use of a traditional performance space. A project (or even projects) that would evolve and capitalise on local environments - the streets, shopping centres or perhaps Cornwall's awe-inspiring Eden project.

A simple, unambitious fantasy you may think, but one which had eluded me. I needed a change, an opportunity to work in a new environment. I wanted to work close to home, to seek some solace from touring and long night drives after a show so I could have breakfast with my seven-year-old and chat about the finer points of dinosaurs. But I also yearned to realize a long held desire to find a way of opening up to a wider public the process of making work - to find a more immediate way of connecting, of sharing my love of and energy for dance with anyone who may want to (and even those who may not). I knew it would be a far more interesting journey than just showing a finished piece, probably because it is so honest and vulnerable. But how do you open up a process, retain its visibility without jeopardising it at the same time? Put it on the street and invite people in maybe?

Gripped by this need Highly Visible evolved - a film project which had as its basis taking and sharing and which used dance, Plymouth city centre and the energy and inspiration of the moment. It had two central aims, the first, for a choreographer and filmmaker to explore the landscape, street furniture and human interaction through movement. (This then formed the raw material for the film, to be screened in shop windows and city centre locations at the end of the project.) And the second, to make the creative process visible, open and accessible to those who wished to engage with it.

So in liaison with Plymouth City Council, we arranged stopwatch sessions, in which we named a time and place to find us at work in the city centre. This was advertised through local papers, dance agencies and regional TV and was a way of inviting people in to observe the process of dance and film being made, to ask questions and very often participate. Most importantly we placed 80 percent of our creative exploration onto the street for all to see and the dancers, filmmaker, cameraman and I took time to talk, explain and foster the interest of those watching or asking questions. Also, with the support of the Barbican Theatre, we opened up a company class free of charge, attracting dancers from around the Southwest, students home from college for the holidays and an artist interested in sketching the dancers in action.

Working with film is a new direction for me. It has enabled me to contribute to but not lead on the finished product. Being new to the medium and uninformed about the process, its limits and possibilities, made the selection of a filmmaker rather like probing into outer space. I was looking for someone who would not merely record my choreography from interesting angles, but who would use the choreographic elements I had developed in the making of the film, take them to a place I had not envisaged, beyond what I may have imagined possible. I felt it important to be excited by their work. Kayla Parker seemed to be the right woman - an artist and animator with an international reputation - who has toured worldwide with film festivals and arts programmes and has featured on television in Europe, Australia and North America. Her short films, Cage of Flame and Sunset Strip, have been awarded Arts Council/Channel 4 Animate Awards. I was attracted to her creativity, vivid sense of colour and manipulation of the film itself, to her unsentimental yet sensitive approach to her subject matter and her experience and obvious interest in dance and the moving body.

Together we worked with cameraman Stuart Moore and dancers Amanda Banks and Jun Morii, selected for their compatibility of inner energy and contrast of physical appearance. In fact, during the process they became very much like two halves of one moving being.

A month had been scheduled, spanning March and April, to work with the dancers. Prior to that, Kayla and I had spent three days together, walking through Plymouth, sharing ideas and responses to spaces. This afforded us with a crucial insight into one another's thoughts and an opportunity to map out a vision for our working process. We were able to put down clear markers as to what would and would not be possible in the time whilst leaving open as many doors as possible.

Concurrently I decided to use Highly Visible as a catalyst for a dance module on improvisation in unusual locations, which I tutor on as part of the B.TEC Performing Arts Course at St Austell College. Together Kayla, Stuart and I explored ideas through the students, improvising and filming material in Plymouth. This was not only an exciting and informative process for the students but an illuminating one for Kayla and me as a first sharing of our working processes.

The beauty of this project for me personally was being afforded an opportunity to contribute to someone else's creative process and not lead it through to the finished product. It enabled me to offer clear movement ideas that could then be manipulated in many directions, but there was no necessity to imply the direction.

The first week of devising with the dancers was a time to get to know one another, for me to get a feel or sense of the relationship between Amanda and Jun and how best to use it. I set some movement and from complex sequences, we created together, improvising to loose, simple ideas, which we took out onto the streets immediately. Armada Way rapidly felt a familiar space to be working in. By Friday, we shared the ideas with Kayla and Stuart, which they filmed.

Over the next two weeks we fell into a cycle of class for the dancers, followed by creative exploration and development of movement material and then devising on the streets for three to five hours battling with bitterly cold sub normal temperatures, driving wind and an occasional hail storm. Let me transport you back to Armada Way, with its circular landscaping and heavy footfall of shoppers and workers plodding in regular upright symmetry. So many feet and so many steps in a day... the waiting, lunch breaks, meeting places, the moving masses being squeezed into the confines of a tunnel, providing a wealth of physical, visual and sensory things to play with. During this time, we shared ideas, we filmed, we found opportunities to sit down together and look at the work.

As we experimented, we built up a library of ideas and recurring images, some of which were transferred to a variety of spaces and some remaining unique to their location.

You cannot book a bench or an escalator, so the pace of working was much less in our control than in a studio. In the final week Kayla focused on gathering the images she wanted in the film. This proved a slower, more considered process than the initial filming and much of it was spent looking up at the sky willing a dark cloud to move over so we had the right light. We gathered close detail shots and broad movement phrases, experimented with pixilation techniques, use of shadow on water and reflections in windows ... creating a physical journey down the centre of Plymouth from the very real to the surreal.

It was of course the Easter holidays and even the rampaging foot and mouth epidemic did not seem to deter the many young people in town. As they congregated in groups, we began to get quite a following. They were genuinely excited by the radical way, in which the dancers were using the space. Rather ironically, the most popular place for them to skate board and roller blade is the large open space dominated by signs telling them not to do it. Somehow, they feel that the space asks to be used in that way so I think they enjoyed the freedom that the dancers had and the boundaries, they were breaking in response to city centre spaces, perhaps even saw the potential of the confines of a tunnel; the height of a wall or the sun-baked paving stone.

We became a familiar sight in the city and provided a new way of looking at it. The dancers' interaction with the locations engaged people and the sight of a film camera acted as a magnet. I was amazed at the tolerance and interest of the public as they witnessed what they could have perceived as bizarre happenings around them.

I will shortly be looking at and feeding back into the film as it is developed and edited, but my personal contribution is over. I have let go of the conclusion of this project to someone else and it feels good... like a pebble that causes ripples, though I cannot control the wave that may hit the shore. A languid daydream which briefly captured the centre of Plymouth, and those who passed through it, in its own particular creative mesh.

Lois Taylor. Artistic Director, Attic Dance. Contact +44 (0)1752 252510 Email info@atticdance.org.uk

Inner City was screened in late May on TVs in shop windows throughout the city. It will also be seen at the Plymouth Arts Centre and the Barbican Theatre, pushing the boundaries with city centre users still further.

Supported by South West Media Development Agency, Theatre Royal, the Barbican Theatre and Plymouth City Council.

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001