The UK development organisation and membership
body for community and participatory dance
Animated Edition - Autumn 2008
Primary Bank
Rachel Attfield, Creative Projects Manager at Siobhan Davies Dance,relates the journey of an artist's practice with its neighbouring Primary School
In January 2006 Siobhan Davies Dance moved to its new studios in Elephant and Castle, South London, a great achievement for an artist led dance company in the UK. Primarily a residential area, Siobhan Davies Studios was literally placed in the school playground of an inner London school, Charlotte Sharman Primary. In the build up to the re-location, we spent time discussing how these two different organisations could work side by side in a harmonious way and how Siobhan Davies Studios could open up to the local community. These discussions developed into Primary Bank - a year long project aimed specifically for year five pupils at the school.

Primary Bank, made possible by the support of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, brought together collaborative partners from the local area and reached out to the community through a series of open days for all the Charlotte Sharman pupils, INSET days for teachers, open days for additional local schools and various workshops for families.

The project aims were based on Siobhan Davies' choreographic process. She was closely involved in developing the structure and the delivery of the project throughout, thereby ensuring it truly reflected her working practice. The structure of the project was based on:

  • Collaboration - with a number of local arts organisations and artists
  • Creativity - using different stimulus to create choreography
  • Responding to the built and natural local environment
  • Task based, hands on activities - encouraging exploration, observation, decision making and questioning.

Siobhan Davies, Artistic Director of Siobhan Davies Dance describes how she works with her Company dancers: "At the beginning I try to find an idea that in a very particular way will generate movement. Each piece begins with a different bank of ideas and the process and practice of developing those ideas is shared amongst all the collaborative artists. This allows a common beginning to produce very individual responses." It was important to Katherine Duhigg, Project Co-ordinator, myself and the company that this way of thinking and working remained at the core of the project. We were all very clear that the focus of this project was creativity and exploration, allowing the pupils the scope to make their own creative decisions about their work and be given the tools to observe and discuss everybody's work. This in turn enabled them to be reflective about their experiences and allowed them to grow in confidence by discovering that there are no right or wrong answers or solutions to the tasks. The teachers were given an outline of each stage of the project allowing them to thread this creativity into their teaching. "We did not bend dance to fit the curriculum but I believe we animated both the teachers and students to use what they had learnt in dance and to apply it to their other studies."

We were determined to keep choreography and creativity at the heart of what we were doing, whilst using the pupils' response to the local environment as the stimulus. The initial sessions introduced new ways of looking at the movement in the world around them, Taniah one of the Year 5 pupils found this approach enlightening, "I really enjoyed the session, it really taught me that anything could be a move - me sneezing, me writing, even me scratching - anything!" We observed the movement in a selection of film clips, including Koyaanisqatsi featuring music by Phillip Glass and Fischli and Weiss' film The Way Things Go, and learnt through the feedback between all of us. The pupils responded immediately, demonstrating that despite their age they were excited and ready for the journey ahead. "I thought going to the dance studio would be boring but it was fun! I would miss my playtime everyday to do dance." Victor, Year 5 pupil.

Each session was cyclical, beginning with a question which required the pupils to explore through observation and practical tasks, and then to watch and respond to the results of each others' work. Nic Sandiland, external evaluator and freelance artist observed that, "during workshops pupils were taught how to actively observe through questioning presumptions and viewing the familiar from new perspectives". This process gave us a framework for the project, teaching the children how to feedback constructively and learning from their own as well as others comments. The end of the session could therefore act as the beginning of the next, and allow pupils to build up a bank of physical and mental ideas from which each individual could grow and develop through each stage of the project.

Each stage of the project drew in a different artform to demonstrate the choreographic elements key in Siobhan Davies' practice. Art, architecture, sound and creative play were all paramount in offering ways to explore and understand this artistic practice.

The finale was an ambitious performance at the Royal Festival Hall and at Siobhan Davies Studios. With support from artists, the pupils were challenged to choreograph using different spaces around both buildings, to encompass different art forms such as live and recorded sounds from the project, ceramic sculptures and film. This was an opportunity for the pupils to utilise everything we had been exploring for the past year. Siobhan Davies was delighted that throughout Primary Bank, "we worked with the pupils in the same way as I engage with my own company. We listened to, respected and focused their comments and actions. In turn they gave us fresh ideas and perspectives into our thinking." This gave the pupils true ownership over the choreography they had created. They demonstrated their ability to think laterally and to be very capable decision-makers. Each pupil shined and approached the performance with a professional attitude and complete focus. Mrs Kerr, audience member commented on the performance, "I enjoyed the whole thing - the amazing display of movement around the building, they displayed amazing confidence and maturity."

So what do we have now? The memory of an exciting and innovative project and the impact this has had on those involved. The pupils themselves acknowledged how far they had come. "You can do it if you put your mind to it. I think we can be successful in anything we want to do, especially dance." Kizzie, Year 5 pupil.  It has been a journey for everyone involved that has brought immense achievement and a real understanding of choreography and contemporary dance. Leanna, Year 5 pupil commented on her own personal experience of the project, "I thought dance was hip hop and disco dancing but it actually turns out to be everyday life movements and it was much more emotional than I expected it to be." The teachers too have gained from the experience, and can now see the opportunities this approach can provide to support their teaching practices. Steve Brickell, Year 5 teacher stated that, "I am now aware of how dance can enrich the curriculum rather than be delivered in the dry way it currently is within schools. This experience has given us lots of ideas and opportunities to develop."

For Siobhan Davies Dance too this has been an exciting and rewarding project which has given us a seed which we can now nurture. Already this project has given us a building block from which other projects have grown, including two Creative Partnership projects which have demonstrated the capacity for teachers to embrace creativity within their delivery of the curriculum. "It felt good to see that my own practice could be used in a different situation and how a thinking body holds creativity what ever that body's age." Siobhan Davies.

Primary Bank has given us a base for all our creative projects which, in essence, cannot remain static and grows alongside the artistic enquiries of the company. We will continue to be reflective and grapple with the more complex concepts of Siobhan Davies's practice, finding ways to channel these ideas to their core. We will endeavour to discover inspiring ways to convey these ideas through experiential activities that allow for each pupil to have their own response. Primary Bank will continue, as we continue to explore and engage with the creative minds of primary school children allowing them to grow and develop as inventive and confident people.

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Animated: Autumn 2008