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Animated Edition - Spring 2002
Roller coaster ride of making and touring dance
Relationships can be stormy and difficult or close and supportive. Erica Stanton and Marion Gough in their work, My Mother My Daughter Myself investigate these intense but compelling relationships and the changing roles of support and dependency. Three years in the making the piece featured participants from two to 65
The joys and frustrations involved in making work are all too familiar. But in this instance, the frustrations seemed to have intensified since our last collaboration in 1997 with dancers Lauren Potter, Sonia Rafferty and Trevor Waldron, composer Phil Scragg and designers Allison Amin and Ross Cameron.

We had made a conscious decision not to create another piece until we had an idea that was of particular significance to our work and lives. Talking one day, we realised that both of us - and our two female dancers - were all mothers of daughters and that our daughters ages ranged from two to 34. We were excited by the idea of exploring these relationships - bringing together mothers and daughters of different ages. And so we invited Amanda Gough in her 30s, Alysoun Tompkins in her 5Os and Hannah, her daughter aged 18, to join us. It would not have proved practical to involve the very young daughters in the demanding rehearsal programme nor in the performances. However, filmmaker Debbie Tiso was able to capture the children with their mothers in workshop sessions and this material was used to create three video excerpts, which were integral to the final work.

The making of My Mother, My Daughter, Myself began, as all projects like this begin, with the struggle to get funding. We decided to apply to the Regional Arts Lottery Programme (RALP). The difficulty of trying to obtain funding for a project cannot be over estimated - the length of time (some three months) and energy spent accumulating drafts to meet the required criteria proved mind boggling. Very little of what appears on application forms has to do with artistic concept and much has to do with finding language which is accessible to non dancers, supported by key sound bites and persuasive statistics. The process feels very much like jumping through hoops. However, officers at South East Arts and London Arts Board gave up an inordinate amount of their time to help us find the right balance in our application. One of the stipulations of the RALP scheme is that the project demonstrates Partnership Funding. This proved another arduous task since hard cash was not easily come by, whereas 'in kind' support (rehearsal and office space) was easier to achieve. We were also unsuccessful in our applications to charitable agencies. However, Linda Jasper, director of South East National Dance Agency identified a link with an Education Action Zone (EAZ) project in Brighton, which enabled us to meet some of the stringent RALP criteria. She also acted as our mentor and gave us invaluable feedback during the making of the work.

Finally, in December 2000 - some three months later - we were awarded Lottery funding. The work could begin. But a directive to cut our budget allocation to our dancers marred our delight - the maximum weekly fee being deemed as £350. We had budgeted for £400 to take account of the fact that our dancers were highly experienced professionals, leaders in the field in fact, and to reflect some of their childcare costs. It seems strange that dancers are the most underpaid and undervalued workers in our business and since our project required them also to be mothers, we re-jigged the budget, cutting corners elsewhere.

The creative process began with a research period which involved looking at literary references about relationships between mothers and daughters. We held a focus group for a number of older women. It was fascinating to share different mother daughter relationships, in some cases very stormy and difficult, in others close and supportive. It was somewhat disconcerting for most of us to recognise how like our mothers we are. Then began a challenging time when we explored ideas about mums with young children during a week's residency in four EAZ primary schools in Brighton. With a different school and a different brief each day we were fortunate to have the support of Brighton based dance artist Anne Colvin who had been preparing each school for our visit. Following an INSET day, which included some of the teachers from the EAZ schools we met Anne to plan movement material based on story tales of journeys and adventures that we could develop on our visits to the schools. We received an extraordinary amount of good will and enthusiasm from teachers who expressed their delight at seeing their children so engrossed in dance. Perhaps our most demanding day was at Whitehawk Primary School, which had the misfortune to be undergoing an OFSTED inspection. The teachers were exhausted but still managed to find time and energy to support us. It was quite an experience to be followed about the school by 'suits' with clipboards but, as often happens, it was the children who came up trumps with one ten year old boy saying that 'dance was much more challenging and exciting than football'. (1)

This was followed by an intensive Arts Week project in Hassocks Infants' School which culminated in two performances by 120 under sevens called Fantastic Mums. For this we enlisted the help of West Sussex based poet Danielle Sensier, who engaged the children in writing their own poetry. The performances involved the children in some of their own choreography using their artwork as props and poetry as links between their dances. It was a life-affirming week in which the power of the arts to engage children in the creative process was as strong as ever, even if the National Curriculum has decreased opportunities for children to spend time in these media.

Undoubtedly the most joyful time was making the work. Devoted to the identity of women as they look back at their mothers and forward to the future of their daughters, we wanted to examine the way in which the female identity is shaped by the complex and often heroic roles which we undertake as mothers and daughters. We had a wonderfully creative time with the dancers exploring these concepts and examining the relationship and the changing roles of support and dependency. We considered the tensions, joys and resilience of these relationships. The collaboration with the designers, filmmaker and composer to shape the final work was a most exhilarating experience.

Throughout the creative process, David Steele - currently head of Advanced Performance Studies at The Place - offered to find venues where the work could be performed and to organise a tour spanning London and the South. We were delighted that someone with David's experience was willing to undertake this role for us. Previously we have had the humiliation of trying to convince programmers that the work was worthy of support and being turned down because it did not fit into their agendas and preconceptions about dance. We have had to combat ageism in dance promoters, who in some cases appear only to value work that is by young 'cutting-edge' choreographers for the same elite audiences and dance fashionistas who are almost an exclusive 'club' with very particular membership requirements. The next hassle we encountered was with a number of arts administrators many of whom did not respond to telephone calls or emails nor put anything in writing. There was also a lack of appreciation that artists need to be appropriately rewarded for their work for them to feel valued. It is distressing and incomprehensible to find that so many people who work in the arts have little sympathy and appreciation of the needs of artists. Little if any advertising is done in some venues. Dance companies are expected to generate their own audiences, particularly if the work is introduced under the community/education banner. The implication being that decision makers have a negative view of the status of the work and its value. Surely, they have a responsibility to support dance artists and to extend and develop audiences for dance.

When touring a new set of problems arose. We were to confront the murky world of 'techies' - another group of underpaid, undervalued professionals who speak a mysterious language! We were accompanied on tour by our lighting designer Ross Cameron and our technician Fay Patterson. Brilliant people who work unstintingly. However, despite their best efforts, we still had problems with technical hitches we even had to lay our own dance floor in one venue because the technicians were not willing to do any overtime. Furthermore, we were not always assisted by house technicians but had casual staff to help us and often it was a miracle that the show went up on time!

But perhaps the most challenging experience came when we were invited to work with the Lilian Baylis Over 60s Performance Group and Year 6 from the Hugh Myddelton Primary School. We met together on three consecutive Friday mornings and shared ideas about childhood, our mothers and what they do. It was gratifying to see the different generations enjoying working together and sensitively sharing ideas and tasks. The teacher, Ray Bushby, was impressed with the care with which the children worked together - boys and girls using touch and weight taking - groups of children and over 60s supporting each other. We had an informal sharing on the final Friday afternoon, which was packed out with students from The Place and the Laban Centre London, parents and relatives of the children and members of an arts group who meet at the Lilian Baylis Theatre.

We believe we achieved our aim to make dance relevant and accessible. The performances, three of which were sold out, were enthusiastically received by audiences aged from three to 90 and many people, some of whom had never seen dance before, spoke of how the work had touched them personally and made them rethink their relationships. One young man went off to telephone his mother.

At the time of writing, we are still awaiting performance fees from two venues three months after invoices were issued. We are sure that our experiences are all too familiar to small and middle scale dance companies. This pitiful state of affairs contributes to the burnout of many talented and experienced choreographers and dancers and forces them out of the field. What is needed is more open acknowledgement of the difficulties involved and a determination by those with influence to improve conditions. Are artists in other art forms treated in this kind of way? It seems astonishing that dance artists find the resilience to keep going.

Would we put ourselves through all this again? ... Probably, when we have summoned enough energy, resources and have a burning desire to develop a new work.

Erica Stanton, co-director, Mothers of Invention Dance Company, choreographer, senior lecturer Roehampton University of Surrey and University College Chichester and Marion Gough, co-director, Mothers of Invention Dance Company, choreographer and dance education consultant. Contact

(1). Year 6 pupil, Whitehawk School, Brighton

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Animated: Spring 2002