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Animated Edition - Winter 2006
The Bedroom tour
Cornwall-based artist and choreographer Angela Praed on creating and touring dance to people's bedrooms, and the importance of her sense of place and space as an artist within a rural community
It was tipping down with rain when Julie (my sister) and I walked nervously towards Ian's house. I'd asked Julie to come with me to interview Ian because he had sounded a bit 'dodgy' on the phone. We pushed passed the car jacked up onto four bricks, turned into the ill kept garden and immediately spotted the rather large penis painted on the door. It wasn't actually on the door, but on some board behind the shattered glass pane.

Gone too far this time, I thought? Ian swung open the door, barked "hello, come in, come in." It was dusty, it was grim. "So you're going to do some dancing in my bedroom."

He was nervous too. Probably more than us. We began talking. Each potential host for the dance was interviewed to see why they wanted an artwork in their bedroom. I'd had several replies to a newspaper advert and whilst I thought I was sifting it down to five interesting rooms as I sat in front of Ian I realised I was not seeking spaces, I was seeking connection with the people who live in them.

The show - a forty-minute duet - had taken a year to form. Having little funds it was not possible to pay dancers for a sustained rehearsal period. Meeting a day here, a day there, became core to the investigation. The rehearsal period stretched and stretched allowing time and space for ideas and relationships to mature. I had worked with Robert Mennear (a male dancer of twenty years) since he was thirteen but this was the first time Lois Taylor (a female dancer of a few more years) had danced for me. The age difference sparked an immediate chemistry and the choreography progressed naturally.

I used to panic that I wasn't producing new work each season. Now I really do feel happy to take years to make a work and see what a long-term investigation can produce across a variety of media. I prize my relationship with the dancers above all which can only be built with time. There needs to be a high level of trust and intimacy for this work as there is a vulnerability in brokering new relationships with audiences

So, the Bedroom Tour. There was Ian - a retired folk singer; Paul - a teacher and parish councillor; Jaye - a housewife from Bodmin Moor; Jo - a youth worker from Falmouth and The Patnick family - preserve makers from our village. Each host was asked to attend the rehearsal in their bedroom, organise an audience and take part in filmed interviews.

Paul piled up everything, stacked and swamped his living space. He threw the dance work into his tiny bedroom along with a cat and a few anxious friends. A TV hung above the bed, washing tumbled out of every drawer, boxes, gadgets, drum kit, food. I stood in the rain on the pavement and watched this glorious duet, gentle, calm in the upstairs window of his terraced house. Paul was struck by the violence of the work.

Jaye's home was warm and generous. She fed us. There was a dinner party and all the guests praised our efforts. Jo was excited and really nice. Fairy lights, champagne, strawberries, seats for the audience. The dancers liked it there.

The Patnicks watched in silence, asked not to be filmed but were secretly pleased to be part of it (I think). Ian watched alone.

Each host brought a unique reading of the work and the conversations and relationships formed in the homes helped me develop the choreography. The hosts agreed to a series of filmed interviews and with film makers, Laura and David Trevail, many hours were spent debating the work.

One host commented it would be great to spend the night with the work, to bed down with it. This fired my imagination and I set about forming the all night event. The Bed, as it is currently labelled, although I prefer 'We are all the same height lying down' (but this has been a bit long for the marketing) has been shared at Dartington College of Arts and Laban. The audience arrive with sleeping bags, pillows (and other personal items) and invest a whole night with/in the work.

It is intriguing that something so small and personal, developed in my bedroom is now a ten hour durational work in very public environments. The work has been informed by my domestic environment, the homes of others and their reading of the material and finally the wider dance community. It is continually evolving.

It is of course not commercially viable. Most of what I achieve seems to be generally financially suicidal. It sometimes requires me to barter or to call on the affections of others. Partly born out of necessity and partly born out of geographical isolation, I have had to find my own way to work.

Explaining my work with agencies and funding bodies has not been easy. I remember comments such as "why can't you work with professional dancers and hold auditions in London." Why can't you make work for the rural touring circuit "something in a round for a village hall" something that meets "the venues needs" something with "overt social inclusion." I struggle endlessly with the idea of defining product as this predicts outcome and of what "benefit" the product will be!

What has helped to share and clarify this process has been film. It made valid, made concrete the process and has given me a document. It is of course a different medium but one that has complemented the live and pushed my understanding of what dance can offer in our culture. It has enabled me to share what has been a very intimate and personal journey with a much wider audience.

Living and working in Cornwall I am refreshing far from London and perhaps this gives me the space and confidence to experiment knowing my failures will be relatively private. But being here is not about escapism or romance. It's about family and community. I want my children to have the sense of belonging linked to place. Yes they do dance on the beaches were I danced, play in the houses of my childhood and have the security of the extended family linked to the history of place. This has been a bedrock for my life whether I am in Cornwall or living away. I want them to have the same foundation, the same grounding. It has given me the confidence to go my own way.

Angela Praed is a choreographer, film maker and dance artist contact 01872 270939 or cod@praed.fsnet.co.uk

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Animated: Winter 2006