The UK development organisation and membership
body for community and participatory dance
You are here:> Home > Developing Practice > Animated magazine > Searchable archive > Winter 2008 > The mourners' dance: first steps
Animated Edition - Winter 2008
The mourners' dance: first steps
Independent Artist Doran George in a new residency programme at Chisenhale Dance Space deals with the delicate issue of bereavement
Emotional recovery has long been the central concern of my artistic practice. So when Dad died last year I felt sure I'd be up to the job of grieving his death. Yeah I know, 'up to the job!' I still sometimes find myself trying to 'do' bereavement. I thought I was clear about my artistic practice with emotion, but the doing exhausted itself, and me, and as I re-learned how to listen and let myself feel how lost I was, I discovered something new and destabilising: despair, a torturous recognition of the things I could do nothing about, a kind of emotional migraine.

But hang on a minute, having accepted a residency at Chisenhale Dance Space to work with bereavement under their new Interface Programme, aren't I supposed to know what to do? Aren't I supposed to be the expert? The program is designed to create the 'opportunity for an artist to develop their practice through researching its application in a broader context.' My contexts are 'health', looking at bereavement care and 'diverse communities' looking at the social experience of loss.

Ironically it was one of my dialogues with a health care manager who's been implementing programmes with artists that helped me realise my crisis of expertise was perhaps actually more of paradigm shift. I'd assumed that as the artist, I'd be the one teaching health care professionals about creativity, but underneath my how-to of working with emotion I discovered a latent get-over-it, that mirrors the 'identify the illness... find the cure' medical model that's crumbling in the face of many of our major contemporary malaises. The pills aren't working anymore. For some health care professionals this calls for a radical re-thinking of what constitutes health care provision, whereby the whole person's life takes centre stage in place of only the portion that medical science can cope with. My paradigm shift was that facing bereavement is a creative process of the most fundamental nature, because to really grieve can mean allowing yourself to be transformed.

This begs the question, how do I extend the reach of the artist's process as a tool to work with grief. I'm influenced by the contemporary performance tradition that has re-framed the mundane, the pedestrian,collaboration with un-trained performers as having meaning and artistic potency. I like to think of this as a defiance of the separation between community art and high art that's slipped in the back door.

So I'm clear that rather than teach people to do things that they don't know how to, I want to create opportunities for people to do things they already need to. In conversations I've already had with people facing bereavement, the words, the silences, the momentary looks that say so much all seem to carry a tension, expressive of the struggle to accept where the person is with it at that moment. This tension triggers images in my mind, a woman seated at a table trying to reach amilk bottle, she never does. Spilled milk drips over the edge of the table, beneath which a young man dances repetitively to the shrill ring of an alarm clock that's been left going. An older man further back recites dates and fills them in with their significance... the day he first saw her, the day they first kissed, the day they. etc... until the day she died.

The starting point for artistic integrity in the context of bereavement care has to be the individual nature of everyone's own grief. What we do in the context of our lives that reminds us of, or signifies our loss is a kind of grammar of bereavement that has meaning for us, and as such already carries integrity. Our bodies carry dates like somatic secrets that reveal themselves on birthdays, deathdays and other anniversaries. The most mundane action can become highly potent following a loss, every time you make a particular kind of sandwich, hear a certain word, objects and places too become saturated with our emotion. And then there are the rituals we perform, privately and publicly, small and large, things we do that have no purpose outside honoring the person we have lost. We trace our recovery across this grammar. "Wow, I remember how different I felt on ...'s last birthday." These actions we perform are small dances if you will, actions offering themselves up to an arena where performance and bereavement care intersect, where the performer and her witnesses, her audience perhaps, can contemplate the language of loss.

Throughout the residency Doran will be mentored by Rosemary Lee, Mary O'Donnell Fulkserson and Patrice Repar (Arts in Medicine, Univeristy of NewMexico).

Public Events: Workshops at Chisenhale, Reclaiming the Requiem led by Doran George
Satand Sun Feb 16 & 17, Feb 23 & 24 and Mar 1 & 2; Symposium:The Life of the Mourners' Dance March 14th and 15th @ Queen Mary University confirmed Speakers include Mary O'Donnell Fulkerson, Rosemary Lee, Robert Pacitti and Patrice Repar

Doran George is best known for being bricked up for a working day in the Elephant Castle Shopping Center. He researches the physical, emotional, interpersonal, and cultural body. His performance work is funded and presented internationally. He also regularly curates events on critical practice, works as a dancer, is widely published, and teaches in Universities, Art School, and Dance Centres.

The content of this site is proprietary to the Foundation for Community Dance and any access to this site or the use of any content made by any person is expressly subject to these terms:

Unauthorised copying of any material (including artwork) on this site and the reproduction, storage, transmission or the distribution of any content, either in whole or in part and in any medium or format, without the prior written consent of the Foundation for Community Dance and, where appropriate, the author or artist, is not permitted.

Please read our website terms & conditions by clicking here

Animated: Winter 2008