Horniman Museum

After the conference I really needed a brain break. I visited the Horniman Museum and found it delightful despite being filled with screaming children.

My visit reminded me that museum displays are really a lost art. I loved the natural history gallery, not so much for the content but for the authentically art deco way in which it was displayed: lots of 20’s typefaces, carefully handwritten labels and bold geometrical design. There was a lot of care taken to display the taxidermied animals in really beautifully decorative ways as well. I was so enamoured with the design that I found it really jarring when one of the display cases had labels that had obviously been computer-generated.

Along with the old displays they also had some of Polly Morgan’s art taxidermy. I found it interesting and creative but I feel really ambivalent about the use of taxidermy in non-traditional ways. It’s a weird, irrational set of feelings about death that I have yet to parse.

I loved how a bunch of the galleries preserved a slightly random, cluttered Victorian wunderkammer sort of feel to their displays. It really did make you feel like you were walking into someone’s personal collection of interesting stuff. However, there were many times where I felt like I really wanted to know more context about the objects I was looking at, where I felt like I was probably missing some important bit of information that prevented me from really understanding it.

Right now the Horniman has a temporary exhibit on about folk art from Romania, featuring a lot of textiles. I loved the opportunity to really study the patterns and textures, took a lot of pictures and notes.

There was also an exhibit of photos of women from Sierra Leone. The photos were taken around 2007 and included a bit of information about the women and where they were in their lives, conveying the resiliency of people living in poor conditions in the aftermath of civil war. I would be very interested in seeing a new set of photos documenting where they all are now and what’s happened in their lives in the time since the original photos were taken. What has been the impact of Ebola on the lives of all of these women, I wonder?

In translation

Dance UK’s conference went really well. The sad thing about working on an event is that you never fully get the opportunity to experience it like a visitor. I was so focused on my work that I didn’t have the time to really attend the sessions, some of which would have been really interesting to a cultural policy wonk like me.

I may never get over squeeing a little bit internally every time I see some of my work being used. In this case, title slides for all of the presentations, projected all over the place.

A big highlight during the conference for me was a performance by Verve, the postgraduate performance company of Northern School of Contemporary Dance, performing Ocean, choreographed by Jamaal Burkmar. Such an inspiring and moving piece of work.

You can see footage of the whole performance here.

Right on the heels of Dance UK’s conference, I headed to the Nehru Centre to watch one of our interns, Gayathri Rajaji, perform a recital in tribute to her late guru Adyar K Lakshman. I was interested in going because bharatanatyam is a dance form I know absolutely nothing about.

I think it was a beautiful tribute and introduction to the style. I was really impressed by how complex the rhythms were and how much hand-finger-foot-eye coordination was involved.

But what I enjoyed most about the performance was that she took the time to explain the stories that the dances told, making gestures with her hands as she narrated. It meant that while you were watching the dance you could follow along with the story just by watching her hands.

Without that explanation the dance would have still been beautiful and interesting, but my comprehension would have stopped at a purely aesthetic level. As soon as the gestures were explained, the language barrier was broken and the dance communicated so much more, and didn’t feel foreign at all. The key was having that language translated.

I think sometimes I forget that dance is an abstraction of lived experience. This is something that both Jonzi D and Ivan Blackstock expressed in their own ways during the conference, in speaking about hip hop.

 

Take, for example, Jonzi D’s tree. Hip hop’s not my thing. I didn’t see a tree until he explained that this was a tree, and once he did, I saw it. It was there. I think it’s true of any style. Once you move past the abstraction and conventions you find that underneath the dance is communicating something far more universal.

The Future: New Ideas, New Inspirations

The Future New Ideas New Inspirations

A while ago a vortex opened up at work and sucked up all of my time. It’s no easy feat putting on the UK’s largest ever industry-wide conference for dance but I work with some amazing people and I’m confident that it will be awesome.

For those of you who can’t make it to the conference, I hope you can tune in to the livestream online and catch a bit of what we’ve been working on.

During the conference we will be collecting information and comments from viewers so please do join in the conversation on Twitter.