Please Do Touch continues the journey that Sally, Rachel and Lisa embarked upon in Body of Knowledge - the first phase of this project. Please Do Touch is a specially commissioned performance in which Sally, Rachel and Lisa inhabit Leicester’s New Walk Museum and Art Gallery. Drawing upon past experiences, movement and conversation, they consider how embodied memory can be as resonant and as rich in history as the exhibits on display in the galleries. A series of evolving performance encounters takes place between the performers and audience throughout the different gallery spaces. This new work aims to provoke the personal memories of the audience as we recall and share our own histories through movement, spoken and sung choreographic responses.
Performances: Sunday 1st and Saturday 2nd December 2018, 1.30 - 3.30pm
Please Do Touch is produced by Dance4 in partnership with Leicester New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, De Montfort University and Leeds Beckett University. Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
As part of our engagement with the audience and to support their engagement with Please Do Touch, we posed some questions:
1. When you think of an ‘archive’, what springs to mind? (Perhaps you think of old dusty boxes full of historical manuscripts stored in a museum basement, or perhaps you think of documents that are rarely seen by the public and that need to be handled wearing white gloves. But, however you think about an archive, it probably involves things you can hold - tangible objects – such as newspapers, photographs, programmes and video tapes.
2. Have you ever thought that you could be your own living archive, containing memories and experiences from your lifetime?
3. Do you think that we three dancers can be considered as artefacts because we are locating ourselves in a museum space? Do we contain as much history and information as the other exhibits on display such as an Egyptian Mummy, a dinosaur skeleton or a Ming vase?
4. When you see us dance, talk and sing as we rehearse, does it help you to recall your own memories and experiences? Do any particular stories or images come to mind?
Response to Please Do Touch by Dr. Kerry Francksen
A collective journeying - Please Do Touch
“‘Please Do Touch’ is an intelligent and spirited exploration through the majestic Victorian Art Gallery at Leicester’s New Walk Museum. Created as a performance work that could inhabit a gallery space, visitors were given a rare opportunity to experience a collective journeying with three female dancers, who moved backwards and forwards through the exhibition. This journeying, which lasted roughly 1hr and 40 minutes, was not a direct response or mirroring of the figurative artworks that resided in the gallery, neither was it a re-presentation through the medium of dance; rather the dancers’ presented an intricate and delicate performance of personal acts and transformational encounters, through which their own bodily histories moved, spoke and danced within the space.
The Victorian Gallery itself is grand and beautiful and holds itself with an air of grace. I was struck by its openness, the rich colours on the walls, and the height of the ceiling. The paintings, which depict mostly 19th Century portraiture, also commanded a sense of grandeur. Yet, the space felt welcoming and open to our collective journeying. The dancers, who had initially traversed down the spiral staircase at the entrance of the Museum, enticed us gallery goers to follow them into the Victorian gallery. There was an air of respect and warmth as they entered and met both the space and each other. Moving gently and quietly at first, each dancer began to take in the paintings for themselves. This gave the audience, or should I say fellow wanderers, time to settle also. I noticed the dancers speaking to members of the public, speaking to each other, pointing at paintings and then moving softly on to another section of the gallery. I noticed their movements: A slow shifting into one hip, a soft lilt in their necks, a shuffle to move slightly sideways in order to look at a painting... Incidentally, I happened to glance over towards a couple that were viewing a painting to my right. They appeared to be making similar movements in their bodies, which mimicked the dancers. Was I also doing the same? This was immediately intriguing and I found myself wondering where to stand, where to look? Should I pay attention to the dancers? Should I look at the paintings? How should one behave in such a situation within a museum setting?
As the dancers’ moved away from these small behavioural shifts into more dancerly shapes and forms, they positively began to fill the space. They established a series of quiet, still tableaus, which subsequently quickened as their movements began to move along a linear trajectory through the middle of the gallery. These movements extended into full-bodied sequences and the energy built as they continued to traverse up and down the space. Again, serendipitously, moments seemed to connect us to them – as a woman walked across the gallery the clicking of her shoes seemed to match with the rhythm of the dancers movements. At this moment, I was struck by the idea of 'hearing' the gallery. The paintings were so quiet - locked in time looking out at us. However, for just a moment, with the sound of the clicking shoes, the breathe of the dancers, and the gentle hum of gallery life, everything seemed to come to life.
One dancer then began to speak as another began to play an old time music track on a record player, which she had carried into the space. I slowly became aware of the scale of the room, the histories of the paintings and the depth of the space. I felt as if I was moving backwards and forwards between looking at paintings and experiencing the space, whilst at the same time undergoing a strange performative journey with the dancers. Hearing her dulcet, soft voice was a welcome change in the otherwise pretty silent gallery. Her speaking offered yet another way for us to connect. It lightened the mood by taking away the seriousness of standing and paying due diligence to the paintings. The lightness in the way the dancer spoke gently coaxed her audience to come closer. As I listened to her childhood memories of family holidays, adventures in a caravan, descriptions of her 1980’s wardrobe, a melancholy reflection of her Mother and Father’s relationship etc., I found my gaze moving between the speaking dancer and the moving dancer – I wondered what the connections were? As the stories became more touching – sad even, the moving dancer's movements became more earnest and I was struck by the fluidity and full-bodied quality of her secret dancing. She was clearly dancing her own story, not the speaking dancer's stories. Yet, as I caught site of the two of them within the frame of a large picture on the sidewall, I couldn't help but feel like they were conveying their own life pictures somehow? I was struck by ideas of memory. If paintings are captured memories, perhaps bodies can capture and then share these memories too?
The dancers continued to dance between the gallery spaces, moving from the larger room into two adjoining, more intimate exhibition spaces. They continued to speak to each other and their movements became more buoyant, energised, and animated, which provided another shift in dynamic and purpose. Having been immersed in the gallery in such a way towards the beginning of our journeying, it was an absolute delight to then be brought back into the main gallery to view a sassy and joyful exhibition of personal dancing by the third dancer. She too placed a record onto a record player and began moving. Her choice of song was a 1980’s pop-song by Shalamar, which was both unexpected and utterly delightful to witness. The dancers seemed to be slowly breaking down our expectations – a solo dancer dancing to Shalamar in a Victorian Gallery! This not only appeared to challenge convention it also offered a modern day twist on our rules of engagement with such a grand, historical space.
What also made this work special, besides its playful yet respectful exploration of space and behaviour, was the depth and knowledge the dancers brought to the work. All three women, clearly experienced in both their craft and in life, demonstrated an intelligence and strength of character that enigmatically pulled you into their world. As my youngest son noticed, “they really must have worked very hard to be able to do that”. I couldn’t agree more. ‘Please Do Touch’, is indeed a masterful exploration that resonates on so many levels and I can’t recommend being in that world, if even for just a few minutes, enough'.