Wonder Women Festival – Manchester

From the 2nd – 12th of March Manchester’s many theatres, galleries and clubs will be flooded with artists, activists and creators celebrating just what it means to be a woman. Documentary films about Rebel Dykes, all female techno nights and a huge range of performance and art are on the bill. Could you love Manchester any more?!

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This bold inspiring festival (which sounds to me like a direct challenge to own your own wondrousness) is a creative countdown to the 100yr anniversary of women winning the partial  vote in 1918. Manchester has always been full of forward-thinking fire-crackers, none so much as Emily Pankhurst who was of course, born and bred on the mean streets of Mosside.

The festival poses the question, just how far have we actually come in the past 100yrs and it’s an honour to be invited by Instigate Arts to explore the theme not once but twice throughout the festival.

At the festival’s free launch night ‘Making The Strange Familiar with Instigate Arts’ on Thurs 2nd March I will perform The Art of Reflection at Manchester Art Gallery, a piece first created for the Trans-State conference last year. I describe this piece as a dance-based mirror ritual exploring identity and it’s construction and have integrated a lot of my own magical practices into it. I’m also in the middle of writing my next short story, which is about a woman consumed by a hungry mirror, so there’s certainly a theme bubbling away in my work!

I believe the body is the most powerful tool of expression, for a woman to be dancing freely (outside the confines of some shady establishment) would have alone been dangerous in centuries past! The body also provides a perfect canvas for people’s expectations, which I personally delight in subverting. The Art of Reflection plays with ideas of self-invention and transformation and has a soundtrack that slaloms through the Sex Pistols, to Garbage to Bjork (allowing me to shake out all my crazy energy and channel it healthily!) This piece’s pretty risky climax can’t be practiced or rehearsed, so how it ends is just as much of a surprise to me as my audience. Come and see! The event is open to the public and begins at 5:30pm.

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IMAGE BY LAURA WILLIAMS

Then on the 3rd March at the Royal Exchange I will perform a pure movement piece called ’21st Century Witchcraft’ in the Dolly Mixtures showcase at The Royal Exchange theatre. This cabaret style event is a brilliant place to revive a performance I first created for A Queer Review in collaboration with the wonderful Greg Thorpe. The piece responds to a 7min monologue from Anohni (of Anthony and the Johnsons) in which transgressive bodies, witch craft and the feminisation of religious icons are discussed.

Last time I performed this piece I was told by my partner that I looked like a “sexy mental patient” – probably one of the most honest and accurate critiques I’ve ever been given. Other beautiful weirdos like Rosie Garland, Jane Bradey and Trish Dee are also on the bill that night, so there’s certainly no shortage of wild inspiring women! Tickets available here.

 

The Wonder Women festival has been made possible by the People’s History Museum and Creative Tourist. Read the full festival line-up here.

“Put on your red shoes and dance the blues”

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a surreal week here in the (arguably) united UK. The atmosphere is unstable and navigating through the media shit-storm proceeding the EU referendum – and it’s very real cultural aftermath – has felt like wading through treacle. You can feel the tremors everywhere, internally and externally and the worrying thing is that I’m not even sure if the real earthquake has hit.

I may be wrong, I’d really like to be.

On the positive side I’m very lucky to be surrounded by gifted and pro-active people, Manchester is a magnet for human diamonds. Kevin Burke and Anne-Louise Kershaw from Instigate Arts are two such hardworking gems and have commissioned a dance piece from Laura and I called compenSATE, which we’ll be performing at HOMEMcr in the galleries on the 9th July alongside Kevin Burke, Bartosz BedaMichelle Hannah, Richard Hughes, Sara Minelli & Hyunjoo Kim,Emily Mulenga, Greg Thorpe, Angela Readman, Louise Woodcock.

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compenSATE responds to the theme of ‘Ambition’ and is a 2hr dance piece that examines the way we compete. For 2hrs Laura and I will explore beautification rituals, suggesting that these look-enhancing treatments are really homogenising the mainstream. The exhibition is free and open between 6pm – 9pm.

We’ve also been rehearsing for Christopher Bowles’s new play AUTOPSY, a dark and ambitious piece of theatre exploring our relationships with our bodies. Laura again is on-board and we’re been choreographing surreal mirrored sequences for a number of the scenes.

Christoper Bowles of Magpie Man Theatre is such a talented writer and director and since he ‘came out’ on the literary circuit last year he’s been taking it by storm. It’s a pleasure to work with him, even if he did script that I get dribbled on by one of my ‘clients.’ In the original version I got my feet cut off too, so I supposed things could be worse. He’s also turned all the cast into corpses for the show promo posters. I think I make quite a charming cadaver!

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Yesterday I worked again with Kevin Burke on one of his personal projects -‘The Measure of Hope’ – which will also be screened as part of the Instigate exhibition at HOMEMcr. Like the best of all things the timing of this collaboration was impeccable.

After a weekend of restless fidgety energy, feeling frustrated and unsure but trying to stay positive, I had so much conflicting stuff waiting to be released. Of all the dance pieces I’ve choreographed this was the most unexpectedly intense. I had a few rough ideas of movement I’d like to integrate, and we’d discussed the theme of the piece (the evolution of civilisation and ambiguity of ‘progress’) beforehand, but we basically just booked a space and launched straight in. No fuss, no frills, just the body responding to sound.

The track  itself changes a lot in seven minutes and there’s a really chaotic section in the middle followed by a beautifully gentle piano ending. As we repeated the track and I free-flowed in response, I found myself releasing more and more of the pent up frustration and anger that I had ignored all wkend, until the dance became more like a protest or an exorcism. I literally pulled and slapped and stomped and cried the anger out of my system, before reining it back in delicately and regaining control of my body.

Kevin is a great director encouraging me to perform the piece repeatedly until all my energy was spent and I couldn’t physically do anymore. I went home afterwards and collapsed into bed for 4hrs. Today my body feels battered and bruised but I know I’ve regained some sense of the balance I lost last week.

 

It reminded me that dance is such a powerful tool, especially when you do it for yourself, when it isn’t a performance for someone else’s pleasure. For too many years dance became very much like work for me and I forgot why I started in the first place. I danced as a teenager to switch my brain off, I danced myself into oblivion because I could lose control then regain myself in an energetic reset. I danced to reconnect and ground myself and I danced to find an expression for all those wordless things that rocketed round my body, manifesting as panic, simply needing to be released. It’s not a solution to every problem but it’s an amazing coping mechanism, such a simple technique that I think we take for granted and we will very much need in the years to come.

 

 

 

 

Lovecraftian Romances and Black Gnosis

Last Sunday night I had a chat with the very talented Scott R Jones, founder of Martian Migraine Press, editor of the upcoming Cthulhusttva : Tales of the Black Gnosis anthology, which will include a short story written by yours truly, titled Mother’s Nature. Scott is also the author of When the Stars Are Right: Towards an Authentic R’Lyehian Spirituality, a collection of essays and meditations on the concept of cosmic horror as a spritual path. It was whilst reading  When the Stars Are Right on holiday in Marrakech last November that the threads of Mother’s Nature came together. Scott’s work is exceptional and massively inspiring.

At the heart of When the Stars are Right is a dark spirituality that seeks out revelatory madness and commands an embrace of our shadow side, a philosophical perspective which nourished many of the ideas I’d been gestating for a while. If you’re a lover of cosmic horror, weird fiction and Lovecraftian deities in general or just enjoy a good intellectual unraveling from time to time, I highly recommend the read. Mother’s Nature responds to all these themes whilst adding a few flavours of its own.

I’m not going to lie, MN is not a tale for the faint of heart. It mixes horror, sexuality, sacrifice and enlightenment, revolving around a young girl who escapes one nightmarish existence only to step into an entirely new one. After living her life practically feral, then surviving the massacre of her family, my central character is rescued by a mysterious stranger, who tames and then trains her to be his apprentice in a fashion boutique with a well-kept secret. Under his instruction the girl becomes an artist, then a woman, then something else altogether. Transcendence and transformation are the strongest themes of the work and I had so much fun weaving them together.

Whilst giving the interview I remembered the impulse I had when writing Mother’s Nature to make it a Lovecraftian romance, however paradoxical that may sound. The more I read the story the happier I am that I’ve achieved that and I couldn’t agree with Scott’s comment more when he says the story ‘has legs.’ It definitely does, hundreds!

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You can buy  Cthulhusttva : Tales of the Black Gnosis Here and When the Stars Are Right: Towards an Authentic R’Lyehian Spirituality Here.

Pinning Down Beginnings

At last! I’ve built a website for nothing other than my thoughts, projects and mental meanderings. This blog will be a diary, an online photograph and video album, a dream journal, a place to ponder and purge and somewhere I can collect the weird and wonderful evidence of things created by myself and with other people.

So much has happen that it’s difficult to know where to start. I will retrace my steps and share writing and projects long since passed, as well as keeping this blog up-to-date with upcoming shows, appearances and events. Don’t expect a linear line. I prefer the collage effect, the messy montage and I’ll share as things bubble up. So many characters, concepts and performances have already been lost in the sands of time despite my best attempts to capture them. They’re willful little things with lives all of their own. I don’t begrudge them their autonomy.

Every single piece was the most important thing in the world for me during it’s conception and creation. It’s the same with every artist I believe, or at least I think it should be. I planned, plotted, scribbled and choreographed, rehearsed or revised over and over and over again, scruntised every detail, made costumes and invented personalities, performed it once for a certain group of people or sent it off to a publisher then let it go forever. André Breton said an artist “lives like an open book and does nothing to retain the pages, which fly away in the windy wake of his life.” So many of my pages have flown away, I’m glad I gave them wings.

So this blog is a way of numbering those pages, as well as other fleeting things, before they flutter off into the world. I’m pinning down their beginnings at the very least.

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Image taken from Alan Moore’s Promethea comic.

Header image by Glyn Smith.