The following ideas are based primarily on the ‘Exploring Objects and Sharing Cultures project’ that I delivered with the British Museum in response to the Roman galleries (particularly Room 70) and particular artefacts associated with Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony, but there are of course many more possibilities. In this instance the group were particularly interested in the busts/statues displayed throughout the gallery, as well as the smaller objects such as coins, and more personal items such as pieces of jewellery.
The object-handling activities described in the previous post served as a great introduction to looking at our selected artefacts in more detail and building up a fuller picture of the time the objects came from and the broader context: after our first examination of those artefacts, guided by a member of museum staff (but never only restricted to the facts or what we could certainly know), we began collecting historical themes, characters, relationships and key events that provided starting points for our creative dance activity. We used these to set up tasks:
- Responding to the form of the object, and embodying the idea of that object coming to life e.g.
Prior to going into the museum gallery, we spent some time in a studio space doing warm-up activities to prepare the young people for working in contact with each other, during which we introduced example movement vocabulary they could use and spoke about mutual trust.
When we first went into the gallery, we then gave the young people some time with a partner to select a sculpture/bust to which they wanted to respond, and asked them to draw/write down ideas about who they thought this person was and what they were like (responding particularly to their facial expression and body language).
Using these ideas, we then asked the young people to take on roles within their pairs: one in the ‘sculptor’ role, and the other as ‘the sculpture’, or the clay ready to be moulded into shape. We asked the ‘sculptor’ to rebuild their selected statue/bust by manipulating their partner into a static position at first, and then as a development activity the dancers started to bring these re-imagined sculptures to life, moving with them and in some cases building more of a story for those characters e.g. developing the relationship between the two partners in response to the relationships we had identified between Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony.
During this activity we noticed that the young people really liked a mystery, and particularly enjoyed responding to incomplete or damaged artefacts; they saw the fact that they were broken as an important part of their story, and of the way in which they interpreted their character.
- Responding to the quality of the object or what the object represented
The young people with whom I worked on this project responded particularly to the theme of power in the Roman Empire, and we spent time exploring how we could embody this particular theme e.g. deciding how power might feel in our bodies, and therefore how it might make us move and what the rhythm of that movement might be. We used all this information (through improvisation) to generate movement vocabulary consisting of sharp strong movements with all parts of the body, and shared this in small/large groups so that we could use it to create overall images e.g. two opposing armies performing their ‘power’ movement towards and around each other, like they were marking their territory.
- Connecting our interpretation of each object with our understanding of the world now
The young people really connected with the idea of loyalty in this project (between Mark Anthony and Julius Caesar for example), and we used this as an initiation for an activity in which we collected a series of ways in which we could physically support each other, building structures in groups of 3-5.
They also engaged with the idea of status, hierarchy and competition between political opponents, and we talked about ways in which the participants observed this competitive impulse in modern politics as well, using this image to set up a movement task in which a group of four dancers travelled across the space as if in a race, trying to get one step ahead of each other and to leave the others behind them. Their movement became more inventive as the idea became clearer to them.
- Responding to the place where the artefact was located within the museum
We looked at where our stimulus artefacts were situated in the museum, and designed a procession of movement to begin our final performance that began with the dancers starting in small groups amongst the artefacts that had inspired them (so they could be seen to be ‘coming to life’), and then moved along the aisle down the centre of the gallery, the main thoroughfare for movement through the space. The dancers were in groups of only two or three people, so this movement wasn’t disruptive and members of the public could move around them, but we found that most members of the public felt compelled to stand aside as the dancers travelled past them, which created quite a spectacle and coincided nicely with what we had discussed about Cleopatra’s great processions.