'A note from Leah' by Leah Marojević for Brighton Festival Programme, 'This Bright Field' by Theo Clinkard 2017
Leah Marojević, Theo Clinkard’s creative collaborator and performer with his company for the last three years, reflects upon his practice as a dance maker to contextualise ‘This Bright Field’ within his body of work.
Theo Clinkard launched his own company in 2012 and has created four critically acclaimed company works to date; Ordinary Courage, Chalk, Of Land and Tongue and now This Bright Field. I joined Theo’s company in 2014, performing in works Ordinary Courage and Of Land and Tongue, and have been working closely with Theo since then as a researcher, dramaturge, teacher, outside eye, rehearsal director, sounding board and choreographic collaborator in the creation processes of his work. I have joined Theo as creative associate for his recent commissions, including ‘somewhat still when seen from above’ for Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch and ‘The Listening Room’ for Danza Contemporanea De Cuba.
Alongside Theo’s most immediate definition as a dance maker, his work extends into many other roles including his sought after work as a movement director, set and costume designer and a dancer. Theo spent the first twenty years of his early career dancing for many of the UK’s most highly regarded choreographers. Over the period that he has been making dances, Theo actively initiates critical discourse for contemporary artists, writes and converses analytically for varying platforms, and teaches regularly for professional companies, training institutions and for amateurs across Europe. Theo works consistently as a mentor, committedly championing young artists, as well as engaging as a dramaturge and creative collaborator for a range of contemporary dance and theatre projects. He is engaged in Sadler’s Wells University, a programme initiated by Jonathan Burrows that runs over four years for choreographers to greater establish and develop their creative practices.
Visual Artist Sol LeWitt quotes, ‘Obviously a drawing of a person is not a real person, but a drawing of a line is a real line.’ In the same way, Theo’s work does not deal with the representation of human experiences, but rather uses the stage as a platform, and choreography as the means to house live and actual experiences of the body. Theo often calls himself a ‘host’ for and within his own works. In other words, Theo utilises performance as an opportunity to elicit connection between who the dancers are as individuals with who the audience are as individuals. Theo works in a highly collaborative way with his dancers and with his creative team. In a sense, Theo exists as a facilitator for his work, creating and holding the space for humanised exchanges to occur within the worlds and concepts of his pieces. Theo enters his processes with the length and form of a road - he holds an impression or sense for what or how the work will materialise as - but asks that the journey and destination be built together with his collaborators. For Theo, the journey’s end is all the more exciting when it is unknown and arrives through the process of individuals meeting, learning and growing as a group.
Theo’s interest with who a dancer is, and how and why a dancer is doing what they are doing on stage as opposed to what they are doing with their body, turns Theo’s work as a choreographer toward investing into how an individual might be in dialogue with their relationship to how they make particular decisions. Theo’s work proposes that ones choices, intention, delivery, and performance of how movement itself is articulated, might have the profound ability to speak directly for and of the person making the choices. His works are crafted in such a way that the performers are oftentimes free to approach and respond to the structures which are set. Theo’s dancers are asked to bring their own history, sensitivities and distinctive natures to realise the specific creative tasks he proposes and ways of being within his works.
Theo maintains that dance is not a choreographers invention, instead that dance already exists and always has. He understands choreography as building ‘houses’ for dance to live within, in a way that might speak of something contemporary; to who, what, and where we are now. Theo comprehends contemporary dance to be a score for creating, as opposed to a particular codified form or way of moving. His extensive physical history as a performer feeds the physical languages that live in many different behaviours across his body of work. Visceral and elaborate engagement of the body are one of the principal means for Theo to compellingly craft and powerfully articulate his ideas and questions.
‘Ideas are discovered by intuition... the idea becomes the machine that makes the art’. - Visual artist Sol LeWitt
Theo is an artist who has a highly developed and intimate relationship with his ability to locate and trust the varying volumes of his own creative and pragmatic intuitions. His acute perceptiveness and concentrated openness enable him to receive the immediate worlds around him, communicating back to the contexts he is working within through the sharing of the potentiality and power of the moving body.
His dancers’ idiosyncratic ways of moving and independent ways of being act as building blocks for how Theo’s works are constructed and eventually realised. Theo rigorously utilises the complexity, intricacy and sheer intelligence of the human body to illuminate how ones presence can speak to and of the present moment. Through assorted conversations with Theo, we have spoken about how choreography not only begins with organising dance in response to concept, but how for him, it begins within the casting process for a new piece of work. Theo invites his dancers to offer how they think with their dancing and how they dance with their thinking into his processes. This dialogue builds the works within the concepts Theo engenders; the people carrying the work are the ‘machine that makes the art’. For choreography to be just something and not everything and for presence to be almost everything and not just something. Whilst certain principals may act as a through-line or signature across Theo’s body of work, the conceptual questions and the individuals creating and embodying the choreography is what makes each piece delightfully distinct from the last.
As art critic, novelist, painter and poet John Berger quotes ‘...what you see is relative to your position in time and space’. Theo develops his works in close relation to this sentiment in how he considers, re-imagines and challenges audience and performer relationships. This way of thinking also feeds how connection and action is initiated and established amongst the performers in his pieces. Theo revels in the inevitability of varied interpretations of his works, and by often presenting somewhat ambiguous or imagined states of being - choreographing atmospheres, time, how the eyes see, or planning for the unexpected - Theo works consciously to allow an empowered sense of independency for audiences, where they are encouraged and fostered through the construct of the works to choose what turns and side streets to take within the terrains of a piece. Throughout his body of work, the invite for audiences remains the same; to come as you are, to be within yourself, within time, experiencing quality, surprise, colour and ambience; to receive the work through your own history by engaging your present senses.
The sky is as practical as it is poetic. Specific arrangements of elements within a map of time and space allow the poetic and/or the practical to be illuminated. In the short time Theo has been making work, the practical and the poetic are elements that consistently play and balance each other within his pieces. How dancers are perceived on stage challenge performative conventions by intermittently having them in pedestrian behaviour, often acting as ‘technicians’ for the work. In the same way that performative qualities of the dancers shift between fulfilling practical tasks to embodying the poetic, the ways in which the space is treated in Theo’s works are a reflection of this behaviour on stage. Theo structures his works in such a way that lighting, sound and stage design are utilised as a means for how the action on stage is received; when and how the action is framed rather than what the action is framing.
Theo's works have been presented in theatres, churches, warehouses, and basketball courts to name a few. Within each of these contexts, audiences are described the ‘real’ space - the practicalities and realities of the room - as well a transforming space - transporting audiences to extraordinary imaginative worlds. In Of Land and Tongue, the dancers even go so far as to change in and out of work-wear costumes when setting up and and packing down the spaces within the work, manoeuvring props and operating the lighting to build scenes in which we see the dancers enter. In one scene, a dancer operates a smoke machine to fill the air with what seems like mist on a cold night, while another slowly lowers one of the lighting lamps to give the impression of a setting sun. You see the musician on stage filling the space with echoing tones from a guitar and a dancer lays a large bunch of bound branches onto the corner of the stage. Here, a performer enters and dances in the transformed space. What was once treated as domestic then transmutes to the imaginary. In another scene, the combination of two dancers operating a fan and a water sprayer over a grass turf, fabricates a world for one dancer in workwear to lift and carry another dancer in a swimsuit who swims through the sensory transformation of the located space, enraptured within another world. In Theo’s company work Chalk, musician James Keane breaks and cracks stems of celery on stage. The recording of these bone-cracking sounds become the score for Theo’s movement in the space and after some time, how the sound was first manufactured becomes a visual memory. The quality with which Theo moves through the space leads you to imagine and believe that the bone wrenching sounds that are heard are being produced from his actions of his body.
The play of making ‘back-stage’ action visible within the formalisation of the theatre, works to present realities of the space that then naturally invites the realities of the performers’ experiences within these spaces. The combinations of music, lighting, and design that hold the action on stage, work to build up and then undercut what is deemed poetic. Theo relishes in staging every-day language, and as part of his practice looks rigorously at how pragmatic behaviours can speak of something profound.
This process of how Theo stages his works invites him to engage comprehensively with the visuals of his pieces. Lighting, costume, and set design all play vital roles in how his dances are ‘housed’ and therefore received by audiences. Theo’s ‘somewhat still when seen from above’ for Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch saw the theatres own backstage technicians moving through the action on stage, leaving ladders on stage that they climbed to operate smoke machines, sending clouds to float in the air above the dancers. Theo’s ‘The Listening Room’ for Danza Contemporanea de Cuba used small domestic fluorescent lamps to create a low ceiling over the dancers, enabling audiences to zoom into the miniature movements on the large expanse of the theatre stages. In Theo’s company works Chalk and Of Land and Tongue, an intimate audience of sixty sit on two sides of a 7x7 metre square stage, allowing casual conversation and intimate encounters to ensue throughout the work.
Inherent in Theo’s work and practice is his desire to place value upon the intimate, the absurd, the every-day, the startling, the miniature, the invisible, the daring, the larger than life, the queer, the tender, and the mundane.
Through everything Theo has experienced in making in the last five years, and everything we have learnt together in the last three, making This Bright Field has served as a beautiful and timely opportunity to share and continue our learning, questions and most genuine belief in the power of connection that is possible through dance.