Observers on ‘The Arrival’ – Week 2

Photo by Anna Nguyen

“We hit the ground running this week with frameworks for all the major scenes. The process of building up the layers – images, movement, circus skills, text, storytelling and soon sound, costume and projection – is necessarily slow. However, more and more I think that everyone is beginning to understand and thrive within this system of working. Image by image and moment by moment, Kristine is allowing the performers to find their own way of telling their part of the story while not losing a sense of ensemble and bigger stage picture.

I came into this process for various reasons but one key question for me to explore was how does one organically incorporate circus skills into a narrative – or vice versa. Of course the book, The Arrival, has come first and has provided inspiration for Kristine, Sita and the other members of the creative team. So how is Kristine incorporating the performers into what was already a strong artistic and aesthetic vision? I have enjoyed how much she gets involved, whether in the volleyball warm-ups, nurturing an improvisation or energetically demonstrating the style of movement necessary. Not all directors I have worked with have been so “hands on”, and this is a way of working that really appeals to me. I think it has also won over the company. So, although scenes and structure may have been decided before rehearsals began, in the rehearsal room it is crucially the performers who are given freedom to improvise, contribute to text, voice ideas and hone their routines. Going back to the comments from last week about director and performer/actor each offering something that the other can’t do, I think it is important for a director of circus to acknowledge that the circus artist knows infinitely more about their discipline and use this to the advantage of the process.

I have also been interested in the way that the performers’ own languages have been used so regularly. As text is generated by them and captured by Sita, they are often encouraged to improvise in Polish, Spanish, French, Arabic… Obviously in a play about generations of immigrants toLondonthis works well, but there is something else happening here too. There is little artifice and the performers are often “being” as opposed to “acting”. For a group with some initial resistance to “acting”, they are now doing just that simply by playing in the space. I would be very interested to watch Kristine work on an already established text that couldn’t necessarily be adapted so freely.

My favourite moment from week two came on Friday when we worked on each scene we had in chronological order. The section where Obi, the father, leaves his son inNigeriawas particularly moving. It was a potent combination of music composed by Felix Cross, simple text, and movement created by Antonio on the Chinese Pole. It will be a powerful example of how circus can be used within a narrative and for me highlighted what this process is all about. When I see, for example, Kat perform an incredible trick on the Cloud Swing (I could name check anyone in the company here), my immediate reaction is consistently one of raw amazement and total engagement. This is something I experience less commonly watching a “conventional play” in a theatre. Maybe by combining the disciplines, the one can enhance the other. There is also something thrilling about being in a rehearsal room where a normally impossible instruction such as “Climb that ladder upside down, fly across the room performing a somersault and land in a double back flip” (!) can become real. This observership is opening my eyes to so many possibilities and I am certainly keener than ever to pursue the idea of directing circus.”

Amy Draper – Observer

Director Kristine Landon-Smith watching rehearsals. Photo Credit: Anna Nguyen

“In sitting down to write this blog I found myself striving for the revelatory idea or erudite comment that would illuminate the development and creativity of the last fortnight in the rehearsal room.

And I strove and strove. And still I couldn’t think of anything, which was puzzling because I knew so much had happened, being in the rehearsal room was thrilling because of the physical skill of the artists and the delicacy of this new language of circus narrative that was being cultivated, so much that was exciting and incredible. So why was writing about it so hard? So instead I paused and looked at the photographs that my fellow observer Anna Nyugen had taken of the rehearsal process.

And then I saw the most important thing about these two weeks – and the most important thing I had learned from Kristine: look at your actors, look and really see, not what is wanted by the director but what is needed for the actor.

And what I saw were images of raw skill and moments of company play and a depiction of a director immersed amongst these artists involved in candid conversations with the cast. And what I recalled instantly, was the amazing development of the last two weeks of these highly skilled individuals into a great ensemble, tentative forays into acting were now captivating scenes which held the entire room, and how these circus artists had found some real moments of beauty and emotion in the narrative from their skill.

And again things sort of ‘clicked’, like when I was on last year’s Actor/Director Lab. I understood that even though the cultural context may have other layers involved now (as well as different nationalities, the individual performers’ disciplines inform this) the process of playing with the actor and seeing what is needed for them has not changed, just as the frame of working has expanded to encompass the scale of work being created. I saw that play was still essential, and trust me when I say that seeing a skilled circus artist in full flight (sometimes literally) playing with their discipline in an improvisation is incredible to watch; improvisations were still set up and played and moments that they created were captured and cultivated. And that patience and courage is required by both performer and director, the patience to afford both the chance to exercise their skill in complement to the other – although the rate at which we work is highly swift and efficient – and the courage of both to stay the course even when one is uncertain where it may lead but definite that there is something there to discover.

The resolve to trust one’s own instincts is great to watch in any artist but the instinct to trust another’s is the mark of a great artist. I have seen that this fortnight.”

Ian Nicholson – Observer


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