Since 2013 I have been part of a group seeking to found an intentional eco-community in Cataluyna. The broad vision is for a creative community where Contact Improvisation, dance, improvisation, eco-somatics, art and performance are shared interests that underpin our daily lives and practices. During the Summer of 2015 we were able create the first incarnation of the project (Monastery of Dreams, http://www.creative-art-community.org/) after gaining a 3 month tenancy on a disused Marist monastery in Pontós. Almost everything about the project was an experiment with a strong collective desire to explore the interplay between improvisation, somatics and community living. Establishing a centre for praxis, research and learning is our long term goal and now the project moves into the next phase with a 6 month tenancy in 2016.
It was an exciting proposition to run a Site Specific Performance Lab in the midst of a fledgling community which was constantly evolving on a site that contained the relics (ranging from stuffed animals to a political library) of many previous residents: originally a Marist seminary, an education centre for local archaeology and then a large scale community arts project. Important goals for the overall Summer project were to create interest across the regional and international arts community and also gain acceptance from the local community of Pontós, or at the very least do nothing to antagonise them yet stay true to our values. In formulating the structure for the Lab it was desirable then that it could be flexible and inclusive of visiting artists and if possible produce a performance that would be accessible and gain us some kudos with the local population.
The concept that evolved for the Lab was to provide an opportunity where participants could research and create their own performance, simultaneously collaborating with each other. They would be responsible for the rehearsals, realisation and direction of their piece of work. The individual works then provided a number of “stations” that the audience visited on what in the end became a one and half hour walk. From the start I saw my role more to facilitate the whole process and provide support rather than act as the director. I wanted to experiment with a structure that could allow huge individual freedom within a coherent whole. Participants came from a diverse range of backgrounds. Some were seasoned performance makers some relatively new.
As the 5 days progressed it was interesting to see how the lab became as much an exploration of the process of co-creation as an exercise in the craft of performance making. Flow of ideas, interpersonal dynamics, authorship, collaboration, improvising resources, the emergence of collective themes and occasionally conflicts all came into play. By the end of the Lab the individual pieces were being honed and we collectively worked to find ways to include all the ideas being offered.
On the final day we performed the whole work to an audience of approximately 40 local villagers. Despite our concerns about how it might be received by a public audience no one made significant compromise to their vision. The feedback was extremely positive , the local Mayor wanting to phone the monastery’s owner in support of our tenancy this year.
From the start it always was going to be a largely improvised process with an uncertain outcome. Everyone faced challenges in different ways, mine personally was to hold strictly to the form of the experiment and not intervene with my own aesthetic preferences.
In the end it was very satisfying that the process did achieve a performance that was so well received and valued by the participants whilst providing a great learning ground in orchestrating multiple creative energies.