Created by Kompani Morrel
Devised by the Company
Karoline Bergh Ellingsen
Supported by Seanse Art Centre, Volda, Norway
In my personal practice I am currently exploring my relationship to myself, principally about pushing and pulling. I frequently find myself pushing or driving for content, for new ideas, and for speed. This week, I am testing how I respond to the pull of an old friend I trained at RCS with, Emilie Mordal, who is the common thread between us all in the collaboration. She has invited new colleagues to make a new piece with her company, Kompani Morell, who she operates with Karoline Ellingsen. Joining us is Emily Read, a movement director from nearly every country it seems. Emily, who goes by Milly, sums it up best; “we share movement as a common language through our diverse backgrounds, and we are trying to piece how the languages work together in creation.”
I have travelled all night to get from Glasgow to Edinburgh, Oslo to Volda. Perhaps I am exhausted, but as I step into the room filled with artists from our shared residency I’m surprised by the softness of an incredibly supportive environment. There is a calm openness to the room bubbling with trickling laughter, offers of food, and multi-language chatter. We start and are greeted individually by a hug from Marit Ulvund, the director of Seanse and receive a small gift each: a personalised mug. A universal way to bring a smile. I am struck by Marit’s warmth which is the ethos of the programme here – we trust you, we want the best for you, and you are supported here.
The first day is filled with trying to find that common language. This is sometimes successful and sometimes unsuccessful as we kick exercises around in the pursuit of visualising hormones involved in falling in love. The room is also (graciously) working in English which is another level of communication barrier at times – usually because I’m the only non-Norwegian speaker on Forelska. The fusion of movement, rehearsal, and native language is a balance we will need to discover together. And, by the late afternoon, we begin to find our rhythm of creating in relative unity.
We spend most of the day dissecting dopamine and how it works in the body and space. What is the light and darkness of this hormone? We build a palette of movement to pursue across the week. I am awed by Karoline’s athletic dance-based movement and touched by Emilie’s sensitive and emotional actor-trained movement. It’s clear to me why they work together: they compliment each other so well.
Our greatest success is to come together, try to metaphorically swim, swallow some water but push through to find our rhythm towards dry land.
I am feeling much more alert today, especially after waking to an incredible view of the fjord from our hotel.
Today we continued to play with how hormones can be embodied and our quest for the darkness and lightness of each of their characteristics. This became much easier than yesterday as we’re confident in our established common rehearsal language, so we cover three more hormones released when we fall in love; serotonin, adrenaline, and oxytocin.
I find Serotonin fascinating as the trigger for those painful feelings of awkwardness, embarrassment, and the desire to disappear. One of our schoolchildren described love as like having a new personality, and this is very much the serotonin speaking! As Emilie’s and Karoline’s skin metaphorically sheds around them their bodies pull and twist in every direction through the space. Watching the pair, Milly and I gawp as they become living Francis Bacon paintings. Beautiful, tortured, and crying for control.
In finding the stillness while pumping with adrenaline, the most passionate and intense of our hormones, we quickly unlock trauma. For me, it becomes incredibly clear that this production must be do or die for our protagonist; the most epic scale for the simplest reward – returned affection. There is also a balance with this hormone, and it can go too far for performers to tap into, becoming unsafe. In production, there must be a clear anchor to the narrative (whether known or unknown to an audience) to protect a performer from reaching into this darkness.
Oxytocin is affection. It is warmth, comfort, touching. This is how we build bonds between individuals and it must be maintained. Interestingly, it usually lasts around 3-5 years between partners, just enough time for a child to be suitably independent of at least one parent. We open a conversation about the importance of love for childrearing. Is this why we love? Then what about LBG folk? I love my partner but biologically there is no way we can conceive. So why do we love? This reaffirms to us all that we cannot treat chemical love as a universal experience of falling in love – it is too nuanced and individual than that.
The wonderful part of this development is the hugely supportive programme we are hosted by. Seanse is an organisation for the development of artists making work for young people in Norway. This artist residency is paid (time, accommodation, travel), we are fed great food, we are trusted with equipment and facilities (24-hour access!), we have mentorship, and an open space philosophy with the 5 other artist groups. Truthfully, this is the dream scenario and I long for more residencies like this in the UK. And if it doesn’t exist then it might be time to make one.
We have spent plenty of time discussing how a workshop element of the project can inform the performance presented to the young people: they can learn and create, use gesture to pin their understanding, decide where feelings are held for them, and how they can feel ownership of the work. During today’s mentor meeting with Anne-Mali Sæter and Marit, we are asked “why should we listen to artists for this lesson?” We are encouraged to make the show we love. This one phrase releases the burden of creation for us all. The performers and production and audience will all meet in the middle. We are all responsible for making it. Too often I have been burdened by the fear of hope that others will like what we are making. I remind myself today I should trust in my audience and work more to meet each other in the half light.
Gradually across the day I have noticed how embodied my voice is during this development. It is grounded, calm, and precise. My chest is relaxed and my shoulders have dropped. For years my voice has been in my throat or nose, rushed and tense as I push to force out ideas, prove myself, and race ahead. Even through years of training in Nadine George Technique (which has a primary pedagogy of embodying the voice through relaxation) I wrestled with my body-voice connection. And here in Norway, somewhat unconsciously and without effort, I have settled. And I think it’s because I feel trusted here.
Tonight we are sharing something to the other five groups in Open Stage, where each rehearsal rooms opens their doors to offer a snapshot of where they’re at. What Forelska would share we have no idea. No idea of form, or context, or character, or location. Just falling in love, and falling in love is famously universally difficult in a pressured or forced situation!
My struggle with push and pull is challenging this morning. I’m alone storyboarding in our lunch room, accompanied by lists of locations, events, stories, and hormonal side-effects. I always work best with others rather than alone, so I find this a tricky position made trickier by not wanting to impose anything without the involvement of the group in our devising process. I don’t want to force anything through but still need to reach for decisions to present back to the group. I want to storyboard with everyone, guiding the group through the process so that it’s infused with all our ideas. I can’t do this because we are filming content for funding applications for which I am not needed. As a self-producing artist and a facilitator I am so used to being present in all aspects of the creative process. And by being here and not with the group I battle feelings of worth. This is the shift in my push and pull. It is an exercise in trusting the process and my own abilities.
Falling in love takes us from being alone in our world to being aware that someone can inhabit it with us: life is no longer the same once we know it can be with someone else. For a storyboard, my morning is digging deep into routine and its interruption to show how life can be in all the states we have explored all week. This simple and small world is changed, disrupted and augmented, with moments of submerging to microscopic levels to see the hormones through movement qualities, leading up to the moment giant crescendo of the protagonist’s biggest obstacle: saying hello to the crush she has fallen in love with; the only word in the show. Karoline tells a story of her neighbour who passed a man every day on her way to work, her cycling and him driving. Gradually this ritual progressed into smiles, waves, hellos, until eventually they asked to go out together. This couple have been together ever since. This crossing of paths is a big moment of unlocking for us. We agree that Karoline and Emilie shouldn’t play children, but we need to find a world where both adults and young folk operate as equals – despite watching adults the young audience should feel they too could be the one falling in love here. We settle on starting with a swimming pool and begin carefully creating from there.
A portion of the afternoon is spent having a conversation about lighting with Ingrid Høsøien, our lighting designer who has visiting for a day and a half before flying back to Norway’s National Theatre. Kompani Morrel is keen to involve LX design sooner in the process, however, as a fledgling company without the continual support of theatre spaces to develop work in the required infrastructure is difficult to devise with. Our rehearsal space in Volda is great, but it has a limited rig which makes things trickier than planned. As I support Emilie and Karoline to articulate their vision through conversations of projectors, haze machines, and how expensive a pair of movers would be to rent, we settle on sound doing the heavy lifting of the project and a more abstracted lighting design. And with this Ingrid is pulled back to Oslo to continue production.
I pulled myself in too many directions this afternoon. I prioritised serving the show and not myself, spent all my breaks making plans, sound designs, planning the next steps. We rehearsed while the other groups are cake in our lunch room. We slapped together who would say what and when, what we were asking, and whether we should apologise for anything as people entered. That night, what we share is a single lap of the routine, a moment of falling in love at first sight, and a deep dive into dopamine in the body. After this we shared an exercise of serotonin. And then our trial by fire was over. The response was hugely encouraging, and in some ways the pressure and doubt was worth it. I write a list of things we learnt on my phone: that simplicity is best, remembered to make the art and not teach, and that people have a lot to say about love.
As the conversation twists around the table in the bar back at the hotel we are all staying in, I begin to wonder if at some point today I lost sight of what this show could be, while the others seemed to be in the same world. The afternoon had been tense, and the night feels a bit weird after the pressure of sharing publicly. I feel our careful efforts to invest in the work as a total may have given way to protecting our component parts as individuals. By pushing forward through making the sharing, this meant I found it hard to listen to the needs of the individual’s in the room and how to best serve their needs. I begin to wonder if the stress of the sharing was really worth it or whether it had jeopardised the stability of the group and therefore the show. As I walk up the stairs back to my room, I add to my list that we also learnt to care for the group and the show will care for itself. I’m incredibly grateful for two more days to play and unpick.
We begin with rotating check ins between team members in pairs to allow space for reflection and planning. It is clearly appreciated and takes most of the morning to complete. It helps us to navigate conflicting ideas, inspirations, affirm the learning of the week, and effective processes for creating and the remainder of the week. It struck me during these that we hadn’t given enough attention what is, in some ways, the most important part of this collaboration; Kompani Morrel is opening its doors and process for the first time and this week is an invitation for Milly and myself as trusted collaborators to test how the company works with more artists involved. Their usual process is to work mostly between themselves before adding an outside eye at the last moment. This has been an experiment to see how their processes work with more people from the beginning. [On reading back over this diary I see the signs were there, I just wasn’t connecting them. A lesson learnt.]
We discuss this together and through a sustained questioning of process we explore a more traditional rehearsal structure for today with me leading the process as a director. It would be a test to see how Emilie and Karoline respond to giving over responsibility and judgement to the creative team. We have been incredibly fortunate to bring together a group of collaborators who all equally care about the project where each member of the group is as passionate about the subject and target audience. And we are all collaborators so make special effort to hold each other with care and value.
We set off on an interrogation of routine and how it can be informed by hormones physically, spatially, and expressively. Part of today was inspired by Morten Røsrud, a director from another group, who became excited by the bridges between realities. This is where we apply our attention through play and quick drafts of routines. Sound is so important offering strong support through the piece. And Emilie and Karoline echoed the value of this for their development to do the heavy lifting. My playlist of dance tracks weighted with heavy bass is seeing full use today.
For me, we find the first moment of “cool” and “abstract” balancing together in a piece of choreography devised by Emilie and Karoline to Be Sharp Say Nowt. It is playful, edgy, and full of adrenaline.
Today has been a day of trust, and rediscovering the fun for ourselves. And it culminated in a beautiful dinner with spectacular views of the sun setting over Volda for our last evening together. An incredible opportunity to share ideas and practices from a collection of international interdisciplinary artists and experts over gorgeous food. Connections made and strengthened over candlelight and promises to find each other again soon. This space tonight offered me time to reflect on two founding principles of my future international collaborations. Firstly language is key, as is its absence. Treat it carefully, and choose when we need language. Second is that all feedback sessions must happen in neutral light and in a circle for equality; artists with audience to share in the work. I will follow these steps as handily as I can going forward.
This morning is spent consolidating all the strings of performance we made and adding supporting tech in order to present the work in its best possible form for further funding opportunities. This is a fairly hands-off process for me as I leave Milly to work closely with Emilie and Karoline refining movement and document the work (she has the rare skill of being an expert with both movement and photography) while I manage the production elements. This continual polish across the morning feels closer to a final performance of the material with each recording. I watch as everyone flourishes in their role. We’ve formed in the nerves and excitement of the first day, stormed through the mid-week pressure, normalised in the aftermath, and the team is now performing as a well-oiled machine this morning. It feels like we’ve accomplished a lot.
We end our day with reflection in our group on what we expected, what we learnt, what surprised us, what we’d have done differently, and what we will take forward. I’ve taken so much from this process and am incredibly grateful for the space to develop this production and the company with our now-familial group. I think an important discovery made this week is that Kompani Morrel have such a tight working relationship at this stage that I think their model of inviting artists into the process later allows them to flourish. For myself, I have developed a healthier balance between pushing and pulling, and this calmness is something I will work harder to instil in my practice going forward – it doesn’t work for me to be binary in this choice. One of the most surprising elements of this development for me has been my growth as an artist through the mix of different experts across the programme. This mix of influences, background, perspectives offered not only great guidance and a magnetic attraction to explore further afield, but also reflection on what is radical and exciting about practices I maybe hadn’t considered so special about the ecology I come from.
Last night the mix of artists around the dinner table gave part of our conversation over to discuss our global fears, almost exclusively political, and our experiences of how we cope (or don’t cope). This programme at Seanse has reaffirmed for me the significance of encouraging each other to be open, reflective, encouraging, responsive, and kind. This is my vision of global excellence, and more than ever after this week I believe how integral the arts are for this purpose. Part of me imagines a future renaissance of art based in human connection to remedy the current geopolitical psychodrama. And I suppose dreams are good to have.
- There is a balance to be had in pushing and pulling on a project. For me, pushing less means I have the chance to listen more.
- New collaborations with new teams mean we need to carefully decide new ways to create together.
- Shows are made with love, and collaboration works best if everyone loves the potential.
- The importance of trusting, supportive residencies and how they unshackle artists to make genuine discoveries about their practice.
- I need to trust my work more.
- Role titles are really important. There’s so much baggage in these words, and their definitions vary widely.
- I will try for all my future sharing feedback sessions to be operated in equality; artists mixed among audience sat in a circle with shared plain lighting. We are all involved in this event.
- Reflect nationally. The UK and Scotland has loads of amazing qualities and practices too. Share them.
- Connect globally. There is so much in the world to be inspired and influenced by. Steal them.