Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Big Butterfly Count 2016

You would think, would you not, that a period of three weeks at the height of summer (15th July to 7th August) would be ideal for seeing loads of butterflies? Yet again, this year was, for me, a bit of a wash-out! I did lots of 15 minute observations with no results. Not a single butterfly! I know the 15 minute time-slot is to limit the potential for counting the same butterfly twice, but when they're scarce, it's so frustrating!
I attempted my first counts down in Neyland on 19th July, a really hot day (I hung a thermometer on the washing line and it was showing 30 degrees by late afternoon, even with a breeze!). I started at Brunel Quay and went up past the Yacht Club to the car park right at the end, checking each Buddleia or patch of grass or scrub. Not a single butterfly! Not one! A friend down in Surrey visited Clandon Park to do a count and there were loads of butterflies, including Silver-Washed Fritillaries, Marbled Whites, Purple Hairstreaks and White Admirals. I think I would just about die from excitement if I saw any of those here!

Over the weeks, I had a couple more sessions watching for butterflies in my garden, but apart from the occasional white, too restless and distant to be able to tell large from small, there was nothing. Not even on the splendid Buddleia in the front garden a few doors down. Perhaps they were all there once I'd gone away, but I doubt it. I let the Ragwort in the garden grow and flower to increase the sources of nectar (and in the hope I might get Cinnabar Moths) but nothing seems to want it very much, so that's my next job - onto the compost heap with it, before it seeds!

I left the Buddleia growing under the washing line to see what colour it would be. It got its roots down this year and grew ridiculously long flower spikes which opened into the usual lilac-coloured flowers right at the end of the three-week period. On the last day of the Butterfly Watch, it was nice and warm and I was rewarded by visitors:

3 Large White
2 Small White
2 Red Admiral (very fresh and gorgeous!)
1 Peacock

A result to record, at last!

True to form, as soon as the three week period was over, I've seen loads of butterflies. There must have been a hatching of Small Tortoiseshells, with Peacocks and Large Whites, all enjoying the Buddleia in the sunshine and impossible to photograph because of the stiff breeze blowing!

I'm leaving and encouraging any caterpillars I find (although sadly didn't notice the Gooseberry Sawfly until they had completely defoliated my two small gooseberry bushes!) and plan to have several Buddleias around the garden, as well as other nectar rich flowers. We all need more butterflies!

Belly Dance Choreography (for Beginners)

'Traditionally', Belly Dance solos are improvised, created in the moment, the reactions to the music differing each time you hear the same piece, depending on your mood or what you hear or reflect from the music. Improvised performance can be a daunting prospect, so many beginners prefer the relative security offered by having a choreography to follow, and sooner or later want to create their own.

Creating choreography can be a challenge for any dance style and belly dance is no different. It's even more of a challenge when you're a beginner. My first solo went down well, but looking back, it was overly stuffed with moves and I didn't manage my spatial use and placement very well. If you're starting with your own solo or group choreographies, here are my top tips and things to think about!

Start with the music, not the moves! As a beginner, it can be difficult to know where to start when you only know a few 'moves', but you can get away with half a dozen moves in a simple choreography. Although 'belly dance' is an umbrella term covering many styles, in general the dance form is intensely music-driven. It's about interpreting the music and rhythms, more a way of moving than a set of steps. If you're working in a more contemporary or fusion way, you might want to start with a concept or theme, or even a prop. But music is still right up at the start of the process.

Choose music you like, which moves you, stirs something in you, makes you want to dance. You are going to be listening to the same piece over and over again. What is the mood of the music, what emotion does it stir in you?

What style of music is it? It's a good idea to match the style of your dance to the style and rhythms of the music.  Try to get a translation of any lyrics (but resist the temptation to mime them!).

Really listen to the music, the rhythm(s), the form (intro, verse, chorus, outro, repeats, call and response - labelling the different sections, e.g. Intro A Verse B, Chorus C, Bridge D, Outro E, you may find you have something which looks like ABCBCDBCE), the length of notes and phrases, changes in rhythm, tempo and other dynamics (loud/soft, stops/starts, flowing or percussive).

Improvise. Seriously, just dance without stopping or judging yourself and see what comes up. You might find that after dancing to the music a few times, the same moves come up in the same places, or you feel compelled to do a certain move at a particular point.

'Map out' the piece. From your notes on the form and dynamics, and observations of moves or phrases which you liked or found yourself repeating during your improvisation, you can start to do a rough choreography. It can be useful to set down the parts which seem obvious, such as an intro, big finish, and any repeats or chorus. Some people prefer to work from start to finish, but working in a non-linear way can help to prevent you getting 'stuck'.

Keep it simple. Restriction can be great for creativity. Use your favourite 'go to' moves and the moves you can do  technically well and suit your body to try to make the music, its rhythms and melody, visible; meet silence with stillness, reflect the length of notes in the duration of movements, solo instruments danced on the spot, using the noisy, joyful music to travel. But remember that less is more - you don't need to pack in lots of different moves.

Use repeats (wisely!). The usual thing is to repeat a dance combination when the music repeats. It can provide an 'anchor' for the audience and dancers alike, but it can get a bit tedious to do and to watch. Tricks to change it up include:
  • Doing things 'on the other side', i.e. right and left sides.
  • Passing the move up or down the body (e.g. hip circles, chest circles or shoulder shimmy, hip shimmy.
  • Limiting or alternating repeated phrases.
  • Repeating whole phrases instead of individual moves.
  • Recognising call and response, reflecting them in different movement phrases.
  • Working different directions, both in terms of facing different ways (it's surprising how different a move can look when you turn it side on, but be aware of how it looks from the audience point of view!) and of using different pathways in the space.
  • The power of three; when you have a similar musical phrase repeated four times, you do the same thing three times and something else the fourth time.
So you could create a combination of phrases which you repeat, e.g. facing one front diagonal, repeat on the other side to the other front diagonal, back to the first side with your back to the audience, and a different combo to finish facing front.

Use your space. Don't forget that you can manage space by taking longer or shorter steps. If your choreography is for a duet, trio or group rather than solo, look at your spacing and pathways; even if you plan to do everything in unison, think about mirroring movements, changing formations, the details of movement which allow you all to look the same (such as how high an arm is raised, which way a hand turns), and the potential for not working completely in unison!

Work on your transitions, linking moves to make them flow smoothly.

Dance with your whole self. Put your heart into it, dance with expression, both through the dynamics of the moves, the use of gestures, and through your face.

And finally, ENJOY IT!

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Cardigan Belly Dance Festival 2016

It seems impossible that that only a fortnight ago, we were mid-show at the 6th (yes, 6th!) Cardigan Belly Dance Festival. Our guest teacher Zara bravely took on a last minute challenge to do a children's workshop in the afternoon, as friends and family had descended unexpectedly on my dance-partner-in-crime Rose a few days before the weekend (so we were both having meltdowns!). The noise added a counterpoint to the rehearsals for our other guest teacher Siluria and her 'pop-up troupe'. Both sets of dancers were sorted out with costumes, ready to perform that evening. A last minute drop-out due to illness was replaced by a last minute drop-in, enabled by not working a shift after all. I had managed to organise a running order which enabled repeat performers to change costumes without being too frantic as well as roughly balancing the two halves, despite other last minute unknowns - a dancer with a very ill father, would she perform and how many pieces, and whether the children would want to perform. In the end, I ditched any thought of performing a solo piece, as I found myself frantically busy covering for another LIFT leader who gives four or five classes a week and who was off training for the middle two weeks of July. I also had to ditch any thoughts of going to the Foundation for Community Dance summer school, which clashed with the preparation week before the festival, and besides which was more than I could afford.

The show went without a hitch, thanks to our tech who has become used to working with us and, having received running order, start on/off cues and music, is a master at getting the most out of the limited lighting rig so we're well lit.

The children were so cute and could have taught the adults a thing or two about ditching the nerves and just getting out there to dance. Two of the girls had a bit of a costume malfunction where their skirts tangled as they turned, and they just stopped and sorted it out with no fuss, then picked up their cue from Zara again. What stars!

Still from Lazlo's Bar
Lazlo's Bar
The pop-up troupe was a bit different this year. Working with Siluria and her husband Andy on live sax, the music and theme was taken from a piece called 'Lazlo's Bar' by their band, Rogora Khart. All of the Imago dancers also did the pop-up troupe. When I arrived at the theatre after lunch, it was great to see that they'd already got the choreography down and were sorting out costume and rehearsing in the afternoon session. The performance was great, the choreography picking up on the lyrics and creating the atmosphere of the bar.

Siluria's other two solos also used music by Rogora Khart. She has great flow and expression; her Sunday workshop was about getting more expression into the dance, and more connection with audience and other dancers.

The Imago piece was possibly the best we've ever performed it. It seems to have been a struggle this year, despite being shorter and simpler than the previous two pieces. It really confirmed to me that classes on only the first and third Wednesdays of the month (which was all the dancers felt they could afford and commit to) just isn't an effective way to learn and retain a choreography and sort out the technique, if the dancers also don't practise at home. We'd spent about 21 hours on the choreography and supporting technique over seven months, which proved long enough to have forgotten all the phrase-by-phrase break-down we'd started with and for bad habits and blocks to creep in. There must be something in the immediacy of learning a piece on the day, without having to commit it to long-term memory. How you can spend months on a piece and feel under-rehearsed, but not feel so under-rehearsed on a piece you learned (but don't really know!) in a day, just boggles my mind. Anyway, I was proud of everyone for their commitment, hard work and performance, and had some lovely feedback from the audience on how good we were, how nice we looked (all different bits of costume, but linked by top, bottom or both in shades of blue) and how much they liked the piece.

I was intensely proud of one of my dancers, who choreographed and performed her first solo. We'd had some rehearsal time, in which I'd given feedback and tips, but this was her creation and expression, a fusion piece which had the crowd clapping along. She worked extremely hard on it, with a quantum leap in improvement each time she rehearsed with me. It just goes to show, when you dance from the heart, you can perform and produce something that an audience can enjoy watching, without having good, much less perfect technique. (Although of course, we should all be working towards that, but just think what you and your audience could miss out on if you wait to perform until you or others think you're really quite good! But that's a whole other discussion and I digress!)

Juliana came down from north Wales to perform her fusion sword piece, one of those times when the dance ends and you feel as though you've just been released from a spell.

I admire my dance partner Rose greatly; she does separate choreographies for her handful of different groups and gets the best out of her dancers with some beautiful pieces. This year, one of her groups ordered made-to-measure galabeyas from Cairo via Zara's Zouk and they were gorgeous, and left me green with costume envy. Some of her dancers are now creating their own solos and duets, some of which had been shown for feedback at Yvette Cowles' weekend of workshops relating to dance drama and performance, and the polish which had been put on them since that weekend at the end of May was fabulous to see.

Tribal Unity Wales did a fast piece in the first half and a slower set in the second half, including a Puja to the most beautiful guitar music (although I still don't know what, or by whom, it was).

Zara also did a set comprising a high-energy raqs assaya, where her cane became a blur of silver, baladi which revelled in the music and a drum solo to top it all off. She brought the same energy to her workshop on empowerment through the dance the following day, where we walked around like divas, shouted across the space and found our centre of gravity and the source of our feminine power in our pelvis.

As it always does, the weekend flew by and it took me a few days to come down off the high.I still haven't unpacked and dealt with all the bits and pieces and operation 'reclaim the sewing table' has stalled because ... ah, that's a different post!