This is a blog post about Mathilde. Mathilde is a dance and music improvisation collective I'm part of formed in 2009 with four fellow improvisers. Created through intuition rather than deliberation we came together without many words. It was all about playing and doing. Even after four years the intimate understanding between us and the curiosity for each other's practice is still there.
Who are we?
In Mathilde we are five performers, two musicians and three dancers, who love coming together to dance and play. The core of what we do is improvisation and within that we explore the boundaries of each others’ areas of expertise using various tasks and scores as a structure.
To give an impression of what we do, here's a film of some work -a performance tour in the north of England from 2011 taking place in a theatre in Leeds, a church in Manchester, a park in Leeds and at a festival in Rotherham.
On Sunday the 3 March 2013 Mathilde met up for tea, soup, ginger beer and banoffee pie. The point of the meeting was to discuss where we see the collective going both in practical and creative terms. Having this chat made me think back to the beginning of Mathilde in 2009.
The implications of being a collective
An important point to establish about Mathilde is how we were founded on a silently agreed ethos: being a collective. Being a collective meant sharing views on aesthetics and work ethics. There was no hierarchy when developing ideas and no single member leading the group. We never had an outside person to overlook the bigger picture neither in a creative nor a practical sense. Working in this way spread out the responsibility between all members. It also meant, of course, that each member always had a fifth of the responsibility! The no-hierarchy-policy was reflected in the performance space: the musicians were not in the pit playing for the dance and the sound made by the dancers had the same value as sound made by musicians. We were performers on equal terms.
The aesthetics were never actually agreed on. They sort of emerged through the slow formation of the collective without being said out loud. However, looking back on it there were some unconscious choices that made the group different from other improvised dance and music groups. We were not interested in entertaining or sending a political message or performing around themes. As Mathilde was never set out to be a performance project we had no audience to please. Practicing together was for our own amusement and curiosity and the result was complete austerity. When we made the transition from researching into performing we rejected the use of set, lighting and costume; the movement and sound was to stand alone. Our performances were to be an exploration of relationships and timing and then allowing coincidence and spontaneity to determine how the performance would develop. It was almost a philosophical experiment. Can you present completely improvised work for an audience without taking much notice of them and still give them a worthwhile experience? It was challenging for some audience members and we did receive mixed feedback and some frowned foreheads also from the established dance world. One thing that gave us this freedom was that we stayed completely clear of relying on funding or financial support. We got together for the pure love of improvising, there was no financial incentive, and no fundraisers to please.
To put it in short: Mathilde refused narrative and meaning and relied solely on the interaction between performers.
This is snippet of footage from a rehearsal at Yorkshire Dance in March 2010. The footage gives an impression on some of the interactions between musicians and dancers we were exploring at this stage:
At what point would the musician cease to be only a musician and become part of the dance? At what point would the sound created by the dancer using voice, breath or body percussion fuse with the music made by instruments? Musicians and their instruments became an integrated part of the performance space and the sounds made by dancers mixed with the 'soundscape'.
The camera was simply rolling to document our investigation as the static recording of the video implies. Entertaining or any deliberate composition was unintended.
Since the recording of this rehearsal three years ago we have developed a more open approach to our creative practice.
It was therefore interesting to come together for this recent meeting after a break of about five months and hear the collective members express their visions for the future of the group. Coming together to improvise movement and sound had always been the glue that stuck us together, without a certain degree of creative compatibility we would fall apart.
Mathilde performing in Colourscape in Rotherham 2011
Bullet points from meeting
Returning to what was discussed at our recent meeting - in short these were the points for creative development that came up:
A love affair
This meeting brought out a more serious side of us. It seemed we were more confident and determined when expressing ideas for how to continue our practice together. Our common denominator - improvisation - was always there but perhaps in the early days there was a degree of negotiating a common language. Testing boundaries between our roles was part of that and experimenting with complete freedom in the improvisation was also a variation on searching for identity. Now it seemed that our individual uniqueness as performing artists was clearer and that we were ready to bring this in to the collective.
Returning from the meeting I felt very uplifted by how committed we all still are to the group. Not because we're vigorously holding on to this before-mentioned identity but because we're starting to let go and open up. Considering bringing in a mentor, inviting guests and allowing each other more freedom to explore individual research within the parameters of the group, feels like a love declaration to Mathilde.
The whole meeting felt like a step up. Applying for funding was also discussed which seemed a way of taking the collective more seriously and acknowledging our own worth.
We have been practicing, rehearsing and performing together as Mathilde for four years. Not constantly but in little pockets of time when availability has allowed us. We're still the same five practitioners although we're probably five very different practitioners to four years ago. Perhaps the slow development and persistent work is the clue to the longevity of the collective, together with a passion for improvisation. Like a long love affair.
Below is responses from the collective members to the initial email suggesting to meet, raising questions about the future of the group:
Seth: "I still feel as excited about mathilde as ever, and would love to do more"
Daliah: "I really want to work with you all again and would love to have some time in the studio at some point"
Rachel: "Personally I'm very keen to continue. And whatever else I'm up to, what we do as Mathilde - performing improvisation is right at the heart of what I'm interested in"
Marie: "i feel we have build up something quite unusual and i really cherish the moments we have together."
Oliver: "I would really love to do some more playing and dancing with you guys, it provides me with some much needed soul nourishment! "
Had I been more Obama-esque I might have said 'Four more years'!
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