For Them

Four short dance films by Jacky Lansley

‘The Open Door’ came about during one of the lockdowns when I simply decided I had to see other people – even a glimpse of people passing by would be a feast! – Jacky Lansley

As a way to keep moving and creating during the pandemic lockdowns I continued to work on my own at the Dance Research Studio – which has been my base since 2002 – and regularly filmed myself. My process was simple: I chose a piece of music which inspired, I warmed up, I improvised with the music, exploring image and movement motifs, then I improvised again with the camera on. In all I have made approximately 20 short films and have selected 4 to be part of this suite, which I have titled ‘For Them’.

The choreographic and music choices I made were informed by many different personal and political issues that impacted on me during 2020-2022. The pandemic, as for many, triggered feelings of loss and sadness. The last film in the suite titled ‘Listen’, where I dance with Gavin Bryars’ beautiful and poignant work for solo cello ‘Tre Laude Dolce no.1’, reflects this sense of personal and universal loss. My gestures hint at memories of meetings and farewells and there is an interesting relationship between my two selves; a kind of solidarity and dialogue across the space in defiance of isolation.

‘The Open Door’ came about during one of the lockdowns when I simply decided I had to see other people – even a glimpse of people passing by would be a feast! Sometimes people would stop and look in, chat and even dance a little in the street. This live sharing was a relief and inspiration and reminded me, again, that creative ideas can come from the everyday and the minimal. Then in February this year the war in the Ukraine began – and we witnessed the horrors and devastation imposed by Russia. I felt so powerless, though, like many artists, I wanted to make some small gesture of public support for the Ukraine and its culture. I found a piece of beautiful Ukrainian folk music – an unaccompanied male voice ensemble – and improvised a dance with the studio door open; some passers-by acknowledged the reference and meaning in the music.

In the film ‘Duet Duet’ I had the gift of working with my long time friend and colleague Tim Taylor. The symmetry and empathy in our shapes and gestures reflects the depth of our choreographic and performance work together over the years. I laid Debussy’s music over our improvisation as I felt the classical references in our profile movements evoked the style of Nijinsky’s ballet L’Après-midi d’un faune. It is not clear in our version who is the faune and who is the nymph – we have created our own slightly humorous/conceptual interpretation. Flavia Bertram’s playful editing of both the space and the performance is integral to the choreographic language and is a clever framing of our ‘quartet’.

The tripartite architecture in the film ‘Bounce’ is also central to the film’s meaning and form. The film begins the suite with, I hope, a sense of joy, despite all. The driving, repetitive quality of Terry Riley’s music pushes me gently forward with my own repetitions – sometimes stopping to explore gestures and shapes which evoke previous choreographic works made at the studio. I find the episode when I swipe my hand across the camera and hide my face with my hands a curious critique of the camera’s voyeuristic presence – though I return to my oblivious bouncing trio – and vanish! Although Riley’s music is from 1969, I feel it is utterly contemporary and permissive.

This project is also a celebration and honouring of the Dance Research Studio – a small space in the heart of Shoreditch, London which for 20 years has inspired and supported radical dance of all descriptions. Many artists have found a home at the studio, hundreds of works have been made on its beech wood floor. Interdisciplinary training courses, led by myself and others, have enabled both emerging and experienced practitioners to develop their craft. It has allowed me to continue researching through challenging times and I am grateful that I have been able to create this project ‘For Them’.

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