Before the Christmas decorations had even come down at Quake HQ, we were getting stuck into work on something very special — a collaboration whose seed was planted a long time ago and which is now finally beginning to bloom.

It all began on 4th December 2011 (we checked the date to be sure) at a scratch event in a simple theatre space above a pub in Sheffield. One of the acts had pretty much stopped the show (and not in a great way) with some onstage body modification that had caused some audience members to faint. Whoever came on next had a tough act to follow. And that’s when Spiltmilk Dance came on stage and into our lives.

In a little sharing of Spiltmilk Say Dance, Sarah, Adele and Jenna reignited the now nervous audience with a whistle-stop tour of social dance, mashing up the twist, the Charleston and the dance crazes of our childhood with songs and music you’d never expect to hear those dances performed to. At the back of the tiny auditorium, we turned to each other and said, “We HAVE to work with them one day!”

Flash forward just over five years, and we’ve come a long way. We’ve seen and supported each other’s shows, been rural touring conference buddies, and always been ready with a quick social media click, like and share. Now, finally, we’ve got together in a rehearsal room to start making a show.

mac supported us by providing rehearsal space, and these first two days were an opportunity to start sharing our processes with one another. To do that, we led the first day and then Spiltmilk put us through our paces on Day Two. You can read what happened below.


DAY ONE
by Sarah and Adele from Spiltmilk

You know that first week of January when it’s cold and dark, and nobody wants to creep out of the Christmas wilderness? Well not to be smug or anything, but this year we didn’t have that. Because the first bit of work we got to delve into in 2017 was two days of playing, experimenting and exploring with Little Earthquake. A collaboration between the two companies has been on the cards for some time now, so it was a real treat to see it finally materialise.

We had two days in early January in the lovely studios at mac in Birmingham. Little Earthquake led the activities for the first day, and we at Spiltmilk led the second day. This was a great chance for us to learn more about each other’s process; to recognise the many similarities between our values and interests, identify what we can learn from each other, and dare we say it, even dream up some early ideas for what we could create together! Exciting times!

We were a little apprehensive heading to the studios the first day, mainly that we were going to be made to ‘act’. Although we speak on stage a lot, we are insistent that we are ourselves on stage, because seeing ourselves be a character would make us cringe and want to hide in a corner. But the sessions were planned brilliantly so we gradually felt more and more comfortable with stepping outside our comfort zone, so that we may have actually dabbled with characters towards the end of the day. Eek!

Over the two days we played a lot of games, and there was certainly an atmosphere of fun in the room. This playfulness is essential in our process, so we were thrilled to see it embraced by Little Earthquake too, because we believe that kind of setting is where we create our best work. One of the most memorable activities led by Little Earthquake involved us creating games based on a random given title. Players couldn’t speak, but instead had to make up the game by working together and building on ideas provided by each other. We played ‘Bushwhackers’ and ‘Contrary Fairy’, both utterly silly but surprisingly engaging games!

We also loved an activity where we had to improvise rhyming poems. Again, structured improvisation games are something we use a lot in our process although they usually look quite different as they are movement based, so we’re excited about new improvisation activities both companies could develop together to create fresh, interesting ideas in the future.

Watch this space!

DAY TWO
by Little Earthquake

They say you should never work with your heroes because you’re bound to find them disappointing in reality. But there’s an even more anxiety-inducing aspect to it… What if you disappoint them?

The second day of our collaboration was led by Sarah and Adele, and just as they’d felt nervous about the prospect of being required to “act”, we were now feeling just as daunted at the prospect of having to “dance”. Gareth’s days of drama school period dancing are way behind him, and as much as Phil likes throwing some shapes to disco music, neither of us exactly feel like especially comfortable or confident dancers.

What is so special about Spiltmilk’s approach is that it separates value and quality from formal ideas of professional technique and training. That’s not to say they aren’t very skilled performers with well-refined craft — they definitely are! But in their hands, dance becomes something which celebrates and expresses what makes individuals unique, and then goes on to show what happens when unique individuals come together. In their hands, everyone can become an expert on their own terms. Just as we (try to) do with words and pictures, they play around with movements, positions and sequences to tell stories which are rich in detail and which challenge, surprise and entertain their audiences.

You want to know about us doing the dancing, don’t you? You’ll be amused / delighted to know that we absolutely did do some. Quite a lot, in fact. From some super-simple warm-up poses and stretches as we moved around the room, we progressed at a rapid pace. Before lunch, we were at the point of creating improvised sequences for four dancers (and we are now comfortable referring to ourselves that way — within this safe space, at least!) based on our desert island films.

And after lunch, the Randle Studio was graced with a spectacular homage to George Michael. We watched the video for “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”  and each selected four specific movements to make into an eight-count sequence. And then, under Sarah’s choreographic guidance, we built these twenty-four separate movements into an extended sequence.

Needless to say, some of us were better at learning and remembering the sequences than others. But putting the blushes and annoyance-at-self for not nailing it to one side, it was both a brilliant way to see how a seemingly simple set of movements can be developed into a scene of real complexity — and an eye-opener into how much time and effort goes into making a relatively short dance sequence look so sharp. We’ve all come away with a new insight into the way our two seemingly different companies work, and have found that under the surface, there’s a lot that we do the same. The first phase of the experiment has shown us all — we think! — that there are lots of exciting possibilities to explore, and that we definitely want to keep exploring them. We’ll keep you posted with what happens next time the four of us get together!