he environment

It’s a tough time to be part of higher education in the UK at the moment, in particular if you are not a STEM subject. I’ve written quite a bit on this theme before[1] but due to last week’s Research Excellence Framework announcement here in the UK, it seems worth linking to a couple of things.

For those of you outside of the UK, the REF is a (flawed) attempt to quantify the quality of research outputs by all Universities in the UK.

First there is this:

… in this current climate of burnout and uncertainty, are universities really creating the most fertile environment for the next generation of academics?


And more worryingly:

More than half of UK university staff questioned by the network said recent policy changes such as the introduction of the research excellence framework – a new process for measuring the quality of academic research – had fuelled campus bullying.

– http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2014/dec/16/research-excellence-framework-bullying-university-staff

My sense is that the environments that academics are being required to work in are increasingly toxic. The structure and importance of REF (it determines how much money Universities get for research) is increasingly at odds with developing a research (and teaching) environment that is challenging, supportive, intellectually rich, and able to be clearly communicated with different types of audiences.

It so happens that Roehampton Dance (where I work) did very well in REF2014, and I celebrated our success with my colleagues. But, we were taxed as a group of people and it was in spite of these taxes that we were able to continue doing strong research. In many respects I sense that it is because we care for the Department and each other, and the entire group – administrative staff, students and academics – fought to maintain a research environment in which we continue to work to understand why and how dance matters to people.

before seeping in

An extract from a recent review of Recovery by Gracia Haby

You could tell me I began in the foyer, moved to the vast former machine hall, proceeded to a small room where I sat beneath the stairs in an alcove before being gently ushered back to where I began, the same but different, but it was more than that. It rested on the skin before seeping in (perhaps for you it burrowed), and I feel very fortunate to have experienced this ceremonial dance of what was and what is. Time altered. Space altered. Perception altered. A balance held between the inward and outward gaze, the then and the now, moving from a place of mourning to one of celebration before ultimately pushing us out into the hum of the electric night. “Recovery,” to me, remains above all a balance few could pull off.

– http://www.fjordreview.com/in-recovery-disarming-delicate/

on being injured

I injured my back pretty much immediately after I started dancing. I was asked to be in a ballet (with next to no training) and I seem to remember it was replicating this lift that first did the damage:

Dirty Dancing

Gah-gung, gah-gung.

Since that time I’ve had various issues – facet joint problems, prolapsed discs, untold spasms, etc. – and in many respects I could say that how I dance has been conditioned (or constrained) by the limitations, injuries and pain in my spine.

The worst time of all was in the (northern) winter of 2008 when – without apparent cause – I was no longer able to run (or even walk) pain free. I was still dancing but I couldn’t do a basic roll-down without my spine catching in pain. This situation lasted more than three years and was most painful when I was caught unaware: slipping, missing a step, sneezing.

In January 2010 (two years after this version of my pain first appeared) my sports physician suggested I go and see the sports psychologist Britt Tajet-Foxell. At the time I was expressing a lot of anxiety about the situation, and was very low indeed.

Britt works at the Royal Ballet and we spent just three hours together. She was direct and supportive, and we did some pretty simple exercises that were designed to help me re-think my experience.

The other day I happened across some scrawled notes from that meeting with Britt.

notes from psychologist

They say:

  • I am capable of persisting; I am persisting
  • This pain is temporary
  • I am working hard on maintaining and supporting my body-mind
  • I am not alone
  • I am well supported
  • My back is an occupational hazard
  • Calm
  • Grief/bereavement/loss: shock, disabled, anger, depression, resolution.

In early 2011 I was able to run without pain. It was, and this is not an understatement, like being re-born into my physical life.

My dancing friend Jacob Lehrer used to say (when we were training together at the VCA in Melbourne):

When you are not injured, you never think you’ll get injured; and when you are injured you think you’ll never get better.

This blog post is to say thanks to Britt, but if you are someone with chronic pain or illness, kia kaha.

recovery again

I’ve posted about Recovery before, but tonight is the preview in Melbourne and I’m excited for this as I am disappointed to be missing the entire season. It’s a strange thing to miss seeing a project you’ve been involved with for many years.

Natalie Cursio and Shannon Bott are remarkable artists – thoughtful, trusting, resilient and at times belligerent (in the best possible sense of the word) – and it is always a pleasure to get to work with them (even from so far away here in London).

Here’s an email-based interview about the project: http://www.danceinforma.com/magazine/2014/12/making-new-dance-three-choreographers-talk-process-creating-recovery/

Here is an article from http://www.artshub.com.au/: https://simonkellis.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/artshub.pdf

I wrote some notes for Shannon and Natalie this morning and thought perhaps that those of you who are performers/dancers reading this might be interested. Here are they are:

  • remember the extraordinary pleasure and privilege of the opportunity to perform and dance for people
  • “… use your adrenalin on your terms.” – Deborah Hay
  • Ms Hay also said that what is happening is “choreography of a moment, and not a movement”.
  • related to this is to stay sensitive to your experience of time in performance, to master time, to compress and stretch it, to be in it and not have it done to you. Enjoy the way time floats in performance, and be responsible for that floating.
  • stay busy with the physical and sensorial aspects of the materials, and try and avoid the trap of being consumed by feeling (ie don’t succumb to emotion or nostalgia or attempting to feel something so that others might feel it). Allow the sum of the parts of the work to do its work with the audience, rather than make the parts ‘felt’.
  • there is no need to try harder, or be more of anything for tonight. Just gently navigate your way through the materials and the locations. What kind of listening might this make available to you (in your bodies, hearts, minds)?
  • take pleasure, absolute pleasure in your time together, in the dancing together, and in the immeasurable joy of being alive, here, now.


Image: Kirsty Argyle