Becoming a performance

During the second rehearsal, we hear a snatch of what I take to be Olivier Renouf’s soundtrack. It is decidedly eerie—a droning church organ sound offset by a rising Ennio Morricone train-whistle whine. Wonderful, but seems at odds with such an energetic piece.

Experience of any training is that it is really interesting at first, when you have a lot to learn, but levels off and becomes dull as time moves on and the only improvements made are incremental. With Sea Change, however, the third rehearsal is the most interesting as we get to dig deeper and examine those aspects which are not yet working.

The countdown is a stumbling block. We try a simpler approach: a forceful vocal count accompanied by only a single gesture. We then return to multiple, varied ‘spontaneous’ gestures but with a slower, more carefully articulated vocal count. There is tremendous attention to detail—the importance of stressing the second digit in the count (29, 28, 27) is emphasised.

We are reminded of the need to engage and retain audience attention. This is a presentation and should be dramatic. Even if it is not possible to run along the line, the sheer effort involved must be apparent. The movement ‘reaching out’ need not be desperate or straining but can be softer—greeting or welcoming—making a connection. The point is sinking in—we are actors as well as dancers.

By the end of the first week of rehearsals, Sea Change feels like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing. I can glimpse what the dancers are going to contribute to the event but not yet see what the audience will be getting out of it.

But I’m certainly looking forward to finding out.

Sea Change will be performed between 5PM and 8PM on 1 July 2021 on Deansgate in Manchester. I’ll be the dancer wearing a white top and jeans.

The follow-up to this article is now available: Not Drowning but Waving—Dancing in ‘Sea Change’.