Century Project is a hopeful dance work that spans a century, launching in 2020 and completing beyond our lifetimes, in 2120.
A hand made carpet becomes a site for a series of durational events, held every 5 years, that celebrate the knowledge and nature of the dancer. An act of faith, whereby its continuation is entrusted to future generations of artists, this intimate yet epic work uses dance to raise multiple questions about time, the moving body, the environment and how to think long term in order to be better ancestors.
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- Century Project spans 100 years. 2020 - 2120.
- Its articulated through a series of 10 hour durational Events that are held every 5 years (12-10pm).
- Its embodied by a group of professional Dancers. A new Generation every 5 years.
- A studio based Preparation period leads up to each Event. The current Generation of Dancers gift the work to the next Generation, who then hold the Event.
- The Preparation period and The Events take place on a handmade 5m x 5m Carpet.
- The Carpet offers an ‘open space’ for the Dancers to embody various practices and engage in Dancerness* together.
- The Event is not a performance and the public are considered Witnesses rather than audience members.
- Each Dancer will personally invite the next person to continue their Timeline.
- Each Dancer will inherit a Notebook that is passed down their Timeline. They will contribute reflections, drawings, observations to the project through the book.
- The 10 hour Event represents the 100 years, with each 30 minutes acting as a ‘stand in’ for a 5 year period.
- The date will be spoken aloud at 30 minute intervals- “2020, 2025, 2030…” as a reminder of the ‘meta gesture’ of the project.
- As well as the ‘open space’ for Dancerness, a simple Folk Dance will be devised by the first Generation and passed on through Dancers across the 100 years.
- At the Event, each Generation will dance this Folk Dance in their specific 30 minute Time Frame (ie. at 12-12.30pm in 2020 and at 12.30-1pm in 2025 etc).
- The Folk Dance will be ‘held’ and practiced by the Dancers across the 5 years, ready to teach the next Generation.
- Each future Generation curate their Event by inviting back dancers from previous Generations as Guests to dance the Folk Dance in their respective 30 min. slot.
- The dancers will have Spotify (or its equivalent) available to chose music their desire to hear.
- There will be a piece of composed music for the Folk Dance.
- Each Event will be recorded. An archive of sound is accumulated. At each Event all recordings will be running, so dancers can fade up sound recordings of past years.
- At the Event, the audience will be given headphones that give the information listed here as well as access to the Century Conversation interviews.
- Galleries, Museums and other spaces are invited to exhibit the Carpet, Notebooks and sound recordings of the Event in an Exhibition.
- Century Conversations will accompany the work. This hybrid form of workshop / lecture / audience conversation, would also include a live interview with an invited Specialist; an artist / academic / specialist in areas such as environment, archiving, anthropology, future forecasting and longitudinal art etc.
- A group of Trustees will be found to support the work and the Dancers. One Dancer from each Generation will become a Trustee for the next 5 years.
- Every 5 years, a new organisation will Host the work. Liaising with the Trustees to organise; rehearsal space for the Preparation period, a venue for the Event, Exhibition and Conversations, whilst also curating their own related projects in response to the work.
- The Carpet will be given long-term storage to ensure its safekeeping under optimal conditions.
Above all else, this is a project about faith and hope in people, including people I don’t know and people who haven’t even been born yet. Following its launch in 2020, the continuation of this project is entrusted to future generations of artists; artists that I believe might care about the same fundamental things that I do such as empathy, care, embodiment, community and dancing.
This art work is about creating slow time. It is an act of ‘Cathedral Thinking’** where by a creation is completed beyond the span of a life time. Whilst this project ‘remembers back’ and ‘projects forwards’, it is a practice of the present moment, held and lived through many dancing bodies. Dancers are experts at understanding how to live in the present through the senses and by tuning their attention and, in turn, the attention of those that witness them.
This project uses dance to think about other things; political things, environmental things, personal things, social things and cultural things Whilst it is played out across a series of events, its very concept acts an invite for anyone who engages with it to think and act differently. It is an invite to use the long term perspective to behave differently in the moment and address a notion coined by Jonas Salk (Developer of the first Polio Vaccine) that “Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors”. Whilst many people will not be able to engage first hand with the dance Event itself, it is my hope that through online communication, documentation, the series of Conversations and the Exhibition, the ideas could invite more thinking today that will benefit the longterm.
The 100 year system of this project is my choreographic gesture. The ‘choreographic’ lives through the proposed structure for a century long organisation of people, place, time and action. Concerning myself with the this as an artwork, has radically shifted my relationship to the project’s danced ‘content’ and on what terms it engages fellow artists. In the studio process and preparation, as in the event itself, I am not a choreographer but something akin to a host.
Authorship and Agency
This project dissolves the notion of a single creator, instead it foregrounds dancer authorship and agency. If the design, framework and production of the project is my contribution (rather than my choreographing and preserving of a dance), it enables new thinking around traditional notions of authorship, hierarchy and collaboration.
I considered how each of the dancers who work on the project across its timeline could truly be engaged as contributing artists; their ongoing existing practices forming the beating heart of the work. During the research period, we shifted away from imagining ‘a dance that is made by Theo and passed like a relay between dancers in a chain culminating in a premiere after 100 years’ towards the work as a place, a reserve for what we all already do, defended and protected its future.
The handmade 5m x 5m carpet acts as a reserve or a clearing in which our activity will take place. Establishing this shifted everything around it. The carpet becomes more than the visual environment or design but it acts as the continuity of the work, whilst almost everything else changes. Whilst the dance itself is ephemeral, the carpet is a material, an object that can become a visible demonstration of time; it’s wear becoming a way of saying ‘people danced here, people will dance here’ and a place to hold the absence of the live in the interim years
I recently came across an idea that a garden wall doesn’t just serve to frame and preserve the cultivated space but it also encourages questions around the wilderness beyond it. Similarly, I think of the Carpet as a way to imagine the shifting world that exists beyond its border, raising questions around the state of the environment, politics, culture and dance field itself that the Carpet will witness, as it outlives us.
This project does without a choreographer and instead celebrates the dancer. My interest in articulating and platforming dancer knowledge comes from my own 25 years as a performer but was reinforced by two wonderful pieces of text written by celebrated dancers and key mentors for me personally. ‘Dancerness’ is a term coined by Rebecca Hilton and the focus of her lecture at ACCA Melbourne 2014. The late dance artist Gill Clarke embodied and argued for similar dancer knowledge here . This reading helped me understand that dancer knowledge is radical, empathetic and something worth practicing and articulating away from product based, ‘choreographic objects’ contexts.
Removing the need for an authored dance ‘as content, as product, as composition, as performance’ I started to think about practice and the spaces for dancing that are not activated by a choreographer or teacher. Dancers understand the world through the moving body, they dance to think about things or to activate things or practice things. Dancers move because it’s innate and necessary and important to them and a way of thinking physically. How could we use dance not to entertain, not to get fit, not to produce but instead to best embody a way of being together in the world, physically articulating ideas of attention and care and sensing and listening.
Non performing dance
The durational 10 hour event that takes place every 5 years is not seen as a performance but a place for dancer practice. The people who attend the event are asked to consider themselves as witnesses and shift their expectations for entertainment. The project decentralises choreographic content and understands that dancing doesn’t just happen in pieces, but instead is within of all of us and can happen anywhere.
The more that economic viability becomes a measure within the arts, and as more arts buildings are lost to property markets, I believe the precious spaces for dancer knowledge to be practiced are in need of defending. I imagined that a work of art could itself constitute a gesture of mapping out a future place for dancing and supporting artists, rather than assume that institutions will be here in perpetuity to provide for this activity.
This work hopes to exist amidst cultural, political, economic and environmental transformations that are beyond our current comprehension. Without intending to create a dance project ‘about’ climate emergency, an act of sending a project ‘into time’ raises immediate and urgent questions about the environment. The emerging picture of our planet and it’s destruction, and our own biology and health risks re-contextualises this project every single day. This work asks all of us to imagine what kind of world the future generations of dancers (and those that witness the work) will inherit. A recurring theme of my work is the way in which performance can invite and amplify our capacity for empathy. This project is similarly an attempt to think empathetically about descendants yet to come.
The longitudinal nature of this project asks organisations and individuals who support it to think differently about return. A commitment is made to a set of values and to future generations of artists rather than an immediate touring product and the capitalistic thinking that has infected art making.
Whilst 100 is a wonderful fairytale figure, its importance here is that it reaches just beyond the current average life expectancy and ensures the project will outlive those of us who launch it. The figures from the Office for National Statistics, for 2015-17, show that ‘Women's life expectancy from birth remains 82.9 years and for men it is 79.2’.
What is Practiced?
The Preparation period leading up to the Event is a meeting point for the previous and current generations of dancers. A set of activities both studio based and social are offered to help build a sense of the groupness. Walking, talking, eating, reading and drawing are all given value as way to practice being with each other and recognising that the culture of the room is not solely created by moving together. A series of devised physical practices are also offered such as moving in slow motion, generating and embodying notation, devising and sharing scores. These practices are imagined as light frames for being together for the 10 hour Event and available for the dancers to draw upon as they desire. The hope to strike a balance between discovering common ground to move with but not contriving and authoring the space heavily.
Each dancer has a notebook that is handed down their timeline. These books will gradually accumulate reflections and drawing, enabling ideas to pass further than between two generations. They act as both a tool for the dancing itself and a record of what took place, creating an archive of the project as a whole.
Here is an excerpt from Steph McMann’s notebook where she reflects on an hour of slow moving at Wainsgate Chapel during the research period:
I sat and articulated what I felt so strongly in my bones, how I saw the world at this second. Gardens growing through and between my creaking bones, reminding me of patience and time intertwining to create a greater sense of how I am in relation to this room. Others coughing, creaking, blowing up and down, in and out. No expectation on being anything other than now. How fast I move. How fast I grow. Literally growing. Growth. Speed and rate of change is simply immense. It causes such beauty between these walls. Simplicity bleeds into complexity that has no author. Seeing is redundant with the eyes alone, it spreads and filters through the entire organism to flower upon another and in another. Touching without the preciousness. Cellular touch which massages the organs and sees me like you, you like me. No prisoners, no comparison. Just Here and Here and Here and Here and Here and Now and This room. Walls, beards, stiff and hard, supportive and bracing and not without difficulty, just giving enough but also taking to. Gone with the tiger force, in with the bowing panther. Retreating to fall forward with hope, aspiration and will to breath in my comrades, my pals, my loves. My heart beats for this, them, us. How to bring this quality depth and fuzz that surrounds my being forward. Not to capture and force forward, but to provide the conditions for its own will and desire to believe it can thrive with ease. Stephanie McMann
** The concept of Cathedral Thinking stretches back through the centuries to medieval times, when architects, stonemasons and artisans laid plans and began construction of the soaring, cavernous structures that served as places of worship, community gathering spaces and safe havens. Since then, the concept has been applied to space exploration, city planning and other long-term goals that require decades of foresight and planning so future generations can enjoy their full realisation.
Key to the research for this work has been looking sideways to other longitudinal art works and initiatives that attend to Cathedral Thinking.
Future Library - Katie Paterson
Longplayer - Jem Finer
As slow as possible - John Cage
The Long Time - Ella Saltmarshe & Beatrice Pembroke