Claire Morris, the wife of Fallen Angels Dance Theatre founder Paul Bayes Kitcher (and the woman behind the scenes who keeps everything running smoothly due to her innate prowess in the art of multitasking, delegation and generally otherworldly organisational skills), was invited to choreograph all aspects of dance for the performance.
And so we found ourselves taking things up a notch (we usually rehearse for three hours a week from 11am-1pm every Tuesday in the LCI Studio at the Bluecoat). In addition to our usual rehearsal slot, we started working with Hope Street Ltd at their Lord Street premises, just a stone's throw from our base at the Bluecoat.
We were coaxed out of our comfort zone of improvised, organic movement and entered the unknown domain of technical choreography. It was simultaneously nerve-wracking, humbling and exciting to work with seasoned performers and artists. The Emerging Artists comprise of actors, dancers, writers, producers, directors and designers (and various combinations of all the above). Having worked with each other regularly for some time, the Liverpool group already had an existing bond and mutual trust, built over several months. Working with new people was a welcome challenge but also somewhat daunting.
I can't speak for the others but I really needn't have been nervous. We were welcomed with open arms and after the first couple of sessions, it was as if we had been working together for ages. At the start of the project, we were invited to Tate Liverpool to view the Francis Bacon exhibition, to view the artist's work and delve into his psyche (not for the faint-hearted, he was a tortured soul). He claimed not to do preparatory work for his masterpieces (so-called because he is highly collectable, with his works fetching record-breaking prices at auction, we're talking tens of millions of pounds). Yet the co-curators for the exhibition had managed to unearth sketch books and photographs that were the source of huge inspiration, offering a rare and precious glimpse into the creative process of this British art icon.
We explored his obsession with all things carnal. Openly homosexual at a time when it would have landed him in jail (thank goodness we have evolved since then), many of his works depicted his lover George Dyer and other acquaintances. He had a macabre fascination with the flesh and decay. His approach to painting was highly emotive rather than classically realist, it was as if he got under the very skin of his subjects, exposing the mysteries that lay beneath.
With regards to his composition, he had a predilection for elevating his subjects or placing them within squares and cubes, something that went on to inform our choreography, as our key dance piece within the show was performed within a square of thick elastic. Dannielle, one of our new additions (a graduate of LIPA, fantastic performer and talented makeup artist) had conceived of the inspired idea that we should embody the imagined demons in the tortured artist's mind. The artist himself was played by Frank, our highly charismatic and singularly unique resident fine artist and sculptor. Having played himself in a previous show at The Bluecoat, he seemed like the obvious choice to personify Bacon. He even created a live art work inspired by yours truly, done in the style of Bacon himself during our performances. Kirstie, Dannielle, myself and long time member Linda, were the demons. I can't speak for the others but playing tortured and manic wasn't too much of a stretch, seeing as I have battled many of my own demons in my time. Let's just say there were plenty of personal life experiences to draw upon to bring an authenticity and richness to the performance.
Many of the Fallen Angels Dance Theatre performers are what I would call "multi-media artists" in the sense that our creativity defies categorisation. We are all multi-talented with an ability to channel our creativity via various mediums, be it traditional art, creative writing and spoken word (Linda Lewis being a notable example of literary finesse), set design (Kirstie), professional makeup design and costume / fashion design as well as acting, singing, photography and contemporary dance. These many facets have only served to enrich our creative process, offering us all various opportunities for self expression and artistic growth.
Our rehearsals with Claire and Andre at Hope Street Ltd comprised of mask workshops, acting, improvisation and choreographed dance, a veritable feast of creative exploration. Dannielle and I were offered the opportunity to come on board as makeup designers for the performance, working closely with costume designer Samantha Airey to bring the characters to life. RAWD, another local organisation came on board as support cast, so all in all, we had quite the challenge (though it was a welcome one). I find that when you venture beyond the realms of your comfort zone, you truly start to grow.
One thing I learned about the professional theatrical and dance creative process, is that anything can happen. Flexibility is a necessary quality as things are likely to change at the very last minute. Having rehearsed for several weeks, we had our dress rehearsal at Tate Liverpool on Friday 22nd July. Some things were cut for the first show, the time factor seemed to be a pressing theme. Also, due to the health and safety regulations, only a certain number of audience members were allowed into our space at any given time. As such, we were required to perform our specific piece four times in rapid succession, to allow the waiting guests time to navigate through the various spaces, taking in the various "mini shows" within the show. It was truly a unique experience. Naturally, our existing bonds were further cemented due to the intensity of the working process (not to mention the at times comical experience of having a breast rubbing against you one moment and someone grazing your testicle the next), such is the nature of contemporary dance. We all took it in good humour, we're now professionals (not to mention friends) after all.
The end of our specific piece was a segment where we took turns sitting in the "hot seat" (a chair in the space). We were interviewed by Claire in rotation on the subject of our experiences of Bacon and individual responses to the show. On a personal note, being a gay man myself, I did find that I had formed something of an imaginary bond with my fellow homosexual. During our research, I had discovered that Bacon had been banished to Berlin in his youth by his disapproving father (apparently this occurred after a rather unfortunate incident in which his father caught him cross-dressing). This seems rather odd, since men and women have been cross-dressing since the times of Shakespeare, it is hardly ground-breaking stuff - but clearly Bacon's father had his own issues, bless him. Crossdressing is a regular occurrence in rugby clubs and high streets the world over (any stag do being a notable example - hardly anything to write home about). What I find even more comical / ironic, is the fact he was dispatched to Berlin of all places. 1930's Berlin, as depicted so beautifully in Cabaret (one of my favourite films, after all, Liza Minelli is to the gay community what Cristiano Ronaldo is to the heterosexual world), was virtually a den of iniquity. It catered for every possible vice, hardly the place to shelter your blossoming homosexual offspring. If my own experience of moving to London from the wilds of Scotland at the tender age of fifteen are anything to go by, I'm sure Bacon dived in headfirst - I know I did.
On the costume and makeup front, our final look was something of an organic process. Samantha had provided us with blue artist's overalls (which incidentally I fell in love with and struggled to return, though of course I did, they were on loan after all. It's just that they were so well ventilated). I think this stems from my early childhood aversion to clothes, it felt as if I were naked, a highly liberating experience. She had also given us some fishnet tights, initially intended for our legs / arms I think, yet they somehow ended up over our faces. Let's just say the overall aesthetic could only be described as Dexys Midnight Runners meets Sigue Sigue Sputnik, with our eye makeup owing more to Daryl Hannah's portrayal of Pris, the somewhat psychotic "basic pleasure model" from Blade Runner.
With special thanks to Andrew Millar for the rehearsal and production photographs (the fabulous ones).