Ela Mesma Company

Dispora Dance Theatre

Evaluating Foreign Bodies: An Underwater Love Story

I am extremely grateful to Arts Council, to all Trinity & Metal who housed us during this R&D and to every single artist involved.

Best moments included:
The underwater fotoshoot at a pool near Bristol with Jessica Mitchell
The sharing and meal at Metal
Bringing the entire cast for dinner at St Mary’s Kitchen in Bristol: a delicious Caribbean restaurant
The sharing in Bristol with audience participation.

This project supported by Arts Council was phase two of R&D for dance theatre piece FOREIGN BODIES: An underwater love story, which explores the experience of ‘other’ – BAME people, and other marginalised groups, to ask what is gained and lost through integration.

Using the metaphor of Jellyfish, we created an underwater love story and quiz show to celebrate us! A story that crosses borders and oceans to explore what divides and what unites us. Timely in the wake of Brexit and a global refugee crisis, the piece comments on the power of language and how disenfranchised groups have been used and misplaced.

In particular, I used this time to interrogate the story line, working for the first time with an actor: The amazing Milton Lopes, to put together the first draft of a script (with the help of Dr Edson Burton) and we also refined the full hour production of music, dance and word. It was great to see the humour come alive with actor Milton Lopes.

I worked with an awesome team: Lucia Afonso, Elsabet Yonas, David Evans, Isaac Ouro Gnao, Franck Arnaud Lusbec and Milton Lopes, who described the work as:

“a really unique approach to a political and complex subject matter” “The quiz show concept is genius”
“a human dive in to a multi-sensory experience of dual parallels & contradictions”

“Powerfull and emotive!”

“Funny! and Endearing!”

”We have created a mirror for the audience”

“We have created a hybrid of two worlds – one more familiar than the other – but both options that resonate and exist within them”

I also worked with dramaturgy Luke Pell (supported by South East Dance) and Edson Burton (Trinity) and musician Sabio Janiak.

This phase also enabled me to hold an underwater photoshoot for the promotional material of the work and to develop costumes and music.

I held a sharing in week one at Metal, then an invite only preview and live stream at Trinity Centre in week two. The invite only preview also included a post show talk with feedback. The audience used an app to interact with the quiz, meaning I could understand how they might answer the quiz show long term.

Next, I will develop the quiz show responses to show up on stage using a lightbulb design in real time, heightening the audience experience and understanding of the topics in a fun, safe and anonymous way.

We took a tour of Bristol with Edson Burton, and this helped find ideas for the work, for example around the debates in Bristol about Edward Colston and the covering up of or erasing of aspects of h(is)(er)story.

We also held a public crowdfunder: raising £350, and held workshops in both cities, and we also performed extracts for Croydon Dance Festival in London, and the Festival of Audacity in Birmingham.

This experience served to strengthen my belief in creating from a space of connectivity to self and purpose, and in my strengths as a leader. I am going to bring forward this holistic approach to creativity, as I really clarified that this is how I and company members make the best work. One of the areas I was unsure of was how to hold the space for healing and open up important questions: the ‘Elephants in the room’. This is actually one of my skills.

I also learnt and gained insight into how to be better in terms of protecting the wellbeing of the artists and myself with Selfe:A company who work with clients & dancers to build strong bodies & enable clients to feel self-accomplished & self-empowered. I realized I could create a great working environment and also respect my own wellbeing.

I had had many fears around the photoshoot underwater: coming up against a few setbacks with venue, worrying for the safety for the artists, and the additional expenses of lights, and the underwater set, but the final shoot was wonderful: the images are incredible and it was a wonderful last day of the whole process.

The biggest impact that I see is that I gained clarity on the piece and how to talk about it, realizing that the piece is Foreign Bodies is a multi-sensory experience: an underwater love story and a quiz show that crosses borders and oceans to challenge the human narrative, looking to nature to to ask what is gained and lost through integration.

I further understood and was able to express myself with regards to the work we make here at Ella Mesma Company as diaspora dance theatre: recognizing that the roots of these folkloric dance styles lie in Africa, and that I am also making a new journey which is really about the mixed heritage of the company members. I further understood and realised my desire to make work that undoes limiting beliefs and celebrates cultural and social identity in this R&D: creating clarity in the text in the script and deepening my understanding of the underlying message in the work which is around promoting love and respect for difference, which also helps me clarify my next projects and my role in the world as an artist.

By performing extracts: We took the work to Birmingham as part of the Festival Of Audacity, taking two of the company: Isaac Ouro Gnao and David Evans, and with three dancers at the Croydon Dance Festival, and I discovered that I will be able to also offer a small and large scale version of the piece.

One of my learnings was I realised the scale of technology, and decided to cut back and make a longer term investment into this, coming up with plans for a set that can have a simpler technological device.

Going forward, I will be building a Scaleable version of the set and technology in partnership with Gentleman Octopus Limited.

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