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In Winter 2022, we hosted two early career artists as part of our 'Together for Our Planet' #climateaction programme. Here, one of the artists-in-residents, dancer Natasha Dawkes, shares some reflections on her residency.

By Natasha Dawkes

This residency spoke to me at a time in which I feel was vital for my practice and daily wellbeing. As a dance artist in the current state of the world, it felt like a real privilege to be able to create something outdoors, and to explore nature with the community. It is no secret that most artists need a second job to survive, so to have this time was unique and special. That got me thinking about the importance of this residency and the fact that this feels so special in the first place, when really it is a necessity to one’s life. It made me realise how detached I had been from nature in recent months and the significance it holds, on my mental health and well-being.

I spent the first few visits to the garden just getting used to the space. There were so many different areas that sparked my interest and as an improvisation artist, I create by what I am inspired by or curious about.

Immediately, I was interested in the soil beneath my feet, heaped in piles of overgrowth and compost, and I knew this would be the starting point for my journey. It first made me think of all the amazing things that have been grown, what is growing and what will grow, but then it was clear that this residency had a more internal calling for me. One that I wanted to find a way to share and help others find within themselves. Every time I visited the gardens, I felt so much peace and it made me go into a meditative state where I would write down how everything made me feel before expressing those feelings by dancing in that space.

My hopes at the beginning of this residency were to provide a different perspective of the space at Global Gardens through contemporary dance, and to enrich our experiences with nature. I wanted to lead an audience around the gardens and share a journey.

Beth (another resident artist) and I were very interested in collaborating. It was lovely to meet the lead volunteers and connect with a community that has already been built in this wonderful place, to learn from them and volunteer with them. I attended a few of the morning volunteer sessions, where we would be cutting brambles and they would be telling me about previous events that took place and their excitement to watch this residency take place.

It was exciting to see all the hard work that had gone into the site and why it is so important to highlight how important our planet is when it provides spaces like this, whilst living in a city. The importance of that weight was held by the responsibility we have to our planet, to keep it safe and protect it. I also got involved in the making and mending sessions led by some talented women sharing their craft passion, with it being December I got creative with them to make some eco-friendly/natural Christmas decorations. This included, string-wreath hangers, origami wreaths and dried fruit to replace tinsel.

This felt like a very heavy conversation to tackle/share in a short space of time, so I decided to lead workshops in mindfulness; to allow everyone to create their own relationship with nature. To allow everyone to experience the space whether that connection would be brand new or existing. The intention was to allow breathing space in a chaotic and busy subject of climate change- to take a moment to appreciate nature that surrounds us and to give energy and thanks to what is around us.

We led sessions across two days; the first day we faced a lot of weather problems due to the time of year, but we made the most out of the time we had with a lovely volunteer keeping a fire going for us to stay warm. The added element of rain made me highlight the textures that we feel and then I related that back to the ecosystem and how rain provides growth; then I would use imagery such as spreading your toes and widening your stance, make yourself big and tall. I wanted to pose questions/suggestions into the space without any judgement or required outcome. It was simply a place for people to come and be free with their movements and thoughts and take a mindful journey mapping out the gardens for themselves. But in the following session, I decided to lead the workshop around the fire. Both felt very different with the same intention.

When we explored the space together, people got up close and personal with different objects or plants in the garden and made their own movement score to what they had witnessed. Whereas, when we gathered by the fire there was an internal movement score going on by what we felt as a collective that didn’t necessarily have words to describe. In both sessions, I provided prompts, but I wanted everyone to go on a journey for themselves with no expected outcome, for movement to be as big or as small as they wanted. I felt that we all experienced something very profound and comforting and the flow of my session into Beth’s was a smooth transition. Beth led a creative writing/craft/ poetry session on one of the days and then the following session was the making of the mandala. We both took part in each other’s sessions.

For our final sharing we decided to collect imagery and feedback from those that attended our workshops, to make them come alive in a small sharing around the fire. Everyone wrote a love poem to nature and this influences the way in which Beth wrote her own poem that was shared around the fire whilst I performed to her spoken word.

My approach to the final sharing was to keep these thoughts from my very first visit and the experiences with others from the workshops at the forefront of my desired art output. For example, I didn’t want anything to feel forced, the intention was to move to Beth’s words as a reaction to them, I had not heard the poem previously and that was the desired effect. We did later record the poem and I filmed my movement response. I focused more on my human response to this rather than my dance aspect because to move is to be human and therefore this is what felt most organic for me to create.

Here's what I learnt from the residency:

If I had more time I would have liked to outreach to more communities; I feel like we focused mainly on the communities that already existed. We also printed and posted flyers through the local neighbourhood’s letter boxes to make them aware of what was happening around the corner to them. It would have been good to email small organisations/arts centres ahead of time, but for me this residency was about the experience and what went into the sessions I was providing- with more time the output could have been.

It’s important to slow down with the seasons.
It would be fantastic to revisit in different seasons such as spring, summer and autumn.
There is a lot being done to tackle climate change, we should take small wins.

Huge thanks to the National Lottery Community Fund in Wales for making these residencies possible.

You can watch the piece created by Natasha and Beth here.


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