Circles of Women

Our recent women’s event was in a beautiful space at the Bargehouse (part of Oxo buildings, Southbank), well heated and well attended – with 5 models, and about 10 artists. Poses from 1 – 15 minutes, some with movement. We began dynamic and expansive, and perfected the art of very slowly opening up from an enclosed pose (3 and 5 minutes). In 3 minutes, they had moved so slowly, that when time was up, I found they had hardly opened at all! So I decided on a second round, longer to allow them to complete the movement.

All artwork from the women's session at the Bargehouse, 4/11/15
All artwork from the women’s session at the Bargehouse, 4/11/15

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The artists sat in a circle, some drawing in sketch pads, others leaning a board on a chair in front, one or two with their own mini easels set up. Within this circle, the models had a sheeted and cushioned area in which they created their own circles from time to time as they posed.

In daylight before we began
In daylight before we began

We created 5 minute poses for each element – Fire, Air, Water and Earth. Beautiful ensembles with flames, blowing in the wind, waves, and the solidity of Earth.

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Hands reached up in a blaze of flames

There was a mix of experienced models including Ursula (a full time model and performance poet), and Claire (professional model, writer and feminist artist from the 80s, returning now with mastectomy), and Paula (relatively new). New models included an opera singer, who sang with Ursula in a sonorous pose; also another totally new model.

operatic notes on a page
operatic notes on a page

That was an impromtu inspiration as the singing model was clearly keen, and we have done that sort of thing before at A Human Orchestration a couple years back, so it felt enjoyable to revisit musical models. Really adds to their presence, and in this case, her voice was so powerful that the room shook. I’m not joking, and I wasn’t even next to her, touching her, so I can only imagine the vibrations in the inner circle. At least one artist was moved to tears, and several said they drew differently as touched by her tones.

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Artists familiar, as well as some from the drawing symposium (we were a part of the Southbank Festival of Creativity) made their marks.

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A real pleasure to return to my perhaps most passionate area of Spirited Bodies – the sacred women’s space! Though I don’t make much of any spiritual angle, keeping the session within life art/performance narrative, there is an extra element of care and consideration that is about feeling safe, to be all that we are. We are aware, as women together, some of us nude, that we could have body hang-ups, and maybe sometimes we do. But in that space, we are supporting each other to move past that, and enjoy the bodies we are in. We create solidarity, without judgement for ourselves or each other, embracing difference. And that is all that is needed, together with listening to each other, to make a very special warm, shared healing experience.

bending in the wind
bending in the wind

We don’t have to have been especially hung-up to benefit immensely; we all gain from the shared liberation, and witnessing each other being and blossoming. Creating a helpful, proactive, responsive community as well, as we connect more, building friendships. In the end, it is the love between us that grows our collective power, beauty, resonance and connection.

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There is space within poses for individuals to practise their own spirituality possibly. Over years of modelling, I believe I have learnt how to very quickly access a meditative state, it is second nature. I smile automatically when discomfort prevails, as doing this alters my mind state to strengthen me, minimising pain. What is more tricky is the muscles reminding me subsequently, that it was not such an easy pose I had fooled myself so well of!

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I also talk some of the time, during the session to point out how poses do or don’t work, to guide the models as well as instructing artists, in a different sort of life class! I played a bit of music too, but at the start, I instinctively wanted to let the silence take hold, bringing peace to all of us who had braced ourselves through the city to get there that evening.

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I love circles of women. Last night I danced to the full moon with sisters in a church in Vauxhall. I vary in how much I am feeling it each month, but yesterday was very serene. The DJ, Sarah Davies, gave a little talk on body language which felt very pertinent, it spoke to me. How we hold ourselves affects the way we feel, and vice versa. So we can use this to make ourselves feel stronger, even when we are not necessarily there yet emotionally, or mentally. Create bold, confident shapes with our bodies to empower ourselves.

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I have noticed over the years, that I had to let go of jobs where the artists were too proscriptive about poses, as if I am not in control of them, it can more likely damage my well-being emotionally (as well as physically).

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I love how the full moon women’s dance is run by a bunch of women, tending to be about 10 – 12 years my senior I reckon. They and many of the dancers, are yoga, dance, alternative healing practitioners and artists, so a lot of strong energy in the space, and quite a few run their own women’s spaces. The chairs are cleared from the space and I set to hoovering crumbs, leaves and dust off the massive carpet. It takes a goodly amount of time, especially as I am enjoying being inspired by my moves with the vacuum cleaner! About two thirds of the way through the task, the sound system has been erected, and music begins to fill the church. Housework gets me into my first dance.

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A pair of artists unravel and place items on an altar, immediately in front of the church’s own, which is behind decorated gates. After I have stocked up the toilets with paper, and put the moon pictures up, Sara hands me her palo santo to be burnt, and wafted about to cleanse or smudge the space.

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Low-lit by highly hung chandeliers, the whole church resonates to the ska, hiphop, dance, world, ambient and darkly gothic music. We are moving through waves, rhythms of our feminine expression, of lyrical, flowing, chaotic, staccato and still bodies. I get a lot from this group. I take my friends there, and gradually get to know some of the women I meet there. It is a source of shared knowledge and deeper friendships.

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For me, the instructions through the mic from the DJ about how to move (just suggestions), and what we may be feeling, are often jarring with my own inner journey. I am well habituated to getting into my groove. I discovered at 18 I think, on the dance floor at Slimelight among other venues, how to reach ecstacy through dance, and I wasn’t always on drugs believe it or not! It was a passion, and I knew movement (beyond the everyday) would always be part of my life. I trained in physical theatre at Rose Bruford drama school, in South East London in the early noughties. I wasn’t a great student, but I did appreciate the variety and intensity of some of the outlandish practitioners we immersed ourselves in.

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Still, I do appreciate how having an MC helps to bind the group at times, as well as nurturing some of those who may be newer to dance or being part of such a group. It’s lovely to be in a group that is run by women, repurposing the church of a monthly evening, a church which in fact lends itself to a number of new age groups. At one particular phase of the evening, all the women start howling into the air, for a long long time. So happy to hear their voices, and to be taking up space as Sarah wanted.

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Another women’s space I would like to bring your attention to, is run by Calu Lema, as part of her Naked Movement project. She describes her philosophy, background and intentions very well, and – Details of her next women’s (naked) space, are here.

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I have naturally often thought, how good it would be if the full moon dance was also naked! I wasn’t thinking that yesterday though. The heating was blasting, and we were moving fast some of the time, but it is a big space, so didn’t feel cosy for nudity. Not that that’s really an option here… even in Summer. I also appreciate how it would be highly unlikely that you would get that many women at a naked dance, sadly at the moment. It is very cool to be with so many women dancing though.

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My own next women’s event is on Sunday 13th December, at Tanner Street, close to Tower Bridge, from 11am – 1pm. For trying life modelling and/or drawing, with some gentle exercises to get comfortable with posing, as well as explore how the poses we choose may enhance ourselves and others. Nudity is optional. Naked, we may open up more to each other, face more of ourselves beneath the layers, and appreciate our natural beauty and body shapes. But it’s not for everyone. Artists are usually clothed, and sometimes, after a few years or so of coming to Spirited Bodies, artists pluck up the courage to bare all themselves!

a sea of bodies
a sea of bodies

 

A Christmas Workshop in Highgate

I thought for Christmas, a light hearted, fun event, more like the workshops we used to run, and without the intensity of the interviews. Creating amusing scenes with a group of models, so that with the focus on some abstract drama, there is a distraction from the possible discomfort of being nude. A bit of wine and some music to ease the flow, and we will be transported from a community centre to a Winter scene from popular fiction or a fairy tale. Also a return to the workshop format, where each participant has a chance I hope to try modelling and drawing, if that balances with the numbers. There is always space for those who only wish to draw, and for women who only wish to model; for men to model or do both however may be more over-subscribed is usually the case.

In the Autumn I reconnected with Camilla Scaramanga who runs life drawing classes at Holly Lodge community centre in Highgate, and after a chat she was keen to collaborate. I saw the centre as an ideal workshop venue for the upcoming season. She liked the ethos of Spirited Bodies, and shares a feminist disposition, but agreed that a mixed event would be most fortuitous now, to introduce the idea to the area and her group.

I have some personal history with Holly Lodge estate where the community centre is – in the next road down, my Mother grew up when she moved to London in 1963. I visited the place often where my Grandmother resided for many years until she died when I was 14. Her flat was the first place where I came across life art; she herself was an artist who sometimes drew, embroidered and sewed nude women in her art. Her walls were decorated with female nudes by various artists and I did not quite understand her appreciation as a girl. I preferred her more abstract pieces, or those featuring animals as was more fitting with my socialisation, which little did I know included some inhibition about the naked body.

My Grandmother was apparently more relaxed, and looking back I realise she was a greater influence than I ever had the chance to fully acknowledge during her life. She embodied a woman who lived for herself as well as for her family. Her life spanned several careers and different socio-economic climates as well as 3 different husbands. She always married for love, and husband number 2 was a communist American. The plan to migrate to his home in Seattle was thwarted by the US government’s House of Unamerican Activities Committee, so they tried in vane to settle in London, Paris, Switzerland, Austria… and finally grew tired of being tracked down and blocked by the FBI. They found sanctuary in East Berlin where they remained for the rest of their marriage and the formative years of their daughters. My Grandmother – Mary Wolfard, worked for the communist party at various stages in the early years, became a journalist while they lived in Europe, notably though sadly lacking evidence she interviewed Picasso on a beach in Spain, worked in radio in East Berlin; and when none of her socialist credentials were recognised when she moved back to London, she decided to become an artist. I have often wished she might have lived a few more years, as an adult I have so much to ask her! I unfortunately don’t have any photographs of her work, though plenty of it is on the walls of my parents’ home. I have a few pieces at my home also, but just now I am away in France modelling for a month in the Loire valley so unable to provide images. This however has reminded me that some record ought to be made.

I haven’t been to Holly Lodge estate at Christmas time in 23 years. I very much look forward to returning.

For more details please see the Events page, and for inquiries relating to Women, please see here.

 

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Spirited Bodies in Highbury

When I think of you my heart grows stronger.

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Come on out for Spirited Bodies in Highbury on 27 June, Friday evening. It will be magical. In a beautiful centre for therapy the peace will welcome the powerful performances of our models.

An image of the venue:

The Skylight Centre

Collecting interviews. From models and artists. Backdrop for a stunning scene.

 

Images from our WOW event in March this year.

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To buy tickets and for much more information go here.

‘Girl in Suitcase’ ~ a one woman life modelling story with musicians

Before I get back to Spirited Bodies I am rebirthing my theatre. On Friday will be the first time my new performance will be watched.

It is a one woman life modelling spectacular. I will be with 4 musicians; a string ensemble as well as a percussionist, and the audience may draw the show if they wish. It is not entirely nude, there are a few flimsy costumes; a skip-raided set, and a soundtrack for the first scene which I created before I had met the musicians. Actually that scene is recycled from previous shows I have put on because I like it so much. The opening suitcase sequence sets the tone for a fucked up inversion of life drawing set-up. The model is immediately on edge, likened to a trafficked slave, and itching to escape. She makes her come-back, reverses roles with the ‘other character’ – a sinister older woman, and starts to take back her power.

When I started writing this show I thought it would be a snapshot of myself, amplified for the timebank. That’s what it says in the blurb which I wrote before I got to the script. While I was sketching out new scenes, stuff was happening with Mum. Each time I visited seemed more pertinent. Dad was struggling, and my last version of ‘Girl in Suitcase’ from Edinburgh ’11 kept creeping back into my awareness, the importance of telling that story. In a new way. With one actor. Mum was holding on to life as powerfully as ever, but sustaining her life was costing Dad on every plane.

The play is not exactly what it says it is, but it is where I am now, and I have no doubt it will evolve over time.

Working with ‘The Next Room’ has been a revelation. Suddenly there are others involved and they are not exactly in my space, though they share it. They bring new enthusiasm, and are the first people to respond to my script. I realise I need to focus on what their role is and be clearer in my direction, but luckily they instinctively understand and I feel most privileged to have them on board.

Here are some rehearsal shots by Chris Hermon.

During rehearsal I am not nude
During rehearsal I am not nude

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Roddy Skeaping leads 'The Next Room' collective of musicians
Roddy Skeaping leads ‘The Next Room’ collective of musicians

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Ines
Ines

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Tobias
Tobias

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Damaged a calf in this rehearsal, hope it's healed in time!
Damaged a calf in this rehearsal, hope it’s healed in time!

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My violin is making a come-back!
My violin is making a come-back!

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The show is on at The Telegraph at The Earl of Derby pub at 87 Dennett’s Road, SE14 5LW 

on this Friday 28th March at 8pm. Tickets are £3 (£1 concession) and can be bought here or on the door most likely.

If you are keen on drawing you are welcome to bring an easel. There are tables and we have some boards at the venue, and drawing materials. I will encourage everyone to draw, but you may simply watch if that’s more your bag. The poses are not very long if you are familiar with life drawing, and some are movement scenes, but if life art is new to you, then 5 minutes of stillness may feel like a long time. On the other hand, when there is no dialogue, there is music.

 

Early morning Excitement

I cannot sleep! The excitement is too much. Now I know these sessions are coming to an end, they excite me So much! Every session should be like the last one ever. Like I usually email the models a few days before the event to brief them, get them in the mood. This time I did not. Too routine. And I know. I know that the ones who want to come will be there. They will contact me if they are unsure. Then there was one I was unsure about, who doesn’t have internet, she might not have realised this was coming to an end, and I thought she probably doesn’t have money, which might stop her. But I wanted her there! She was the reason I set up the session that is tonight in Hoxton which she cannot afford to go to. I had gotten to know her via lengthy phone calls from a while back when she was gathering courage. So I called her and told her to come along, regardless of money, just be there because it will be so much easier and more rewarding than you imagine. All the barriers you build up in your mind, they are unfounded, unreal. You just need a chance to move past them, move into a new space where you reach up and out and let yourself speak through your body, tell your story that you are living today, and feel the joy of self acceptance. This comes first, and then the warm appreciation of others. Oh the liberation! It can make you high and take you far as you open your wings and take off for a while. Then you must keep learning to fly and stay flying.

Quick poses
Quick poses

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image-6This pose was a bit like a cat fight; Natansky wanted some drama to kick things off, so she and Louise began in this way to warm everyone up, as they have both posed several times before.

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I encourage models to make poses on different levels; these were closed poses, the body folding in rather than opening up
I encourage models to make poses on different levels; these were closed poses, the body folding in rather than opening up

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Negative spaces - the shapes where the body is not - are used by artists to create the form of the figure within
Negative spaces – the shapes where the body is not – are used by artists to create the form of the figure within
Figures overlayed to produce something unfamiliar
Figures overlayed to produce something unfamiliar

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'When I wake up'
‘When I wake up’
dynamic poses abounded this evening
dynamic poses abounded this evening
Mike Flight caught the tension of 'The Storm'
Mike Flight caught the tension of ‘The Storm’
this was an important announcement
this was an important announcement
Natansky's drawings
Natansky’s drawings

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A scene is enacted before us

the 'play within a play' from another angle
the ‘play within a play’ from another angle

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Beautiful postures
Beautiful postures

Quite randomly I picked from 95 photographs of the artwork sent to me by Santosh; I could not see them all at once, and did not open them all. There will be more, but for one tired night that is enough. Thank you to all who made this last Holborn workshop flow with magic. Now East to Hoxton for feminine fun and womanly wonder.