Movementscapes – Vanessa Grasse
Juncture Dance festival – Sun 9 March 2014
In a festival programme of largely stage based rhythmic movement, Vanessa Grasse’s Movementscapes stands out for being a two mile linear group walk, involving no dancing. The walk functions as a means for festival attendees to locate a remote venue in time for a screening and in doing so to experience Vanessa’s approach to moving through a space. What seems like it should be a simple activity actually prompts many moments of reflection, self awareness, experience of places and spaces and a greater understanding of the city’s natural rhythms. It also manages to do this largely in silence.
How many of the assembled group know exactly what’s in store? After a quick explanation of the event, we are advised not to take photos, nor talk to each other, or to use our phones (cue an urgent phone call being answered at the back of the group).
A familiar guided walk instruction is to cross the road at the prompt of the green man: banal yet also an opportunity to observe the rhythms of the city in action. The walk is prefaced by a split stance / eyes closed exercise which allows us to become gently aware of our own body sense. Not easy on the cobbled slope: I sense a few people other than myself tipping or wobbling. Vanessa invites us to become aware of a space a metre – or just over a metre – above our heads. Specifics like this subtly suggest there’s a precision to her invisible art that we should take seriously.
The first few minutes are spent getting to less busy, more open spots in the city. Our group is quite large and we are taking the Sunday shoppers of Leeds head on. At the first crossing, we are faced off by a family outing of adults and many princess-costumed girls. Our group splits neatly and seemingly automatically in two to accommodate the opposition within a central stream. This doesn’t usually happen, but our group now has ‘hive-mind’.
There’s a quiet grace in seeing her simply pick up a stick as if she’s alone and enjoying the first glorious Spring afternoon of the year. However, three separate entities are observing the moment: the public who occasionally become aware of the strangeness of the group: perhaps not from its size but from subtle clues such as our silence or the twigs clutched in our right hand. The group itself has been instructed to watch for Vanessa’s signals and are always keeping her in sight. The cue is often a ripple effect via others’ motions: from my usual rear position of any group, the cervine presence of Vanessa is often lost in the crowd. The event is being photographed too by a Juncture employee: it’s occasionally a jarring moment to feel aware of more than one of these greater eyes at once.
Walking past a railing, I don’t quite see if she taps the stick along it. The stick is in the right hand to do so. Those ahead of me don’t tap. I do. Those behind me do.
The ripple effect is the only way to follow the instruction of one exercise. We are now used to seeing Vanessa from behind but outside Broadcasting, she stops to face us. The usual guided tour cue is that we are now about to learn something but we know to turn round ourselves. The unvoiced instruction is to walk backwards into the area we have just observed, which we now cautiously do. Our guide is the peripheral awareness of the larger group. We assume we’ll know – more or less – where to stop. Vanessa then lies in the shadow of the monolithic edifice. Some who lie down do so wrongly: they are not looking up with the hulking tiered tower behind them and the difference in the experience is critical. I suspect I may have missed some of the subtle cues along the walk. Before I can get too comfortable, we are shifting again and now closely face the rusted iron surface of Broadcasting Place. The spectacle of many people doing this in a line must surely be comical for those encountering Movementscapes in action but individually this gesture of close wall-facing is saturated with associations and emotions from shameful to terrifying. Choosing to do this demonstrates a willingness to be viewed as a faceless outsider, and there is surely an element of hypnotism in Vanessa’s work. As an amateur geologist it’s occasionally necessary for me to get closer to building facades and it can be an incredibly self conscious activity – nobody looks at building materials so the only response from people is deep suspicion. Here, fortunately, we are in good company and it is the spectator of our group naughty-step that temporarily becomes the outsider.
The walk concludes and I feel I’ve been part of a rare and affecting experience. Being part of any group that is thinking alike, even by instruction, is (for me) a welcome moment. Having experienced it amongst mostly strangers, and wordlessly too makes the experience rarer still. It’s perhaps not the main focus of the walk but for me the most powerful. Also, that I barely talk about the event with anyone: I arrived late and have to leave immediately – the walk is all I have done in the city.
A guided walks as a means to join the dots can sometimes invite problems, especially where the dots are venues where other people’s art is happening. The guided tour in its purest form disregards convenient routes and landmarks to focus on the places that really need to be visited. I’m even slightly suspicious of circular routes – it just seems too convenient and I always sense there better places we didn’t visit for the sake of convenience. It is a joy then to discover the route takes in Vanessaesque spaces in abundance, and indeed it is those rhythms and spaces that make up our city. Since my first Movementscape last September I now see the possibilities of spaces everywhere.
Juncture Dance Festival runs in various locations around Leeds until Sat 15 March