Heather dances into a world of movement and new media
Heather Eddington comes from artistic parents. You can tell that from her work. Dance, by its very nature, is visual but Heather’s take on dance is visual plus. She mixes the movement of live performance with the colour of film-making and video. Add to that; wonderful soundscapes and dramatic lighting and you have a sensory experience which combines the highs of dance, theatre, cinema and art.
When all the elements come together its enough to make you feel giddy and this blurring of the lines between dance and other arts and media is a world which Heather has made her own.
Even the name of Heather’s dance company, State of Flux, has been chosen to highlight this arena of dance where almost anything is possible.
Heather has been appointed associate artist with DanceEast and is currently developing new work, Forgetting Natasha at the Jerwood DanceHouse on the Ipswich Waterfront. Having developed smaller works like Blank Canvas, Forgetting Natasha is her first full length performance piece – which, not only, mixes dance with film, music and photography but also features a narrated, original story by author Anna Mae Selby.
Heather has designed the piece to showcase her choreography alongside Anna Mae’s words which are further enhanced by specially designed digital footage created by video designers KMA.
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She said that she had been creating performance pieces combining dance and film since 2003 but this was, not only her first full length piece, but her first piece designed as a fully fledged stage performance.
Heather said that the inclusion of different performance elements and different media made the work appeal to a wide range of audiences and made the performance a much richer mix. She said that it was her parents work as artists and their use of a wide range of materials which inspired a similar approach to using different media in live performance.
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“I was brought up in an artistic environment and was surrounded by people who were quite happy using different media to make their work look how they wanted it to and say what they wanted it to say – be it paint or fabric, chalk ... whatever.
“I grew up thinking it was the norm to mix things up to achieve the effect you were looking for.
“I love putting things together and seeing what comes out. I did art at A level and really loved it but although I decided to go off and study dance further, I have kept that artist’s sensibility. I see things very visually.”
She said that a life-long love of film and worked very closely with the drama department at university studying plays and dramatic structure and technique. “The more disciplines you can learn and experience, the more you can feed into your work.
“The greater number of skills you have got the better. I think it is exciting to be able to pull influences from all these different areas. You can tell your story in a much more vivid manner if you can play with an array of different media.”
Heather’s training began at The University of Birmingham, where she gained a first class honours degree in Dance and Theatre Arts before she went on to study dance and film on The Dance for Screen course directed by David Hinton at the London Contemporary Dance School.
After graduation she founded the State of Flux dance/film company in 2003, dedicated to the creation of fresh, exciting and original work through a fusion of dance, film and design. Her quirky and adventurous style attracted attention from not only from DanceEast but also from Art Council East who signed her up for their Escalator programme which is designed to develop young artists and encourage them to show their work more widely including events like The Edinburgh Festival.
Heather is very excited about her new full length production Forgetting Natasha because it weaves text into a dance piece, which, if not unique, is still very rare. “I’m very excited by it. It’s a real mix of different story-telling devices. We have dance, lighting, animation, and of course text. They all come together to tell this story, the story of Natasha.”
She said that it was the abstract nature of dance that had always appealed to her in the past but now she was relishing the challenge of taking a very visual performing style and using it to put across a strong narrative.
“It does have a story to tell, but I don’t want to tie it down and just make it a traditional narrative – but there is a through line which takes the audience on a journey.”
The piece revolves around the emotional subject of dementia and how, as it strips away the memories of a person, it also changes their personality. In the story Natasha is forgetting who she is. When she first discovered she was losing her memory, she wrote down the whole story of her life, the problem is, she can’t remember where she put it.
Heather and writer Anna Mae Selby explore the notion of identity. Will Natasha be the same person without her memories? If she can’t remember, how can she exist? Will she disappear? If she finds her book, will it be too late?
Heather, who came up with the original idea, met up with Anna in London and after explaining what was needed, left her to develop the story.
“My work is always about people, about life and our experiences. I find that fascinating because you can keep delving and delving and you can come up with stories which relate to everyone. Last year I became fascinated with the idea of memories and how they shape us into who we are. Everything we experience we log as a memory and we carry that around. It informs who we are.
“Some memories make us confident, some make us happy, others take us to a dark place and Anna and I spent time discussing the ideas, developing them further and we are turning the result into a 45 minute dance piece.”
She said that Forgetting Natasha represents a major commitment for everyone involved. The three dancers have been onboard from the beginning, developing their characters in workshops and refining the choreography in rehearsals.
“The audition process was interesting because I not only auditioned for dancers but dancers who could speak text. I chucked several tasks at them and I soon saw that I had hit jackpot because they were amazing.”
The dancers are: Melissa Spiccia, Josephine Darvill-Mills and Baptiste Bourgougnon. “We gave them instant tasks to develop character. We’d say: ‘Ok you want to wash your hair. How would you go about it?’ We worked very intensively at the beginning to really get them into their roles.
“We all worked together, gathering information which we could use to not only inform the characters and to also structure and develop the piece. Anna worked with us for the first two-and-a-half weeks. We played around with it, she took it away and polished what we had come up with. She brought it back. We played around with it again, she took it away. She went back and forth for a long while. It was a very collaborative process and as a result everyone has a very deep, very real sense of ownership.”
She said that her film-editing training had given her the confidence to play around with narrative structure and story-telling techniques while the abstract nature of dance allowed them the opportunity to add colour, character and atmosphere to what could have been a very straight forward tale.
“Working with Anna has been great. When she got too narrative I pulled her back and when I got too carried away with the choreography, she pulled me back and we worked very well together. It was a good learning experience. What we have come up with is a good story but with enough space inbetween to be really creative.”
She said that character was transmitted not just with words but how people moved and how they stood. Much could be conveyed, quite subtly, by body language.
The different layers and elements that make up a Heather Eddington dance work are integrated by feel rather than design. She says that she knows what she is trying to convey in each part of the work and she will use the best medium or combination of media that will convey the feelings or emotions she is trying to express.
“There are moments where there is just movement, moments where there is text and movement, moments where there is just visuals and moments where there are all three. Depending on what I feel will get the right feeling across to the audience, determines what I call upon to do the task.”
She said that she didn’t develop her way of working as a deliberate signature style but rather it came about as a result of her interest in a wide variety of art-forms and the realisation that they could be harnessed to do something different with dance.
“Of course, I love dance but I also love drawing and photography. I think I like a challenge and every piece has got to have a challenge. I like exploring different ways to tell a story. I don’t just practise one thing and stay within that. I’ve always got to have something else to challenge me. Something new to get my head around.”
Heather maintains that when developing new work she is very conscious that she doesn’t want to create something new just for the sake of it. She never wants to create something that is very self-aware of how groundbreaking it is. “If you set out to do something like that it quickly becomes apparent that whatever you are working on is dead. I try and never think about it from that point of view.
“I feel if you become too conscious of the creative landscape around you and what you should be doing, what other people are doing, what’s happening elsewhere then it’s ruined. You just have to be honest and go with what you are interested in and what you enjoy doing. That’s the only way you can create something which is truly yours.”
Despite her love of a wide variety of art forms, Heather said that dance was always her passion.
“I have been dancing and choreographing routines since primary school but it was when I got to university that things really took off. There was no dance-film units like there are now but I would go across to the TV studio, spoke to the guy who ran it, and I would turn up at 10 o’clock at night when everyone had gone home and I was allowed to use it. That’s when I was I was playing around with the format, making my first dance animations, working out what I could do and what it could do.
“It was from that point on that I kind of left, pure dance, traditional dance behind.”
So did she ever plan to be a dancer, or did she always have her sights set on being a choreographer?
“I did work as a dancer in a company shortly after I left university. We did Edinburgh and various festivals but I didn’t get the same buzz from performing as I did from creating my own work. I realised very quickly where my talents lay.”
Forgetting Natasha is being performed as a work in progress at the Jerwood DanceHouse on Friday May 21 at 6pm and is followed by a question and answer session with Heather and the dancers. Tickets are �5 (�3 concessions) and the box office is 01473 295230 or online at www.danceeast.co.uk