Category Archives: dance and movement

Dance Performance at Salisbury Arts Centre

At the moment I am curious about dance. This is because the last two projects I have been involved in have both included an integration of live music and dance. I have never been in the audience of a contemporary dance performance and so last night decided to put this right, by going to Salisbury Arts Centre in Wiltshire (  I went to see ‘Artificial Things’ by the Stopgap dance company, non-disabled and disabled dancers together through collaborative work. I went with an open mind and open curiosity.

The first thing that struck me was that it was rather beautiful, the dancers looked beautiful, the space looked beautiful. What seemed so attractive was the intimacy of watching people move together, their bodies interweaving around each other. The setting of Salisbury Arts Centre, enhanced this beauty. The arts centre is based in a converted church, and a high roof space and stone pillars framed the performance. The seating was stacked at a high angle with around 80 people in the audience, but gave the illusion of intimacy. Being in this space gave the feeling that the dancers were dancing only for you, or looking only at you. The intimate feeling was rather like when someone sings a song only for you, its such a direct communication, that its hard to look them in the eye and keep intimate contact (well it is as a culturally British person). Being a novice audience member, I was also stuck by how silent the dancers were. They made no sounds, I am so used to seeing people perform and making sounds and music. These people only moved, and I couldn’t even hear their footsteps. The music used was pre-composed/recorded and filled the space, making full use of effects like panning. It had been written by three composers who specialise in dance music (Christopher Benstead, Jim Pinchen and Andy Higgs) often it seemed to involve the building up of textures and sounds which were reflected in the movements of the dancers. I wondered if the movements had come first or the music, it was difficult to know.

The second thing that stuck me was, ‘relationship through movement’. I am so used to seeing and hearing musicians express relationship through the interplay of sounds and movements (the movements that musicians make in playing and singing). However, in watching the dance, the movers expressed the interplay of relationships through-out all of their bodies and using the whole space of the floor stage. It reminding me of ‘The dance of wellbeing’ the title of the paper by psychologists Trevarthan and Malloch(2000) who describe the inherent musicality in the movements and sounds of the interaction between a baby and mother. What the dancers seemed to be tapping into was this expression, that is inherent in all of us, the dance of life between us, how we are together, how we dwell together, how we be together. They seemed to be communicating, that this is what is important, being together, being human, being in relationship. The dance seemed to strip back things that are unnecessary and communicate what is really at the heart of our beings, which is how we relate to ourselves and to others.

Stopgap is a dance company that integrates both able and disabled dancers. This meant that on stage there were a variety of body shapes and some were in wheelchairs. Laura Jones was one of the dancers in a wheelchair, her movements were so fluid and flowing incorporating the chair into the dance, so at times it looked like part of her body. The wheelchair in the performance seemed to represent freedom and ease of movement, rather than restriction and control. I have worked with many young people in wheelchairs, and have often perceived the chair as a difficult obstacle that represents the persons disability. Working in special needs schools, the chairs of children and young people have been heavy, or have parts which are not working, or are not technically up to date, often hindering the developmental progress and movement of the person using it. Here in the dance, was an example of someone embracing their chair, and it becoming part of being able to move with flexibility and freedom. Also dancing was Dave Toole, a remarkable dancer whose physical presence challenges conceptions of what a body should look like. He moved across the stage with such grace, and his facial expressions were so direct, I felt captivated and drawn into his world.

In our society we love to label people and put them into categories. The word disabled seems such a wrong label to use to describe these dancers. These people were able to communicate, to perform, to dance.  I recently ran a music therapy group for people with learning disabilities.  A large part of the work was dealing with how being treated as ‘disabled’ people in society had effected the group members (many had been in large institutions for most of their lives). Many of these people acted more disabled than they actually were. Over the years they had been treated like the ones in need, and had not been allowed to make choices for themselves, or reach their true potential. I felt that some of the group members had so much to give to society, and felt frustrated that the system of ‘disabled’ and ‘care staff’ put limits on people, and kept them in a role which they could never break out of. What was so inspiring about this dance performance, was it breaking this system down, and demonstrating to society that people with all kinds of disability labels have so much more to offer, and to give. If only we could get away from thinking that if someone has a  disability that they need to be given to and have nothing to give.

This was my first experience of being in the audience at a dance performance and it was both inspiring and challenging.  The roots of the stopgap company are based in community dance, and they were the first company in the UK to integrate dancers with learning disabled and non-disabled dancers. If you have the opportunity to see them I would highly recommend it, details of their forthcoming shows can be found at



Trevarthen, C. and Malloch, S, N. (2000) The dance of wellbeing: defining the musical therapeutic effect. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, Vol 9 (2), pp, 3-17.






















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‘Babeldance’ creating a wordless music and movement performance in Wales

The Company of Babledance

Last week I had the pleasure of being involved in the creation of a new music and movement performance piece called ‘Babeldance’. Taking place in Wales in the beautiful setting of Studio Felin Fach ( which is overlooked by the Black Mountains. Gill Stevens, musician, composer and music therapist ( had invited 7 musicians including myself to take part in a four day workshop session to improvise and compose the beginnings of a wordless, movement opera.  Finnish choreographer Paivi Javinen ( facilitated the four days, together with Gill Stevens, directing and encouraging the musicians to explore movement as a natural extension of music making and the use of non-verbal communication through the devising of babbled words and musical phrases.

The musicians came from a variety of backgrounds, such as jazz, classical and folk, which created a rich and intense experience. Many were trained music therapists as well as performing musicians. Gill provided beautiful accommodation, in the watermill restored by herself and partner and acoustic musician Dylan Fowler ( living in a temporary community, cooking and eating together (with some people coming and going) facilitated collaborative working and made it easier to connect together more quickly in improvisation and sharing of ourselves and our creative ideas.

The theme of the project was non-verbal communication through body movement, music and sounds. It also explored how words without semantic meaning can still be used for communication (hence the title ‘Babeldance’). Gill Stevens drew on her experience as a music therapist working with people with learning disabilities without language, and wanted to express in the piece the experience of these people, and how they might feel living in a world of verbal language, without being able to use expressive language.  At one point the musicians were asked to create a musical dialogue over a member of the group crouched on the floor, ignoring them and ‘talking/musiking’ over them. This felt like a powerful portrayal of the experience of someone in a wheel chair or with learning disabilities who is frequently ignored, or ‘talked over/about’ by other people as if they don’t exist. This is something I have witnessed many times in my work as a music therapist, and have even done myself without thinking. Gill also wanted to explore how made up words can still be used to communicate meaning, and cited the experience of going to an opera which is sung in another language and how its possible to still understand the story and plot without knowing the meaning of the words. Choreographer Paivi Javinen also brought the key theme of how the natural movement of musicians can be extended, and wanted the musicians to explore this as much as possible. Gill and Paivi had previously developed the ideas in Helsinki with a group of Finnish musicians and movers and this was the second devising session. The first two days consisted of delving into improvised music and movement activities to create new potential material; which reminded me of Spolin’s drama games in which actors are invited to used their intuition in improvised drama to access and get in touch with their authentic selves (Spolin, 1963; Spolin Games Online, 2014). Gill studied music at York University under John Paynter and Peter Aston, the authors of a book on class room music projects which I recently wrote about in this blog, ( Gill has briefly described Paynter’s and Aston’s influence on her work and the workshops did seem to reflect a similar ethos. Paynter and Aston were pioneers of music education in the 1960’s and 70’s and advocated artists across art forms working together in both education and performance. In ‘Sound and Silence’, several music and movement projects are described which have some similarities to the activities we undertook as musicians in the project, such as creating dialogues whilst playing and moving, and also moving quickly and slowly in and out of physical spaces. No doubt, Gill could expand further on how this part of her education influenced her work, and it would be interesting to hear what she experienced at University under the direction of John Paynter and Peter Aston.

A significant point in the workshops came on day two when Paivi asked us to image a beautiful landscape and move to the visual image of the landscape whilst listening to improvised music by Gill on the cello. This particular activity seemed to have the effect of opening up our awareness as movers. I felt particularly involved in this activity, and as I moved together with the other musicians, and listened, I felt like I was playing music even though I had no instrument in my hands and wasn’t making any sound. We moved together, some had eyes closed, some open, and we interacted together, through the movement and music. Afterwards, I tried to understand what it was I had experienced. It occurred to me that we, as experienced interactors, therapists and musicians were using our musicality in a holistic way, that the skills we use as musicians to interact, listen and respond to others were being utilised in our movements, rather than our sounds. The psychologist Daniel Stern (1998) writes about the idea of vitality affects, how musicality is interwoven in all modes and mediums, whether its movement, vision, touch, feelings or sound. This seemed to be what we were drawing on at this moment in the workshop.  In connection with this, Pashman (2014) writes about the idea of kinesthetic patterns which are evolved through our emotions and then developed into the smallest movements in our cells and then our muscles and whole bodies. That emotions have a natural physical pattern, which are common to all cultures  which we express through body shapes and movements. This idea of kinesthetic patterns could then be translated to musical shapes, vibrations of the air, the movement of musicians creating sound, the need to move in playing an instrument and singing. In this way, movement and music are intimately connected, and what Paivi was asking us to do in these workshops, was to remember this and become more intensely aware of it.

Paivi, also asked the musicians to be as fully aware as possible of our movements, sounds and to take full responsibility for our actions. It occurred to me that what she was asking  for, was every movement to have a meaning, and every sound to have a meaning. This reminded me of improvising with a good friend who is a Korean music therapist (now living in Australia), she taught me to value every sound I made in improvisation and not to throw away any notes. Paivi’s intention to help us focus on our actions and sounds, was like trying to value everything that was done. This is not dissimilar to the idea in music therapy, when every sound and action that a client makes has a meaning and is considered carefully by the therapist. So in practice, this meant even getting up from the floor, after sitting down, had to be done with consideration and careful thought, to embody it into our performance of sounds and music. I found this a challenging way of thinking, as did some of fellow musicians, since it was new way of being, and required a conscious, cognitive effort (rather like the early stages of learning to play an instrument, and mastering the movements required to manipulate the sound).

The workshops ended with two ‘showing sessions’ to a small select group of listeners (the term audience seems wrong in this context). The two showings were half an hour long, and in six sections which had been pre-planned on the previous day. This provided its own challenges, involving remembering all the different directions and the sequences of events. The showings began with each musician having an individual emotional phrase and expressing this as they walked across the room; this then changed to the phrases and movements becoming merged and connected together in a type of minimalist rhythmic music. As the musicians sat conjoined back to back on the floor, one member attempted to disrupt the flow, trying to use vocal sounds to create disconnection. The musicians dispersed and then sat with their backs to the audience. Three of the musicians moved out into the performance space, expressing different aspects of communication. I was using my trombone, and moved out into the audience, inviting them to interact with me, through body language and trombone music. Paivi, had also asked me to emphasise the natural reaching out movements of the trombone, and I did this using my whole body, as well as my arms. Another musician played the flute, emphasising moving up and down (right down to the floor), and yet another sang a hauntingly beautiful vocal solo, moving up above everyone’s physical space standing on a tall stool. In this way, we as musicians, were exploring our natural movements in making music as well as the physical space of the studio (the studio had several rooms and was a beautiful wooden building). Other parts of the showing, involved creating dialogues which ignored an outsider (which I refer to in paragraph three); expression of frustration through using Taiko drumming;  the interweaving of music and movement together, in a mutual interactional quartet of movers and sound makers, and the use of musical phrases and intuited stillness and movement to created the experience of a whole group operating together, weaving sounds in and out of each other (using our instruments, voices and bodies).

The listeners had different reactions, many expressed being confused by what was happening (especially at the start of the performance). This was viewed as positive since Gill had wanted to explore the experience of people living without language in world where language is a major form of communication. The listeners also said that they felt moved by the showing and that it had given them a lot to digest and think about in a deep way. The meaning behind the showings was not explicit, and so listeners were free to interpret them in an individual way.

The project may develop more depending on funding, and both Gill and Paivi would like to extend it to a larger setting, combing the work from the Finnish and British musicians together, with possible performances in Wales and Helsinki. It was privilege to be part of the workshop, and what will stay with me is meeting new musical-movement friends and the new relationships and old relationships that have been renewed and developed. This blog has just reflected a small part of the content of the few days, and is my own personal point of view. I am sure all involved felt enriched and enlivened by the experience. I would like to thank Gill Stevens for asking me to take part in the project and her skilled compositional directing, and Paivi Javinen for her skilled choreography, also to my fellow musicians who it was a great pleasure to meet and work with.


Pashman, S, E. (2014) When the music moves you: Revisiting the classics in the company of neuroscience. Journal of Music and Dance, Vol 4(2), pp, 10 – 24. Available at: [Accessed 2/11/14].

Paynter, J. and Aston, P. (1970) Sound and Silence, Classroom Projects in Creative Music. Cambridge, London, New York, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.

Spolin, V. (1963) Improvisation for the Theatre: A Handbook of Teaching and Directing Techniques. Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Spolin Games Online. (2014) Spolin Games Online. Available at: [Accessed 6th November 2014].

Stern, D. (1998) The Interpersonal World of the Infant, a view from psychoanalysis and developmental psychology. London, New York: Karnac Books.


Bibliography not quoted in the blog:

Pavlicevic, M. (1997) Music Therapy in Context, Music, Meaning and Relationship. London and Philadelphia: Jessical Kingsley Publishers.

(Read in relation to Mercedes Pavlicevic’s idea of ‘dynamic form’ in music therapy)

















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Filed under Academic, dance and movement, Music Therapy, Spiritual