The forest usually acts as Stour Valley Art’s outdoor gallery space for artists’ commissions – from sculpture to film - however this was the first time that it has played host to a series of contemporary dance performances.
If you missed the series, aimed at bringing contemporary dance to a mainstream audience, you can watch it on vimeo. A videographer documented one of the performances and the film has been uploaded so that more people can see the striking nature of the project.
Each of the six performances over the August bank holiday were free to attend. The audiences were led through the forest, following the scattered dancers who revealed themselves in clusters of delicate movement and energetic gesture.
Using nature’s surroundings, lighting, sounds and colours, the performances were each ultimately unique, having been performed at different times of the day, in differing weather conditions.
The project was commissioned by Turner Contemporary, Stour Valley Arts and South East Dance as part of Turning Point South East – RELAY, a project run alongside the Olympics.
Renowned choreographers from Dog Kennel Hill Project worked with dancers to create the performances in response to the space and environment of King’s Wood.
Dan Howerd-Birt, assistant curator at Stour Valley Arts explained: ‘Dog Kennel Hill Project approached the subject of the natural and the improved through dance and the human body…trained and scripted to enact movements and gestures of particular exactness, which when seen sequentially or en masse reveal the artists’ ordered design’.
The marriage of contemporary dance and a forest ramble aimed to engage and inspire new audiences, taking dance out of the theatre and into a natural environment to attract both the dance community and others who may not have watched contemporary dance before.
The audiences, reflected this being made up of both dance fraternity and members of the general public. Some people even joined the audiences spontaneously, having seen others heading off into the forest for the show.
There was further diversity in the audience – with some guests turning up in full hiking gear with walking sticks whilst others arrived dressed for the theatre.
The audience was split into groups of 30, before being led through the dappled light of the forest by a guide. Throughout each 90-minute performance fleeting dancing troupes revealed themselves at staggered intervals with props taken from the environment. Dancers manipulated wooden frames, turning their props into an extension of their bodies and movement. It was through their precise movements that these dancers demanded a presence in this vast and dominating landscape.
Cathy Westbrook, Director of Performing Arts Network Kent (PANeK), was one of the 30-strong audience members at the Sunday performance. She said:
“Marks, Measures, Maps & Mind was a perfect piece of performance for the beautiful King’s Wood setting.
“The choreography was in perfect harmony with the environment and the result was ethereal and magical but with no hint of ‘woodland twee’ - it was uniquely contemporary, dramatic, moving and thought-provoking”
The execution of this ambitious project was by no means without its challenges. A spokesman for the partnership said:
“The forest provided no staging infrastructure, so the challenge was to use what was there creatively and modern technology alongside it without taking away from the natural state.
“Speakers were hidden in trees, so at times, the audience could hear sounds not associated with the forest, including sonar.
“Nature provided each performance with different lighting and sounds, so each experience would have been different.
“We had some rain during one performance but we didn’t get wet – the forest canopy protected us and the experience of hearing the rain but not feeling it was incredible in such an inspiring setting.”
“The logistics of putting on such an unusual piece were phenomenal at times, but this was all hidden from the audience, who saw polished, seamless and effortless performances.
“It’s an experience most will not forget, or get the opportunity to do again.”
To view the video, log onto http://vimeo.com/