Going SOLO: Dancing By Yourself

Credit: Jack Offord

Credit: Jack Offord

Rachael Clerke tells us about SOLO, and a burgeoning new scene putting the focus on solo dance performance.

There’s a curious tension that one experiences as a maker of solo performances. On the one hand, I want to make a show where the audience will sit and watch me – just me – doing stuff on stage. I don’t want anyone else there. If I wanted other people there then I’d make a group show. I want to do things exactly my way.

And yes, sometimes I want to indulge in the stereotype of the individual writer, working away at their desk at 3am. And yes, sometimes I want to dance alone in a rehearsal room. Sometimes I want to feel that aloneness. Because occasionally it is useful, and powerful, and exciting.


Credit: Jack Offord

But a lot of the time, most of the time, the only thing I want from that list is to be the only person on stage. Because, like most of us, I make better work when other people can give me their thoughts on it. And I get less lonely when I have people to play with. And having like-minded people to rant to when I’m struggling has never felt like a negative thing.

It was due to this tension that Misri Dey founded the Solo Contemporary Performance Forum whilst making her own show, ‘Taj A Chino Blues’, at Dartington College of Arts in 2005. She wanted to make space for the collective experience of the solo maker – not an oxymoron – through talking, sharing and making in a supportive and collaborative atmosphere.


Credit: Jack Offord

Ten years on, the forum has supported numerous artists through its residencies, dialogues – public conversations about the making of solo work – and showcase events, and last year expanded to include a Bristol arm of the project led by artist and researcher Ria Jade Hartley

Following a period of development supported by the SOLO forum, Arts Council England and Bristol City Council, we last week experienced two beautifully curated evenings of exciting new solo work, made in Bristol, at the SOLO Showcase in Trinity Community Arts Centre on Old Market.


Credit: Jack Offord

Thursday offered first looks at Hannah Sullivan’s ‘With Force and Noise’ – a short, sharp bullet of a show which Hannah describes as a ‘first attempt at articulating anger’, with a microphone, her voice and an armadillo-like back covered in bells, and dance artist Alessandro Marzotto Levy’s eloquent piece ‘Rabbit’, which explores the barriers we build, or the lies we tell, to prevent ourselves from being exposed through a series of repeated movements and slick costume changes.


Credit: Jack Offord

Writer Bella Fortune’s touching, autobiographical ‘Bubblettiquette‘ began Friday evening with a text-based, but delicately choreographed, show about fidgeting, family and loss, and was followed by Alice Human’s wonderfully bizarre sonic masterpiece ‘Tea with your Ancestors‘, which somehow made me laugh and cry at the same time. Alongside the performances on both evenings, audiences were invited downstairs in the Trinity Centre to experience Jo Hellier’s epic ‘Flood Plans’ installation – a video and sound piece of huge proportions and huge volume, that succeeds in questioning human intervention in nature through its clever manipulated footage of rivers crashing together, taking over and engulfing us.
These works, with their various forms, subject matters, peaks and troughs gave us a glimpse of some of the incredible solo performance that is made in this city, and a taste of what might come in the future.

As an artist it is this kind of long-term developmental support that I seek, and am often found wanting. The Solo Contemporary Performance Forum are making space for solo artists at any stage in their career to develop, create and perform – it’s vital, and I hope to see more of it.

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