Interview with Pooja Nansi

In this blog post, Faye interviews writer and performer Pooja Nansi about the recent run of her work, You Are Here, being a parenting artist, and supportive environments in the arts for parenting and caregiving. This is a written interview, conducted over Google documents.

 

I experienced You Are Here as a moving and intricate weaving of narratives from your personal life and history, that connect with wider societal conversations around topics such as lineage, gender, racism, etc. How do you feel about the work now, coming out of this recent production run with Wild Rice?
This recent version of You Are Here feels like the most complete and true version of the work yet. I wrote it 6 years ago and it is a work that evolves and grows with me and will continue to do so. Just as I change and my responses and relationships to wider conversations grow, so does the work! It’s not a static piece of writing and it is in constant navigation. 


In You Are Here, you share about your mother, who was flourishing as a Kathak dancer in her younger days, and who set aside her dancing life for motherhood. As an artist and a parent now, how do you feel things are the same and/or different for you and your mother? 

Oh I have privileges she never had. And my privileges rest squarely on her sacrifices. As an immigrant my mother didn’t have the extended family support structure I do to lean on for caregiving, neither did she have the financial freedom to hire help. As I say in a recent post, my mother gave up her artistry to mother me, and mothered my child so I did not have to give up mine. 


You wrote in an Instagram post about having “a working environment [during You Are Here] that completely swooped in to support all [your] needs.” Could you share more about the support structure/s and spaces of negotiation?
When I was asked to do the show five months postpartum, I had to first ask my mum and husband if they’d be ok to step in and I am lucky to have a husband and mother who both told me unreservedly to do the show because I’d be silly to say no. It was knowing that Nyra would be taken care of that gave me the confidence and peace of mind to say yes. And then Wild Rice and specifically my director Edith were upfront about accommodating my needs as a new mother. I remember Edith saying early on she’d be ok with me having my baby in the rehearsal room (a horrible idea which I never agreed to haha). Melissa the production manager was super flexible about arranging production schedules around the times I needed to be around Nyra, the times I needed to pump. All of these things made me feel like I could be freed to focus on the creative process and be the best artist I knew how to be. 


Within your arts and working communities, where have you encountered similarly supportive environments for artists/arts workers who are parents/caregivers? Where might there be possibilities for growth in your view?
I work selectively in Theatre, so I can’t speak for experiences across the board. But I do think we need to normalise breastfeeding, pumping, needing to bring babies into creative spaces especially if we are committed to making the Arts an inclusive and empowering space for women. If there’s any industry that can lead the way in radical practices that allow for women to be multitudes, surely it’s the Arts! 


In what ways have your practice and work evolved or changed since you became a parent, if any? If not, could you share the considerations required to sustain your practice and work as they were?
I’m super focused when I get pockets of time to work! No more browsing the internet instead of editing. I’m so deeply aware now that work is the thing that nourishes me and fills my cup. And I’m much more present both when I’m working and when I’m spending time with Nyra. I also think much harder about what my work says about me to my daughter, and the kind of world I am contributing to building for her.


Any other thoughts or questions you want to share? 

I’m new to motherhood and the conversations that are happening between notions of parenthood and artistry and I hope we are much more open with each other about these so that we build communities in which we can, especially as women be more empowered mothers and artists. 


Thanks Pooja!

Making Theatre as Mother and Daughter: An Interview with Sharda Harrison

Making Theatre as Mother and Daughter: An Interview with Sharda Harrison

This is part of a series of interviews with families that make art and perform/exhibit together. We hope there is something here for you.

 

When we heard that Sharda Harrison of Pink Gajah Theatre would be making and performing a work with her mother, Ajuntha Anwari, we were thrilled, curious and perhaps a little envious. We know Sharda as a theatre practitioner, educator, and fellow movement improviser, so we approached her for an interview about Hayat, which premiered at the recent M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2018.

 

Thank you, Sharda and the Hayat team, for opening up to us. 

 

Over time, we hope to chat with more families who practice and make art together.

 

“It’s difficult to describe the level of intimacy and friendship we developed, between mother and child.”
— Sharda

Have you always made art as a family?

 

No, actually. We kind of fell into it. Pink Gajah started off as a partnership between Najib Soiman (the actor/director) and myself. It took that partnership to fall apart for my team to start creating work first as a brother and sister duo – between Sean Harrison and myself – and then later with Lim Mei Yin, our sound artist. My mother Ajuntha and I started to work together only when Open Homes by Jeffrey Tan came as an opportunity. She was a performer and I was facilitating her in that performance in our own living room.

 

How did your collaboration grow?

 

The show for Open Homes was performed twice – once in 2015 and again in 2017. My mother and I created ‘I AM’ together based on a series of interviews with Ajuntha, mainly revolving around her neighbourhood, her childhood and her mother. The second version of ‘I AM’ became more intimate and layered. Hayat was a process that found its way easily. Ajuntha would be the lead and the story would evolve around her life – this time grounded in the Pink Gajah methodology of extracting a story and turning it into imagery, movement, media and sound.

 

Can you share an anecdote that illustrates the difference between working to make art with family versus working with colleagues/peers?

 

I don’t know about an anecdote, but working with family makes the work literally 24/7 because my family lives together. It is a rich and fulfilling, almost mind-consuming, experience because you can’t leave work at the ‘office.’

 

Working with peers is a safer zone. There is a certain professionalism displayed and asserted within the rehearsal room. It’s a balance between knowing we can say certain hurtful things and go back to different homes to reflect on the conversation that had transpired between us. Sometimes, making art makes one push themselves to a certain limit in order to get the ‘show’ moving with the momentum it needs. Of course, performing with family and sharing the same rehearsal space in the same house is taxing! We can’t go home! I go to my room and reflect a lot or take long walks away from Ajuntha. Yet at the end of the day it is completely worth it. It always is.

 

Did you have concerns about working on Hayat as a mother-daughter team? What were they and did these concerns play out during the process?

 

I didn’t have concerns but over time, I realised it isn’t easy. Tensions can arise just as easily as laughter can dissolve. However, the pay-off is an amazing experience… more than amazing. It’s difficult to describe the level of intimacy and friendship we developed, between mother and child.

 

You choose not only to tell the unique story of your family experience, but also to use it to make live performance. Could you talk about why you decided to do this? What were some of the motivations?

 

I was interested in the next walk of life – death. About ten years ago, my mother started to go on a voyage of her mind and spirit, and rooted herself more in the preparation and awakening of death. It only seemed apt to expand on this desire and to tell her story through imagery and text. I don’t see my parents as just parents – they are also my friends, my brothers and sisters, teachers and students. My family unit is special in that way, and bizarre.

 

Pink Gajah’s first work Bi(cara), later renamed Temuan (the meeting), was based on my father Bernard Harrison’s talk “Why do we do what we do?” Hayat‘s manuscript, so to speak, is my mother’s life. One is a script about the human animal, the other is a script about the human spirit.

 

In your performance description, you mention “the desire to walk with God, to survive in a highly urbanised world and yet hold onto our ancient groundings.” How does this play out in the work and in your family?

 

Through instinct, images, song, movement, memories. My family: we’re a weird bunch. My father is a scientific. My parents are divorced so my mother raised us not necessarily as a single mother, but in some senses, she did. We lived with her, as children usually do – they follow their mothers. She’s lived in an urbanised world, chasing the dollar, running a spa, being a property agent and an insurance agent, being in the pyramid business… she’s done it all. One day, she woke up and said, “no more.” That day, she retreated back to her plants, jamu and the art of healing. ‘Ancient groundings’ to me is womb, mother, and the idea of what comes before and after.

 

What are some of the things your friends and/or family said to you when they found out that you’re making this show as mother and daughter?

 

The rest of the family smiled. I suppose nothing surprises them anymore. My friends were impressed and happy with Ajuntha. It is a big deal that we are putting her on stage as (more or less) a very new performer. It’s not been easy, but as I said, when all flows, it is rewarding. And it does flow.

 

However, with such raw and sensitive material, not all family members want to come watch this show. My father, for one, would like to watch the show over video. He could not make it for the actual performance. A part of me is also sensitive because it is a difficult show to watch. Therefore, I understand when family members would choose not to watch it. This is, of course, something I took a mental note of from the beginning when i decided to make the work. In fact, i sought my father’s blessings pertaining to some of the material that was discussed on stage. He was fine, as he is. My father is a wonderful, liberal and open man and I can only count myself lucky to be given such freedom to make this kind of work.  

 

Since creating this work together, has anything changed for you as individuals and for your relationship?

 

A lot has changed. We have given each other the room to be more direct. We don’t mask our emotions from each other. Our friendship and mutual understanding have grown too. Also, I am very aware and entwined in my mother’s story. As much as this is healing for her, it is also healing for me and, hopefully, for my brother Sean (who is creating the media) too. 

 

 

Hayat premiered at M1 SIngapore Fringe Festival 2018

 

Pink Gajah Theatre

 

17–20 January 2018, 8pm

20 January 2018, 2pm & 5pm

Black Box, Centre 42

40 mins with no intermission

Fringe Commission ● World Premiere

Making Dances in Short Windows of Time: An interview with Stephanie Nugent and Savannah Cox (mother-daughter)

Conversation with ROAR artists ila and Natalie Tse

This is part of a series of interviews with families that make art and perform/exhibit together. We hope there is something here for you.

 

Rolypoly Family is beyond excited to share this abridged interview with Stephanie Nugent (mother) and Savannah Cox (daughter, in middle school), who live in Indianapolis, USA. They created and performed BOAT, a dance work that is now also a dance for camera. When we first watched a recording of BOAT, we were moved by the unfolding of a relationship between 2 artists – with their decisions, their mass, their touch, their trust, their selves, their femininity, and their history together. 

Thanks, Stephanie and Savannah, for chatting with us!

Hi Stephanie and Savannah! We love BOAT, as you know. We’re curious when the both of you started dancing together.

 

Stephanie: Savannah, you want to start?

 

Savannah: I was already dancing when I was in my mom’s belly. She was dancing while pregnant with me and that’s when we first started dancing together.

 

Stephanie: Yes, and when she was a little older, I would have friends come over to our house for dance sessions. Savannah was interested and would join us from time to time. We built a dance studio in our garage, so it ended up being easy for Savannah to join in.

 

Would you tell us something about Boat?

 

Savannah: I thought the name should be bridge,” but my mom came in one day with the word “boat” and she thought it would be a better name.

 

Stephanie: It was after we had finished the dance that I was looking back at a video and BOAT came to mind. For the majority of the dance, Savannah is on top of me and we improvised with the rule that she couldn’t touch the ground, kind of like the game “the floor is lava.” This made me think of myself as a kind literal and metaphoric boat for her. It seems to me that BOAT is more suggestive of me being “under” Savannah, supporting her body weight, than the word bridge.

 

Whose idea was it to make it and perform it? Why?

 

Savannah: It was my mom’s idea to make the dance, but once she brought up the idea, it was a team effort to create it. We wanted to do this, because it was special. I don’t think there has ever been another mother-daughter dance like this before and I wanted to show the world that there is a different kind of connection when you are dancing with family. So that is what we did.

 

Stephanie: Savannah already mentioned the dance – “Yet-to-be-named” – that I made when  I was pregnant with her. This was an incredibly special experience as well, because it was specific to a short window of time in our lives. Robin, my husband and Savannah’s dad, wrote the music for it and we performed when I was 7 ½ months (very) pregnant. After improvising with Savannah one day last spring, I realized that I wanted to capture (even if ephemerally), the experience we’ve been having, moving together while she is still a child. And, at 10 almost 11, the kid window is quickly fleeting.

 

Where have you performed Boat and how have the experiences been?

 

Stephanie: I was invited to conduct a residency at Lawrence College in Appleton Wisconsin, which included both teaching and performance. Knowing Margaret Paek, the woman who sponsored us, I thought this venue would be a wonderful place to debut BOAT. We presented six different works that each, in their own way, related to or expressed the female experience. The performance itself was in a fairly informal space with a hardwood floor and floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked the beautiful campus. The audience sat in folding chairs, in a semicircle around us, and they were invited into some moments of audience participation throughout the performance, in which Savannah, the other dancers, and I took part. The intimate and immediate relationship we were able to cultivate with the audience created a perfect setting for BOAT and offered a potent inter-generational experience for the audience.

 

And the film! It premieres at the Indy Fringe very soon. Anything about the process of making it that you can tell us about? Looks like you got quite drenched…

 

Stephanie: I have been wanting to make dances for the camera for quite a while. Having seen many of my colleagues create beautiful works, I was excited by the numerous creative possibilities that were opened when the camera was the eye of the audience. I had also served on faculty at CalArts for six years, during which time I witnessed many of my dance students learning to work with this medium. After directing and performing BOAT with Savannah, I wanted to continue performing it, but I was aware that Savannah was growing quickly and the work would inherently change as she did.

 

I put the word out on Facebook that I was looking for a collaborator to help me record BOAT before it was no longer BOAT, and to edit the work using the artistic magic of this new medium. Several Indianapolis artists all recommended the same filmmaker, Charles Borowicz. After speaking with him, I jumped at the chance to collaborate and began to plan our process. Charlie has a fantastic sensitivity to my aesthetic interests and is quite intuitive when it comes to the way he edits. He is currently working on a 2nd draft and we are really excited to debut it at the Indianapolis Fringe Festival in a couple of weeks!

 

You mentioned seeing the still shot of Savannah and me in the creek. It was a beautiful (but cold!) setting and, yes, I got quite wet (laughs). But, I won’t say any more as I don’t want to give anything more away!

 

Have there been times when you did not want to dance together or found it challenging to dance together?

 

Stephanie: Savannah has been playing more soccer recently, so she mostly dances socially and when she puts music on at home. It is important to me that she does not feel pressured to follow in my footsteps so I’ve tried to minimize the amount of time we rehearse.  When I first brought the idea to her, I told her that we would have to dedicate some time to the process if we were going to perform together. Luckily, she is a natural performer and improvisor, so we have been able to create a lot of the work by improvising with a score (guidelines to keep us on track), and then develop the structure by looking at videotapes of our improvisations. Funny enough, our biggest challenges have not come from lack of ideas, but from deciding what to include!

 

Savannah: So, at times, I had a lot of ideas and so did my mom, and it was hard organizing it to fit in the piece, which was frustrating. We also have a lot of other things we need to do during the day, with me dealing with middle school and soccer, and mom having to work a lot. But, when it was finished, I was very happy with dance!

 

Who else do each of you dance or work with?

 

Stephanie: In the past I have worked with many other artists including dance improvisors Shel Wagner Rasch, Stefan Fabry and Kim Epifano, choreographers Victoria Marks, Keith Johnson, Selene Carter, Suzanne Lappas, Doug Varone, Doug Neilson, Laura Dean and Alison Chase (Pillabolus), writer Virginia Grise, and composers such as Eve Beglarian, and Belinda Reynolds.  I also frequently collaborate with my husband, violinist/composer Robin Cox. Our most recent and long-term project is HOURGLASS, a live music and dance improvisation community event, offering participants the opportunity to move freely with community, in an immersive environment of live amplified violin and cello, electronic playback, and video projection.

 

Savannah: I used to take ballet, but now I mostly create dances to my favorite songs, either by myself or with my friends, and improvise with my mom and her friends when they come over. Sometimes mom will find me in the living room dancing to my favorite songs, “My Shot,” from Hamilton, or “BO$$,” by Fifth Harmony, blaring from my ipad.

 

Savannah is off to middle school! Congrats, Savannah. What will dancing and making together look like with this new phase?

 

Savannah: Well, I’m starting practice again with my soccer team, I’m in my school choir, and I’m planning to sign up for Artistically Talented (the visual art club). So, I’m not sure how much I will be dancing, though I will definitely dance when I go roller skating, make a dance party in our studio, or score a goal in soccer! I might like to take a hip-hop class sometime too, but for now, I’m pretty busy!

 

Any last words for dancing families in Singapore?

 

Stephanie: Savannah kind of said it best, “there is a different kind of connection when you are dancing with family.” I’ll just add that dancing with Savannah has been and continues to be a unique and beautiful bonding experience for me, and I think for her as well . . .

 

Savannah: Oh, yes!

 

Stephanie: So, I would just encourage your readers to seize opportunities to enjoy each other through dance. Whether you create performances together or simply enjoy moving for fun, these experiences and memories are what living is all about!

 

Thank you, Stephanie and Savannah!

 


 

For more information about HOURGLASS and Nugent Dance:

 

HOURGLASS – http://www.hourglass-music.com
Nugent Dance – http://stephanienugent.com

 

Interested in a screening of BOAT in Singapore? With enough interest, we will organise it! Tell us at hello@rolypolyfamily.com

Children moving (very, very, very) slowly and other thoughts from Segni Mossi

Children moving (very, very, very) slowly and other thoughts from Segni Mossi

Back in July, Bernice and Faye from Rolypoly Family were in Taiwan with Segni Mossi, a movement and trace research project by Simona Lobefaro and Alessandro Lumare (Italy). Here, Faye writes about her observations and what surprised her on the trip.

It’s been slightly over a month since Segni Mossi. We spent our days in a large dance studio of Wanxin Elementary School, experiencing movement through our bodies and the visible traces left behind – the oil pastel markings, the shape of the paper, and the stirred emotions swirling within and around us. It was clear within the group that though Segni Mossi began as a movement and trace project with children and developed for children, the adults in the room felt immense joy from moving with playful specificity and seeing in the most literal way the effects of their movement on their surroundings (eg. swinging left on the hammock while holding an orange crayon against the floor creates a sweeping orange stroke to the left). 

 

Here, I share 3 of my observations from my time there. It was tough to pick 3 but well, here they are!

 

1) Young children are able to move very, very, very slowly

 

With the right conditions, children can move as slowly as a snail. (Ok, maybe not just any snail but a snail going out for a run.) In one session, we saw the children embody the image of slow- growing roots and it was truly breathtaking how they took their time and dedicated themselves to the task of slowly stretching out their bodies, from a curled up position to a fully-extended one. Now, it wasn’t just one of them – the whole group of children patiently took turns and watched each other in this mini-performance. What are the right conditions, one might ask. Based on what I saw, it had to do with the children seeing value in accomplishing the task and enjoying the challenge of doing it well. Here, I witnessed intimately the difference between setting an expectation for the children to aspire towards, as opposed to using authority and rule to get the children to accomplish the task. To set the context – between turns, the children were free to get up and leave to get hugs and water if they wanted to. Yet, they returned.

 

2) It is important for the circle to be a circle

 

When we form a group circle that looks like a circle, it sends the message that we have intentions and we mean them. I witnessed in Segni Mossi (and some other meetings I’d been to) that a strong circle sets a precedence for how we relate to each other the rest of the session. When we communicate the reason for making a circle, such as the need for everyone to be able to see everyone, the intention of the circle is stronger, and it can help to prime the group to be more aware and respectful of each other. 

 

3) Working and teaching as a family

 

Simona and Alessandro are a couple and they run Segni Mossi programmes and training together. While we were in Taipei, their daughter, S, was also present and joined in when she was interested. The openness with which Simona and Alessandro led the sessions offered us the reminder that as co-teachers, co-facilitators and partners, we don’t always have to agree, but the foundation of our work together has to be solid. Their difference in perspectives was comforting for me – there is no one “right” way to approach this project and there is room for us to find our way. Their emotions and needs were also very much present in the room, eg. feeling of delight, confusion, and disappointment, and need for clarity, boundaries, and affection. I always felt safe in the sessions because Simona and Alessandro came across as united in their desire to share Segni Mossi with us and clear about their intentions. They did not hide the joys and frustrations of working as a couple (and a family) and we were better for it. 

 

FLIPSIDE PORTRAITS REVEALED IN THE LIGHT
COLLABORATIVE PAINTING THROUGH GROUP MOVEMENT AND NEGOTIATION

Thanks for reading! If you have any comments or questions, feel free to write me at hello@rolypolyfamily.com. 

 

Till next time, 

Faye

 

Interested in our Segni Mossi-inspired programme? Find out more about Dance Playground here! We have run Dance Playground at The Artground and with Let’s Go Play Outside (LGPO). Contact us if you would like to bring Dance Playground to your school, event or homeschooling co-op. We are also able to customise the programme for corporate team-building or family day. Contact us today!

Dance to Play and Play to Dance… our week at Blue House School

Dance to Play and Play to Dance... our week at Blue House School

Last week, we spent 5 days at Blue House Nursery & International Preschool (Turf City) as part of our artist residency with L’Observatoire, Isabelle Desjeux’s art studio there. Our intention for the week was to spend time playing and exploring with the children at Blue House, to find new ways that nature can inspire the way we dance and move… and inspired we were!

 

Each morning, we would begin the residency with a walk along a short trail, collecting leaves of various sizes, twigs, etc. We also used materials found in the studio, such as twine, yarn, and rubber seeds from Isabelle’s collection.

 

In Open Studio, the children joined us in an open format exploration – with music playing in the back, we explored how the materials moved and what we could do to the materials that would make them move differently. “Blow leaves blow” became a fun game for the children and we proceeded to play the game without the leaves, only our bodies responding to playful gusts of wind. At other times, we found new ways to combine our Segni Mossi training with the materials, such as dancing with paint-dipped twine tails that left traces on the paper where we danced. The Open Studio experience felt like a different type of loose parts play (which we held once with the help of our friends at Tinker Yard), one using natural materials as the starting point.

 

In the afternoons, we had our own explorations with the materials, which led to the creation of a new performance with a Giant Taro leaf, titled In My Balloon.

 

We ran our nature-themed Dance Playground Workshops with 4 different groups of children. The ideas that arose from Open Studio were incorporated into the workshops. We started with a performance of In My Balloon, which received a standing ovation by some children. Then, we invited the children to join us in exploring the leaves and responding to our movement proposals. It was delightful to watch the movement decisions that they made and how they interacted with each other. The teachers were hands on deck to look out for safety, as well as to join in the dance and play.

 

Thanks to the teachers who came up to us after to share their observations. One teacher noticed her student, who rarely connects with others, expressing herself and making connections with us. We noticed this same child immersed in her own leaf dance during the dance jam. Another teacher shared that her students continued exploring our movement proposals in her classroom and that they will give the children the time and space to further develop from where we left off. Thank you teachers for your dedication to the children!

 

We look forward to sharing this nature-themed Dance Playground with more children, teachers and schools! Get in touch with us for a chat at hello@rolypolyfamily.com.

Faye shares about PEEKABOO! Festival (Superhero Me) and her anxiety about leading a mass improvisational dance

Faye shares about PEEKABOO! Festival (Superhero Me) and her anxiety about leading a mass improvisational dance

Tomorrow, we begin our 2nd journey with Superhero Me, an inclusive arts organisation that brings arts experiences to delight children of mixed abilities and disabilities. With them, we will be in residency at Rainbow Centre from Jan-Mar 2019, for the PEEKABOO! Festival. Preparations have been on-going, including a 3-day Play Lab, where we tested and refined our project, and in the process, got to know some warm, intuitive and inspiring children, teachers and therapists.

 

I’m now stressing about tomorrow because we start off with an assembly-sized mass improvisational dance, something we are trying for the first time. The musician is ready, the volunteers (Superhero Me Captains) have been briefed, the equipment and floor tape are on standby. Am I ready? How do I lead a meaningful experience of this scale, when most of our work involves facilitation of creativity and expression in smaller, more intimate groups?

 

What I’ll try to focus on, instead of becoming limited by the anxiety:

 

1) Gratitude

 

Huge thanks to Superhero Me for bringing us back to work with their community of children, and for the trust in our approach. We are fortunate to be aligned in our belief that each child is worthy to be respected and to be given the opportunity to participate and express their feelings and ideas. If not for the charismatic and dedicated leaders of Superhero Me pushing us to go beyond our comfort zone, we would not have ended up with this new way of dancing improvisationally with so many children at once. That said, I’ll be glad when we meet the children in smaller groups in the subsequent sessions, that’s for sure 😉

 

There is also much to be grateful for that no one in this project expects the artists and teaching artists to be working for free due to our “passion.” There is recognition here for the training, research, time and commitment put into such artistic collaborations. Though there is room for anyone to give their time and commitment without monetary compensation, there is no such assumption when we work with Superhero Me, and that motivates us to work even harder with them.

 

2) Trust the children

 

Trust the children to receive our proposals, intentions, and movement, and trust them to make of it what they will. Some of the children are able to express themselves more independently, while others need physical facilitation and support to express their ideas and movement. Remembering that we may not always get to receive affirmation of their experience or enjoyment, especially in such a large group, is quite key. I look forward to getting off the assembly stage and interacting more personally with the children.

 

3) Enjoy the dance myself

 

Twist it, shake it, snake around it, stretch it, freeze it, floss all over it… work it! Alright… enough typing and looking at the screen. I’ll go put on some music (by Yong Kailin, our trusted composer and musician “Captain Kazoo”) and put my feelings into motion.

 

We will report back from our first week at Rainbow Centre Margaret Drive!

 

Till then, peace and love,

 

Faye

Making Extraordinary Sounds With and For Babies : An interview with Andy Chia and Natalie Alexandra Tse (Little Creatures by SA)

Making Extraordinary Sounds With and For Babies : An interview with Andy Chia and Natalie Alexandra Tse (Little Creatures by SA)

This is part of a series of interviews with families that make art and perform/exhibit together. We hope there is something here for you.

 

We are delighted to be sharing this written interview with Natalie Alexandra Tse and Andy Chia from SAtheCollective. With the birth of their son Dodo, Nat and Andy began making performances together as Little Creatures by SA. Read on to find out more about Nadam (their latest performance for babies), what making art with each other and their son means to them, and why the “older generation” might wag their fingers at this pair of artist parents.

 

Thanks, Andy and Nat, for opening up to us!

Could you give us a brief history of how you started working together and what led to making performances with Dodo?

 

We met more than 15 years ago when we played in an out-of-school Chinese Orchestra that gathered some of the prominent youth Chinese instrumentalists back then. After completing our respective Masters programmes, we formed our first East-West “fusion” kind of band. Eventually, SA was established as a trio with the Chinese dizi, guzheng and drums & percussion. Now, SA has evolved and expanded into an Art Company – SAtheCollective. Our artistic pursuit is no longer limited to Chinese instruments or music – we pride ourselves as a company that is focused on cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary creative collaborations and we have associate artists who dabble in the realm of audio-visual art.

 

With the company, we found it increasingly important to advocate for a generation of arts audiences who are aware. This is in line with Nat’s pursuits at NIE in early childhood music education, where she currently pursues a PhD. Little Creatures by SA was thus established in 2016, dedicated to creating opportunities for the very young audience (newborns till 8 year olds) to play, explore and experiment with sonic possibilities. With our little one Baby Dodo, who came along in 2018, we developed a performance for babies – Nadam – that is rooted in Chinese philosophies and explores natural sonic objects such as gourds, bamboo, and wood.

 

How do your roles in the family now intersect with your roles as you make art together?

 

While we keep our working relationship professional, it’s undeniable that many times, our lives are highly intertwined with art-making. I think over the years, and with Baby Dodo now, we have learnt to be one with our Art, working with each others’ capabilities, strengths, weaknesses and differences much more cohesively. For example, Nat is generally weaker at the visual arts. Andy helped a lot with designing the set and the props, since he is a lot more visually-inclined. Andy has a more “doing” approach to Art, while Nat is a little more “conceptual,” so we complement well.

 

Dodo is with us everywhere we go. He is basically attached to us all the time. We do not leave him with others. On the rare occasions when we do, he would be in the vicinity. For example, when we have to perform together in a show like ETHNI-CITYIII, or when he is grouchy and may serve as a disruption during Nadam, our fellow artist friends will help to care for him. SAtheCollective has become a tight-knit family and Dodo is definitely one reason for our bond. As Dodo’s mum, Nat wants to be with and provide for him all the time. Having to juggle between him and her passion for the arts for young children feels ironic at times.

We were at Nadam and saw how the babies displayed different responses to the sounds, the movement, the performers and the environment. The work seemed to offer a comfortable and intriguing space for them to experience different textures of sounds and materials. Could you tell us more about Nadam?

 

Nadam is rooted in Chinese philosophy – the concept of Heaven, Earth and Man, its relationship with one another, and the harmony of Man in Universe and the Universe in Man. It also rides on the concept of Eight Sounds/Eight Tones – an ancient philosophy of the eight different materials that make sound, including bamboo, stone, strings (silk), gourd, clay, etc.

 

In the development of Nadam, we considered the use and representation of these materials as sounding objects that are safe for babies 18 months and below to explore and play with. We advocated for deepened awareness of listening. Sound is one of the earliest senses to develop when we are fetuses in our mothers’ wombs (around 20 weeks) and the last sense that leaves as we pass on. For babies, sounds, such as their mothers’ voices, are soothing and serve as a form of emotional communication that is crucial to a babies’ survival as their cries indicate their needs.

 

Sound is all around us, yet we are hardly aware of it. At the same time, sound also exists within us – and that’s the actual meaning of the sanskrit word, “Nadam”, which some of us may find akin to “Om,” commonly used in yogic practices. Some practices also believe in the resonant harmony in our bodies that keeps ourselves calm and balanced. Sound is very important to the well-being of humankind.

 

How did each of you contribute to the creation and performance of Nadam? Who else was instrumental in the work and in what way?

 

Baby Dodo was a major part in the creation of Nadam – he was present during all the meetings and rehearsal sessions. He grew with the performance, as much as the performance developed with him. We witnessed developmental milestones such as him crawling, standing, walking and vocalizing along with us during the performance itself.

 

He helped us understand how to interact with babies through his actions and responses to the events that were happening during workshop and rehearsal sessions. In a way, he was a little “test subject” of ours, though a very “biased” one. He reminded us how important it is give him possibilities and potentialities for exploration, even though there are people who question us, saying things like “he understands meh?” or “he’s too young to know.” We think that’s absolutely untrue. If we don’t give our babies opportunities to experience and explore, the neurons that are supposed to fire will not, and his experiences and later outlook towards life will be limited. This is one of the driving forces and objectives behind Nadam as well – to allow babies to experience extraordinary sounds.

 

Andy was crucial in directing the music and creating the house-music that we hear at the beginning of the show. We took inspiration from sounds we imagined hearing as fetuses in our mothers’ bodies – heartbeat, nervous system, blood circulation, etc. Andy was also central in creating the rather elaborate performance space setup.

 

Nat was the overall director of the performance. It being her first attempt, she received a lot of help from the team, such as Renee Chua, who guided the dramaturgy, movement, and prop-building, and Vick Low, a friend who helped with sound, building props and looking after Dodo. Others in the team included Raywyn Tan, Chengyan Ang, Waikit Chan and our lighting deisgner, prop-maker and stage manager.

 

What were the most satisfying and the most challenging moments in NADAM?

 

We all doubled up on the roles – from musician, actor, and movement artist to set-design and prop-making. It was definitely challenging to try to wear so many different hats.

 

During the show, Dodo’s responses affected us (he was there for most of the actual performances). For example, Nat sub-consciously looked out for him at all times, no matter who his caregiver was, and she panicked whenever he got grouchy or sounded agitated. Though she liked when he came up to her as she played the harp, she was also worried that he would cry if his caregiver pulled him away from her. We believe that babies communicate their needs through cries that affect the parents’ emotions. Dodo’s cries of sleepiness, for example, made Nat’s heart skip a beat during performances while she tried her best to stay focused.

 

To actually present the show and see parents gain this new experience with their babies (it was the first time for many of them) was the most satisfying part. Seeing how our team bonded and grew with one another was also valuable.

What have been the implications of the way you live and make art as a family?

 

I think our parenting style can be rather different. For instance, Dodo has never been bottle-fed (save for once when I tried). He can be said to be a purely breastfed, breast-nursed baby, even till today (shy of 2 weeks to 12 months old). He has attended all sorts of arts events and witnessed different art forms. We intend to keep it this way and to give him varied arts and life experiences. His sleep pattern is the same as ours – night owls we all are, and late risers too. He doesn’t have daily routines; we go with the flow. I think if the older generation were to know of our parenting style, we may be heavily criticized. But we stand by our style and values and believe the importance of keeping our child close to us. We believe that giving Dodo a strong sense of attachment in his early years, when he needs it the most, is important, helping him feel secure and confident as we gradually raise an independent young person. He may be attached to us, but he’s one of the friendliest babies we’ve ever known. He says “hi” to everyone, explores curiously and is able to simply just be.

 

Thank you, Andy and Nat, for sharing about your philosophy and way of working, both in your performances and in your family life together. We look forward to more conversations with you!

 

For more information about Little Creatures by SA and Nadam:

Little Creatures by SA – http://littlecreaturessg.com/
Nadam – http://littlecreaturessg.com/work/lc/nadam

 

Letter to Today Online: Both parents and schools continue to play a vital role in providing comprehensive sexuality education

Letter to Today Online: Both parents and schools continue to play a vital role in providing comprehensive sexuality education

Our co-founder, Faye Lim, and Shumei Winstanley of Chapter Zero, submitted this letter to Today Online, in response to other published opinion pieces in February 2019 regarding parents’ roles in sex education. The letter was not published so it is made available below.

 

(Today Online did, however, publish a letter by Tan Joo Hymn, titled “Teens can benefit from mutually respectful parent-child dialogues about sex.” We are in agreement with Tan and encourage you to read it.)

“Both parents and schools continue to play a vital role in providing comprehensive sexuality education”

When we saw the published opinion pieces, (“When my nine-year-old son asks about the birds and the bees”; Feb 8 and “The rightful role of parents in sex education”; Feb 14), we were heartened that this important subject is getting more air-time.

 

We agree that parents need to be involved in their children’s sex education and that the learning can begin at a young age in age-appropriate ways.

 

For example, Singapore Children’s Society’s Kidzlive: I Can Protect Myself programme teaches K2 students the accurate names of private body parts and we applaud this. As organisations working with families and young children, we do not shy away from healthy discussions about body parts as it is important to be factual, whilst remaining age-appropriate with children. However, we recognise not all families in Singapore feel equipped to address sex education with their children.

 

Many of us in Singapore did not grow up with comprehensive sexuality education and the topic of sex remains taboo in many families. Private body parts were often treated as shameful, and many of us grew up with a deep sense of shame and insecurity about our bodies and sexuality. 

 

A survey conducted by AWARE and Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Diploma in Psychology Studies students observed that among “almost 800 young persons (16 to 25 years old)… friends and partners were found to be popular sources of information on sexual health, and parents the least popular” (“Many young people unsure of contraceptive use, and feel they can’t talk to parents about sexual health”; AWARE). Young people also “expressed uncertainty about their parents’ openness to discussing sexual issues, or perceived them as unapproachable.” Since then, AWARE developed a workshop, Birds and Bees, to prepare parents for conversations about sex with their children.

 

Schools continue to play a vital role in providing comprehensive sexuality education to children across Singapore. According to UNESCO, a comprehensive sexuality educationhelps young people become more responsible in their attitude and behaviour regarding sexual and reproductive health… and is essential to combat…teenage pregnancy and sexual and reproductive health issues” (“UN urges Comprehensive Approach to Sexuality Education”; UNESCO).

 

Lessons on and access to contraception are essential components of comprehensive sexuality education. Promoting abstinence from sex before marriage is insufficient in and of itself to protect our children from STDs and teen pregnancy. Figures from the Ministry of Health show that the number of teen pregnancies “dropped massively” between 2005 to 2015 and social workers attributed the decline, not to a decrease in teenagers having sex, but to their use of contraceptives and sexuality education programmes in schools (“Big Drop In Number of Teen Pregnancies”; Straits Times; Feb 22, 2016).

 

Ultimately, comprehensive sexuality education should also promote body autonomy, boundaries, consent and assertiveness, all of which contribute towards our children becoming respectful and responsible adults. In our humble opinion, it is essential that learning takes place in safe environments with parents and teachers, rather than solely through internet searches or peer discussion. (493 words)

 

Faye Lim, Derring-Do Dance, and Shumei Winstanley, Chapter Zero

Letter to the donors of Rolling On Artist Residency (ROAR)

Letter to the donors of Rolling On Artist Residency (ROAR)

Wishing you a smooth transition into Phase 2. I’m writing to share some of my personal motivations for initiating the Rolling On Artist Residency (ROAR), and to send the team’s gratitude that you have chosen to co-commission these works with us. Back in March, when safety measures were tightening, and I was in the middle of a participatory dance project called “Rolling On” (collaboration between Rolypoly Family and The Kueh Tutus, commissioned by NAC), the irony of the project title was not lost on me. No, I thought to myself, I don’t want the virus to “roll on.” The tagline for “Rolling On” was “what goes around, comes around,” and we surely didn’t want the virus to do that. As we continued rehearsing the work in those uncertain times, the team adapted the choreography and interactivity so as to reduce the physical contact with each other and with the audience.

 

We heard advice to continue making, to continue rehearsing and to continue performing as much as we could. In short, to roll on. Some of us considered calling the whole thing off. Everyone was well-meaning and we all had different reference points. What then? “Rolling On” was, from the get go, a work that looked into our interconnectedness with nature and each other, and the care that’s needed in our interactions and actions. It was also about harnessing the snow-ball effect of a good deed done, for positive change. The spread of covid-19 and the new careful and care-full behaviours needed meant this work had to confront and respond to the crisis head on. We could not continue “Rolling On” while ignoring the circumstances and concerns that covid-19 brought to the fore.

 

What is “the crisis?” The crisis seems like so many things. It is also the crisis of not remembering our place in nature. It is also the crisis of rolling on without regard for who else is/is not rolling with us, or who and what we might be rolling on top of, in order to get where we want to go.

 

Ultimately, in line with the latest safety measures then, and mutually agreed with NAC, we called it off. We stopped “Rolling On.”

 

Rolling On Artist Residency and the fundraising campaign that supports it is the way we’ve chosen to roll on. This residency co-commissions artists to make artworks for children, artworks that respond to the question:

 

“How do we take care of ourselves, each other, and our environment?”

 

And I am in it for some personal gains. As a parenting artist to a young child, I want more works for children (and my child) that bring attention to our interconnectedness and the need for care in our actions. Perhaps for some, the question is why – why would we roll on with care? We must because we need to take care of the guests we have invited to our country to build our homes and care for our dependents. Because we need to leverage our privilege to lift others up when we have a choice to roll on while others might not. Because climate change and environmental injustice discriminate and some of us are shielded from certain effects at the expense of others.

 

I imagine that with more art addressing our interconnectedness and care, the world will be a better place. And my son and his peers will also be better off in such a world. Idealistic? Sure, but I’m rolling with it anyway.

Thank you for joining us in the money snowball (fundraising campaign), helping our initial $500 grow. We are now about $1,000 shy of our campaign goal. We’re focused on supporting ila and Natalie, the 2 commissioned artists, in their artworks, while deliberating the next 2 artists and works.

 

The artworks by the 2 artists, ila and Natalie, have also probed some of my unconscious assumptions when it comes to care. ila reminded me that it’s ok for children to wait in Vanishing Worlds. We care for them, not by guarding them from disappointment (it’s ok that the seed takes many days to sprout or that it might not grow at all), but by being by their side as they face these situations. Natalie is slowly approaching families to interview for her project, First Connections. She is not rushing into it (it’s ok to take the time), so as to connect with diverse families and have folk songs across cultures represented in the project.

 

In the coming weeks, we will hear from the artists and others involved in Rolling On Artist Residency.

 

In the meantime, if you would like to spend some time with us this weekend (28th June 2020) – we are hosting “What Did The Snail Say To The Plant?” a gardening talk about the web of life. The garden can be a wonderful teacher about our interconnectedness and how to care. Registration is needed. Hope to see you there!

 

Please share these links with others:

 

For more information about ROAR: www.facebook.com/roaresidency

 

For the fundraising campaign: https://give.asia/campaign/rolling-on-artist-residency

 

For ila’s project updates: https://www.facebook.com/groups/vanishingworlds/

 

For Natalie’s project updates: https://nataliealexandra.wixsite.com/firstconnections

 

Thanks for reading!

Love and light,
Faye

Conversation with ROAR artists ila and Natalie Tse

Conversation with ROAR artists ila and Natalie Tse

Back in August 2020, we interviewed the Rolling On Artist Residency (ROAR) artists, ila and Natalie Tse, to check in on how they were doing, and to dialogue about their artworks for their residency with us. Segments of the interview were shared on our social media. This is the full conversation.

 

Hi ila and Natalie…

 

We’re in “phase 2” now, some workplaces are open, dining is allowed with restrictions, schools are in session… how are you doing?

 

Ila: Strangely, given that our daily routines revolve around Inaya, my almost four year old toddler, we didn’t really feel much impact from phase 1 other than the fact that time became more rubbery for other things, such as activities that would allow us to reset ourselves. Also, because of the vagueness of the future especially when it comes to finances, my partner Bani and I decided to stockpile on projects which as a consequence, made us really exhausted and stretched. When phase 2 kicked in, I could feel this sudden acceleration in the last few months move towards a steady pace for all three of us. 

 

I feel very privileged to have been given many opportunities to do several one-off projects, ROAR being one of them, that have brought me out of my own bubble and pushed me to build upon my practice and processes even during this time of scarcity. There also seems to be this collective reassurance that everyone is still sensing and figuring out what is safe, functional and acceptable at this moment so it’s been a forgiving and less pressurising period.

 

Nat: I think we’re coping well. Many things have changed, but sometimes I also find that changes are such constants in our lives that I forget what has changed yet reminisce in fond memories, like broken footages in my mind. 

 

Life has been somewhat busy; contrary to our initial beliefs, we have sent Dodo to school, primarily for social interaction with peers of his own age. I thought this would have allowed me to “steal” some time for myself and my work, but somehow (perhaps due to bad time management) I do not feel necessarily eased out with this new routine. Yet, work piles up, emails come in – a blessing in disguise really, at least that means some work to keep my artistic practice alive, and income to sustain the company that I co-run with my partner, Andy. 


“How do we take care of ourselves, each other, and our environment?” What has been your approach to this question, in your project with ROAR? 

Ila: My work has always revolved around the politics of care and it seems to be used a lot these days in our daily interactions, in media, in society as a whole. With a lot of changes especially since space and time seems to be compounding and the micro/macro is blurring into one seamless reality with not much room left for us to take time to process everything. With this, there seems to be a focus on mental health and wellness, which essentially is great. As society recognises the need for us to take care of ourselves and each other through a climate crisis that is happening rapidly, I feel that it creates a kind of self-awareness in how we can respond to these changes and create space to ruminate, to strategize and most importantly to activate within our capacities. 

 

For ROAR, when Faye approached me and shared with me the framing, I was excited to think about what it means for children to respond to these changes and my first instinct was to create world-building exercises. I started from my own lived experience where one day I woke up and found that I couldn’t bring my child to the playground for her to do her daily physical therapy. Being non-verbal, I couldn’t explain to Inaya why on that particular morning until an indefinite time, we might have to play differently. From there, instinctually Inaya and I improvised and took to places we could still access. I realised from this small anecdote that even though our realities may have changed, notions of play and the imagined realities that they can potentially open up do not change. From there I decided to centre play as a main part of the project. Through simple world-building exercises that scaffold the narrative of a boy going through all these strange changes in his little world, I invited the parents and their children to navigate and gently activate themselves at home, improvising their way together into other little worlds.

 

Nat: Aligned with my interests and practices in sound, music and the environment (both urban and natural), I think I was seeking to (re-)establish relationships we have (now as adults) of our childhoods with that of our young children. Contrary to my perhaps  previously “wilful” beliefs, the community is really important in raising a child. I think this is one of the lessons I learnt from interviewing the parents I will be featuring in my project, as I realised that most songs that were sung to us, were by our grandparents; as are most songs sung to my fellow parents’ children. This is something that personally I do not experience in my own family because older generations have passed on, or are simply not present.

 

While not explicit, I guess my approach of taking care of oneself and others during this pandemic period (and also normal periods I guess) is really through sound and movement, song and dance. Because of the circuit breaker, Dodo, myself and his papa got to spend time at home simply jamming. While we have lots of instruments at home due to the nature of our work, it heartens me to see Dodo picking up tin cans, trash cans, chopsticks and bowls to create works of art with “sound”.

 

While these may not necessarily address sustainability issue of our environment directly, I am a firm believer that having a keen sense of awareness to sound is being one step closer to Nature. Why so? I have been intrigued by some Asian notions of sound with the perspective that sound is an agent to the harmony of Heavens and Human, and to be in harmony with Nature one would be in harmony with self. Many times, this harmony also transcends the physical perception of hearing and sound, leading to a state of “soundless sounds”. This is also represented as the concept of nadam of the “unstruck sound”, believed to be the first sound that existed in the world. This is often practiced in yogic meditative to seek anahata nada, an inner ‘om’, if you’d like.

These are concepts that guided my PhD studies, and concepts that I continue to be intrigued by everyday because of how it relates to our being with the world, and with one another. 

 

Anything specifically surprising, satisfying and/or challenging (from the project) you would like to share? 

 

Ila: All three families were very invested in these activities and they would send me updates constantly on our whatsapp group chat and it really warms my heart to see them enjoying these activities. These activities were put together with a lot of care as I think about sustainability and how to make children experience that for themselves. To see the different ways in which they interpret and carry out these activities as a family especially during the period where everyone was just stuck at home and how they improvised on items that they could not get make or did not have access to, make me feel humbled and thankful that they genuinely seem to enjoy these activities.

 

So things like making paper from paper waste is something they can keep doing at home even after the project ends. I was not environmentally activated myself and this was a huge learning curve for me but it has been also really beneficial because I have learnt so much in a short span of time.

 

Natalie: Many passed down lullabies/playsongs have been lost or are on the verge of being lost. One of the families I interviewed shared very briefly a song his father used to sing to him and now to his 2 young daughters. Unfortunately, his father was unable to share it with me. We also couldn’t find recordings of the song. Thus, I am unable to recreate or record it for sharing. Some of these songs, works of art get lost with each generations’ passing. And with that, we lose a bit of ourselves in that heritage. I think it’s important to preserve these for us to understand our identities. As i sing Western songs to Dodo nowadays, as evident in my videos, it is really with pity and some guilt that I do not have these traditional songs in mother tongue languages that I can readily sing to and with him. 


What’s similar and/or different about this project, compared to your other works/how you usually work

 

Ila: I don’t normally work with children. There is often a misconception that artists who are mothers are naturally good at making work for children but that’s not the case for everyone. But my practice has always allowed me to traverse and engage in different ways. There is still me in the output although I have never drawn comics in my entire life, it felt so natural to be doing it. Coming from a performance background and constantly thinking about labour, caretaking and maintenance, this project is another extension to all of these even if it was created for children. In my performance works, I always think of process as a way to confront the difficult questions and having these exercises performed remotely by these families as a way for them to confront these new realities mirrors the way in how I’ve approached performance.

 

The method of working is different definitely but I have always been keen to try out other approaches of making and creating and after ROAR I am more consciously thinking about how will a child experience and interpret the next work I am making even if the themes might be heavier for them.

 

Natalie: This has been a highly process-driven work. I appreciate the time given to simply reflect and ponder. I like that I could involve and even make Dodo a key subject of the project. It’s like documenting my own child’s processes as well in music-making. 

Writing a blog forces me to think reflexively, conduct research, and share research that has already been done in this area. Research and practice are close to my heart and I have always been interested in seeing how they could gel in my artistic endeeavours and I thank ROAR for giving me this platform to do so.


What is the relationship, if any, for you, between art-making and caregiving? 

 

ila: I feel that in my personal life, there is a mutualistic relationship between the two. Art-making has helped and is still helping me, confront and navigate many difficult aspects of caregiving especially for Inaya who has special needs. Without art-making in the last four years, I might not be able to cope as well with the challenges we face daily such as discrimination, lack of accessibility and resources. Art-making has allowed me to see gaps in the capitalistic system and how I can imagine other pathways for us outside of the more normative ones set by society.  Also being artists, both my partner and I have been really privileged to be given different layers of support from the communities of artists who are also close friends of ours and this makes it less isolating. 

 

On a whole, art-making and caregiving feels like the same kind of labour which is not properly valued in society and in some cases remains invisible and alienating but still society benefits from both, immensely. 

 

Natalie: Honestly, I wouldn’t separate them. 

 

Just like I wouldn’t actually separate life and art. LIfe and art has been separated because of economic powers, capitalism, greed etc etc. in my opinion. While I’m a subject to such forces as well, I do feel that intuitively, art is life, life is art. So art-making and caregiving are similarly symbiotic. I use a lot of songs in my parenting style. I try to give Dodo sensorially stimulating opportunities on a daily basis, even in conversations. The felt, perceptive nature of art/-making is important for me, in a way that it similarly relates to the felt vitality of the arts.