Inside the Dance Artists’ Mind: Bodily Autonomy in the Context of Dance, Fashion & Public Spaces

In this exclusive BTS video, dance artists share their experience of working through themes of new materialism, the abject and care in relation to spaces, objects and the body. It’s a fascinating inner look – Listen in!

Grace Nicol, photographed by Ottilie Landmark

We wanted to pass along this fascinating R&D video, filmed behind the scenes of a project called Slip Mould Slippery, led by choreographer Grace Nicol and featuring object garments by designer Sinead O’Dwyer. It founds its way to us earlier this week, and the themes and conversations raised by the work have continued to stay with us – so we know it’s something worth sharing!

Here’s what you’re about to see: In collaboration with dance artists Alethia Antonia, Dorna Ashory, Iro Costello, Florence Pearl and Natifah White, the Slip Mould Slippery project tackles themes of bodily autonomy in the context of dance, fashion & public spaces (such as galleries and museums). Through the R&D process, the artists have been questioning the autonomy of the performer, the power dynamics of inviting people to be seen, and where power and responsibility lie within these exchanges through themes of the abject and New Materialism. Here’s the BTS video, with the choreographer and dance artists’ takeaways from the project:

One of the major themes of the project was the relationship between the body, objects, and the venues in which they meet, interact and impact one another. This opens a rich space for “looking at the body from a place of its materiality, and looking at objects from a place of their aliveness – and how we can do that by making these associations between bodies and objects,” says Grace Nicol, choreographer. “When viewing everything from a place of its or their materiality, it’s harder to determine where you end and where I begin.”

Photo: Ottilie Landmark

There’s also a particular focus on care, “beyond ordinary considerations, and asking how we might all care for one another when negotiating a shared environment,” Grace continued. There’s an emphasis on caring for themselves and one another, on paying attention to triggering spaces and themes, and on providing pastoral sessions where the dance artists and team members can talk through their experiences – both regarding this project and others. Dance artist Alethia describes this as feeling “like a safe space that allowed us to dive deeper into these ideas. (…) It was really important that we had that container of feeling safe within Grace’s practice, and when we also stepped outside the studio”.

Back in March, Grace led a conversation to unpack some of the many learnings from the R&D video above, where dance artists Alethia Antonia and Natifah White shared their experiences as well. It’s filled with so many significant, thought-provoking takeaways regarding bodies, space, the impact of objects being introduced or leaving a space, and the way we care for ourselves and others. We wanted to pass that along as well, as the implications go far beyond dance – there’s definitely something for everyone to reflect upon here! Check it out:

“By putting these ideas into practice, we found we needed to have conversations about what our dance artists might need from venues, and vice versa.”
– Grace Nicol –

Based on what they were able to learn from the R&D session, Grace authored a pack called Public Dance that serves as a concrete starting point for venues and dance artists to navigate working together during these unusual times. It’s a tremendous piece of work, produced by Treacle Holasz and based on the indispensable contributions of a number of incredible talents – and the interactive digital pack is freely available to stakeholders through the Dance4’s website as part of Dance4’s Talking Thinking Dancing seminar series:

public dance
Public Dance by Grace Nicol

“The Public Dance Pack examines how to support challenging and risk-taking work within the contexts of galleries and museums. The pack includes contributions from collaborative artists and explores the cultural, practical and socio-political relationship dynamics between audience, artists and venues. It asks questions like, What does it mean to enter a space? How do we conceive of live performance and its implications in the current climate? How has our understanding of our relationships as programmers, producers, dance artists, choreographers, audience etc changed due to the pandemic? And how can we approach work with a renewed sense of care?”

We love the way this project invites us to look within and around ourselves, and consider what’s happening in the environments we enter, occupy and share. Pass the Slip Mould Slippery project (and the wonderful work products it led to) along to the folks you know who’d get as much out of it as we did. Let’s keep this conversation goin!

Credits for Slip Mould Slippery R&D Behind the Scenes

Collaborating artists: Alethia Antonia (Dance Artist), Dorna Ashory (Dance Artist), Iro Costello (Dance Artist), Grace Nicol (Choreographer), Sinéad O’Dwyer (Designer), Florence Pearl (Dance Artist) and Natifah White (Dance Artist)

Film by Daniel McKee
Post Sound by Olly Gale
Filmed at Centre 151 and Ugly Duck
Pastoral Support Mentor: Temitope Ajose Cutting
Project Mentor: Jacky Lansley
Producer: Treacle Holasz
Design Assistant: Becky Smith

This project has been made possible with support from Arts Council National Lottery Grants, Dance Research Studio, Centre 151, Dance4, Chisenhale Dance Space and Ugly Duck.

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