Dancing in Space

Dancing in Space

Dancing in Space was a project devised by The Dance Movement as part of the Creative Residency Programme hosted by University of Creative Arts (UCA), Farnham campus. It was delivered in collaboration with Digital Film and Screen Arts Course Leader, Rosie Gunn.

About the Project:

The project had two main intentions. The Dance Movement aimed:

‘To begin a creative dialogue with the occupants of UCA Farnham (students, lecturers and staff), to gain an understanding of the people and the space they occupy. ‘

UCA’s aim for the ‘Creative Residency’ was ultimately:

‘To stimulate the Farnham students and engage them within an artistic process.’

Following many inspiring and challenging conversations with Rosie Gunn about what the project was or indeed could be Rachel Palmer (Choreographer – Dancing in Space) devised a number of creative enquiries that would satisfy each agenda. The main stumbling block was how to engage the students and indeed cope with the unpredictable nature of their engagement.

Dancing in Space

Beginning a Dialogue:
As a choreographer Rachel is concerned about the dialogue between her work and an audience. Choosing an appropriate language in which to communicate was crucial to the project, for without it the aims of UCA could not have been achieved.

As the name of the project suggested, the work involved dancing within a space. Having worked ‘site-responsively’ for the past seven years, understanding the relationship between movement and the space it inhabits is fundamental to Rachel.  Her process when working within a specific space is to look at its functionality and architecture (form and contents), also examining the relationship between the space and the people who reside within or pass through it. She questions her motives: Why do I want to put dance here? What is the relevance? Does it need to be here? If satisfied with the responses and inspired by their significance work can begin.

It was the desire to investigate the space and people of UCA honestly and with integrity. With the available budget dictating time-frame and man hours it seemed an exciting way to approach this was through dance improvisation. The medium offered a chance to explore the space and people ‘in the moment’ whilst directly adapting to any changing situation that presented itself.

Dancing in Space

The Improvisations and Format:
As research to the residency the choreographer spent 3 occasions at UCA Farnham. She spent time in a variety of public spaces musing, watching and listening in order to understand how each space related to her as well as the people who moved through them. Settling upon six spaces and with an acquired palette of ideas, she met with her dancers in a virtual space to discuss the improvisations and feed the dancer’s responses into them.

A framework for the residency was proposed whereby the dancers would visit the six different spaces in a set order every day, spending thirty minutes in each space; the schedule was repeated over the three days. It was envisaged that the consistency of revisiting each space could provide the dancers an opportunity to build upon what they had learned, thus deepening their relationship to it and potentially with the people who passed through it.

As is the unpredictable nature of an improvisational form it was unclear precisely what would unfold within each space.   In order for each improvisation to have direction the spaces were named and a small explanation written to encapsulate the choreographer’s ideas. These served as starting points for the dancers and could give clarity to any potential student collaborations.

The Foyer:      A Waiting Space…anticipation, hesitation, interview, nervous

Dancing in Space

The Quads:    Temporary Structures…an instructed space

Dancing in Space

The Canteen: Sccattergorise…a collective space
Another Late Night…a night time space
In the Detail…a personal and virtual space

Dancing in Space

The Corridor: Sound Junction…a listening space

Dancing in Space

The Library:   Read, Re-Read and Lose Concentration…a reading space


The Foyer:      Goodbye and Thank you…an ending space


Communication was paramount in terms of student engagement. The approach was determined by consultations with DFSA students and Rosie Gunn. Staff and student emails were disseminated with publicity materials inviting the entire community of UCA to collaborate with the residency in any way they wanted.

Formally: Members of staff were invited to book specific slots with the dancers for their students.
Informally: Everyone was given the choreographers mobile number and twitter with the instruction: To find us on the day, text or tweet where are you?


The most instantaneous dialogue was text message with the UCA community catching on to the idea of ‘where are you?’ earlier than anticipated. This worked to the projects advantage, allowing for the interest to gradually build in momentum over the two weeks leading up to the residency; ‘Texters’ were invited to become ‘tweeters’ and the interactions continued. The twitter feed was drip fed with research ideas; questions relating to the improvisations accompanied by images were posted to stimulate interest and discussion. As a result of the marketing three pre-meditated collaborations were planned with students from the School of Fine Arts and the School of Crafts. Laura Olohan (2nd Year Fine Art, Sculptor) provided the dancers with masks, a team of DFSA students experimented with a steady cam and Kanishka Kapoor (MA Crafts, Glass Artist) requested to photograph the students dancing with ribbons.

Prior to the residency face-to-face and online discussions were had with the students to understand how the collaborations could work, where they might take place and what the context of each was within the improvisations. It was a desire for the choreographer to truly collaborate with the students, not just ‘dress’ an improvisation with their props. As a result the dialogues with the students became more substantial.

Laura Olohan commented about the process:
It was wonderful meeting (Rachel) and the dancers…(it) was a very inspiring and beneficial experience! 
It has enhanced my practice dramatically – as my work is very performance based. I work with ‘Carnivalesque’ themes (and use) the mask as a vital factor. It was essential to use dance and movement in the absurdities I want to create with my work! The dancers were beyond amazing – better than I could have imagined – with their absurd and comic behaviour. Their spontaneity weaved in with the way that I work, as I will do a performance and make a mask very spontaneously and quickly, to bring it out into the world in order to bring a halt to the everyday banal.

Impromptu Interactions and Reactions
Library staff members wholly embraced the sentiment of the project within their space, tweeting, photographing and joining in with the improvisations.


A tweet from @UCA_eStream:
“Looking forward to another Dancing in Space performance by @thdancemovement. Dancing in libraries – what a fantastic idea! 3pm today”

In addition to working with the UCA community, guests were invited to watch and take part in the residency. Over the three days a total of twenty outside people experienced the work, either watching or collaborating with it for their own artistic endeavours. Feedback from artists and audiences who collaborated with the project was really positive with some artists returning over the three days to develop their ideas. Artists and audiences messaged and tweeted images and responses to the collaborations:

@ FotoStuey:   Bonkers. Fun. Fascinating. Get to UCA Farnham…come and collaborate with the dancers and have your mind blown
@vikkijns: Artists drawing artists filming artists streaming artists. Gorgeous
Congratulations, the madness embraced me once again! I felt like I did after seeing your last production: not quite sure what I’d seen but stimulated by it. You are stretching my mind – thank you!
UCA Graduate (Chloe Bristow)Text: I was entertained throughout and found it explored the space in a truly unique way. I think it’s extremely important UCA supports visiting artists so that it keeps abreast with current art/creative movements. I don’t recall any performances whist I attended UCA from 2003-07.

Learning and Reflection
The over-all aims of the project were to engage the students and through so doing learn about UCA Farnham: the space it takes up in the world and the people who fill it. As a project Dancing in Space whole-heartedly achieved it’s aims. The improvisations were thrown into the faces of the people and held within the spaces of the building. It taught the dancers and choreographer how to navigate people and the spaces they reside in. They learned what a space will allow and how people have a strong relationship with space adding texture, shade and influencing what is indeed acceptable or not in particular situations. For the students who engaged willingly it inspired new collaborations and enriched their practise. For those who stumbled upon the project it is hoped they learned ‘a little something’ about themselves: how do I react to people within a space I occupy? How do my reactions influence a space? How open am I do receiving new information? Can I let go and just ‘be’ in an absurd moment.

A few situations will be etched forever in memory:
The welcoming approach of the library staff who enjoyed the improvisations so much they got involved to become part of the improvisations.
The costa coffee student server who was overly concerned about the unhygienic nature of dancers walking along a bar with bare feet.
The wonderful maintenance man who was stopped in his tracks by the experience before him in the ‘sound junction’ space, that he gave his keys to the dancers to make noise with.
The technicians playing follow my leader with the dancers in the reception area.


As a building UCA is alive with light and shade in every sense of the word from the people to the architecture. It has a bustling ever-changing flow of people who inhabit, approach and leave spaces. The community is etched into the structure, giving it substance and life through sound, light, creativity and energy. The Dance Movements dancers and choreographer were so thankful to have the opportunity to embody the space through a corporeal inquisition. It has enhanced and deepened their practise of improvisation as a tool to investigate space and people.

Originally posted August 12, 2015.