By Stace, February 2020.
In 2017 Maria Nilsson Waller invited me onto a dance residency "HATCH" at Dance Ireland, a world very far from where I was raised. I felt out of my dept, self conscious, nervous and excited. As it turns out, this collision was the big bang of Flora Fauna Project! A living, breathing and evolving collaboration that continues to this day, still transforming our lives and creative practices. We are creating worlds and stories together 24/7. From Stockholm to Ballyfermot, Jamtland to Dublin. Professional stage work with some of our favourite dancers/artists and heart opening projects with so far 80 children and approximately 35 random women who dared to enter the contemporary dance world with us over the last years.
‘The River Diaries’ is our captains log-book, lines of where we find ourselves today, our thoughts and reflections. We started while making The River - a contemporary dance process and piece with 17 women from Sheriff St and Ballybough of Dublin's inner city. This process was intense and personal, but so is all of our work. Like a river, the preseent moment takes us from project to project, piece to piece, place to place. We will be sharing our journey in these diaries.
This year we began a residency with Tipperary Dance Platform at Nenagh Arts Centre. After 3 years we were still in the throws of coming to terms with ourselves, our life, our work, our collaboration, these days and our times. How best to spend our time? What happens when you go to Nenagh and listen, during a heatwave and living in an old Quaker house? Maria told me ‘Man, the Quakers! They just got together and shut up, that’s what they did’. She gave me a soft slap to mark the revelation and we laughed. We knew what we had to do. To find a way to be still in the noise of of Nenagh first, then the kingdom of Luxembourg.
Sound has been a kind of incubation for me, its a wave I feel the most and Im deeply sensitive to it. To listen in the place that has invited you as an artist; this is the honour and privilege of an arts residency. I’ve worked endlessly for over 15 years on my arts/life practice and I took this time and opportunity gratefully and with both hands.
I was equally intrigued to be in Tipperary and Luxembourg, both of which I learned, preserve royalty. In Nenagh we made the rare green space in the town our main site of excavation: The castle park and the walled lavender garden just behind the Arts Centre. Nenagh wasn’t an easy place to be and tragically, the arts centre is almost completely invisible to the community. A arts centre employee told us that once someone asked a Garda in the station across the road for directions and he wasn’t sure where it was. There are statues of men playing sport and also a mural of a local musical hero. No women are honoured in this public way. I only came across 2 statues in Luxembourg, both were women. One of them a nun, the other their beloved Duchess Charlotte. She was exiled during WW2 and she sent encouraging broadcasts back to the people of Luxembourg through the BBC encouraging them to believe in their independence and freedom. Her other choices were to take her high seat and orders from Hitler or be sent to a concentration camp. Once in the tiny park in Nenagh by the castle, a classroom of 5th class girls stumbled on us improvising with a globe artichoke given to us by the lavender garden gardener. Giggles quickly turned to attention, we couldn’t have arranged such an encounter or performance. Their teachers sat them down right in front of us and we were all in the same world briefly, free and dancing. They applauded when we finished and waved when we left the park. Thank you Nenagh!
Ballet Barre was the only commitment we insisted upon ourselves in both towns, the heatwave made my aching body soft so I could go deeper into the practice. Ballet, Maria Nilsson Waller style mixed with some of my own ingredients, has been metamorphic for me, physically and beyond. I began my training at 40 and cried for most of the first 2 years in the sporadic sessions with Maria. It has given my body space, strength and hang, which reflects in me as I try to show up for myself everyday, developing equanimity in the chaotic river of aliveness. The body in collaboration with the imagination is an ongoing devotion and practice.
Both of these residencies were an opportunity to hold time loosely as we listened for how best to share, live and connect. We look to the same things no matter where we are: relationship and nature. Addiction was how the exploring began. We knew it was a broad starting point and we couldn’t have imagined the expansive nature of this until we had focused time and space. This work will take a couple of years before it takes shape.
Luxembourg was rivers, valleys, kingdoms, castles, otters, walled city, supportive engaged spaces, tree tops, squirrel choreography and acrobatics, a sense of an invisible underneath finished off with a spectacular William Kentridge exhibition at MUDAM that moved and inspired us all. It was a huge challenge travelling, and we are conscious of creating sustainable practice for the future. We’re grateful for these places and time in both Tipperary and Luxembourg, and for the expansion and connections made with people and places of residents and residency, the arts centres, homes and TDP. Now more than ever the creative landscape, both artists and administrators, could do with an injection of community, local and global. Together we move.
My formal education was in the revolutionary philosophy of the first female doctor in Europe. One of the most intense practices you have to learn in this training is the observation of the child. In my own work in progress process of maturing I look closely at how children are treated and how they behave, believing the secrets of humanity lie in these early years. So I will leave you with this. Once in a park in Luxembourg a classroom of about five 4 year olds fearlessly climbed a tree beside us. There was a fifth child on the ground under the tree air fighting off enemies in a kind of war dance. As they were leaving, the 3 girls of the group were hand in hand like a mini chain. One of them spotted a water fountain and made a run for it pulling the whole group with her. The girl on the other side of the link pulled towards the teacher and exit while the girl in the middle held her ground while she took a quick moment to discern who to lean towards. She chose the direction of the teacher. All of these urges and outcome were spot on I thought. Get close to nature every chance you get.
FFP continues to be a river, a meeting of waters and devotion to truth, relationship, community, creation and the the art of life.
We just finished a few weeks of studio time with the focus of starting a new project, time to think, talk and experiment. I am doing everything I can to not immediately fall back into the rhythm of producing too quickly. It seems like the pandemic gave all of society a chance to slow down, and when we stopped we noticed that the pace we were previously spinning our work and lives in was too high. Many of us felt the burnout of over-production, the art sector especially.
During our residencies that took place in Nenagh art centre, Co Tipperary and Trois C-L, Luxembourg our main question was this: how do we best spend our time? As artists, but also as human beings alive at this point in time when global environmental challenges are overshadowing everything. There is no doubt that the earth and our natural environment has been put under stress by humanity for too long and that it is now kicking back. Luxembourg has been under serious floods, it is snowing in Brazil, and Nenagh was under a heatwave of unprecedented proportions. Animals are behaving strange, it is like the boat flipping dolphins and toy-ripping orangutang at Dublin Zoo is trying to get our attention by rebellious and aggressive performance art. How do we move on from here? How do we keep the world from burning? It would seem we have already tipped. We agree with Greta Thunberg, lets at least call it a CRISIS, let’s admit that we are facing environmental problems so huge that crisis mode is the least we can do. We have all seen what is possible during the pandemic, lets continue to take real action, as citizens and as nations.
Another thing that we talked a lot about is city planning. And it ties in with the previous point. Our local environment has become very apparent to us during the pandemic. Lucky the person who lives close to trees, rivers and oceans. Blessed be the refreshing shadow of an oak tree and the scent of lavender during a heatwave in an irish midland town. I believe nature is one of the last places in our society where we can connect to our selves, hear our own thoughts and feelings, take a break from the words, voices and images of others. It is where we can observe the naturally balanced, sustainable, coexisting of millions of other species. It is hard to love and care for something you don’t know. It is probably impossible to save what you don’t love or care about. We need to spend time in nature.
My name is Bluebell, Im a whale, I love my surroundings and my body sings. Im not the only one. I wonder why Im here sometimes, and for how long? I’ve been lit up. I don’t know the time, except where I should be. I follow the sun and the force of the ocean. My name is Bluebell, Im a trail, of life echoing in all directions. I am my own home. I dreamt a shell once, and wings. (excerpt from workbook 'BLUEBELLS'. )
My name is bluebell.
I came from far away, from the north. I travelled on the wind and on the sea. I used to be a lot bigger, and bumblebees used to love to come visit. They would tickle me on my belly and I would laugh. My laughter sounds like little silver bells they say, perhaps thats why they gave me my name.
I am also blue. I can’t help it. In the moonlight my blue turns to almost fluorescent purple, glow in the dark. It’s like I have a light of my own in my colour. Like electricity.
Here in Ireland my kind is a bit smaller, curlier and somehow of a different shape. I guess the sea, the forest and the winds are a bit different here.
(excerpt from workbook 'BLUEBELLS'. )
Vi träffade kvinnorna för "This is Home" på teams härom dagen. Vilken härlig grupp. Det känns så spännande att starta upp detta projekt tillsammans med Estrad Norr. Anna är en fantastisk team player.
Att få jobba hemma i Jämtland, och tillsammans med Stace få utforska mitt hem - platsen som jag har saknat och längtat efter i alla dessa år borta. Särskilt Hammatrandarna pratade om hur dom verkligen älskar deras plats. Om hur dom spenderar tid i naturen, hittar lugnet.
Offerdalignarna snackar om sin folkmusik och sin dans, och dom är bara SÅ glada över att vi vill komma till dom! Bygdegården, Kjell-Erik på radion, Beret Bertilsson.. Alla stolta över sin byggd och sitt arv, generösa och varmt välkomnande.
Åre vet vi ännu inte mycket om, och vi träffade bara några få på infomötet. Vi vet att det är några konstnärer i gruppen, kvinnor som har valt att bo och leva i bergen, samtidigt som dom har sina karriärer och lever sina liv med koppling till andra platser, städer, uppdrag.. Vad är det i fjällen som lockar? Vad brinner dom för?
Det känns fantastiskt att få börja det här projektet med kärleken till en plats som utgångspunkt. Det känns också fantastiskt att få jobba med och lära känna 25 nya modiga kvinnor, i ett av världens mest jämställda och naturnära land. (Till skillnad från Dublins innerstadsbönor av katolsk arbetarklass som vi jobbade med senast. Många av dom födda in i stadsmiljö sen generationer, och lämnar aldrig stadens larm). Ni Svenska kvinnor i Jämtland, hur ser ni på omvärlden? Vad brottas ni med? Vad kämpar ni för? Vad vill ni dela?
Glendalough softens and slows me down, and during this rare time of extra stillness, the wild and sure rhythm took hold of me while I plunged deeper into the dark of myself. This natural cocoon has been our Flora Fauna Project incubator for the last 2 years and we moved here 6 months ago to immerse and retrieve ourselves fully. This dive feels like falling a lot of the time, with more and more moments of floating, which means trusting. I ask myself always, “What is more trust worthy than nature?”
The deer have joined us again by the lake, they feel everything and today they allowed me to stay close for while. Skinless moments like this are intimate, and wild. This is what I listen for, wild and close moments in myself. By wild I mean ‘honest’ in this case. I longed to let go of my heart and body ache, welcoming this ache was the beginning of life. Dancing, worshiping, singing, Glendalough, friendship, love; these were the opening and transforming of my pain.
The body and imagination in collaboration is transformative. My ballet training with Maria and our contemporary dance exploration has opened and strengthened me deeply. My journey to be here was brutal, and I didn’t imagine there would be enough time in one life to heal; to live and love fully. When I persevered in adjusting my speed and tuning in, I landed in the eternal, in possibility. Here I felt the power of presence, where you can notice and take part, where you can shape shift, listening always with banks of compassion and truth. The river of my spirit letting loose is the only way to move. Nature welcomes you to the table in thin places like this, and here, it’s an invite I cannot turn down. This is where I have all the time I need to heal and to live and love fully and truly; because it is so beautiful, because no matter what the weather, the light always plays a blinder in this valley.
You are still as resourceful as you were when you were a child.
You carry everything you need already. You only need your body to be able to tune into the present. Do you have a body? Yes? Ok, great! You’re in!
Today, on our day of rest we walked up a little stream. Or, what used to be a stream. It is now more like a road, a path where all the dust and soil have been washed away. Streams become roads. Rivers keep going. I think this project The River will keep going. The women, and lots of other women will keep it going, more people joining in. Finding a clean way of being together. Learn to listen, learn to let go.
The feedback I have received from the people involved, the dancers and their family, as well as audience that we didn’t personally know already is incredible. People feel different, as in changed. They had an experience they would have missed out on apart from this project. It was felt is in the personal processes as well as in the actual piece. An art experience in a theatre had this impact on strangers! That I feel very proud and grateful over, that we did it on all levels. After having completed this piece I feel hopeful, for the first time in very very long. Hopeful that people can change, that we really can heal, that there are ways to generate positive group dynamics and societies, that when we allow it and make the right conditions nature will rush forwards and liberate, grow, heal, nourish and flourish. We (me and stace) didn’t make all this happen of course, but we made ourselves available. We followed our gut and did our bit. The rest just flowed, like a River through the land. For the first time? Maybe. Or at least first time in this time, this season, this spring.
Today the RIVER came together. For the first time, we saw it all happen, from beginning to end. There was a sense of shared victory, and almost surprise.. It has been hard for a few weeks, and we keep running out of time. 2-3 hours per session is whats needed.
Its funny, with every show I have made, I feel lost and hopeless somewhere along the way. And then when it is finally made and the piece is there in front of you it feels like it came like a miracle. I almost don’t believe that I had anything to do with bringing it forth. It just suddenly exists. All the parts that we planned and dreamed, the ideas that were in our head suddenly exists in front of us, in the space and flesh. Creation. What a crazy thing! And we humans have some of this ability within us, we can create and build worlds. Move things in to being that previously was not there. Dream things into existence.
I did my first animal parade in 2009, in the Chagall Museum in Nice. I was performing a solo, to the music of Satie inspired by a multitude of Chagalls paintings. I was 25, dancer in Cannes Jeune Ballet, and about to get married. My second animal parade was performed in front of my then husbands friends and family, at a campfire in the Tuli Circle nature reserve. They have been asking me to “do a dance” for them for days, and in the spirit of generosity and good will I decided to give in, knowing fully that what I do is probably not what they imagine. I remember it being filled with catfish and dead zebras, and must have been pretty loaded!
After that, over the years living and working between Ireland and Sweden, loose animals have scattered all my pieces. Rabbits, birds, cockroaches, penguins, camels, whales and octopus, crabs and many reindeers have populated my pieces, and now again, since Flora Fauna Project the animal parades seem to be making a comeback. 80 children in Ballyfermot, Marcia, Kevin and Elin, me and Stace have all had a go. But I have to say, by far, my favourite, and probably the best animal I have ever made is happening now, in this piece THE RIVER. What a joy to have 17 bodies on stage, willing to get stuck in with us!!
Working with these women, the cast of THE RIVER, has been wonderful. As a choreographer I am always looking for rawness and bravery in the performers, and I decided to work with non-professional dancers for this reason. Since the beginning of Flora Fauna Project, many of our conversations have been around our fear of nature, and our fear of the wild. And how, if we dare to let nature do its thing it eventually brings balance and harmony. Like in the Jungle. It is wild for sure, and it might look messy or scary to us, but there is an order and a balance there that is sustainable over long time.
When choreographing under Flora Fauna Project I do very little editing. I dream and I prepare, encourage, think and provoke but I am very careful not to put the filters of my own dance education and contemporary dance traditions on to what these dancers create when given a movement task. I don’t want to polish or “improve” their dances, I respect their natural movement and leave them untouched as much as possible. These women are honest, and their dances are original and beautiful, both individually and as a group. Dance and imagination is closely linked. We all knew how to be in that soulful presence as children - doing it as an adult is more rare and takes more courage. These women are teaching and inspiring us all.
I was introduced to Dublin GAA player Michael Darragh MacAuley in March 2019. He had set up two GAA teams with women from Sheriff St and Ballybough and he was looking for ways to bring them together. I told him about Flora Fauna Project, a contemporary dance practice and platform that I’d been developing since 2017 with Swedish choreographer, Maria Nilsson Waller. He said if I can get the girls from Sheriff and Ballybough contemporary dancing together he would be very interested in supporting it. Here we are a year later and 19 women strong about to perform The River at the Project Arts Centre main stage with several partners supporting our endeavour.
I didn’t meet the girls until July 2019. Michael invited me to watch Ballybough V Sheriff Street and after the game the Ballybough girls invited me to train with them. A week later I was swallowed by the GAA for Ma’s team in Fairview park. Their inclusivity and camaraderie hit me hard, I felt part of a tribe almost instantly. Their team spirit is off the charts, 6 weeks after joining the team I nervously asked them to dance with us and they got stuck in!!! These girls stand up for you, no matter how new you are to their gang. It might have helped that I played soccer for 20 years and was banging in the goals :)
Soccer turned out to be useful in so many ways. The ballet training I began at 40 is a little easier with football legs. There are lot of similarities: tuning into the body, the constant and seamless changing of weight, the flow and focus of attention around the body and the space you occupy. Gliding, connection, movement, strength, flow, style all make for great football and ballet. I had a very early encounter with ballet, when I was about 4 years old, so it had a deep impact on me. I didn’t feel this again in my body until I played football. There were no girls teams back then so playing football was almost impossible. I didn't find a team until I was 11 and now my dream was to be a professional football player. I knew it would be easier if I was a man, so I made a very lame and secret attempt to save for a sex change when I was about 13. Im pretty sure this was illegal at the time, I just wanted a job as a footballer. I held on tight to how I felt, who I was and who I wanted to be, and with Flora Fauna Project Im trying to convert my experiences to something beyond myself. This seems to be a key to life flow.
Our GAA coach Niamh joined us in dancing too, and brought her mother Rhona who is about 70 years of age. Niamh says Rhona goes to a million shows a year to see her children and grand children shine, she wanted to flip it on the family, and on her Mam. She’s a great coach! Last Tuesday she gave all the girls a speech about commitment and working harder on the dance practice, she really challenged them in a way we all needed and in a way only a football coach can. She believes in all of us and her particular commitment and encouragement is inspiring.
Finding the flow between body and imagination is a game changer in life. It is the true self allowed, expressed and listened to. This was the beginning of healing for me. The beauty, the damage, the tiredness and the pain, the joy and the child like spirit that has always been present, is welcomed back to the table. This is the Flora Fauna Project invitation: back to yourself. We all have a lot to get through and get over. An in-tune imagination in a non judgemental space and/or state, can move us deep and wide in an instant. That deepest self is a River, well able to flow when you give in and allow yourself to feel it truly. Natural intelligence tapped is a trust worthy source, what is more trust worthy than nature?
There have been some extraordinary moments on this journey, with transformations seen and unseen. We’ve been documenting the process and will share the story in all the ways necessary. For now, I’ll finish with some of the words of my teams mates on the project
Jackie / Ballybough
“Me kids asked ‘Ma where you goin?’ Im going to be myself for an hour”
Tracey / Ballybough
“Football brought us together, dancin is keeping us together”
I was asked to be on a panel on “Dance and Climate Action” at Whats Next Festival, Dance Limerick last week. These were my notes:
Hello, My name is Maria. I am a Swedish born choreographer based in Ireland for the last ten years. In 2012 I presented Last Land, the first of a number of works that explores the theme of human beings and our relationship to nature. Im still working with the same theme, however, since 2017 I also have a partner in crime; composer Stace Gill who I run Flora Fauna Project with - a production house that not only make stage work but also organise events, talks, community projects and workshops with the aim to raise awareness and empower audiences and participants around these themes.
I remember a few years back reading an article in Swedish news about how our view on nature has shifted from being a normal and incorporated part of daily life (and there I hink it was the forest especially, talking about walking, mushroom and berry picking, foresting, hunting) to a place were we now we no longer feel at home or comfortable. As we become more and more urban creatures we now see nature as a place of danger and threat rather than recreational, or part of the means of surviving and sustaining ourselves. I believe this is true of our times, and this is closely linked to the state we now find ourselves in as a planet. Again and again, in one way or another my work is describing or re-enacting the intelligence of the natural world, the ongoing choreography of land and weather systems, the movement of continental plates, rivers, plants and trees, birds, animals, insects, the planets, stars, the sun and moon and our place within all of this. I keep looking at nomadic cultures and their alternative views on ownership and living with the land, as well as many other religious and spiritual philosophies. At the end of the day, I believe that the reason we have come to this point of climate emergency and nature pushing back is a spiritual one, and a collective one. To me it makes sense that the spiritual roots of our western ways, the various christian, social, industrial and economical traditions we have need to be examined and adjusted or challenged.
Making work for me is an excuse to research, and one thing that I found through reading, interviewing, listening and paying attention is that living in a state of awe is crucial. This is true in a spiritual sense as much as a practical way when for example navigating the seas or herding reindeer across mountains. Man is small and nature is big. We need to find our place in all of this, not conquer it. We are all nature. We need to listen to our own nature, our bodies, intuition and gut feeling, and we need to allow our bodies to be natural if we are to unleash the natural intelligence we all carry. Nature has an incredible way of restoring balance, even if it looks perhaps too wild and sometimes scary to us. We need healthy and diverse communities, just like the trees in a forest do, or any other ecosystem on the planet.
At the moment Flora Fauna Project is training 20 women from the communities of Sheriff Street and Ballybough in contemporary dance, and our next piece The River will premier in Project Arts Centre on the 6th of March. Over the years I have been working with professional dancers, but also given over 200 community workshops in schools and venues, both in Sweden and Ireland, created work for professional football players as well as 80 schoolchildren in Ballyfermot.. Myself and Stace are trying to convert our experiences to the highest advantage of others and are developing a specific type of practice that gives our collaborators, professionally trained dancers or not, access to their own bodies and creativity and a space to discover and explore the natural intelligence underlying it all. The body doesn’t lie, and nature doesn’t lie. By honestly tuning in to ourselves and learning to face our own reality we can form honest, supportive and loving communities, with agency to make good choices. We cannot truly save the planet (or ourselves) unless we learn to love first.
Hasn’t our collective flow lead our planet to almost complete destruction? Almost! We have a sense that the tipping point we find ourselves in, can be adressed by honestly looking at our collective consciousness, our collective spirit. Dance is an ancient, primal, tribal and sacred practice, where we move the body with the added super power of the imagination. This flow between imagination and body gives access to extreme presence and tuning in, like an extreme spiritual sport with nature at the heart of our exploration. The role of the imagination together with the body is compelling, like dreaming awake. If we can dance truly, no matter what is happening or who is watching, this is The River.
Flora Fauna Project invites us all back to ourselves, to tune in honestly before it’s too late and to know and accept our true beauty as humans, not separate from each other or anything else. We listen honestly to what’s going on and move to remove all that’s untrue. Never giving up on friendship, community, love and beauty! Stand up for everyone! That’s what Ballybough and Sheriff Street are showing us, one for all and all for one. These girls will stand up for you, whether you grew up with them or not! They are the soundest and their dancing is beautiful. Opening up with them over the last few months is like being in a wild and brilliant river flowing through the Rockies, our personal and collective edges carving our way through this shared landscape for a time, every single person affecting where and how we flow together. We lost some women along the way because of life - it can be a painful process and difficult commitment. This was heart breaking, but they are still very much part of the group in other ways, and more ways to come we hope. There is a time for everyone, where we are all at is where we must meet each other. We are all emerging together at various stages and in different way in this dance project, with trust and support and our edges as our guide.
We cannot save the planet unless we love it first, and we cannot love anything until we love ourselves truly. This means feeling what we feel and moving to heal. Acceptance, forgiveness, friendship, support, love, kindness, care, non judgment… All these are practices can lead to healing, and must be applied to ourselves first. We can’t save the world just by dancing, but we are “converting our experiences to the highest advantage of others” Buckminster Fuller.
I will finish with a poem that continues to serve me and I dare to highlight:
“You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves”.
Over and out, Stace.
“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
― Mary Oliver