18 October 2009

Fly Butterfly: Kate Lawrence – Vertical Dance Performance

Belfast City Hall Re-Opening – 17 October 2009

Kate, one of the few vertical dance specialists in the UK, has been training and choreographing our new group of aerial dance performers.

Interview for Beat – by Maeve O’Lynn 

Is it a bird? A bat? A butterfly? A plane? No, it’s Kate Lawrence, aerial dancer extraordinaire, and tomorrow you can catch her atop Belfast City Hall! Maeve from W[r]ite Noise has been chatting with her ahead of the Fly Butterfly event…

Tell us a bit about your background and how you got into doing aerial dance.

I trained as a dancer/choreographer and then ran a dance company in the early nineties. I then began to work at the University of Surrey in 1999 and started to make site-specific dance work, ie dance that happens outside of a conventional theatre setting. I had also been rock climbing for a few years, and gradually my dance and climbing activities came closer and closer. I made a vertical dance piece in a climbing wall with dancers and climbers in 2002 and then established a vertical dance module at the University of Surrey that I have been teaching for about 5 years now. In the past few years I have been developing the harness side of the vertical dance work and I have made two works for the side of buildings, Highconography (2008) and Descent of the Angel (2009). I am also doing a PhD looking at vertical dance. I call what I do vertical dance because it is against vertical surfaces, which I use as a ‘floor’. I think of aerial dance being in the air, perhaps using trapeze or silks…

What has been your highlight performance of your career so far?

I think my recent work, Descent of the Angel was a real high point – literally. I descended from the top of Guildford Cathedral tower, 50 metres above the ground. I really like the moment of going over the edge and also the sense of connection with the people below and the surrounding environment. Also the sense that people might be watching in other places that I cannot know about. People come up to me every now and then and say ‘are you the person that did that thing on the Cathedral? I saw you from my bedroom window!’

If you could choreograph and star in your fantasy performance who would compose the music, where would the performance be, who would design the costumes and and who else would be in it?

Oh, that’s tricky. Depends on the kind of work I was making. I think perhaps Kate Bush might compose the music, or Bjork. I have also always harboured a desire to do a vertical dance duet to tango music. I mostly do solo work but I would like the opportunity to dance with an aerial dancer called Lindsey Butcher. There are many buildings that I would like to dance off, I’m always wandering around looking up. Amongst the top few are the Tate Modern tower and the National Theatre in London. I would also like to dance off some of the castles in North Wales. I usually find costumes for myself, so haven’t worked with costume designers for a long time, but in a fantasy world it would be fun to wear designs by someone like Vivienne Westwood…

You are working on a PhD at University of Surrey – what is your research area and what is the working title of your thesis?

I’ve been working on the PhD for about 3 years, but my full-time job means that it is going at a snails pace and I keep withdrawing from the programme to buy time! My research area is vertical dance, which I have divided into three main areas of interest: rock climbing analysed as dance; harness work on buildings and buildering or urban climbing. I’m particularly interested in vertical dance as a spatial practice in which the body of the climber or dancer negotiates borders and boundaries and navigates vertical territories using a multiplicity of sensibilities, knowledges and skills. There’s lots more of course, but that is probably the nub of it.

The aerial dance you are co-ordinating is to celebrate the re-opening of one of Belfast’s most iconic buildings, the City Hall. How did the idea come about to mark the re-opening with aerial dance and makes this a good building for aerial dance?

I was asked by the Beat to contribute to the opening ceremony of City Hall, and it is a real honour, but also quite a challenge. Of course I think it is an excellent idea to mark the occasion with some vertical dance as it really highlights the building and literally places bodies on the building, which could be seen as a metaphor for the building opening its arms to all. City Hall is a very ornate building, so the challenge has been to fit the dance around its columns and ledges and curlicues. In this sense the architecture has been a partner in the structuring of the dance and the kind of movement that can be performed at different points. Because the building is so architecturally complex, the challenge is to work with this; to complement the building rather than get lost on it!

You may have heard that as part of the City Hall reopening celebrations, a time capsule will be buried today which won’t be opened until City Hall’s 200th anniversary in 2105. What three items would you put in a time capsule to represent your life today?

Mobile phone, laptop and harness!

And finally, how can people find out more about aerial dance and get involved themselves?

People in Belfast can get in touch with The Beat Initiative. On the back of this project there is a strong group of dancers, circus artists, actors and gymnasts who have been training with me, and they also train regularly on their own. It is really good fun, but very important to make sure that you get qualified people teaching you for obvious safety reasons. And they can also come down to City Hall tomorrow afternoon to watch us perform at Fly Butterfly!