We are currently working with Mothers in Stoke-on-Trent to begin to imagine a new performance about motherhood through a series of workshops in dance, creative writing and singing.
MOTHER - artist residency
In April 2019 we brought together 7 dance artists from across the UK, singers from Laboratorium Piesni (Poland) and poet Gabriella Gay who are all mothers. We spent a week together talking, moving, singing, writing and creating to explore motherhood as a starting point for creativity.
Enjoy this video and photos by Jenny Harper, poetry by Gabriella and reflections from some of the the artists involved below….
It is 7 o’clock. I am tired.
But I am tired and Maman (p. Mamour).
so, I close the door during Hide-and-Seek,
and just sit, for minute, and rock myself.
Hug myself for a little while. relieve my back,
rub circles into my shoulders before returning
back to my kids with their gappy smiles.
And it’s 3pm. I am tired. I am tired.
But I am tired and a Mother.
Before I the school run, I put my face together.
Nobody will judge at the gate, ask Are you coping ok?
If my lipstick is on point, and my kids look clean
Cause’ then it will seem like I’ve got my shit together.
Who’ll sign a permission slip to say,
It’s ok to be angry, or anxious, hysterical or tearful
you’re tired, and Mother.
Come and collapse onto my shoulder.
GKA Gay - Poet/Writer
Written during MOTHER residency.
It’s 3am. I am tired.
But I am tired, and Mother.
Though my body longs to melt
to the floor, pool in a puddle and relax.
I pull it up, matchstick my eyelids,
door stop them wide open,
and empty the black bags under each eye.
It’s 1pm. I am tired.
But I am tired and Mummy.
I pack and wash and play.
Forgot her…., Forgot the….,
Forget my name on the second
shelf of our fridge where
cans of Carlsberg used to live.
It’s Half Term and I am tired.
But I am tired and Muuumm.
At night the preparation for the next day
keeps me awake. Hands shake.
My eyes trace spider web stars that hang above
-ten pointed, my children sparkle out from the centre
until the sun comes up ,in the circular way it does.
Vicci is a Liverpool-based dance artist, performer and performance maker, trained at Trinity Laban and LIPA. She has two teenage daughters, read on for her reflections on the mother residency….
Being invited as one of the mother artists to Restoke’s R & D for Mother felt both timely and vital. Facilitated by Clare we talked about the village of mothers and children we societally no longer have. There was a felt sense of necessity to be with other mothers, giving us all the opportunity to share motherhood through conversation, laughter, tears and deep listening. Some mothers were tired, vulnerable, and emotional. However here, in this held space, each mother was valid as an artist: worthy, important.
Witnessing other mothers’ images, emotions and sensations resonated in me like dreams from the past. This sub-conscious place conjointly feels so crucial to making work. We danced: arousing these feelings through the body, and through moving memories arose. In my dancing I am reminded of the many ways mothering colours our lives. Children are not enemies to our work.
During the week, I think about the correlations between mothering and arts practice. This week of research a perfect example. We are openhearted and curious; we play with rules and rituals, allow room for mistakes and find ways to guide our imagination.
Within the process, Gabriella invited us through writing to make visible the psychophysical experiences of mothering. Just now, I look over my words and find colour, place, temperature, voices, images, and metaphors from my body’s memory. On another page I have written, “I’m thinking about how there is no end and no beginning to motherhood”
The writing process brought the lived experience of mothering through the body into language. Our words danced and our dances sang; of comfort and loss, expectations and surprises, needs and discoveries.
A little further on I write for us, addressed to the mother artists: -
What if we are just where we need to be
What if our bodies know everything they need to know
What if we colour our lives as artists as we do as
Rachel is a dance artist based in Stoke-on-Trent. She is a senior lecturer and PHD student at Manchester Metropolitan University. Rachel performs regularly, predominantly as part of Reckless Sleepers and is mother to a 2-year old daughter.
Since giving birth to my little girl, Niamh in January 2017, I’ve become curious about the relationship between my professional identity and my emerging identity as a mother. After returning to work from maternity leave, these identities have increasingly become more fluid, partly out of necessity and partly out of choice. However, in my current job as a dance lecturer in a university, I have sometimes found it difficult to bring both of these worlds together and there have been times when I’ve found that there isn’t always room for my mothering identity in the academic environment. For me, Restoke’s decision to draw focus to motherhood and perceive it as something worthy of real artistic investigation marks the beginning of an important cultural change and this was one of the reasons that I was excited to be involved in the R&D Residency for the MOTHER project.
Some people may find it useful to maintain a distinction between their personal and professional worlds, and while I appreciate this idea on a practical level (eg. the ability to respond to emails without a toddler sitting on your lap and trying to bash away on the keyboard as you type) for me, it would seem strange not to consider the influence of my daughter on the teaching and research work that I engage with on a daily basis, especially as a dancer. After all, dance relies on a body, and there aren’t many other occurrences that change a body to the extent that becoming a mother does. This residency presented itself as the perfect opportunity to embrace the fluidity between my work as a professional dancer and my mothering role. Not only was the residency specifically for artists who are mothers, but the subject of the week was ‘Motherhood’, something that all of those involved have much experience with. Thus, we were immediately connected through this common ground, and it wasn’t long before stories and accounts of pregnancy, birth and the day-to-day occurrences of being a Mum were being openly shared. What is more, these stories became the stimuli upon which to respond artistically, allowing us to find deeper connections to our shared and individual experiences through bodily explorations, words and singing, and by playing with the layering between these different disciplines. Through finding relationships between all of these creative strands, material just seemed to flow out of us effortlessly and before we knew it, we had developed enough for an hour-long sharing at the end of the week!
The multi-disciplinary approach to the residency allowed it to have a ‘retreat’ feel and for those who were staying away from home (and away from their little ones!), this was an opportunity to fully indulge in this incredible bubble for the full five days. As an artist based in Stoke-on-Trent, I was commuting to the residency from my home each day. Although it could be argued that I didn’t get the full ‘retreat’ experience, as someone who regularly spends time away from my daughter for work reasons, this time I appreciated having an activity of this kind quite literally on my doorstep. I became curious about the dynamic that began to emerge when moving between my work-life and home-life, both of which for the first time were concerned with my identity as a mother. This dynamic was further emphasised when half way through the week, Niamh developed a viral wheeze that resulted in a hospital stay (thankfully, the hospital is just around the corner form the New Vic Theatre so I was able to continue with the residency whilst popping back and forth to the hospital). As she had been unwell prior to this, I began the week tired and gradually became more tired as it progressed (sleeping on a hospital camp bed didn’t help), but rather than stepping back from the artistic practice, I found it interesting to really go into the place of tiredness and sit with it, exploring how it affected the movement qualities in my body. This became interesting fodder for the ‘tired ensemble’ section, which was developed and presented during the sharing at the end of the week.
Although it struck me as ironic that Niamh became ill during such an important professional development opportunity for me, in another way, it could not have been more timely and I really appreciated the permission I was given by the group to bring my whole self into this research process; I felt fully supported by their empathy and generosity. In fact, Niamh led me to discover deeper levels of resilience that week, levels that I didn’t even know I had and for that, I am thankful to her. An ongoing interest of mine is the holistic concept of ‘wholeness’, an idea that rejects the notion of separation and instead embraces the whole. It’s something that I often consider both within my teaching and parenting experiences. I can honestly say that this week spent with Restoke was the first time I’ve felt true wholeness in my life since giving birth to Niamh; all of my different worlds of dance, mothering and creativity naturally folded into each other and I felt genuinely sad for the time to end.
On that note, I would like to say thank-you to Clare and Paul, and to all of the other mother-artists who were involved in the project for allowing me to contribute towards such a memorable and important week.
Patsy is a Birmingham based dance artist and mother of two young boys. She trained at Northern School of Contemporary dance and toured nationally and internationally with dance companies including Sonia Sabri and Protein Dance Company. This is her response to the MOTHER residency week…
I have never before lay down in stillness and experienced so much joy and gratitude that tears have fallen. But exactly this happened on day 5 of my week with Restoke during our final yoga class with the all inspiring Kerrie.
It's probably a 'you had to be there' moment and may sound like an overreaction to those reading - in fact my husband was totally confused when I tried to explain this moment!? Which to be fair, is actually quite typical of our relationship. I confuse him all the time.
Anyway, I guess I feel the need to share this because I don't know how else to express just how special this week was - it was honestly the most beautiful week of work I have ever experienced. In fact, I had to keep explaining to friends that it wasn't a 'course' and this in fact was real work that I got real money for being a part of.
I used to dance professionally and work creatively everyday. That was my working life until I had my children and then I became a dance teacher. For the last 4 years I have not needed to be creative in the way Restoke was asking for so this was almost like stepping back in time. Imagine going back to your school or college environment now after all your life experiences to date - this is what I most liken it to.
It was a unique opportunity to revisit myself and remind myself of who I was and who I've now become since having my boys. We know our children change us fundamentally, we say and hear this all the time but do we ever get to feel it. This week I did.
I now realise I really needed to chill out as a young dance artist. Before children I was so judgemental of myself, concerned with what others thought. My mind was my own worst enemy. Perhaps I was ego driven, I felt I had to impress those around me and a deep need to prove something to myself although I have no idea what!? This exhausting attitude seems to have melted away over time and I feel free from this old skin.
Coming into work I felt like I had become much kinder to myself and my creative decisions and in turn felt more receptive and open to the other artists. I found more joy in the exploration rather than fear. I felt liberated.
I spent so much time worrying in the early days of motherhood concerned with how a break would affect my dance abilities. But I realise now that this was a waste of thoughts and energy.
Taking time 'away' to become a Mother seems to have enriched my practice. My children have added so much joy, love, rage, hurt, patience, presence, humour and frustration to my being that how can that lived experience not inform me creatively and as a dancer. They seemed to have added a whole new level of joy and perception to my work - I'm so grateful to my boys for giving me this.
I'm not sure if I'm a 'better' or 'worse' dancer in the typical sense but I'm so much happier in the studio in a way that I could never have predicted. I've realised that I will always be an artist, I'll always be a dancer, I'll always be a mother. I can never truly be 'away' from any of these things no matter what happens in life. They're all within me. They're all an inherent part of who I am.
And I need to thank my boys for giving me this. Forever grateful.
Elinor Baker Smith.
Ellie is a dance artist and mother of two. She trained at Trinity Laban and London School of Contemporary Dance then toured internationally with Candoco before becoming a mother. The MOTHER residency week was her first steps back into professional dance since having children. Ellie wrote this poem about her experience of the week..
Sat on a bed, in a strange room in Stoke
Sat on a bed, in a strange room in Stoke.
The tears spill, words choke.
Wondering (worrying) what the week will bring,
Forgotten how to dance, let alone sing.
Missing my children's chuckles and shouts,
Feeling lost, lonely, full of self doubt.
Then - another mother - equally at-sea,
A hug, a long chat, a hot cup of tea.
Another arrives bringing laughter and wine,
I think it's going to turn out just fine :)
A sunlit studio, mats on the floor,
More and more mothers walk through the door,
More smiles, more hugs, more laughter more jokes,
The MOTHER artists have arrived in Stoke!
Each day begins with yoga, with breath;
The life-force that carries us from birth until death.
With open heart and uplifted face,
Ancient wisdom bestowed with such warmth and grace.
A circle of clapping, mistakes and laughter,
We begin to fine-tune - the rhythm gets faster.
Through skin, through bone, through push, through glide,
Through touch, through breath, mind and body collide.
Together we move, stop and start as one;
A shoal of mother-fish, each one belongs.
Through seaweed we float, undulate, ripple, curve,
Such subtle movement; so rich to observe.
An abundance each lunchtime - a veggie delight,
We thank you B-Arts for your culinary might.
Fuelled by cake, good coffee and tea
Laughter rings out, conversation flows free.
We unite in song, in notes from the earth,
A lullaby of longing, a melody for birth,
Up from the ground, through belly and throat,
Sound fills the room, in harmony we float.
Gathering paper and pen we sit and reflect
On our journeys through pregnancy, on all that came next;
Expectation, anguish, joy, letting go;
A physicality only a mother can know.
Unexpected moments of despair and delight,
Of strength and compassion and love come what might.
Matchstick eyes, temples pressed,
Hips softly circle, fingers caress.
Eyes closed, spine soft, we melt to the floor,
Warrior, tiger, teacher and more.
We mould our bodies like soft red clay,
Hands to our heart, together we sway.
We are tired, we are aching,
We're intense, we are calm,
We are fierce, we are playful,
We have wisdom and charm.
We are artists, we are mothers,
We are fragile, we are strong,
For this week, in this moment,
This is where we belong.