After a surreal and beautiful journey home (empty trains through an empty landscape right through France on a gorgeous spring day), I came back to confined London. Like most other people, I have a lot of unknowns to deal with, trying to work out how to survive, how to make sense of my days, how to live alone in isolation.

I come back with all this work done and not done. So I am thinking a lot about how and where I could take it. The university in Grenoble may or may not be in a position to invite me back, but if they do it will only be for a couple of performances, not the depth of research I had planned. I am in touch with the dancers, and we exchange news from our isolation bubbles, and ideas for new tasks and exercises with trees where we are. I’m working on small maps close to home, along the lines of the big one I made in Grenoble (which I had to leave there, I have no idea what will become of it as it’s on 8 big A1-A0 sheets, just stored in the workshop). I’m thinking of performances and interventions I might propose, but I’m not a digital artist and I’m not thinking of putting this work online at the moment (not sure how I would do that anyway). I plan to carry on with the idea to design the business cards, they might be a start for a shared activity that can be done alone. But it’s important to me as well that this is a collective thing. As we all are, I wait and see.


And then, coronavirus hit. We’d been hearing the news from Italy, the few cases in a ski resort not far from Grenoble, and then it was clearly becoming established throughout France. Educational establishments were shut down in early March – I had to collect what I could from the university in the hope of continuing my research from my Airbnb.

In the week beginning 16 March I was supposed to start two weeks of public workshops with two of the Maisons des Habitants in the city, working with migrant groups. I was also supposed to be doing a 3-day workshop with students from the art school ESAD. By 13 March it was clear that those would not be going ahead – more and more public institutions were closing, and then on 17 March confinement was imposed. We were not to go out except for essential purposes; if we went out we had to carry with us a form saying where we lived and what our purpose was. If we didn’t have it, or weren’t obeying the rules, we could be fined. (One day, out for a run, I was stopped and told that 3 km was too far to be from my residence.) Obviously, it was pretty hard to carry on with anything from that point. I worked a little on writing, and reflected with the materials I had on where I might go from here. Eventually, it became clear that I would have to come back to London. I lost three weeks of the residency, and most crucially, the public activities I was planning, that were a really important part of the research.


A long hiatus since my last post. Obviously, a lot has happened since then…

In this post I want to talk about how I was working in the couple of weeks before confinement kicked in (on 17 March in France, but things were already shutting down before). I stopped writing partly because I had an extreme inflammation of my eyes and it was really difficult to look at screens for a while. That carried on for a couple of weeks but though I was very tired I was still able to do other work.

I had two fantastic weeks of work with the group of dancers I’d selected, researching in the studio and outdoors. We usually started each day with individual movement exploration in the studio, engaging with different body structures or systems (I based this work on my studies of Body-Mind Centering┬«), and then sometimes some partnerwork. We thought about some ways these might relate to tree-being (e.g., the structure of our skin compared to the structure of tree bark, the flow of arterial and venous blood compared to the flow of sap and water+nutrients) – but it was important not to imagine ourselves ‘as trees’ or think that we necessarily have direct communication with them. Then we worked outside, with simple improvisation scores (e.g. lying under a tree, coming to verticality over a period of 20 minutes). Or choosing a tree to be with for a time, and then gradually moving away until we felt we lost the connection. The weather was variable and we were sometimes getting wet, but everybody was OK with that (in waterproofs!). It was great to be able to work in the university arboretum, which is quiet and has some very beautiful trees in it, most of them allowed to grow without cutting or containmment. We also did some work in a long curving line of harshly pollarded plane trees on the campus.

In the second week we started working in the streets. It was very different, much harder to hold the quietness and attention we’d been working with on the campus, in the traffic noise and fumes. It was interesting to see how people reacted – some accepting, some oblivious, some concerned if we were all right, a few quite aggressive, disturbed by us simply standing for a long time, each by a tree. I was thinking a lot about how to make this sustainable for us as performers, but also how to make it inviting to engage with, if only for a few moments. We came to the conclusion that stillness might be best, rather than slow movement, because the point was to allow attention to be drawn to the trees, not us as a ‘performance’ (and especially not to virtuosity, which very slow movement can suggest, a super-human feat of endurance). I was still thinking about this as we ended our weeks of research.

I am so grateful to the dancers, each of whom had such delicate, sensitive qualities of attention in their movement and the way they chose to be with the trees. This whole time of work with them felt very rich, full of potential both for performances (which we planned) and for other kinds of intervention or invitation. I started to think about several different interventions for the end – the performances (one in a busy street with a long line of lime trees in very bad shape, one in a park with a lot of mature trees, but in a neighbourhood generally seen as disadvantaged), but also making the maps with alternative walking routes, and creating business cards with suggestions for ways of engaging with trees that people could take away.