When people run in circles... by HELEN TOMPSON

Observing the audience as they are played in by Pachelbel’s Cannon, the children sit poised on stage, unsettled themselves in their impatience for their guests to be seated. The children watch on and become the audience to the crowd and their peculiar ways; settling into their seats, squeezing in one last word, checking their phones and the invisible boundaries they set around one another, positioning bags, rolled up coats, drink bottles, arms and legs. All blissfully unaware that they are the ones performing.

Contrary to the typical format, the performance on stage begins when the music fades away. With the haunting lyrics of Gary Jules’ Mad World; sung as a cappella by an 11-year-old performer who tells the story about what it is to be unobserved and different; just as they were when the onlookers stumbled in; their familiar faces are those all acting similarly, unaware of anything beyond their field of vision until they are settled and allow their eyes to be opened.  

The erratic and then organised and then chaotic pace of life is portrayed through the energy of the drummer; responding to the children as they jump and interact with one another, encircling the beating heart of the drum set as the performance is played out. A moment in time is snatched from the chaos where we observe the youngest child step forward. She demonstrates a line down her chest from collar bone to the soft gentle bulge of her juvenile tummy; the length of the scar and motion the stitches that entwined it and pulled her flesh back together. Behind her, the children join by her side and one by one they are unified in her story becoming familiar faces of a defining moment. Some break out and mime their own scars; one on their arm, another down their face. Before returning to the frantic chaos where we see some children stop and close themselves in, covering their heads or turning tight into a ball, waiting to be reassured and revived by another. And all ending as they did perfectly positioned, the sound of the Canon falling around our ears as though the heavy velvet of a curtain.

Watching on from the view point of a parent, I am in awe at the strong relationships these eleven children have formed between one another. Neither age nor gender divide them, they are all following the same beat of their own hearts; doing what makes them feel good. And in this case, it happens to be: dance. It appears that by osmosis they know just how each other will react next. Seemingly knowing one another so well they can anticipate and empathise with each other with just the turn of their head. And how there is a dimension within my child I have never seen before, yet it has always been there.

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Stacked Wonky have teased this out of our children gently holding up the mirror to allow them to see them through the eyes of the Company. Part of this process involves being shown what possibilities lay ahead of them, what opportunities there are for dancers like them. We were fortunate to have been given the opportunity to take our children to London to meet the National Youth Dance Company (NYDC), and share an experience whereby we watch them perform, and in turn, they watch our children perform. Amongst the jaw dropping feats of endurance and screaming talent and tucked away behind the humble aptitude you could see that this group of young people shared the same sense of completeness with one another. That watching this group was just like watching our own group of dancers a few years on, that they too felt entirely comfortable with the people around them because they were also just being themselves. There was an emphasis on being comfortable in your own skin, to be yourself, celebrate uniqueness, and expression; and only then can you hold a stage presence.

We celebrated the end of our visit and the close of the questions and answers between the two dance companies with all the dancers united on stage doing the swish! It was a high that would carry us back to Somerset and echo throughout conversations, 140 characters, and onto the pages of diaries.

When they performed at the Tacchi Morris Arts centre in Taunton and at the Stroud Theatre in Street, and once again for the NYDC at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, the children received standing ovations, no less than these young performers deserved. Watching our children perform to these dancers; they all stood an inch or two taller, a little more sure of themselves, a little less afraid of people seeing them for all that they are. These dancers do things that make my heart sing.

Our young dancers are now bursting with anticipation of sharing three precious days with a handful of dancers from the NYDC who will be coming to Somerset in mid-August to the Stacked Wonky Dance Academy; where the next chapter in their journey begins.



Sally Parish - The Landings - Final Report!

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Although I tried not to think about which route I would be on on this, my last time seeing The Landings, I really wanted to be on the Blue Anchor bus to be able to choose the seaside option. On arrival I discovered that it was not meant to be, but was determined to enjoy whatever the night would bring. A few minutes later Sarah asked me to swap routes and I was delighted. So many emotions before we had even left the Farm!

I had seen the first pieces on this route before, but they were still incredibly moving and spine tingling. I watched the audience this time - it was fascinating how some people whispered, others stood in silence. Some moved closer to their friends, others stepped away. There was also surprise and shock when seeing the performers in the sea and then watching them strip off and change. Seeing how the audience responded to the first bell and made journey decisions was equally interesting – a group decision here and a solitary choice there. I couldn’t help glancing across the train tracks to watch the other group disappear into the distance.

The route I chose was a much darker, more intense experience than my last two performances. I sensed the loss of those who had not arrived yet - would they arrive at all? Of wanting to move backwards but having to move forwards. Of grief and longing, but without closure. The crashing waves on one side and the crunching rustle of the maize on the other increased the noise of conflict in my mind.

Then there was the struggle over leadership. Who chooses a leader? Is it the strongest? The most informed? Do you follow the crowd or your instinct? Being so close to the performers at this moment, feeling the brush of an arm, a breath on your cheek made it uncomfortable, brutal, but honest. It was intense and I noticed how some of the audience stepped back, others moved behind their friends, and a mother shielded her child.

At the next bell I chose to follow the angry man. Our journey up the drainage channel was spiky, dark, intense. He was obviously in torment. What had he seen? What had he experienced? Where had he come from? And then there was the boy. Was he the man’s past self, come to comfort him? A stranger who helped mend him? Their meeting was breath taking. The walk back down the channel was much happier, calmer and I hadn’t realised how tense I had been until my breathing returned to normal.

As the darkness fell and the tide came in, the division between the performers and audience shrunk. The performers helped us up the rocks and guided us in the darkness. I felt safe and comfortable with them, and their concern for us within their roles was obvious. We were, for that moment, one of them, equal.

I loved the bus piece. Each of the three times I have been part of it has been brilliant. As the bus drove off this time I heard ‘What do we do now?’; a chuckle of realisation; and a child asking ‘what does it mean?’. A fabulous concept.

The dropping piece in the dark was so intense. I couldn’t see how the rest of the audience reacted, but the atmosphere was incredible. The grief at the loss of the child was felt by us all – I don’t know if I felt it so much more this time because it was pitch black, or because I knew it was the last performance, or maybe because of the emotional route I had followed this time, but it was so strong and I can feel it even now.

Seeing the performers for the last time before they disappeared into the darkness was tear inducing. It really was the end. I felt really drained on the journey back to the farm, cold on the inside, and mentally tired. I felt as though I had been through so much with the performers, that I would miss them, yet no words had been exchanged. It was a very bizarre sensation.

I cannot express how amazing the performers were. Regardless of age and experience they gave their all each night and I cannot put into words how mind blowing that is when considering the range of elements they had to work with and against. They gave so much and I am truly thankful. The crew also deserve so much praise – they guided without leading, set up and cleared away in silence, provided support in secret – true professionals. And the soup at the end – delicious!

Words fail me at this point. I wanted to say something about how incredible the whole of Sarah’s concept is, but I really cannot find a way of expressing my admiration. When Sarah first explained the concept to me I was immediately excited by it. She explained about the refugees and their journeys, and it is only now that I realise I have not used the term refugee once in any of my reviews. To me the performers were just people on a journey – as we all are. I will miss them and their stories, but I won’t forget. Bravo!

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Sally Parish - The Landings - Second Report!

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I was even more excited about attending my second performance than the first. I had something to compare it to, but knew it would be a totally different experience. I didn’t want to know which route I would be on as I didn’t want to have any preconceptions in my head or make any decisions beforehand. I wondered if it would be a totally new ‘story’ or if it would add flesh to the bones of what I’d seen previously.

When I had to make my first decision as to which way to go, my feet automatically did it. I’d seen these performers last time but didn’t know their story.  I was intrigued, so followed them. What I was leaving behind, the other option, didn’t even enter my head – in fact it was only when I was writing my notes the next day that I realised I hadn’t even thought about it.

As we entered the woods we were accompanied by the haunting sound of a saw being played. Instant goose bumps. The crunch of autumn leaves as the performers danced, the tender touches, the playfulness of the actions made it a very moving piece to watch and seeing them part and move on was surprisingly emotional. We were just beginning to get to know the new performer and now he was gone, but I noticed most of our audience scanning the woods as we left, hoping for another glimpse.

Oh, and there were cows again. Different cows, but they were very excited by the sounds and sight of us. Music and movement has an impact on every living thing.

The performers reacted to so much – the pheasants that flew out of the hedge; the sound of the train; the snagging bramble. So much feeling and emotion and all without a spoken word. Amazing.

At the next decision-making point I found I was the only one to make my choice. I wondered if it would feel weird, being the only member of their audience, but actually it was incredible. My own performance; knowing when they turned and looked in my direction that they were only looking at me; I felt so close to them. Following the performers on their journey, watching their every move and noticing each decision made me think of my own situation as a parent. Most of the time I have no idea what I am doing, and as a single parent I have to make decisions on my own. I felt a connection with the adult performer. Once a decision has been made, it cannot be unmade; you cannot go back even though often that is what your child wants you to do. You make a decision based on gut feeling, or something that is familiar, and hope it’s the right one. Having a small person questioning and disagreeing with you only makes you more determined. My brain didn’t switch off from this train of thought for some time after I had got home.

Meeting another group of performers and their audience was a relief, a comfort – not for me, but for them. They weren’t alone. They had company, could share decision-making.

When the whole audience was reunited, I watched them. At one point I noticed confusion, an urge to stay put and, at the same time, to follow. It was fascinating. A few moments later faces were showing shock, surprise, fear and bewilderment. Watching the audience process what was happening around them was an interesting added-dimension to my experience.

At one point a friend asked me if I knew what had happened to a specific performer. I did, but couldn’t spoil it for her so was evasive. I wish I could have seen her face when she found out.

It is not long until I get to watch my final performance. I am wondering if there is anything that can be felt, seen or experienced that I haven’t already. I can’t wait to find out!

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Sally Parish - The Landings - First Report!

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I am honoured to have been asked to share my thoughts, feelings and experiences after each of three performances of The Landings. I thoroughly enjoyed the Liberator series - everything they gave me, and how they made me feel, so I am very excited to see how experiencing the ‘same’ performance three times from different viewpoints will affect me. Don’t worry if you’ve not been yet – there are no ‘spoilers’ here! Oh, and everyone’s experience will be different to mine, that’s the point. Every one of my senses was tested; every feeling imaginable was experienced; and my brain, well, that is still processing the whole thing days later. This is hard – putting into words what I felt, but I’ll give it a go!

I felt excitement, trepidation and unity whilst waiting for the bus to our start points, which turned to a sense of loss of each time the audience had to make a choice about which way to go. Watching part of our group move away into the unknown was surprisingly powerful, as was reuniting with them later. I experienced a growing sense of belonging as the performers herded us and encouraged us without words on our journey.

An unexpected irrational thought when a child performer ran away from his adult – the icy shiver of fear and dread - where is my own son? WHERE IS HE? Obviously he was with his grandparents where I left him, but for that split second I felt sick, a cold sweat, and breathless. It took a while for my heart rate to return to normal.

Eyes focused on the performers; ears trained on the sounds of the drum, the plucking and playing of the violin, the haunting siren. Then the unexpected, unpredictable elements - the weather; the natural light; the call of flying geese; the chuffing of the steam train; the sound of the sea; the state of the ground underfoot; how members of the public dealt with coming across us (some waited, other walked around, and one even walked straight through!); the smell of the sea, and wet grass.  

Then there was the field of cows. They stared as we passed by accompanied by a violinist, and then raced to the gate to catch another glimpse of us. The watchers became the watched. The audience were now the performers.

I remember the desk. A symbol authority, boarders, permits, permission, orders, them and us? It also made me wonder what jobs have been left behind? What did they do before they landed? What was their ‘normal life’ story?

I promised no spoilers but at each point the audience was totally absorbed in what was happening – whether it was a solo, small group, or the whole cast. Amongst the groups I was with I noticed some audience members deliberately moving into a space seeking solitude, others shuffled closer to their companions. I heard a sign of relief; saw tears fall; and more often than not there was a brief period of stillness before we moved on as everyone absorbed as much as they could from that moment before leaving it behind. The performers were mesmerising – the dance, the sequences, the emotions, the backward glances, and the building sense of becoming part of their tribe. Amazing. And all without words.

Throughout the performance we made choices; had choices made for us; and watched others deal with the consequences of their choices. Did I choose for the best? Why did I make that choice? From choosing what night to buy tickets for and what footwear to put on, to which group to follow to and whether to interact with the performers - all choices that had an impact on our own individual experience. But what did I miss by making that choice? What did the other groups experience that I didn’t? Have they any idea what I had seen and felt? How will my choices next time change my perspective?

And at the end I felt curious – what about the performers I didn’t see? What happens to them? Where do they go? Where are they now? I felt the power of grief for the performers we ‘lost’ along the way. Finally, the comfort and warmth of hot homemade soup.

I can’t wait for next time.

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The Landings - Only 2 weeks until we open!

Here we go…

It’s now only 2 weeks until The Landings opens. For a glimpse of what’s to come, we have a trailer!

A great deal of blood, sweat, joy and tears have been wrapped into the making of this performance, which is strangely fitting. Please come and see and feel what we have made.

To buy tickets:

A big thank you to Dan Farberoff and Will Rayner for making the trailer possible!



The Landings - Performers Wanted

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Dancers/performers sought to make an unusual site work for September/October 2017.   The work is PAID and not dependent on funding applications.

The Landings will use a 5km by 2km hinterland on the North Somerset coastline containing railway lines, vast fields, beach chalets, small copses, farms, straightened rivers, tracks and power lines.  We are looking for performers of ALL AGES, from 18 years all the way up (!), to fill a number of gaps (some substantive, some less so) amongst a cast of 15 to 20.

We’re curious to meet:

  • Performers with a natural draw towards site work.  You’ll be engaging an audience in close proximity who’ll be exercising choice about what they stay with and what they leave behind.
  • Performers with an interest in working in parity with experienced young performers, most of whom will be under 12 years – perhaps take a look at the work of Kabinet K and Seppe Baeyens.
  • Autonomous, thoughtful makers, with a love of presence, who enjoy fresh and evolving performance scenarios.

We make slowly rather than quickly, thus you’ll need to be available for most of the following dates:

  • Saturday 1 April to Saturday 8 April/Sunday 9 April: first 5 R&D days in this gap depending on availability
  • Monday 22 May to Friday 2 June: further 10 days in this gap depending on availability
  • A further week in June/July: TBC
  • Monday 24 July to Friday 11 August
  • Saturday 2 September to Friday 15 September
  • PERFORMANCES: Saturday 16 September through to Sunday 8 October (dependent on tides)

We can offer some flexibility regarding rehearsals given we’ll make in cluster groups until early September 2017.  This is a paid opportunity.  We will provide accommodation and cover travel costs where necessary.

If you’d like become part of The Landings, please send your CV plus a note explaining your interest to and by Tuesday 21 February.  Selected performers will be invited to spend a day with us in Porlock, North Somerset on Sunday 26 February or in London on Sunday 5 March – both days will run from 11 am to 5 pm.  These will be days of exchange as well as selection!

Fiona Fraser-Smith, our producer, will let you whether or not we can invite you to one of the selection days by Wednesday 22 February.  Do get in touch if you have questions, and please ask if you need help with travel expenses.

Stacked Wonky is a led by Artistic Director, Sarah Shorten, buoyed up and inspired by a very strong group of performers, designers, musicians, mentors and makers of all sorts.  We have been quietly and independently making site work/commissions for over 10 years – Trafalgar Square, Clovelly Court Estate, Museum of Childhood etc – resurfacing with “Liberator”, a box-set of four site episodes performed in the Vale of Porlock in 2015.

Further information:

Photos: Rod Higginson



Images of Liberator

With just under two weeks to the final Episode on Porlock Marsh, it's a time for reflection. I want to say a HUGE thank you to Rod Higginson for the beautiful photographs he has produced. I suspect I'm not the only one who feels this. Photographing dance is a tricky business: I want to see the person first, the movement second, only everything happens so fast in rehearsal or performance... Rod has done this instinctively.

Here are some stand-out images from Episode 4.

PS He's not the only one by the way - his partner Veronica is also very good!



Why Bossington Hill?

It goes without saying, it's an incredible place, breathtaking at times...

It's also the point at which everything went critically wrong for the Liberator. In the crash report it says "a large hill loomed up ahead"... After making a steep climbing turn to the right, the plane struck a downdraught of air before crashing on to the Marsh.

Thus a place of limitless beauty moments before tragedy struck.



Are all the Episodes planned or made in advance?

This is a question I've been asked a few times and the answer is NO! One of the joys of the project has been to respond to the previous Episode rather than predetermine what each one should look like. This also means we've had to work round the clock to ensure Episode 4 is ready for Sunday!



Oh the madness of rehearsals...

Bossington Hill has turned out to be quite an unpredictable performance space. We've had lots of conversations with curious walkers and one or two unexpected visitors... as you can see!



Introducing Danny Cox...

Liberator has a new collaborator! We'd like to welcome Danny, who'll be joining us for Episode 4: With the Downdraught on Bossington Hill on Sunday 6 September. Danny will be playing a snare drum, which was commonly used in American Air Force military bands during World War 2.



Last barn performances tonight

With both sadness and excitement we approach the final performances at the barn...  It's been an incredible two days full of the unexpected. Did anyone see the bats emerge from the barn? The wind lift the hay and rattle the roof tiles? Hear the plane fly over as Duncan left?

A HUGE thank you to our audience: you've been sensitive. fearless and full of kindness - without you it's just not possible!



Let's hear it for Duncan and Ernie...

Rehearsing at night isn't easy. When most of us are winding down, Duncan and Ernie have been heading out to rehearse. Before the moment is lost, I wanted to acknowledge their commitment and grit. Much of what you'll see is testament to the way the two of them have bonded, which is quite something. It's tough to bear the weight of a show on your shoulders at 8 years old... it also requires sensitivity and kindness on Duncan's part to bring out the best in Ernie.



Who's loving the Box Office?

Like a strange TARDIS, the Box Office is starting to pop up unexpectedly.  It was last seen at Porlock Fayre on Sunday inhabited by a stranger who took a fancy to it.  Keep your eyes open... you never know where it might appear next!



Why the chairs?

Why the chairs?

I've been asked this a few times since the first episode of Liberator. You might have seen them in miniature form, tipped up or lodged in tree branches along the way.

There are 12 chairs, one for each of the airmen on board the Liberator when it crashed. Increasingly they will appear as the episodes play out and finally reunite on the Marsh. It feels a good way to create a presence that honours our source material.



Episode 3: Blackout

Good news!

Things are going well for Episode 3 "Blackout", which takes place at night in a secluded barn on the Holnicote Estate for a discreet audience of 6 people per performance. As a group, collect a lantern and head off together across the fields through inky darkness to find the barn...

Over half the tickets have gone, so don't delay!