Wednesday, 30 October 2013

An Interview with Clod Ensemble's Co-Artistic Director Suzy Willson - Part Two

Following on from the first half of her interview, Clod Ensemble’s Co-Artistic Director Suzy Willson, explores the relationship between Medicine and The Arts, the inspiration for the Performing Medicine: The Anatomy Season featuring the performance, An Anatomie in Four Quarters.

Performing Medicine seems to be about what the arts can bring to medicine. What does a knowledge of medicine or, in this case, anatomy bring to the arts?

Many dancers and performers have a pretty good working knowledge of anatomy but have gathered that knowledge through an experience of their own bodies rather than in the ways that medical students learn anatomy, for example through dissection, looking at diagrams or through examining patients.

I would say the more understanding and awareness we have of our own bodies - how they function and change, how they relate to others and the environment - the better.  It’s great to share different ways of thinking and seeing human anatomy in a different context, beyond the usual professional environments in which these things are discussed – the rehearsal room, or the anatomy theatre.

For me, thinking about anatomy for this project has made me think again about the ways of looking at things and how meanings change or are created depending on the point of view you take. In this way there is a lot of similarities between performance and anatomy.

What has drawn you to this work at the intersection between art and science?

I’m not a scientist myself. My interest in medicine, particularly medical education came from my own experience as a relative or a friend of people in hospital. I felt that in my own theatre training  (Applied Theatre at Manchester University and at the Jacques Lecoq School) there were a lot of exercises and ways of thinking that could be useful to healthcare professionals.

When I began this work I felt that the ways in which medical institutions looked at people’s bodies were sometimes brutally reductive and I was interested in offering medical students some other ways of thinking about human bodies and sharing some practical skills to help them use their own bodies more sensitively and skilfully when working with patients and colleagues.

There has been quite a bit recently in the press about the links between art and science. 

Something that Bjork said in the Guardian Online struck a chord with me:

“Well, seems like science and art were pretty much the same thing for thousands of years until the industrial revolution and the enlightenment separated them. I feel the 21st century is going to be the one where not only can they unite again but they have to…”

Do you have any thoughts on that?

That statement opens up so many different questions  - I don’t think I can be as bold as Bjork – certainly not in one sentence!

… I think dividing and labelling ways of seeing the world into arts or science can sometimes be very crude, reductive and risks alienating people on the other side of the divide.

There is also a complex web of power relations at play about different kinds of knowledge, built up over hundreds of years, which can be very dangerous. It is very stultifying when people get stuck in old ways of thinking, or abuse their power or privilege whoever they are.
I work with many medics who feel intimidated by arts and many artists who are intimidated by science. But this does seem to be changing.

Over the last 15 years many more artists and scientists seem to be interested in similar themes even though methods of enquiry are very different. I am sure that the Internet and new ways of communicating to each other, which involve technology and science as well as art and design, have a lot to do with that.

I hope that the Performing Medicine Anatomy Season will bring people together and audiences will enjoy the multiple perspectives on offer.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

An Anatomie in Four Quarters: A Musical Perscpctive

Matthew Green, Orchestra and Special Projects Co-ordinator at Sinfonia Cymru, explains why An Anatomie in Four Quarters is such an exciting and unique opportunity for the musicians involved.

When I was first told about the Anatomy Season at Wales Millennium Centre I was extremely excited; it’s exactly the kind of project we at Sinfonia Cymru like to be involved with. We’re really interested in what makes a performance or concert so special, as well as exploring new spaces and opportunities for us as an orchestra. On a personal note, I’m really looking forward to seeing how the Donald Gordon Theatre will be ‘taken apart’ and opened up, offering an  experience unlike any other ‘typical’ performance.

At Sinfonia Cymru we are absolutely fascinated by, and constantly examining, the fairly standardised conventions of classical music. We think about what it means to be an orchestra, our close links to heritage music, concert traditions and rituals, the perceived implications of this and what these mean and could mean in the 21st century.


The way music and musicians are used in Anatomie in Four Quarters is enthralling. What’s asked of the musicians could be considered a little bit unusual, but I don’t want to give things away, so please excuse me for not being specific and for talking more generally about concepts here. For me, they’re only unusual because people have settled on what is ‘normal’ for an orchestra to do.  What Anatomie does is look at things differently, it teaches us and reminds us to dissect, deconstruct and analyse our bodies, our environments, activities and arts.

Already, through various meetings and discussions with Paul Clark (Artistic Director/Composer) and Tracy Gentles (Producer) at Clod Ensemble, I’ve been amazed at the scientific basis of the project. I love the potential of opening up academic discussion through art, and vice versa.  It’s really exciting to be a part of Anatomie; I know all the Sinfonia Cymru musicians involved will be taking away more than just an enjoyable performing experience, but a greater understanding of the constructions of performance and theatre as a whole.

Matthew Green, Sinfonia Cymru

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Fiona Winter's Re-boot Experience with Clod Ensemble

In August this year I had the chance to work with Clod Ensemble through their Re-boot programme, on the remounting of their 2011 production of An Anatomie in Four Quarters at the Wales Millennium Centre. This encompassed five full days of exploration of the piece on an academic and physical level, culminating in the staging of two technical runs where the piece was adapted to the ‘anatomy’ of Wales Millennium Centre’s impressive Donald Gordon Theatre.


As a Nia Technique teacher, I am working with the structure of the body in every class I teach, finding health through movement, pleasure in movement and constantly exploring how the anatomy of each individual can be seen and changed through movement. To me, the link between the anatomy of the body and the anatomy of the theatre was clear to see.


As an older dancer, now in my mid 50’s, who was constantly too short for auditions in the late 70‘s early 80’s, I was drawn to the idea of challenging myself with a company that appeared to embrace a wide range of physiques within their performers. I was not disappointed. Five days of pushing my edges (very glad that I had such a strong core of technique to draw on), five days of taking in the amount of detailed research that went into the ideas behind the production, five days of working to an amazing score…This wonderful experience was rounded off with the inspiring opportunity to dance on Wales Millennium Centre’s Donald Gordon stage, with the theatre itself playing a vital role as focus was placed on the anatomy of the theatre itself.


Now I can’t wait to experience this production as a member of the audience, viewing the performance from different areas of the auditorium and the stage itself, and examining what it means to open up and be opened’. An Anatomie in Four Quarters is full of amazing imagery, striking music and committed performers. You’ll never look at a stage the same way again - stripped bare. Thank you Clod Ensemble and Wales Millennium Centre for a great experience.

Introducing the Inside Information workshop


Professor Judith Hall, Professor of Anaesthetics, Intensive Care and Pain Medicine at Cardiff Medical School introduces the Inside Information workshop, which she will be co-presenting alongside anatomist Dr Tracey Wilkinson and Welsh National opera singer Ros Evans.


Staff from Cardiff University's School of Medicine are working closely with Clod Ensemble to produce a vibrant, innovative educational event. The role of Tracy Wilkinson and myself as academics and clinicians is to explain just one tiny aspect of human anatomy: the lungs and throat.  These go together, of course, to get oxygen into the body, get rid of waste carbon dioxide and keep up alive, but they also give us a meaningful voice.  


Coming to the 'Inside Information' work shop is a great opportunity to see modern medical teaching in action. We will use high fidelity patient simulators to mock up a life-threatening problem which patients suffer.  There will be anatomy so we can see the real thing, plus a practical understanding of breathing and voice provided by opera singer Ros Evans.

Tracey and I think this multi-faceted approach is a great way to learn: with the potential for real reflection and improved understanding for all involved.


Thursday, 17 October 2013

An Interview with Clod Ensemble's Co-Artistic Director Suzy Willson - Part One

In the first of this two-part interview on Clod Ensemble’s Performing Medicine: The Anatomy season, Suzy Willson explains more about the season, with particular focus on their performance, An Anatomie in Four Quarters.

An Anatomie in Four Quarters. Where does the title of Clod Ensemble’s new work come from?

The piece is inspired by the theme of anatomy and draws much of the choreography from anatomical images through history.

The piece is also in four quite distinctive movements or quarters and the audience change their viewing position in each movement. We have called it An Anatomie, because it is a breaking down of things into their component parts and to some extent an anatomy of the study of anatomy itself

You are drawing a parallel between the theatre (in this case the Donald Gordon Theatre ) and the body. Can you expand on this?

Yes. The piece is concerned with the human body but also with the body of the theatre itself. Throughout the piece we move closer to the bodies of the performers.

Anatomy is about getting closer to things to understand or analyse them – to reveal the structure of the body. 

We also reveal the structure of the theatre; the movement of the audience itself cuts through or dissects the space. 

The audience will begin to get a glimpse of the theatre mechanism and internal structure - attention is drawn to the lighting rig, the fly bars etc.

An Anatomie in Four Quarters is part of Performing Medicine: The Anatomy Season a series of talks, workshops and performances. What’s the idea behind the Performing Medicine season?

Clod Ensemble has always created outreach and participation projects. Making performance work in theatre spaces is just one of the many things we do.

Over ten years ago I started Performing Medicine, primarily to bring some of the skills I had learnt through theatre training to doctors. It seemed like the arts had many practical skills and ways of thinking about the world  (voice skills, body language, interpretation, thinking about identity, representation, communication etc.) that could be very useful to clinical practice.

Now, Performing Medicine runs courses for medical students at Bart’s and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry and other medical colleges but we also curate seasons of work that engage the general public with issues concerning medicine.