Theo Clinkard

on ‘artistry’

Welcome to episode 1 of series 2!

The theme for this series is ‘Our Values’, delving into the individual values we hold at Curious Motion and what they mean for other people.

We are kicking off with ‘artistry’ and to do this Sam is joined by renowned dancer and choreographer, Theo Clinkard. Settle in for a fascinating exploration into artistry and what this means for our society.

Make sure to click the SUBSCRIBE button above to keep up to date with our latest podcasts!

View Transcript

Show Notes

Century Project – Theo’s upcoming hopeful dance work that spans a century, launching in 2021 and completing beyond our lifetimes, in 2120. Taking place every 5 years upon a hand woven carpet, 100-strong constellations of dancers come together to engage in a practice of slowing the body and mapping the mind. An act of faith, whereby it’s continuation is entrusted to future generations, this human-scale yet epic work celebrates the embodied knowledge of the dancer while asking, how can we use long term thinking in order to be better ancestors?

Future Library by Katie Paterson in Norway

Long Player – a 1000 year continuous piece of music by Jem Finer from the Pogues.

As Slow As Possible by John Cage.

Wainsgate Dances & Open Practice: an international programme of workshops, residencies and performances curated by Charlie Morrissey and Rob Hopper. Based at Wainsgate Chapel in Hebden Bridge. The morning Open Practice sessions happen Monday – Friday, 9-10am, £2 donation – we highly recommend them!

Guest Info

A photo of Theo Clinkard. He is looking at the camera and is wearing a white t-shirt. Theo has blonde hair that comes to just below his ears. He is smiling a little.

Theo Clinkard

Theo Clinkard is from Cornwall and his current practice spans choreography, design, performance and pedagogy.

Following 20 years dancing for some of the UK’s most celebrated choreographers, he launched his own company in 2012 and has steadily built an international reputation for creating affecting and visually arresting work for small, middle and large-scale theatres as well as non-theatre settings.

Past company productions include ‘Ordinary Courage’ (2012), ‘Chalk’ (2014), ‘Of Land & Tongue’ (2014), ‘This Bright Field’ (2017) and ‘The Elsewhen Series’ (2019) a co-creation with Leah Marojević. Theo’s next company work ‘Century Project’ will launch in 2021 and complete beyond our lifetimes in 2120.

International commissions include ‘Somewhat still, when seen from above’ (2015) for Tanztheatre Wuppertal Pina Bausch and ‘The Listening Room’ (2016) for Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, ‘Hot Mess’ (2019) for Candoco Dance Company and ‘Helm’ (2019), a work conceived for the eight dancers with autism and/or learning disabilities from The Talent Hub.

Clinkard regularly leads intensives workshops, residencies and classes internationally for professional companies, dance organisations and training institutions, including engagements in Chile, Belgium, Ireland, Germany, Wales, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, United States, France, Spain, Cuba, Italy, Finland, Sweden and Norway.

Clinkard is an Associate Artist at The Hall for Cornwall, Brighton Dome & Festival and an Honorary Fellow at Plymouth University.

Transcript

Sam McCormick:

Hello, everyone, and welcome to series 2 of Curious e-Motion, a podcast from Curious Motion. I’m Sam McCormick and I’m so excited to be back. Have you noticed that we’ve got new music? A huge thank you to musician, Rich Huxley, for this beautiful original score. We love it and are excited to release it into the world. This series is themed around the values we hold at Curious Motion, the things we believe are important and integral across all of our work. We have six values at Curious Motion. Whilst we know what we mean by them, we want to find out what they mean to other people, and what we can all learn by delving further into them. Do check out the bonus episode to hear more about why we chose this theme and about our new music too. So let’s get into today’s chat.

This episode kicks us off with our first value, artistry. What does artistry mean for our lives and the world around us? Well, today we are joined by inspiring dancer, Theo Clinkard, to explore this and more. Theo’s current practice spans choreography, design, performance, and pedagogy. Following 20 years dancing for some of the UK’s most celebrated choreographers, he launched his own company in 2012, and has steadily built an international reputation for creating effecting and visually arresting work for small, middle and large scale theatres as well as non-theatre settings.

I followed Theo’s work for a long time and have always been drawn to his empathetic and curious approach to what art is and what this means for society. So I’m really excited to bring you this chat. It’s so in depth and honest, filled with warmth and discovery. So let’s go and meet Theo.

Now we recorded this episode, just as the tragic death of Sarah Everard has come to light here in the UK. So with that in mind, let’s get into our chat.

[music]

Sam McCormick:

Hi, Theo.

Theo Clinkard:

Hi, Sam.

Sam McCormick:

Thanks for being here. It’s lovely to see you.

Theo Clinkard:

Thank you for welcoming me onto your podcast, I’m happy to be part of it.

Sam McCormick:
Oh, nice. Lovely to have you. So you’re here today to have a chat about ‘artistry’. So I thought we could start with a question for you. And that is, what does artistry mean to you?

Theo Clinkard:

So you might laugh, but I had to Google it [laughter].

Sam McCormick:

I love that.

Theo Clinkard:

I know I have some sense of what I think it means, but I was like, what does it really mean and what is my relationship to it? And so I’ve been thinking about how– I know people who don’t identify as artists, or they’re not in a kind of professional field of art making but they live their life in such a way that there’s a attention to detail or a care about how they are in the world or the things that they work on or the language that they use or how they are with people, which is artistic. And so my brain, after your invite around this word, was like one of the ways in which there is an artistry or an artistic practice for us as people in the world which is before or beyond or around the edges of what we actually produce, so to detach it from the professionalisation.

And I suppose that’s been a theme for me a little bit through lockdown and before because I started a sabbatical awhile back. It was like, how do I think of my practice beyond a kind of profile of being a choreographer or a dancer or a designer? But if I take away that kind of avatar, if you like, or online presence, what is left? And do I live through the values that I care about? And how else might I be artistic? And what are the other ways it can show up, even in how I write an email or something like that? So yeah, just an expanded idea of what artistry or art. It’s not even art-making, but being an artist might be. That was my initial thought.

Sam McCormick:

I love that. I think that’s where Curious Motion’s coming from, as well. It’s hard to put into words because it can be easily stereotyped, or assumptions are made about what art is or something. It’s this part of our lives that what happens– sometimes it’s hard to find a word for. But I think you just summed that up really beautifully.

Theo Clinkard:

I have a dear friend who has had various jobs. He mostly works in ceramics, but he’s an amazing cook. And I think when I eat his food, I’m like, “This is the food of an artist.” Somehow then I think artistry can show up in so many different ways. And then it feels like a way of life and anyone has access to it. Because it’s not about the attention given or the value given to what you produce within a certain niche circle and the codes that you reinforce with each other. But how someone might make you feel by the way they give you their full attention, like artistry in the kind of broadest sense, being available to everyone and something that everyone can live by.

Sam McCormick:

Absolutely. And I was going to ask you what role you think artistry plays in society? So I suppose that’s it, isn’t it? It’s that it being part of everybody’s lives in many different ways.

Theo Clinkard:

Well, I think for me there’s something– and when you emailed me you mentioned this, actually. Something really important about empathy and that art can be a way in which we can bridge a gap between ourselves and others, maybe across borders of all kinds, different disciplines or cultures. So I’m curious about how, primarily for me, how dance can engender empathy between the people you work with; between audiences and performers; between audience and audience; between venue and locale; between venue and venue? What are the different matrices? — is that the right word? But where empathy can play out or be practised or enhanced or developed. And I think we all have that capacity, and it’s interesting to think how the lockdown has, perhaps, made ourselves feel more isolated and then in another sense – and this is different for everyone – but in another sense, I also feel like I’m more in touch with the people I like and care about through things like this. Not networked in the professional sense, but more networked in a kind of lovely spider’s web across different places and countries. And we’re going through a collective experience. So empathy plays out in like, “Ah, how are you coping? What are your strategies?” Or I feel like it’s a time for recognising difference and the empathy around that, as well as what we share somehow.

Sam McCormick:

Oh, there’s so much in there that we could talk about. Yeah, it’s really true. I mean, when I’ve been asking guests, “Which of our values would you like to talk about?”– and another one of them is ‘empathy’ and another one of them is ‘compassion’. And then I think to myself, “All of these are linked. They’re all the same. They’re all the same thing in a way.” They all link into that human nature, that care for each other, those elements that you just mentioned there about connecting, spending that time on the people you care about. All of this stuff. I think it’s so valuable. And I would agree the lockdown has maybe enhanced some of that for us.

Theo Clinkard:

I think also there’s something about artistry and empathy and lockdown which is something about more– even though it’s not kind of fleshy, in-person participation I feel like even with like– what’s his name who does the warm-ups? The kind of gym, fitness thing.

Sam McCormick:

Joe Wicks?

Theo Clinkard:

Joe Wicks yeah. I know it’s not like art making but like it’s those practices of togetherness in the kind of [inaudible]. And even Grayson Perry’s and Philippa Perry’s Art Club, I also haven’t engaged in that having said this. But for example there’s morning practice, which is run out of Wainsgate Chapel in Hebden Bridge where I’ve been living. And that’s been a way in which– it’s kind of like a dance party from 9:00 till 10:00 every morning. £2 or pay what you want. And people, dancers, non-dancers, amateurs, enthusiasts from all around the world are taking part. So I feel like I’m dancing with people I’ve never met, I’m dancing with people around the globe and sharing something through this little kind of window lens of the screen. Which feels supportive and we are in our different spaces in every sense but connected through the music I suppose, for want of anything. As well as other things.

And I’m just thinking about the ways in which even through maybe I don’t know home schooling– I don’t know [inaudible] inter-connectiveness. I’m just thinking about participation I suppose. There’s [inaudible] the moment around the importance of participation in dance and other art forms. We mostly, even if we become primarily an audience member for dance, we usually come in to it, our love for it is developed through taking part. And I’m interested to think about how taking part is expanded through the online. Not just a reduced or compromised version of what we enjoyed in person. I think there’s no way of replicating what we had in person. I’m also trying to not be like Debbie Downer negative on it because actually it opens up something about participation for example.

Sam McCormick:

Yeah definitely. I’ve been to the morning practice sessions as well and they are so– honestly the first one I came to I’d been meaning to come to it for a really long time. I kept seeing it pop up on Instagram and everything I was thinking, “Oh Sam come on you need to– come on. You need to do this.” And you know what it’s like, it’s like, “Oh God I’ve got emails to do,” whatever. And actually that first session was just like– it was really emotional. I just thought, “Oh my God look at all these people.” And then I was like, “Oh no look who that is.” All these faces of people I might not know but I’ve heard of or people that I don’t know at all that are a mile down the road. And people who are in other parts of the world. And it is so beautiful. And then to have the music and the dance and the freedom within that for it to be for you as well as being connected to other people is just absolutely beautiful. And I think that is something that we’ve been offered via online that we can’t really do in person.

Theo Clinkard:

Yeah. I mean I was doing morning practice a little bit before lockdown happened so it was in person in Hebden Bridge. And what I loved about it, which I still love about it, is that you’ve got dancers of all kinds and people who maybe don’t identify as dancers but love dancing who are from the town. So in the same way, online my dad’s doing it upstairs, I’m doing it downstairs. And this kind of like– yeah. Kind of egalitarian approach. And those like my dad wouldn’t necessarily turn up to a dance class and I’m sure many other people wouldn’t because it feels like a gentler offer. Why not give it a try? You can always close the laptop if you don’t like it. I’ve recommended it to all kinds of– I’ve put it online, I’ve recommended it to artists and actors, and people who don’t necessarily use movement as their primary focus, but enjoy moving. And I think what I’ve learned is that the days I don’t do it, I’m missing those happy chemicals. So it’s really, in that sense, a lifeline, I think, for a lot of us. That we are having that kind of stimulation of mind, body, flow of chemicals that keeps us going.

Sam McCormick:

I mean, that’s happening physiologically and emotionally, and on a level that we can only really understand by experiencing it. Absolutely. And just to go back to your point about participation being the root into an art form for many people, for audience members and– I’m really biased. Because I’ve worked– all my work is participatory, in some respect. So it feels like I’m just going on about it, and have been going on about it for 20 years. I think it’s a really important point. And I suppose things like the morning practice sessions and the Zoom opportunities, the online opportunities, I would hope, maybe, that that’s increasing participation in some ways. I know there are still barriers. And I wonder what that might do for artistry, I suppose, in the future as well.

Theo Clinkard:

Yeah. Absolutely. I think that, yeah, potentially – I don’t know about the statistics – but potentially, it’s reaching a lot more people or it’s making more global. You could tune in with something which is happening in Melbourne and be witness to it in the way that people are within that city. Because they’re also on-screen. So you’re– it’s broadening, somehow. But I was writing something the other day, and considering how, when we’d come out of lockdown– I don’t know if there’s even going to be a thing. But the versions of lockdown, back into being in shared spaces– I don’t know how much I’m going want to sit there and watch something. I’m really missing– I’m not a big clubber. But I’m really missing going out, out and being sweaty on a dance floor with good music. I’m missing that more than sitting in a big theatre, watching expertise from some company flown over to the UK. It’s the visceral, fleshy, sweaty, throbbing, dancey experience which I’m really craving. Because we’re mostly on our own, a lot of us. So it’s—

Sam McCormick:

I’m with you on that. And I am not, at all, a clubber or [laughter]– but every time I see something on the TV, where someone’s out partying, I’m like, “Oh, my God.”

Theo Clinkard:

It’s so triggering!

Sam McCormick:

It’s awful, but also, amazing [laughter].

Theo Clinkard:

Yeah. It’s a combination of concern for them. Like, “You’re too close.” But then, we’re like, “Oh. It’s been so long since I’ve felt that collective energy.” So whilst with morning practice, for example, there’s faces all over your screen from all around the world, it’s not the same. And I think we mustn’t confuse these things as being the same. And as someone who really cares about touch, and empathy, and connection, yeah. I mean, it’s nothing new, what I’m saying, it’s just the– as we come out of it, there might be brilliant – there already is – brilliant, hybrid festivals of online and in-person festivals. So where work is accessible in different ways, that I know that I’m missing the actual contact.

So another aspect of that for me, is the exclusivity around this show happens once in London. It’s very expensive. And ‘you were either there or you weren’t’. Time for that to end. It’s smaller audiences more often. I even saw something that was put online at a certain time. And a few people commented like, “Oh. It’s such a shame it’s right at” whatever it was, dinnertime or right when I feed the kids or whatever. And the company responded, I think it might be Encounter, well actually let’s do another one at 5:00, because there’s enough people that will miss out. We can respond to that. We can just shift the time of that screening or streaming. And I was just thinking, oh yeah, that suddenly makes things accessible in a different way. If it’s in person, maybe fewer people, but more often under those economic constraints, but the exclusive thing as is– the value around exclusivity is problematic and it always was, and this has exposed some of those things, I think.

Sam McCormick:

Yeah, the value around exclusivity, that’s a really good point.

Theo Clinkard:

I think there’s something really key in how much pie do we take up, as a white, cis, neurotypical, non-disabled man. What space do I take up online? What space does my work take up in person? And just reorganising that, and I think there’s been a lot of consciousness around that in who’s invited to the table. It’s also been a big learning I think, or should be.
[music]

Sam McCormick:

So your newest project, called Century Project, it would be lovely to know a bit more about that. Can you give us a little summary?

Theo Clinkard:

Yeah. I’ve not spoken about it for a while, so this is an interesting challenge to– what comes to the foreground? Because it’s quite complex. Each time I dive into it, I’m like where to start? But basically, I think there’s something really important about acknowledging your references, and there’s a great piece of work called ‘Future Library’ in Norway. So in 2014, they opened up a new library in Oslo, and as part of that, an artist was commissioned to make an artwork, and they invited a Scottish artist called Katie Paterson to create a new work. And she decided to chop down part of the forest outside Oslo, with the wood build a wooden room, like a library inside of the library, with a little window pointing towards where the trees had grown. Each year of the next 100 years, a different writer is commissioned to write a novel or write a book, but the work is never published, so it’s kept under lock and key in little vaults in the walls of this wooden library, a new one each year. So it accumulates 100 books which are never read, until the saplings that she planted where the trees had been are mature enough to be turned into books, so the stories get printed in 100 years time and are available to be read.

So I read this in an in-flight magazine and it totally blew my mind. I was like, this is the most extraordinary way to for example think about empathy. Who is that generation of young readers, who are not even thought about yet, let alone being born perhaps? So how can we empathise for another generation? How can we think about therefore climate through that lens of longitudinal work? So basically Future Library is one of many longitudinal artworks of which there are soundworks.

So Jem Finer has a piece– Jem Finer was in The Pogues, and he created an artwork in about 2000, so a millennium artwork which was an Artangel project, which is a 10,000– oh, is it 10? No, 1,000-year continuous piece of music which is being played right now and has been already for 21 years perhaps. So I started to research these different pieces of work. There’s an amazing one called ‘As Slowly as Possible’ which is a John Cage piece which has been stretched out over 680 years and is being played right now on an organ in a little church in Germany so I was a bit like, well, what would the dance version of this be? What would it be like to look at movement, look at time in this way and what does– yeah, what is a– how might I use dance in a different way?

What I started with was something akin to the Sleeping Beauty Project. So a dance which is created. I was thinking a bit about ballerinas who come back and pass their role on like the swans, the previous generation coaching the next generation. So the verbal, oral tradition of dance. So could we make it work, pass it on to another group? Pass it on to another group through different generations of dancers but it’s all kept hidden, if you like. Maybe within a university system or something like that there may be some kind of structure. But it’s premiered for the first time in 100 years. And what is that process of storing or working the body, remembering it, practicing it and teaching it on. And we sort of applied for some funding and we did some research nearly two years ago now. And this piece has by the way been six years in the planning, so I’ve been [inaudible] so long and it kept changing. So when we did the research, we exploded a lot of that. So I think there’s something, for me, important about going in with I think something along these lines but let’s chat about it.

So I had a group of seven brilliant dancers. Seven. I’m including myself. [laughter]

Sam McCormick:

Love it. Do include yourself!

Theo Clinkard:

Exactly. Lauren Porter, Leah Marojević, Steph McMann, Bun Kobayashi, Connor Scott, Samir Kennedy, and then I’m working with producer Kat Bridge and then James Keane is working on sound. And we would move and we would chat and we would explore all these ideas. So the way that we worked really invited conversation with the people in the room to not just respond but to shape the direction of it. So we started to think a little bit more about if it wasn’t a set piece of choreography, if it was improvisation scores, for example, what is their idea of dance? Might we be able to work with it being passed on rather than muscle memory, for example, and something which is set and specific? So we played with different scores and we started to think about ideas of 100, counting to 100, digging with this 100 idea.
And I’m going to talk about where I’m at now. So I was thinking about what can we imagine in the future. And it was something to do with a ground and a moving body. So the assumption or the need– the conditions we need to dance are a surface and people. And then I started to think about floors, carpets, hopscotch markings, tape. What might this ground be? And then I started to kind of get this idea of commissioning a carpet. So what we did in the room is we taped our five by five meter square and I started to think around how might we have a surface where this dance happens. So what I’m planning now is I’m actually using lockdown to create a rug myself. So I’m weaving it myself with donated t-shirts. So one square meter a time which are then going to be kind of put together, or woven together to make a surface, a place, a kind of location for this dance to happen. So basically, whilst dances change and the audiences change and we all die off, there is some continuity in this kind of piece of design, this object which has a materiality, has a wear. It will age through time and it might just be a kind of a little bit of thread by 100 years time. But to sort of think about not a content or a specific choreography as the continuity but an idea of a place. And that’s what the carpet kind of replaced if you like.

So then we start to think about what might be an expanded idea of this kind of movement score? What might we busy with on this carpet? And I felt uneasy about this kind of group of seven dancers doing this thing. And our initial idea was that each dancer would find another dancer which I did like. It was this kind of passing on of role and passing on of our established politics, for example, or values or the physical scores. And actually, through lockdown I decided I wanted to really expand that. So what I’m thinking now is that it’s a very simple score which is a slowing of the body. So through our research we would do one hour of slow motion. And I think slow motion is a slightly problematic term so I’m trying to let go of it because it assumes a certain speed and I’m trying to really open up to different dancers, so with different backgrounds and physical experiences, so that a slowing might be a bit more of a subjective, relative thing for different people in kind of an accessible sense.

So slowing the body. And in that sense, it doesn’t need a rehearsal period, so that I can invite– what I’m thinking now is 100 dancers take part over 10 days. 10 new dancers each day. And what they take part in is a 10-hour durational slowing of the body.

So if you imagine the rug. You arrive at a space, there’s the rug. There’s a group of 10 of you, and you’re going to participate in this slowing score, and with another 10 the next day. So a kind of community, if you’d like, a whole constellation of dancers from that area taking part in the work. In five years time, the carpet travels somewhere else, and another community of 100 present or– yeah, hold the work. And then this work happens every five years. So I think there’s 20 iterations over the 100 years, because it can geographically, almost like a magic carpet, move to different places. So then, with a very simple score, you could turn up on the day and take part in this work. And obviously, I’m trying to be really conscious of who is invited to take part and really expand through all the different spectrums of difference who gets to be embodying the work.

And something that we did in the research was this idea that while you’re moving at any point, you can say, “In case you’re wondering, I’m thinking about”, and it would provide this little window into the thinking of the dancer or what thought is generated in the act of moving. Like, how do we think as we move? How can dance be a container for thinking? How could the dancing body generate new thinking? How does slowing affect the mind somehow? So what we’re now doing is at any point, anyone can elect to just say, “In case you’re wondering, I’m thinking about”. So it’s kind of punctuations.

The whole thing is being scribed, so we’re capturing all of these different sensations, feelings, images, ideas, suggestions, that are generated through the moving body, so that we start to build an archive of thoughts, if you like. So rather than what can the body do, how does it store information, it’s a little bit more, if we move together with this kind of consciousness, what comes up for us? And we found it to be really– it’s just really, really emotional, I have to say, and I think because of the timeline of the project, there’s something about being differently in the body, which has, not just the gravity, but partly the focus, the enormity, the scale, the epic scale of the project, through this slowing somehow asks for a particular kind of attention from the dancer and a particular kind of attention from the people who witness the work. So we’re not saying it’s a performance and we’re not saying the audience members. This work will happen, whether it’s witnessed or not. You’re welcome to come and be with the work.

So I love the idea of being with work. I’ve been to witness works like Xavi Laoire, Pompidou in Paris, on title series, where you’re really there, present with the work, but it’s not demanding your attention. It’s not impressing you. It’s not attending to your eye or your intellect in some specific way. You get to be in your body with these dancers while they’re in their bodies. And it’s a different way of kind of experiencing dancing, which I love.

So the only other element I’m going to talk about for now is that there’s– maybe two more things. There’s books, so any point the dancers can leave the score, while the other nine continue. And you can start to write about your experience of being part of it. These books will accumulate, so you might open that book and there’s the writing of the person from 5 years ago, or 15 or 35 years ago, and you contribute to this, an experiential, written dancer perspective archive as well as the scribed piece.

And then also thinking to do kind of bit of a podcast series in the lead-up. So I’ll be chatting to different people who deal with future forecasting or archiving or environment or anthropology to get different kind of perspectives on kind of future thinking, I suppose, or to reflect back on the project or to hear from other artists with their longitudinal projects. So that as you come to witness the work, you can also put in headphones and hear about these conversations as you witness the work. So all these kind of layers of experience of being with the dancing and being with the project, which informs and layer up your experience of what it might be like to make a work through time or to send a work into time. Because I won’t be there to see the end of it. I don’t think.

Sam McCormick:

What happens at 100 years? Do you know?

Theo Clinkard:

Well, I think in 100 years time, we will have a body of text which– I think of it like kind of a litmus test or kind of like a gauge in the temperature of that time. So even if you imagine it launching later this year or next year, so much of what comes up for people will be about the experience of lockdown or coming out of lockdown. What it is to be with other bodies again. We don’t know if– this work will witness ecological, political, cultural change that we have– we can’t even imagine. Even the conversation around AI. Like, do robots or AI get to be part of this project in 100 years time? Because that’s a very real projection. The more I read, the more I’m like– with augmented bodies and enhanced chemical makeup, like, it might not be a kind of metal robot, but there’ll be all kinds of versions of us. And what might the politics around that be? What is it to say you have to be a fleshy born human to take part? That might be the most inappropriate, old-school thinking in 100 years time. That this work is immediately outdated or inappropriate to present in 100 years time. So there’s so much unknown. And I think the potential for risk and failure– it’s a project of hope. “We don’t know what’s going to happen this, but we hope that there might be people that care about what we care about in the future.”
But in 100 years time, I guess there will be this kind of– well, some bit of carpet I hope. Something left. But yeah, a body of a built – what’s the word? – like, picture of what this last 100 years– what happened through that time, somehow. I guess I’m not thinking a lot about the result then. I’m thinking about the practice of being with dance through time, being in your moment in time, and understanding it within a longitudinal, long-term thinking. So there’s an idea called ‘cathedral thinking’, which is a bit like the archetype Notre Dame or Sagrada Familia or any kind of long-term project that you initiate, but you know that you won’t be there to see it completed, but that you’re entrusting it to future generations to continue or take care of.

So it’s really about setting something in motion which invites us to think differently about, for example, how to be good ancestors, which is a term which is used around a lot of long-term thinking just like, how can we make decisions now which benefit the long-term and bring a different consciousness to how we are in the moment? Which is more environmentally aware, for example. So it’s almost like an environment project without going, “Let’s look at climate change and dance.” It’s already inherently built into the project that we have to think differently about future generations of dancers who aren’t born yet, but who might take part in the project. And how does that change who we are, to be that empathetic, for example?

Sam McCormick:

There’s such a deep empathy level there, isn’t there? It’s a really beautiful thing. I’m so inspired by the whole idea of that it’s not about the outcome it’s not about this is what I want to happen in 100 years or any of that. It’s not about the end result. It’s about the process and the people and those moments. I just wish there was more of that because a lot of the time, the focus really is just on the end, isn’t it? But actually we learn so much before that and it’s a shame– I’m talking from my opinion. But it’s a shame it’s not shared sometimes because that’s where the beauty is, in a way.

Theo Clinkard:

I think for me this is something about really moving away from the idea of product. Nobody can see the whole of this project. Nobody can understand it’s absolute fullness. We only experience it at our own point in time. But also what is more important that what happens on the carpet is the structure, the thinking, the thing that is absent, what came before and what comes later. So taking the attention and the calculation off the body, off what happens in front of you, to a bigger thinking. How can we use dance to think about environment? How can we use dance to think about politics and sustainability among many, many other things? Use dance to think about empathy? So rather than, what is the body doing and am I interest? It’s like, I’ve seen work where I’m slightly bored in the best sense. It doesn’t demand something of me. I get to be in my body, be with the dance, like I said before. And I suppose I’m okay for your attention to wander– it’s important for your attention to wander.
If it’s a 10-hour day practice, you might be there at the beginning, you might be there at the end, you might be there at the middle or sit through the whole thing, but I hope that we can be with the body, the bodies, the group body, your own body and give time– not in a religious sense, but something about kind of dance and collectivity and gathering which it can really occupy a space, because it’s not language led necessarily. I mean, this is partly but we can be with each other in collections and constellations which can do something profound. It’s not about theatre in the sense of meaning and jeopardy and the mind in that sense, but it opens up space. Dance can, I think, open up space for us to be with ourselves and our thinking while we are with the moving body. And I suppose that’s the bit that I enjoy more and more and more. And theatres do something very different. Theatre, you’re passive, you’re sat– well, maybe not passive, but you’re organised into seating banks and you’re watching something over there, which because you paid for an expensive ticket and you’re going to have a glass of wine in the interval, maybe you want it to provide for you in a way which I know that my work is never going to provide for people. [laughter] Because I operate on a different wave, in a different mode.
And, yeah, I’m excited for it. I mean, there’s lots of unknowns that will develop, and it will develop through further conversations with my producer and the dancers I work with. But I feel like where we’ve got to is the most expanded sense of different kinds of dancers of all ages, backgrounds, disabled dancers, neuro-diverse dancers. Who can be invited to the table through the broadening and expanding of this project? Rather than those seven dancers that I work with, for example? By it being over 10 days, hopefully, more people can get to come and see it in their lunch break or in the evening, after work, or how can it reach more people and be accessible in that sense? So a lot of the most recent thinking is about how to broaden it, rather than making it a real niche contemporary dance, exclusive thing, but just those seven people and who they choose to pass it onto. That’s true lockdown and the rethinking that been enabled. I wouldn’t have put it into the world in that way if I’d done it a year ago.

Sam McCormick:

Yeah, that’s really interesting. I remember the last time you spoke about this project when I came to your workshop in 2019 and you were just talking about it. And I remember you talking about the seven dancers and I can hear– you talking about it now, it’s like, “Wow.” I can really see that thinking in there and that’s really interesting that that’s come out from lockdown and you feel that that may not have come out in that way had this not happened.

Theo Clinkard:

Yeah. The challenge is trying to find a space to do it in. I basically think it needs to be in London because I want to really have a broad spectrum of people taking part. And for example, I’m now based in the Southwest and it’s just like, for one, really, really white. [laughter] I’m not prepared to put this work into the world if it’s not diverse in that sense and many other senses. So I think it does need to be in London. But as I was talking to David Harradine who’s been a bit of a mentor for me on this, it kind of needs a museum or a gallery, because they’re in the process and practice of caretaking works into time rather than the immediacy of theatre. Like what is happening now? What is happening with your next project next year? What is new, new, new? We need a kind of organization who could work with us that holds the records, the archive, looks after the carpet, cares about something which is time-based in a different way from the way that a theatre would. I don’t know quite where it’s going to happen but I kind of want a village hall in the middle of London.

Sam McCormick:

That would be amazing. I wish there was a village hall in London. [laughter] So is that the next part, working that sort of thing out?

Theo Clinkard:

Yeah. I mean I’m going to get ahold of my loom again and start weaving. I’ve done 14 one meter by one meter rugs. I’ve done 16. I’ve got 14 to go, I think, so I need to get weaving. But it’s nice because I can listen to podcasts and audiobooks and do other things while I’m knitting. I’ve got [crosstalk]–
Yeah.
–I can do it quite manually and be elsewhere in my mind. Yeah. Liaising with organisations, trying to find the right home for this work, and essentially, that’s individuals who care about it enough to really invest in it and look after it into the future. So I was thinking of V&A but then they’ve just now seem to be cutting their performance department, theatre department. And a project like this is going to deal with those kind of risks. What if they looked after it for five years already and then now we’re finding out that they’re weren’t going to? It’s going to have to mutate in different ways but yeah, liaising with organisations. That’s the next fun bit. And applying for funding from the Arts Council.

Sam McCormick:

That’s the fun parts that come with all of this.

Theo Clinkard:

Unless I can find rich individuals like Brain Eno or someone like that.

Sam McCormick:

Oh, yeah. Shout out to Brian Eno. [laughter]

Theo Clinkard:

I should be a bit braver actually and start to try and contact people like that because it’s going to be through empathetic individuals that this is going to work. Even when we talk about organisations, of course, that’s made up of individuals who care. I think we can easily make those things abstract but actually, they’re people in a different part of the ecology of performance.

[music]

Sam McCormick:

Right, well, Theo, we’re going to finish off with the question that we’re asking all of our guests in this series and it is– I keep saying the question is two questions in one because I’m terrible like that. [laughter] So it is – ‘which three things would you like to spend more time on in your life, and what about less time?’

Theo Clinkard:

Wow.

Sam McCormikc:

I know. It’s quite a big one, isn’t it?

Theo Clinkard:

This is huge. [laughter] I’d like to spend more time on– I have been through this year I want to continue that even when we’re not in lockdown. And that’s being in nature. I just feel like my big walks have– well, they stimulate my attention and my senses in a way, which is different from other experiences. I’ve often felt like in studios were a little bit like, why do we put ourselves into like a white box with no sound, no smell, no changing visuals, and actually being in nature. And everything is sparking, and it changes my kind of physiology or it wakes me up in a way. And also being around that kind of green space, and change and transformation feels like a really useful reminder of our own truth of change and transformation. So being in nature.

Continuing the kind of political work of understanding myself and the limits of my perspective and the importance of getting multiple readings of anything, and hearing and listening. I think there’s a real continued importance for white men particularly to listen, and I think that’s really prescient today with the Me Too– I was going to say, the kind of Me Too experience after this girl’s gone missing in London. Air around those kind of experiences for women and the threat that they’re under from violent men, as one example. But yeah, I think the continued importance to do the work and understand your edges and try and work out how you can be– yeah, making space, listening, part of an ecology in every sense, not just within art making, but in how we are in the world.

And something else– I think, yeah, making time for family and friends. I think through this period, I’ve really appreciated the value of where do we find our kinship in all senses and to give more time to that.

Something I’d like to have or do less of is looking outward for validation. I think the sabbatical I started over a year ago was really– having got myself in a real tizzy, for want of a better word around, do the dancers like me? Does the commissioner like the work I’ve made? Do the audience get it? Do the writers like it? I’ve been thinking a lot about codependence recently, and then was applying that to how we make work and how we might outsource our active validation to what people think of us and think of the work that we make, rather than going, “I know this was true for me. I know that I made this from a kind of honest place, and with integrity. And no matter what goes down, I have to hold on to that.” I’ve always thought about in this way of having a thick skin and then having a thin skin in order to make work at all. But I think there’s another way of thinking about it, which is just sticking with your own sense of self-value, self-care, around the artworks that we make, not just how we are in the world, but to not be displaced if someone doesn’t get it or doesn’t like it. There’s other ways of holding true to what you do which are not externalised. And I think, as a people pleaser, it’s a long time to work out how to do that. But I have to really commit myself to that going forwards.

Sam McCormick:

I hear you on that, Theo. I’m a people pleaser too. Really, really, really hard.

Theo Clinkard:

It’s a cruel beast.
Oh, it’s never going away, and it’s a kind of a daily journey. But I think having the awareness of that and the– yeah, the self awareness and the level of self-care to go, “I know that I feel like this because of this or whatever,” and actually being able to understand that, process that for yourself, and choose how you want to move forward with that is a really amazing thing yeah. And I might just show up in like, I’m going to take a breath before I respond in any given moment, like I’m just going to be with myself, check in with my feelings, what do I need? What do I know to be true? How do I want to respond to any given situation? There’s all ways in which it can show up. But I think that in itself has been a recent lesson. I think I’m in a bit of a self-reflective thing, as many of us are. And, yeah, more choice around how we are in the world and how we make work and what we expect back from it, I suppose. It’s confusing because we want to communicate with the work. We want a response, we want it to reach people, but it can get very confused with then it being the only source of validation. So I can see how it’s happened.

Sam McCormick:

Yeah, definitely. It’s that sort of not separating yourself from the work so that you can’t make the work that comes from that placem because it is coming from a really deep place for most people, isn’t it? And it sounds like with your work, it really is coming from that vulnerable, authentic place. And you don’t want to separate it, so it’s like, “Oh, my works over there, and I’m over here,” because that just doesn’t help us make that work. But then when it comes to the external response, that’s the moment where it’s sort of very tricky and very complex to know that that’s not about you as a person. But your work is so personal that, oh, it’s an endless catch 22 situation really, isn’t it?

Theo Clinkard:

Yeah, absolutely. So we have to take care as to where we put our attention, where we put the work, like, where is it going? And is it finding its right audience? Or how is it experienced and how do you create the right conditions for it to be experienced optimally? But I think you’re also right. It’s about boundaries, like, maybe I’m not going to read that review right now because I’m hungry and emotionally volatile, or whatever, To be clear with, yeah, healthy boundaries. And I didn’t really know about all that stuff. I was like, “What are boundaries? What is that?” And I was like, “Okay, I know better what I need in relation to people, but also in relation to my work.”

Sam McCormick:

Thank you so much for doing this. It’s been absolutely fascinating, and it’s going to really stay with me what you’ve said about artistry and how that relates to our lives. And I’m so excited for Century Project as well. I wish you all the best with funding and all of that side of things that comes with this too.

Theo Clinkard:

Thank you very much, and thank you for putting this podcast in the world. Things only happen because people make them happen. And you made this– yeah, to know that you’re offering something to your community is just brilliant.

Sam McCormick:

Oh, thank you. Thanks. I appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Theo Clinkard:

My pleasure.
[music]

Sam McCormick:

Wow, what an episode. A huge thank you to Theo for such a wonderfully, curiousm caring and honest exploration into artistry. Theo’s thoughts around the role of art and our own individual roles in society have really stayed with me. I’m so excited to see how Century Project develops too. Do go to the show notes to find all the info on Theo’s work and the projects he mentioned, including Future Library and the morning Open Practice online sessions.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on artistry too. How does artistry feature in your life? Has this chat sparked any inspirations or ideas? Get in touch and let me know. You can email me on hello@curiousmotion.org.uk or send me a message via Curious Motion’s social media. All our info is in the show notes.

Next week, we’ll be exploring another of our values. This time it’s, wait for it… ‘curiosity’! Definitely one we couldn’t miss! I’m joined by Linda Freeman who works with the library teams hear in Calderdale. It’s a curious exploration into stories, people and community so you don’t want to miss it.

Until then, remember, tune in to your body, be kind to yourself, and stay curious. Bye!

[music]