Making Tracks: an interview with Kingston University

As part of Making Tracks at FRAME: The London Dance Film Festival on Saturday 11 June, we were lucky enough to be given the opportunity to collaborate with graphic design and dance students at Kingston University. Out of this partnership was born Consequences, a cabaret-style performance fusing moving image, dance - both onstage and on-screen - and live music.

Working closely with Rachel Davies and Jason Piper, the university tutors leading the project, we have seen this piece shimmer into life over the past few months but much has remained a mystery. Eager to learn more, our creative director Katie sat down with Rachel and Jason for a chat about how the project has emerged and what to expect on the night.

K: Welcome to this interview about Consequences, Rachel and Jason. Maybe you could start off by introducing yourselves.

R: Hey guys! I’m Rachel Davies I work at Kingston University I run the film side of the graphic design BA course, which has just been chosen by the Guardian as the best Graphic Design BA in the country. I work as a filmmaker but I don’t necessarily work in film at Kingston. Anything that sort of moves on a screen - communication.

J: My name is Jason Piper, I am the acting head of the School of Performance and Screen Studies which comprises media, film, TV, music, dance and drama. For 9 years I ran the dance course, which was happily also award-winning and has done some really wonderful things producing a variety of student outcomes that we weren’t expecting, One of those big things is collaborating and expanding into new areas where you wouldn’t normally expect to find a dancer.

K: Ok - that brings us nicely onto the next question. In your own words, what is Consequences?

J: It was primarily Rachel’s idea!

R: Yeah I had to come up with it I seem to remember, around the table very quickly! Consequences is a collaborative experiment between the designers and the dance department, and a set of live musicians [The Cabinet of Living Cinema]. We wanted to do a little show which is very honest about the fact that a lot of the people who are making it are new to the medium of dance-on-screen. The theme of the piece is ‘the history from Muybridge to now of dance-on-screen’. In the loosest possible way! We’ve got a dash through nine or ten different eras and there are nine little 3-minute pieces which are loosely inspired by something of the era.

Consequences Teaser from Whirlygig Cinema on Vimeo.

K: What can people expect on the night?

J: I think people can expect the unexpected! One of the strengths of the project was that we weren’t overly strict or overbearing, for logistical and artistic reasons. Happily the artistic mantra of letting the students run free also suited with us doing a little bit less work, and actually that was the best bit because they’ve come back with some fantastic work. Rachel and I both trust our students to get the job done.

On the night, we’re still getting a picture of what that is. There are some very innovative animations mixed in with live action and there will be live real human beings dancing on stage as well, in sync with some of the films. We’ll also have some fantastic musicians, and we’re working closely with them now to make sure that they’ve got the information they need. Sometimes [the music] is so tight it’s pre-recorded by some of the students who have created their own music. So we’re learning about everybody’s ability to go beyond the remit of being a musician, dancer, choreographer or filmmaker. And we’re finding there are some very happy overlaps and lovely synergies. So what you’ll see on the night is the result of some very nice collaborations and hopefully they’ll go on beyond that evening as well.

K: Tell us about the creative process. What is the relationship between the graphic design students and the dance students?

R: Initially we kind of laid down this theme and it seemed the sensible thing to break half an hour - which is the entirety of the piece - into short pieces for lots of practical reasons. So first off it was a case of forming teams and then those teams being given a brief which is an era of time, for example 1970 to 1985. The way I teach on graphics is to go with quite a clear idea, and try to then see if the work will express that idea rather than drift off too much into its own little world. So collaboration is quite a new thing for our course in this sense. I think designers are used to being more controlled, so it’s been quite a challenge and a good one in lots of ways.

J: I think the students are appreciating that there’s no hierarchy in collaboration, unless you’ve got the money. When money’s involved and you’ve got budgetary control, but even then you might surrender that idea to someone with better ideas. You know, if you’ve got the money it doesn’t mean you’ve got the good ideas. So I think the re-labelling has been incredibly important because you’ve got dancers who make films, you’ve got dancers who make music. We’re all very humble about entering into territories and I think the students have gained some confidence from that. I always been utterly shameless in crossing into territories where I’m particularly unwelcome, and surprised when it isn’t absolutely awful, and that’s something you can’t teach. They have to experience it - they have to cross the tracks themselves - and that’s a beautiful thing.

K: Rachel - because it’s not a traditional filmmaking course that you’re teaching, do you think your students have approached the brief differently from a typical film student? What have they brought to the project which is unique?

R: I think essentially the difference between these designers and ‘filmmakers’ as a specialism is that they can take more of an outside look at it and see what it does for the audience. We’re very interested in audience, how [work] communicates and being succinct. Design is all about very clearly articulated messages.

K: We’ve talked a little bit about challenges but can you talk more about the challenges you’ve faced with this project so far.

R: Challenges have been around communication and getting together. I think that takes confidence. We are all capable of crossing over and doing these things and having shared ideas but there’s a very unknown territory so people are finding that they’re a bit adrift. We are in the era of the collective - last year a collective won the Turner Prize. It’s not all named artists and geniuses, it’s a band of people who want to work together which is a very positive thing in all senses. And that’s because you can make a film with this now [holds up phone], you don’t need to have lots of burly blokes carrying equipment and being all sort of “only I can carry this equipment, dear”. That’s a really freeing thing. It’s all about the ability to have conversations now, and knowing how to manage those conversations creatively so you get somewhere.

J: The only thing I would add is we are trying to produce semi-professional work within an education environment. There are all sorts of pulls on the students’ time, and you’re looking at the currency of assessment, and the extra percentage points. So aligning the goal of an assessment with a show that happens just a couple of weeks after was a really good thing. The most entertaining piece isn’t necessarily going to be the one that gets the A, so they need to do both. I think working within an educational environment has been challenging timewise, but also they’re learning how to schedule their lives, and they’ve probably got part-time jobs as well.

R: I would say it’s so much about that - about time management, because they have a lot thrown at them and they have to keep all the balls in the air at once. So I think that’s the main challenge!

K: My last question is, what are you most excited for in seeing this project come together next week?

R: I’m just worried about what shirt I’m gonna wear. I’m going to be spinning a zoetrope on stage so i’ve been waiting for this moment myself.

J: When you get into a theatre in a way that doesn’t really happen at a film premiere - and I’ve been lucky enough to experience both - when you’re in a theatre and the job is about to be done, being done and then is done, there’s that sense of completion, family, number-swapping, hugging. I can’t think of another place where it does happen - I’m not going to talk about football! When you get to the theatre, all those emails, all of that hair pulling, these grey hairs that I’m developing - it all makes sense. Even if you’ve lost fingers, toes and sanity in the process…

K: You forget about all the pain you’ve gone through.

J: Yeah you do! The idiocy of artistry. I mean we are so stupid and we will kind of go “Oh why am I doing this?” and then next year you do it all over again and make it even bigger for less money. Money doesn’t matter, it’s all about the art and that’s why we do what we do - we love causing ourselves great pain. I’m looking forward to seeing it all in one place.

R: The live productions I’ve been involved in are definitely the best times. I love that thing where everyone’s kind of tech-ing just before and you’ve got the music coming out the speakers, judging levels and things. I find that a really beautiful thing where everybody’s in a team. I’m very romantic like that.

J: It’s the ultimate communist Olympics, where you all have to cross the finishing line at the same time. If anybody goes early - the sound, the lights, or whatever - it’s the only race where you can’t win. I love that.

R: It’s true, we can leave increasingly isolated lives, where we do everything from behind a screen, so I think it is a wonderful thing. It’s just people together doing things - a shared vision.

K: Brilliant - thank you so much Rachel and Jason.

Consequences will be performed during the second half of Making Tracks on Saturday 11th June at the Rose Theatre in Kingston upon Thames. Find out more and book tickets

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