Space and Time explored via theatre

 

By Jamie Murphy, 6.2, Drama Don

Inspired by their stimulus of ‘Space and Time’ Block 5 students recently performed their BAC devised pieces and the two groups took radically different paths.

The first piece, after looking at the David Bowie song Space Oddity, was an exploration of addiction, mental illness and loss, while the second investigated the lives of the astronauts that walked on the moon after looking at the book Moondust.

While both groups utilised physical theatre and naturalism to explore their themes, their narrative styles were markedly different. The first group devised three distinct vignettes that shared themes, while the second group chose to present a more linear narrative, seen through the eyes of the interviewer (who wrote the biographical novel) who witnessed the moon landing on television.

Both groups’ ingenuity, theatrical awareness and talent were clear throughout their pieces, which were evidence of how interesting and distinct devised pieces can be, even when ostensibly based entirely on the same stimulus.

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Mental Health and Arts Education – are we missing a trick?

By Phil Tattersall-King, Director of Drama, Dance and Bedales Arts Programme

Hot on the heels of the Prime Minister announcing that the government is to reform mental health with a particular focus on young people, a new report from the Culture Learning Alliance (CLA) has confirmed that taking part in arts subjects can help children to improve their academic and social skills, and to express their ideas. On the face of it, these are pretty much distinct events, but I would argue that perhaps they shouldn’t be.

One in four people has a mental disorder at some point in their life, and young people are affected disproportionately; over half of mental health problems start by the age of 14 and 75% by 18. To this end, the government is to provide additional training for teachers, an extra £15m for community care, and improved support in the workplace. Meanwhile, at the launch of the CLA report Imagine Nation: the value of Cultural Learning, president of the Royal Academy of Dance Darcey Bussell called for ‘physical literacy’ to be taught four times a week, and for protection and expansion of the arts curriculum in schools. The CLA observes that we have seen a decline in the number of children taking arts subjects, a reduction in arts teaching hours and fewer arts teachers employed. In turn, a government spokesperson has stressed the importance of music and the arts for transforming lives and providing opportunities.

For my own part, I wonder whether schools, and the arts in particular, might have an important role to play in the development of good mental health in young people, and offer government an educational option beyond dealing better with the obverse.

All over the world, staff and students in drama departments strive to provide a glimpse of worlds different from the ones we inhabit. Sometimes it’s a better world, sometimes worse – either way, theatre aims to change us as we get lost in the one we have created. The theatre of Bryony Kimmings and the spoken word of Cecilia Knapp do so to raise overtly issues concerning mental health that might otherwise remain hidden, and we have been keen to introduce students to their work. No less importantly, our students are increasingly the producers and thinkers behind theatrical ideas. We regularly stage devised performances, and exam boards all encourage students to devise their own work. The struggles involved with presenting their thoughts in this way have raised the game of a drama student, and made them wiser to the complexities of relationships. I can think of many students about whom teachers in other subjects have expressed concerns that they don’t ‘share’ in class, learning through drama that they can say their piece, and that the world will not end if they are challenged. It is immensely gratifying when, invariably, we find that this new confidence has transferred to their lessons in other subjects.

Whilst my own experience is purely anecdotal, it chimes with the CLA’s thoroughly-evidenced findings that theatre and drama improve young people’s social skills and emotional wellbeing, and that engaging in the arts increases young people’s resilience. The report cites evidence from the UK that art and music-related leisure at the age of 16 increases the odds of civic engagement at age 29 and, according to American studies, that an arts-rich education results in a greater likelihood of voting and participation in a political campaign. It also cites findings from a recent systematic review of relevant literature which found that volunteering and caring are both developed by arts engagement.

The social benefits of such outcomes are pretty much self-evident, but a closer look at the idea of ‘resilience’ – an idea with particular currency in discussions of education and young people’s mental health in the UK – suggests that there is a significant health benefit as well.

Adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg draws on the pioneering work of Emmy Werner in developing strategies to help young people develop resilience, which he describes as the capacity of young people to face, overcome, and be strengthened and even transformed by adversity. Werner’s work in Hawaii – in an area with high levels of adult unemployment and substance abuse – found that two thirds of young people exhibited destructive behaviours. Crucially, however, a third did not, and she found that these young people shared important characteristics – a finding reinforced in subsequent research.

Gregg stresses that, amongst other things, resilient young people develop absorbing passions, with their self-esteem boosted by having developed expertise, thus reinforcing the importance of practice and persistence. They have the facility of seeing life ‘as it is’ – knowing that bad things happen and how to deal with them, but also knowing that there are plenty of good things. They also do good, thus benefiting from a boost to their immune system and general well-being, and enjoy a sense of being part of something greater than themselves, such as a philosophy or a cause.

Looked at purely through the prism of young people’s mental health (there are other compelling reasons, of course), there would seem to a health benefit implicit in making arts education more of a priority. I believe that recent years have seen the arts marginalised in government’s enthusiasm for STEM subjects and the wider belief that the value of school is best understood in terms of GDP and economic competitiveness. If Theresa May is really serious about safeguarding young people’s mental health, she might do well to rethink – school is surely about all aspects of young people’s wellbeing, and there is a clear case for understanding arts education is essential in this regard.

But is it Art?

By Saul Barrett, 6.2

Yasmina Reza’s Art at the Old Vic presents us with three friends brought together and ultimately torn apart by one friend, Serge, and his costly purchase of a completely white painting.

As an originally lofty disagreement spirals into a malicious attack on one another, Matthew Warchus’ production astutely observes and satirises the way we talk about art. Reza is known for taking middle class and polite individuals and stripping them of all inhibition or kindness as their world comes crumbling around them. We see this in Rufus Sewell’s pretentious and stern character of Serge who is lambasted by the older traditionalist, Mark, while Tim Key’s fantastically vulnerable peacemaker Yvan is repeatedly made the punch-bag upon which they direct their frustrations, along with being denounced as ‘uncultured’.

Tall white walls evoke the sparse elegance of the Parisian setting while three chairs around a coffee table function as the domestic boxing ring around which the trio hurl their long-held resentment towards one another. Along with the well-choreographed dance between niceties and menace of the three actors the real triumph of the evening is Reza’s script which finds humour and sadness while making intriguing statements about art as well as using the subject as a vehicle for exorcising the anxieties and grievances of middle aged friends.

Leading lights give inspirational jewellery talk

By Veryan Vere Hodge, Head of Development

The Design Hub in the new Art & Design building was packed with students, Old Bedalians, present and past parents on 9 November to hear the life stories of jewellery experts Joanna Hardy (OB 1974-78) and Shaun Leane.

_dsc6901-cropJoanna talked of starting her jewellery-making life in the Bedales workshop with the help of teacher Martin Box, then becoming a diamond grader and a leading trader in the diamond industry.  She was hungry to learn and even though she was a young woman in a completely male dominated industry at that time, her gender soon became irrelevant.  She was respected for her knowledge and quickly realised that knowledge meant power, which no one could take that away from her.  She further inspired with tales of her extensive travels and going down mines all over the world, her incredible detailed knowledge of gemmology, and her experiences working for Phillips and Sotheby’s. She admitted she was terrified the first time she stood on the rostrum, but that she knew she had to put herself out of her comfort zone to keep developing. Joanna is now an Independent Fine Jewellery Specialist and her application to join the BBC Antiques Roadshow consisted of an email with a photo attached of her on her Harley Davidson motorbike – a good way to ‘stand out from the crowd’.

_dsc6869-cropShaun Leane then took to the floor and explained that he had been a restless child and a little bit naughty, but he found his path when at just 14, his school’s careers advisor helped him onto a foundation course and from there he went on to do a seven year apprenticeship as a goldsmith in Hatton Garden.  The fine examples of his early works were astonishing but it was his friendship with Alexander McQueen (known to him as Lee) that enabled him to put the traditional skills he had learnt to new mediums and push the boundaries of fashion.  His skeleton corset has become an iconic piece, showcased in museums all over the world.

He also talked of his honour to design a piece for Boucheron’s 150th anniversary.  The audience audibly gasped at the beauty of his ‘Queen of the Night’ piece as they did for his gauntlet ‘Contra Mundum’ made in collaboration with Daphne Guinness, which had taken four years to make and had pushed the boundaries of what was technically possible.   He now has his own Shaun Leane collection, inspired by his catwalk pieces and he continues to push the boundaries, working his designs onto buildings.  Both speakers had clearly worked hard during their careers, and this drive was evident in their complete passion for their subject matter.  The talk raised £800 for the John Badley Foundation and huge thanks goes to Joanna and Shaun, and also the BPA Fundraising Committee and Design department.

Find out more about Joanna Hardy here.
Find out more about Shaun Leane here.

Bedales meets… Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre

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By Anastasia Sheldon, 6.2

Bedales dancers took a trip to the Mayflower in Southampton recently to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre’s newest works including Revelations, the most widely-seen modern dance work in the world. Many of us have been studying the piece for BAC and A Level Dance, and seeing it live was a very exciting experience. Based on Ailey’s ‘blood memories’, Revelations illustrates scenes from his childhood such as going to church, baptism, and celebrations, all very spiritual and traditional experiences for a young African American growing up in the 1930’s. These stories are clearly translated into movement, dancing to traditional African drumming and gospel song. Other sections of the performance have been recreated and newly choreographed by the company’s current artistic director Robert Battle, who uses Ailey’s’ original techniques with modern stylised tweaks.

Ailey artistic director Robert Battle, dancers Hope Boykin and Rachael McLaren, rehearsal director/guest artist Matthew Rushing, and guest artist Alicia Graf Mack discuss what Mr. Ailey’s masterpiece, “Revelations” means to them.

photo-19-largeWe were also lucky enough to have a workshop the next day run by Matthew Rushing, the company’s rehearsal director. We worked with him for an hour and a half learning some basic Horton technique used by the company and repertoire from the performance. We learnt repertoire from their piece Exodus (2015) which was choreographed by Rennie Harris and looks at the House dance scene in America and was really fun to learn. Then we focused on the piece Revelations (1960) looking at two sections in particular, I’ve Been Buked and Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel, both of which required strength, control and strong alignment to be able to execute the movement fully.

The workshop really pushed our boundaries and Matthew went through the movement with us to help convey the stories behind the movement as we performed. All of us really enjoyed the workshop with Matthew, the way he delivered the movement allowed us to really engage and push our understanding of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre further.

Bedales sixth form dancers perform at The Point, Eastleigh

By Anastasia Sheldon and Ellie Wraight, 6.2

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Arriving at The Point in Eastleigh, ready to rehearse with Luke Brown (acclaimed dance artist and choreographer) was a daunting yet exciting experience. We spent three rehearsals with Luke’s professional dance company to create a piece which we then performed in front of an audience at The Point on 6 October.

Rehearsal 1

There was a nervousness in the air while we sat in a lobby surrounded by other dancers for the first rehearsal, but as soon as Luke entered the room his bright and wide smile soon washed away our uncertainty. None of us knew what we’d be creating and this gave us a certain freedom to create movement without limitation. We learnt some of Luke’s choreography, then developed it into our own styles – playing with our strengths and imagination. Being put in a room and told to start working with new people was intimidating, but we had no option but to get on with it and doing this forced us to our extremes; we ended up producing some really beautiful movement. This proved to be really quite successful and by the end of the rehearsal we had a four and a half minute piece which is half of what our final overall performance would be.

Rehearsal 2

sixth-form-dancers-perform-at-the-point-1-cropReturning to The Point, having just got over all our aches and pains from the last rehearsal, we were still enthusiastic to see what more work we could produce. We layered choreography together, creating a full and rich performance, based on caring for one another and community. Our movement uses a communal undertone throughout as we shift from space to space forming images of family portraits and soft love. Having developed choreography in our previous rehearsal we began to build on these concepts and form a structure to our piece. Playing to our strengths, Luke generated ideas and choreography which flowed and intertwined through our existing structure. As soon as we had a finished piece, we rehearsed for the rest of the day. Refining the movement and going through each section tying up loose ends and correcting every detail really helped to enhance the choreography and each movement became clearer to understand.

Performance: For you I long the longest: a double-bill consisting of Second Self and Princess

sixth-form-dancers-perform-at-the-point-3-cropLuke Brown’s company performed with such elegance and fluidity and highlights of real humanistic moments really illustrated the story clearly to the audience. Their closeness and engagement with one another conveyed the true feeling of family and friendship. Using contact both to support the happy, togetherness as well as the darker emotions experienced with love. The piece, Second Self, explores the idolisation of each other and one’s characteristics as well as the comparison to one’s self. For their second performance, Princess, only three dancers were used to create the darker undertone and harshness of love. While one narrates the other two dance to illustrate their words, their movement slowly became more and more aggressive towards one another. As well as being a nonfictional piece, it had a fairy-tale-like feeling, this subtly commented on our day-to-day relationships aided by the use of props and costumes helping it to be suited to all ages.

Overall

Walking away from each rehearsal having learnt new material and experimented with new ideas was extremely satisfying. Luke’s crazy personality took charge of our rehearsals and promised us a good time, this made it very easy to work with one other having not met before. His material and concepts were so different to anything we’d done before and really challenged our imagination to push for the best ideas we had. The rehearsals were tough and tiring but we produced some amazing work which ended up being used in our final performance.

Two Bedalian prize-winners at HMC Eisteddfod

Sleeping Buddha

The HMC Conference this year in Wales held a competition for over 250 schools to celebrate the creative arts entitled ‘Finding a Voice’, consisting of poetry, choral composition, and visual arts (painting, sculpture, lens media). The poetry was judged by National Poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke. The choral was judged by acclaimed Welsh choral composer, Paul Mealor and the visual arts by former BP Portrait winner and current judge, Peter Monkman (Head of Art at Charterhouse).

Georgina Ullman (6.2 leaver, 2014) won the poetry prize and was invited to perform her poem ‘Accent’, at the Celtic Manor in front of a large audience of heads. Chloe Zhao (6.1) was a close runner up with her sculpture ‘Sleeping Buddha’, and was invited to the presentation awards to meet Peter Monkman.

The celebration of the Arts was instigated by the new chairman of HMC, Richard Harman (Uppingham School) to form a mini ‘Eisteddfod’. The event showcased the extraordinary quality and diversity of the Arts in HMC schools and was a very lively and exciting event.

By Simon Sharp, Head of Art


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.