News: Nobody's Baby - Dance Marathon

Tuesday 4 June 2013 by Carmel Smith

Arthur Pita’s Open Heart Productions 100 hour dance marathon, Greenwich Borough Hall, 3 - 7 June. Photo: Ambra Vernuccio

At Greenwich Borough Hall this week, ten dancers working with Arthur Pita’s Open Heart Productions are taking part in a 1930s style 100 hour dance marathon. They started on Monday at 5pm and will end on Friday evening around 9pm. Audiences can drop in to the Borough Hall anytime or check in online for live streaming of the event on Wednesday or Friday (6 – 9pm) when the Frank Moon Band will be playing a selection of 1930s tunes.

This endurance test is all part of the research for the company’s forthcoming production Nobody’s Baby, based on the American phenomenon of the 1930s Depression, where couples danced almost non-stop for hundreds of hours in a desperate competition for prize money. Pita (winner of an Olivier Award for his dance theatre version of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis) was initially inspired by the film They Shoot Horses Don’t They, made in the same era about a dance marathon – and for sometime has been thinking about making a dance theatre piece on the same subject. He said: “I am scared and excited in equal measure about attempting this. The only way to really get a true glimpse into this world is to experience it like they did during the depression of the 1930’s.Together with a fantastic troop of dancers, composer Frank Moon, musicians, actors and a team of stage management we will enter into this fully. We will apply the rules originally applied, work to the same schedule, eat what they ate and dance to the glorious music of this fascinating period. At the same time we will develop movement, characters and discover narratives. The aim is to really research this concept in depth and to recreate the atmosphere that occurred at the time but also discover the journey that the audience need to go on in order to experience what happened historically and also question it, and how it is relevant in today’s culture.”

During the Depression, dance marathons could last from six to twelve weeks. Contestants had to be in continual motion for forty-five minutes out of every hour, day and night, and were disqualified if both knees touched the floor. In keeping with the rules, performers at Greenwich Dance will be allowed 11 minutes in rest quarters every hour, with two minutes to get there, and two minutes to return to the floor. However, in this 2013 Greenwich Dance version, nobody will be pushed beyond their limits – and dance science specialists from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance will be closely monitoring the physical and mental impact on participants.

“Of course these contests were banned and for a good reason,” says Pita. “They were pushing people beyond their limits, although somehow people did actually survive and that’s what’s so fascinating. We are here to discover and not to suffer – so if you need a rest, you absolutely take it. What we are trying to do is experience what a 100 hours feels like together, but if we’re falling apart then we’ll take a break. At the same time we want to have an experience of endurance and how much the body can take – that’s important information for me to find out.”

Similarly, although the menu for the week includes 1930s traditional fare (bread, baked potatoes, meat loaf, cabbage salad, glass of milk anyone?), it’s more about keeping within the spirit of the times than a sticking to restrictive diet.

‘Nobody’s Baby’ is the title of a song from the period. “It really says something about the period of the 1930s, the spirit of the Depression, when people were slightly lost – all of a sudden even adults were like motherless children” says Pita. “It captures the Depression – but in the mood of the 1930s with sweet songs.”

The mood on Monday evening was upbeat, with Frank Moon and band playing some of the fifty or so 1930s tunes they have at their fingertips and the dancers (Helen Ashauer, Bettina Carpi, Amir Giles, Benny Maslov, Kate Emma Nelson, Scarlett Perdereau, Nuno Queimado, Jordi Serrats and Ewan Wardrop as MC) energetic and ready to go, but Pita expects to have a very different scene by the end of the week. “They were dark days. It was quite cruel, people got desparate and shocking treatment. Where there’s dark there’s light and where there’s light, dark; that’s what really interests me,” he says.

Kat Bridge, Interim Artistic Director at Greenwich Dance added: “We have never attempted anything like this before, it’s going to be a phenomenal feat of endurance for the dance artists taking part. This is a rare chance to catch a glimpse of the mad world of 1930s dance marathons, so don’t miss it. The Greenwich Dances festival is about celebrating dance in all its forms and this is a unique opportunity for audiences to be involved in research and development with one of the UK’s most exciting choreographers, and get up close to the production process behind the scenes.”

Visit Greenwich Borough Hall, Royal Hill, London SE10 8RE this week to see work in progress, or watch the live streaming on on Wednesday 5 or Friday 7 June, 6 – 9pm

Arthur Pita’s Nobody’s Baby will premiere in 2014

Photos & reporting: Ambra Vernuccio

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