our able & expressive hands – a report from the dance process

eucalyptus leaf dye on wool

eucalyptus leaf dye on wool

As we have been working in the gardens this summer, we have been investigating the properties of our hands to both do work and express. And now that we are nearing the end of the season, a series of gestures have collected into a dance for our hands, one that tells the story of our process so far. Yesterday, September 1, With the help of Wilson Liang (dancer) and Mr. Fireman (music) I shared this short hand dance at our celebration event at Means of Production Garden.

Some of the gestures come from working with tools – both general gardening implements and tools specific to fibre production.  I have become particularly interested in the aid tools give us to build, deconstruct, manipulate and ground our intentions and goals – and I’ve begun to think about how tools are a way to connect, transfer, and distribute the energy of our bodies with the environment.  As extensions of our hands, tools accomplish goals and do work in a kind of energetic transfer with the land.

Wilson makes a skein

Wilson makes a skein

As we construct a gestural dance, one that focuses on the relationship between our hands, arms, and head and eyes, it becomes really interesting to see what happens when the tools are taken away.  How do our gestures transform when the focus is on our bodies and our connection to environment, memory, and intention?

At many of our sessions so far, I have introduced a warm-up gestural dance by Irene Dowd, which was taught to me by a colleague, Hailey McCloskey.  I have been thinking a lot about why it fascinates me so much. It is both functional and imagistic. It provides the hands, arms, and shoulders with a really good stretch.  And, it focuses on the connection between our two hands as we press our fingers or palms together and spiral our fingers in and out of connection with each other.  It is this play between our two hands that I realize is an interesting starting point for Terroir because it is the connection that grounds the two halves of our bodies with each other, circulating energy to find balance.  Without tools, our hands are brought in relationship to each other.  We internalize the opportunity to ground and connect with our environment, expressing balance, connection and exchange.

The dance we have been working on contains hand movements from clearing undergrowth, using a drop spindle, drafting fibre, winding skeins … and rather than organize them in a chronology, they are linked together by a play between our hands. Sometimes this connection is very close as we press our palms together; sometimes it is taken to its edge along specific lines in space.  In this way the dance plays with balancing energies between both halves of our bodies, distributing intention to the furthest edges, to interact with our environment and community, and bringing it back to our centres, when we join our hands at our midline in various ways, to bring our left and right halves together.


Wilson, Mirae, Mr. Fireman – Means of Production Garden, Sept 1 2014


August Collaborations

August evenings have found lots going on in the various  project sites as we become more familiar with each location and take new steps forward in how this collaboration  is unfolding.

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At Means of Production we did a solar dying workshop and harvested more willow bark and partially harvested the flax crop.

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At Trillium North we are learning about our new space and experimenting with the old wheels that were donated to us by the West Point Grey Community Assoc. ( long term loan) and Martin adapted them so we can drum a beat while we spin…

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And at Hastings Urban Farm we have been exploring the movements of spinning labour and connecting these actions into movement phrases. It feels like a place of honour, to sit at my wheel and witness the actions I do without thinking as a spinner – being dissected and studied into these elegant and poetic moments!

We have had a small but dedicated group of local community members that have been coming out on a regular basis and participating in both the spinning and fibre gathering/processing as well as dancing and movement research. As witness to how Mirae leads a group of dancers, I enjoy hearing how supportive the group is of each others movement exploration. The group shares ideas and gets excited about possibilities they see in these actions while Mirae brings it all together, gently keeping focus for the group. It is a pleasure to be a part of these evenings

In  a few weeks time we are doing our first sharing of work to date- at both the MOP and Trillium sites, and I look forward to where this shall all lead as we launch after this into fall workshops of  fibre blending, spinning and more dance.

As in every creative process, the first steps are always about gathering. Gathering ideas, possibilities, building visions.

Soon we begin to  play more with what we have now gathered and editing will happen, a honing of direction. For now, we sit briefly in this place of beautiful potential.

gathering our gestures – a report from the dance process

The world turns around us – the world of sight, sound, texture, smell – and when we stop to listen, it is inside us after-all. The dance is stillness – or at least quiet – as we are always resonating, a community of sensation.

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Apples at Means of Production: traces of human activity in the garden

A few years back, my husband and I arrived home to Vancouver after three years of travel. We had been literally around the world, always travelling east from our point of origin.  It had been a whirlwind trip and a very necessary adventure.  Arriving home, I had a deeper context with which to reform my sense of this place.  And, as a dancer, I had to ask myself: what are dances that come from this place, this land? Terroir is a rich opportunity to begin this investigation, and in these early stages we have explored a variety of dance activities: using sensation as a means to map place, cultivating gestures based on the movements of labour, listening and moving in resonance with sounds, gathering textures and drawing traces of their rhythms.

As we engage with gathering, spinning, cultivating and processing, I am especially fascinated with our hands – their articulate ability to work and express.   So, at our weekly sessions, we have been creating gestures based on natural textures and environmental sounds.  We have also been learning to spin with wheels and drop spindles, and assisting with some general garden maintenance.  Working from the memory of these tasks, we have been creating expressive movements with our hands and transforming them into new gestures through improvisation.   These gestures will be gathered and combined to form a dance for the hands, one that tells the story of our process.

Texture mapping at Hastings Urban Farm

Texture mapping at Hastings Urban Farm

We are now moving past the first harvest and into the late summer and autumn, we will begin to investigate our footsteps and pathways through our garden spaces as we tend and collect our crops. And, we will start to look at patterning based on weaving. We have some spun fibres to work with and when stretched-out between two or more people, there is lots of potential for a weaving dance that displays the length of fibre produced by our wheels.

Fence at Means of Production: an inspiration for movement following weaving & natural rhythms

Fence at Means of Production: an inspiration for movement following weaving & natural rhythms

And of course, we are accompanied by our spinning wheels. We are currently working on ways to transform them into percussive machines – the sound of spinning becomes a gentle and meditative noise, highlighting the cyclical and repetitive nature of work, peppered with human variation in speed, and our need for mistakes, discussion, breaks … With more than one wheel going, the syncopation becomes a kind of free-jazz machine song.  For me, the sound invokes images of slow and deliberate movement, dances which are meditative and connected.

We will see how our dances shape-up in the coming month of August.  There are an exciting number of themes to explore as we trace the activities associated with urban cloth production.  How they begin to form will be shaped by our collaboration – with each other and with the sun, rain, plants, animals, tools, passers-by, traffic … all those elements which create the social and environmental fabric of Terroir. – Mirae

Site Potential: early days of dreaming

First few weeks of being on site at each location- getting weeding, planting and first foraging under way has set my brain on fire with what  is possible…

Means of Production:

Native species on site include: mock Orange (Philiadelphus lewisii) Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor), Pacific Rhododendron (Macrophyllum), Nootka Rose, Shore pine, Soapberry ( Shepherdia Canadensis), Blue elderberry (Sambucus caerulea), Douglas Maple (Acver galbrum) Oregon grape ( Mahonia nervosa), Flowering red current ( Ribes sanguineum), Garry Oak (Quercus garryana),Hardhack (spiraea douglasii), and Indian Plum( Oemleria cerasiformis) and one dead Arbutus tree

This inspiring form holds much potential

This inspiring form holds much potential

Ideas thus far: The Arbutus tree is both sad to see gone, but can provide an anchor point for our work at MOP- we shall use some of it for dye, as well as smaller sticks for drop spindles, tool handles and then leave the trunk and main branches as an on-site loom, or woven installation.

berries galore of elderberry and Indianplum should provide a nice dark rich dye

milkweed and flax from up top can be a fibre base, with a small amount of stinging nettle

lots of Scotchbroom/ blackberry that could be fibre

yucca, NZ flax plants and iris stocks in the top beds can be installation fibres too

Trillium North:

There are lots of Indian Hemp plants! Alas all too young yet for harvesting, so we will curb ourselves to the local flax crop growing, local edge of park fireweed and tansy as well as some stinging nettle from 2 blocks away ( maybe our furthest fibre range) There is lots of lupines for dye, and also some iris that can be cut back this fall for more fibrous weaving.

new plantings at Trillium. Photo: S. Wong

new plantings at Trillium. Photo: S. Wong

Project-wise, the place is very sterile and new, with lots of chain link and metal calling out to be softened, so perhaps a woven panel for the shipping containers or fence? Time will tell…

Hastings Urban Farm:

Our cloth shall be spun from milkweed and flax fibres we grow in one of the gardens 4x40ft raised beds. There are lots of pollinator plants in surrounding beds, including lupines and Rudbeckia, so we can dye the fibres, and then we will spin and wax the line with beeswax from the local rooftop hives. Our local one-city-block-sourced waxed line can then be crocheted into markers that will hang in trees identifying where the pollination areas are in the downtown eastside along Hastings Street.

newly planted milkweed  at Hastings Urban Farm

newly planted milkweed at Hastings Urban Farm

Meanwhile we have fun on Tuesday nights with our first  gatherings for working together.

Tracy and Sharon's first night at MOP.  photo: C. York

Tracy and Sharon’s first night at MOP. photo: C. York