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Blog - Sandra Alland

Flying and Falling

Photograph of a ceiling with circus silk rope suspended from it

Circus silks in the ceiling of Out of the Blue Drill Hall, Edinburgh. Photo by Sandra Alland.

I have been very unlucky and very lucky this year.

One of my pieces of luck was a commission from Manchester’s Comma Press to write a short story around the idea of ‘Einstein’s Elevator’, a thought experiment of the Equivalence Principle. I was lucky, also, to have Chilean-Canadian physicist and artist, Dr. Ana Jofre, advise me on the science bits and write an ace afterword. A piece formed itself out of my strange brain, with a main character who’s a genderqueer/agender/non-binary disabled silks performer. They’re a circus ‘freak’ stuck in a room, and have no idea how they got there or where it is or how long they’ve been there. The collection, Thought X: Fictions and Hypotheticals, comes out in September; my story’s called ‘Equivalence’.

Here’s an unlucky bit. Although the character is in some ways very loosely based on aspects of myself (the genderqueer and disabled bits anyway), unlike the character I don’t do circus silks, and I don’t wipe on in the street constantly for no apparent reason. Or at least I didn’t used to. I used to fall once every couple of years, until I wrote the story. The un-luck of a self-fulfilling prophecy I guess? I now have an unhealing broken finger and brutal sciatica, plus some new facial scars I’m fond of, from a faceplant I took in February. And the frequency of falls has increased to about every other time I go outside.

But luck comes back. The same story scored me another commission, this time as Associate Artist with Edinburgh’s Anatomy Arts. My proposal was to do a staged reading of ‘Equivalence’, with film, movement and integrated disabled and D/deaf access. I want to explore the limitations of the ‘I’ in a live reading, as well as interrogating audio description practices, and well, telling the story in an accessible way without completely turning it into a play. You can read about the project on Anatomy’s page here. Part of the commission involves some funding for mentorship, and here’s where I won the lottery again. I get to work with Claire Cunningham and Caroline Bowditch, two brilliant disabled Scottish dancers. They’re helping me figure out how to create minimal choreography for some small parts of the story, for my body and seven other bodies.

They They Theys are onboard (Nathan Gale, Matson Lawrence, Chris Red and Ania Urbanowska — though Ania is filming not reading/moving), as well as Lake Montgomery, Izdihar Alodhami, Cate Lauder, Robert Softley Gale and Bea Webster. Plus Lisa Li is working on the BSL aspects with me, and Andra Simons is going to be my saucy audio describer. It’s a dream team let me tell you.

Yesterday, I started my mentorship with Claire. The two ‘dance’ sections of my piece are loosely (and rather unimaginatively) called The Flying Dance and The Falling Dance, mainly so I can remember which is which. After talking through the logistics of my script and story, Claire creatively interrogated me for a couple of hours about what falling mean to me, what flying meant to me, and what a whole lot of other things meant to me. I haven’t done table work since my days in theatre back in Canada, and wow was it tough (in a good way). Claire had so many excellent questions and wicked ideas. It felt a little like psychoanalysis by the end — ‘what does failure mean? what does embarrassment mean? what does fear mean?’ Again, in a good way. Then we did some body work while lying down, with ideas of small parts of the body falling, and from very close to the ground (as opposed to the whole body from standing). And we talked about breath and letting go and falling as knowledge. About the interrupted intention, the surprise of falling. I’m a huge fan of Claire’s work, but now I am also a fan of her teaching and her amazing brain.

Oh, gravity. I left feeling a bit fragile. I don’t think I’ve really thought about just how much falling has affected me, nor about how limited my ideas of flying might be as a result of that and other bad luck things (I fly a lot in my dreams but even in my dreams I sit on a swing to fly…). What does falling feel like? What does flying feel like? When does flying become falling? Can falling be positive literally as well as figuratively? Where does floating fit in? And what do we do with all this fear?

Claire also pointed me in the direction of Ruth Little’s essays on falling for Dance Umbrella. ‘Fall Again, Fall Better‘ is devastatingly beautiful, and discusses falling as failure, and also embracing falling/failing instead of embracing fear. Little talks about Claire’s work, as well as circus, London’s Parkour Dance Company, Laurie Anderson, Robbie Synge and Karen George.

I’ll post more about Equivalence as it develops… we’re performing it 9th December at Summerhall.

Thanks for reading

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