Reading about Turntable in the Festival programme, I was undoubtedly intrigued by the idea but didn’t fully appreciate its significance.
Sitting in the Recovery Café in Paisley, patiently waiting for my turn to spend a few minutes with lead artist Michael John McCarthy, I was able to enjoy the music that other people had chosen. A Beach Boys track here, an AC/DC track there, the hustle and bustle of a busy community café – the whole experience was very relaxing. But I still didn’t get it.
However, like many things, you don’t understand until you try it yourself. Cue my selection and cue Michael John, sitting at his table, dropping the needle:
‘Tell me Andy, you’ve picked ‘The Chain’ by Fleetwood Mac – does that take you to a particular time and a place?’
Now I get it.
Immediately, I am flooded with memories of this song. While I chose it just because I like it and wanted to hear it, I suddenly realise that the reason this song means so much to me is because of something entirely non-musical. The song has tied itself to all manner of childhood memories, feelings and pictures. Michael John and I have a nice chat about the memories that the song conjures up – in this case, for me, of watching the Grand Prix on Sunday afternoons.
And that’s what Turntable is all about. It’s about reconnecting with music and reconnecting with memories, memories that have been forgotten or dulled, or maybe memories that are as fresh as the moment they were formed. Above all, it is a wholly enjoyable, personal and even transcendent experience.
Written by Andy Revill
Join Michael John McCarthy for Turntable at Rattray Community Connect, Blairgowrie, Fri 16 Oct; throughout Headspace Festival Day at Platform, Glasgow, Sun 25 Oct; and at The Birks Cinema, Aberfeldy, Mon 26 Oct.
You can listen to Andy's conversation with Michael John here:
Of all the creative arts, it might be fair to say that dance is the most universally practised; there are few of us who won’t, at some point or another, to one degree or another, move our bodies to music. And like most creative arts, dance has a twofold function: it can exist as a public performance, a carefully honed product of physical skill and aesthetic innovation, or it can exist as a private act of expression, a spontaneous bodily response to impulses that are about sensation rather than style. Ivan Gergolet’s film Dancing With Maria is about a studio that enables the latter form of dance to flourish, but, as cinema, it is the former, a captivating piece of art skilfully crafted from many private and public moments of movement.
A few days ago, in his review of In Her Shadows, Tom Grayson wrote about the narrative power of physical theatre, the ability of the body to convey meanings and tell stories with nothing but movements, gestures, postures. The bodies that move in Maria Fux’s studio are almost the inverse of this; they are dance without narrative, bodies that do not seek to convey anything but their own existence. There are many small stories woven through the documentary – family histories, personal journeys and shy teenage romance – but Gergolet does not attempt to construct any neat plot trajectories with beginnings and ends, and most of the film is spent dwelling on the act of dance itself.
There’s something compelling about watching dance that is not intended as performance at all, in a space where movement is for movement’s sake, not for the gaze of an audience. In an illuminating post-film conversation at the Glad Café, teachers from Independ-dance and Scottish Ballet discussed their practises and the different forms dance instruction can take. What perhaps makes dance so therapeutic for many, they suggested, is the sensation of being fully present in one’s body, the anxieties of past and future suspended in the spontaneity of a moment that exists only for itself. It is a sensation that can be lost in much professionally choreographed dance, where performers must always be consciously aware of their surroundings, timings and lighting, as well as each other’s bodies and the space they inhabit. Choreographed dance is a craft, creativity made into art by intensive labour; the dance that happens in Maria’s studio is not labour but play, unstructured and spontaneous.
That might sound like the sort of thing that works better as therapy than as art, but within the context of the film’s beautiful cinematography, it’s unfailingly captivating to watch. The sheer mass of bodies in the studio has a hypnotic effect; most of the time they seem oblivious to each other and the camera; their focus is turned inwards, but their aesthetic power is stronger than the sum of its parts. In shots of feet weaving between each other, hands twirling, reaching and bathed in eerie blue light, there is a sense of intimate anonymity, a sense reflected in Maria’s relation to her students: ‘I don’t ask them where are they from, what are they doing or not doing. Meeting them when they are moving, I realise who they are. I don’t have a relationship with them outside these encounters. When the class is over, I disappear.’ It’s a connection based not on identities but on the immediacy of bodily encounters, which can be more intimate and telling than any life story.
Throughout the film, interspersed with the flowing, organic shots of moving bodies are panoramas of Buenos Aires, with its lanes of traffic moving steadily in straight lines. There is a deliberate contrast between the vast cityscape in which human flesh is invisible, locked behind metal or stone, and the small intimate rooms where bodies exist side by side. In the final beautiful scene, the two finally intermingle: we get an aerial shot of a many-laned road where cars trundle by, until, gradually, there are no more cars and dancers begin to spill along the edges of the road, dancing along the painted white lines like tightropes, until, finally, a flood of bodies bursts into the lanes, dancing in a place they aren’t supposed to, refusing to remain confined to the city’s officially demarcated zones.
As one audience member put it, what Maria does is give people permission to dance, an inclusive, unconditional permission that leaves ideas about ability and skill and aesthetic conformity at the door. One of the dancers, a woman who walks on crutches, speaks of her childhood envy of a dancer friend: ‘They never let me dance because classical dance was impossible for me, and any other dance as well, because my movements are not acknowledged by dance.’ Later, there is a moving scene in which she dances in the centre of a circle of her classmates. Maria’s studio is a place that acknowledges the potential of all bodies to move in beautiful and powerful ways. And indeed, Maria herself bears witness to this principle: still dancing at 93, she is fascinated by the limits of the body, not as barriers but as challenges to find new ways of moving.
Written by Shona McCombes
Speaking after last week’s opening night of The Last Yankee, See Me Scotland volunteer Leanne McKillop made the perceptive observation that if one in four people have mental health issues, this leaves another three who can help support them. Throughout SMHAFF 2015, several events will address, champion and celebrate the extraordinary work of the many carers who dedicate their lives to assisting loved ones through periods of mental ill-health, working alongside professional bodies to encourage mental wellbeing and recovery.
On Monday 19th October, Volunteer Glasgow, the Mental Health Foundation and SMHAFF present Re-Connect at Glasgow’s Art School. Through film, discussion and information, the day will explore the roles and experiences of carers, examining the impact upon those who help others with mental health issues, and revealing how communities can support the health and wellbeing of carers.
The day begins with a film screening of Mental: A Family Experience, a short documentary about one family’s experience of mental ill-health and the bonds that brought them together. A panel discussion will follow, focussing on the caring role and allowing participants a chance to share and network with others.
Volunteer Glasgow will host a stall delivering information on the benefits of volunteering, showcasing the range of opportunities available to all members of the community. The day will represent a timely and deserved celebration of the fantastic work of carers.
The following Thursday, Edinburgh Carers Council present their annual concert at Electric Circus, this year headlined by the ‘lyrically compelling and sonically stunning’, Scottish Album of the Year Award-winning Kathryn Joseph. She will be supported by the uniquely beautiful, ‘gruff-but-sweet’ songs of Yusuf Azak, and the ‘skewed-folk despotism’ of The Son(s). Edinburgh Carers Council provides advocacy, information and learning opportunities for carers of people with mental health issues and this fundraiser will raise further awareness and funds for carers.
Also in Edinburgh, a two-day exhibition will be held at the Carers Council, from Monday 26th to Tuesday 27th October. The work displayed stems from the creative workshop held during Carers’ Week earlier this year and has been produced by participants from a wide range of caring backgrounds, including mental health.
The exhibition (which will then move, on Thursday 29th October to Carers of West Lothian in Livingston) represents an exciting collaboration between Edinburgh Carers Council, Carers of West Lothian and Edinburgh Carers Support Project.
All told, these events promise to both reflect and promote the massive contribution carers make to the lives of those facing mental health issues, providing a platform from which we can celebrate their work and dedicate valuable space and time in which all attendees can be stimulated and inspired, relax and have fun.
Written by Mark Jones
Re-Connect, Mon 19 Oct, 1-4pm, The Art School, Glasgow; Edinburgh Carer's Council Present: Music Matters with Kathryn Joseph + Yusuf Azak + The Son(s), Thu 22 Oct, 7–10pm, Electric Circus, Edinburgh; Creative Carers, Mon 26 Oct-Tue 27 Oct, 1–7pm, Edinburgh Carers Council; Thu 29 Oct, 1-7pm, Carers of West Lothian, Livingston.
In light of the comedy performances and workshops taking place in this this year’s Festival, listen to to the first episode in the Expressions series of podcasts, with host Nicole Bell and comedian guests Michael Grieve and Hannah Rodgers.
This episode examines the relationship between comedy and mental health for those performing and the wider implications of using comedy as a platform for discussing mental health. To take part in a comedy workshop in Paisley on Tue 20 Oct, look here.
You can also listen to the podcast on Nicole's Youtube channel:
The theme for this year’s Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival is passion, and no two people could have more of it than storytelling duo Beth Hamilton-Cardus and Andrew Coull. Together, they comprise Fife-based community theatre company Suit and Pace. This year, they performed their comedic storytelling session Cheering Up The King, aimed at children aged 3-8 years old, in the Postings Arts Hub, Kirkcaldy.
Cheering Up The King is a multi-modal and interactive show, cleverly designed to thrive and evolve with audience participation. However, the central premise follows (as you might imagine) the story of a crestfallen King, who, despite his Jester’s best efforts, cannot seem to be cheered up. The audience are then asked for suggestions on how to cheer up the King and encouraged to share what makes them happy, in the hope this might succeed in lifting his spirits. Using this method, the light-hearted and pun-filled performance encourages youngsters to consider what improves their mental wellbeing and how to enhance the mood of those around them.
Unfortunately, The Postings in Kirkcaldy does not see much footfall these days, with most crossing its doors only to use it as a thoroughfare to the bus station. As a result, Cheering Up The King did not receive the attention or audience it undeniably deserved. However, the small audience size had no impact on the boundless enthusiasm of the performers and fostered an intimate, engaging experience for the children and their parents. The performers’ impressive ability to inspire participation, even in incredibly young and easily distracted children, resulted in one impassioned attendee choosing to sing two songs in front of the group – and the King couldn’t help but smile.
The performance incorporated a range of mediums, including colourful and tactile props; physical engagement through activities such as juggling; anecdotes with a positive mental wellbeing message; and a final craft task. All of these were designed to reflect on what made the attendees happy and all served to underline the take home message: know what makes you happy, know what you might have to do to cheer yourself or others up, and know that improved mental wellbeing can be achieved through discussion.
Throughout the performance, though, one particular issue struck me. While it is fantastic that arts projects are able to facilitate discussions regarding mental wellbeing amongst younger generations, they shouldn’t be the sole platform. Throughout my entire time at primary and secondary school, I vividly recall detailed drugs, alcohol and sexual health education, but not once was mental wellbeing even being touched upon – let alone candidly discussed. I am far from alone in this experience – many children and adolescents receive absolutely no formal mental health awareness education at all.
At least nowadays, some theatre companies can be brought into schools to approach these issues. Suit and Pace themselves have run workshops for senior high school pupils in order to promote frank discussion regarding mental health. While this is an excellent and worthwhile initiative, it is simply not enough. In order to ensure children and adolescents feel comfortable discussing mental health, education regarding mental wellbeing should follow the same model as drugs, alcohol and sexual health – starting early and increasing with age. This would promote forthright discussion, reduce stigma, and ensure young people know the appropriate steps to take should they themselves experience problems or find themselves supporting a friend or family member. Given that a quarter of us will experience a mental health problem in any given year, it’s inconceivable that it does not yet have a place in school curriculums.
Written by Nicole Bell
Image by Faisal Aziz