Why make a dance film about WW1 at Trinity Laban?

Trinity Laban is an international conservatoire for Dance and Music in London.

We engage with the community around us and the international culture that we serve.

The opportunity to contribute to the centenary of WW1 became the focus for this project, In Memoriam 2014.

Sixty international professional dance students were joined by dancers from the education and community department, including boys and girls from Dalmain Primary School, vocational teenage dancers and the Retired but Not Tired older performers, plus brass players, percussionists and singers from Trinity Laban’s music department.

Why such a wide age range for the cast?

War affects every age.

During In Memoriam 2014 participants in each age group play their part.

The undergraduates perform a celebration of difference that turns into a confrontation of difference that deteriorates into war.

The children dance their celebration of youth but witness the debris of the battle and the procession of dying people out of which they create war memorial tableaux.

The older dancers mourn the loss of sons and daughters and suggest a hesitant but possible way forward of coexistence, in a solemnly tender sequence to which all participants are drawn.

Why a film and not a theatre work?

The campus of LABAN consists in an architectural prize-winning building surrounded by an amphitheatre with sculptured grass hillocks, a vibrant spot in a deprived area of London itself in the midst of a process of transformation.

LABAN is built on a restored derelict site. The place carries in its foundations the essence of renewal and renewal is the ultimate message of In Memoriam 2014.

In the centre of the LABAN building is a state of the art theatre in which all manner of dance theatre works are made and performed, using the power of illusion that a black box theatre offers. In contrast the outside campus is surrounded by the reality of 2014, tower blocks of offices and apartments, a working river edged with industrial businesses.

In Memoriam 2014 looks at 1914 from today’s reality so the outside context offers a meaningful set for its filming.

Why is In Memoriam 2014 a dance film and a web file?

In Memoriam 2014 is fundamentally both a performance product and the processes that have gone into its making.

The experience of the participants is a significant part of the event so the web file offers the viewer access to the creative rehearsals and the thinking behind the project.

The international nature of the performers who come from all corners of the globe meant that some had little knowledge, even none, of the appalling events that constitute WW1.

To build the imaginative resources to create the dance material they were offered ways of discovering the realities of the Somme and Passchendaele, the nature of nationhood and lebensraum.

For the Dalmain school children participating in In Memoriam 2014 created an opportunity for them to engage in mind and body with a war that is history, as well, of course, as the novel experience of taking part in the making of a film with all its repetitions and tedium.

For the older dancers it was a chance to recall how their family members had fared during war as well as bringing their personal life experiences of love and loss to their individual performance.

What archive materials were helpful?

Trinity Laban is named in part after Rudolf Laban, the dance pioneer.

Having spent WW1 in neutral Switzerland with the personal conflict of having a military cadet training but a strong pacifist belief, Laban choreographed Der Schwingende Tempel (The Swinging Temple) in the post-war chaos of Germany in 1922.

That evening long dance theatre work included a scene that celebrated distinct ways of collaborating and being. These functioned as metaphors for different communities, the kind of communities that had been destroying each other in the war.

His anti-war suite Die Grünen Clowns (Green Clowns) included a scene entitled Krieg (War) that ended with a procession of the dying.

I had researched and recreated both of these works with Trinity Laban faculty so I drew on them for the opening sections of In Memoriam 2014.

This spring I re-visited Passchendaele, specifically Poelcappelle, on a personal quest.

My stepfather lost his life there in 1917 in a morass of mud and blood. I re-visited Trones Wood, a battlefield of the infamous Somme offensive of 1916, where my father served in the front line as a chaplain.

The conflicting tensions of national pride and personal heroism and the ultimate futility of war so poignant in the war graves cemeteries became a part of my resource in directing In Memoriam 2014.

We are looking back after a hundred years with the eyes of today’s war torn horrors. Clearly wisdom has failed and ferocity flourishes, yet again.