DANCE ON LOCATION 008: Chepstow Castle, Wales, UK

I meander through the regal rooms and the stately ramparts of Chepstow Castle in my third dance film in a Welsh fortress.

This is our third dance film in a castle, and I'm becoming quite fond of them. I always have a sense of the current moment in time colliding with that of the castle, although - like most of the castles I've danced in so far - Chepstow Castle's history actually spans several hundred years, so you could say that various distinct time periods call the castle home. Maybe it's more of a convergence of all time then?

In fact, the history of this Monmouthshire castle has been traced all the way back to 1067. That's perhaps why Chepstow Castle's doors have been named the oldest in Europe (although these elderly doors are now on display inside the castle, and no longer hang in the gatehouse). Over the years, the castle has been gradually added to, and now it's huge. One of the best descriptions of the castle, it's surroundings and it's history, can be found on the 'Mostly Castles' YouTube channel. Their very informative but light-hearted video tour around Chepstow Castle is available here.

It was great to find that many of the castle's towers are still intact, which means that there are lots of rooms to explore, such as the great hall (below) and you can also walk along sections of the ramparts. Moving in and out of these spaces provided a new perspective for a castle-based dance film, as there was much more of the ruins left to work with than at Raglan and Ogmore Castles, which we'd explored previously. We chose the top of one of the castle's towers to begin our dance-based journey.

The Dance

I really appreciate the beginning of this film - stepping into a huge castle room from the semi-darkness on the stairs. The moment I entered the room, I immediately loved the texture of the green mould (I'm assuming it was mould!) on the walls. It brought an eerie sort of colour to the room. It looked as if the exposed brick was trying to reach out from beneath it. It was a challenge to fill this big space, which had its own personality, but I wanted to punctuate the room with a flash of the modern, whilst responding very much to my initial thoughts on the castle as a whole.

We'd read about the 'murder holes' on an information board upon entry. Murder holes are literally holes in ceilings of gateways and passageways, where defenders of the castle could throw vile and lethal substances on those who tried to storm the castle. Whilst this definition sent a shudder down my spine, the phrase 'murder holes' stayed in my head, and so I found myself making circles with my hips and torso, emulating with my body the patterns of the murder holes we'd seen throughout the castle.

I thoroughly enjoyed working next to the windows which were semi-concealed in the alcoves. There was something quite playful for me about the strip of bright light which the window offered, and the ancient stones which provided a seating area. I found myself drawn to these stones, with a desire to perch myself on them to dance. In this way, Chepstow Castle felt more tactile to me than those I've danced in before. As a performance space, it provided me with more surfaces to lean on, and more varied textures to frame.

Another new element to play with in terms of filming, was the swift move from an indoor space to an outdoor one. The few moments in the ante-room hint at what's to come, the grey light of a cloudy day streaming in through the archways as I ventured onto the ramparts.

The ramparts themselves provided a way to view the rest of the castle through another window or through the castle crenellations (that's the bits that go up and down on the castle walls).

It's also just a lovely juxtaposition - moving from the open space inside the tower, out onto the long and narrow ramparts.

In terms of movement, I particularly like the slow back bend I execute about halfway down the battlements. It offers a brief pause, but it's slow-motion effect brings me back to thoughts about time and periods of time meeting each other. I wonder what the former inhabitants of Chepstow Castle would say if they could see the world today.

Overall, I consider this particular film to be quite an achievement, because I think it does what we've set out to do here: for me, these films are about viewing a space differently, and using the mediums of dance and film to do that. Here, you can watch me move through the space in a way people rarely do, but the camera also zones in and out of some of the castle's particular details - like the texture of the walls, and the details of the fireplace I pass by along the way.

When in Chepstow...

An unexpected highlight of our visit to Chepstow Castle, was finding this bench (below) in the grounds. Made by craftsman Chris Wood, the bench replicates certain elements of the castle, but in wood form!

We only spent the morning in Chepstow, but if you're heading that way I also recommend grabbing an ice cream from The Cwtch Cafe, and stopping by The Priory Church of St. Mary as well. The church was originally a Norman monastery, but was added to by the Victorians many years later, and has some original Norman pillars still standing, in addition to interesting Victorian architecture. The volunteers on hand were also very friendly and informative.

Loving these dances in castles? Then head over to my other posts in similar regal settings:

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