With a pseudo heavenly light streaming in through a broken roof, I dance through the abandoned Malt House in Newport, South Wales.
According to Wales Online, the Malt House by the docks in Newport was built in the 1890s (britishlistedbuildings.co.uk suggests 1898, specifically). It is now completely abandoned, and is frequented by many talented graffiti artists. It's a site that we've popped by a few times and tried out various dance film scenarios with, but on a drizzly day we decided that it was time to try making one of our one-shot dance films down there.
DISCLAIMER: Dancing through abandoned buildings can be quite dangerous. I am a professional dancer, and myself and Ian (footSTEPS Director of Photography) seek out safe routes through these kinds of buildings before we film our videos. Any exploration of abandoned buildings that you undertake is done at your own risk.
Also known as "The Maltings", this kind of 19th century building is apparently quite rare in Wales, and this one is a Grade II listed building. Despite being given this moniker, it really has descended into ruins, and in some areas is overrun with new plant life. However, this space had an appeal for us because one of the things that we want to achieve with footSTEPS, is to bring to light the spaces that you don't usually see, and to stories you don't usually hear.
This site marked quite a challenge for me. We wanted to include lots of travelling in the film, given that the site has such visual diversity. This ensured that I'd have to do a lot of running over various not-so-easily-navigable surfaces. I did slip a couple of times on the mud, (only my pride was hurt!) and navigating the broken bricks and uneven floors placed certain restrictions on my movement, presenting me with new challenges. Rocks and moss would unexpectedly move underneath my feet, and battling through the overgrown shrubbery was quite difficult. I even fell backwards into a wall in one take! (potential blooper reel on the cards there...!)
In response to the challenges I was experiencing, I took a moment in front of the pink graffiti in the second space, just to balance on one leg for a moment, in an attempt to regain some focus and centre. I think it's a nice and calm mid-point in the film, given that there's so much fast-paced activity either side of it.
We were a little infatuated with the heavenly light coming down through the ceiling in the only area of the building which still has a partial roof left. I positioned myself on a pile of broken tiles, each imprinted with the letters "XL", and this pile had the effect of lifting me up towards the light. The broken sections of the building provided more windows of light as we travelled through, allowing us to really play with the darkness, with silhouettes and with light residues bouncing off my semi-satiny shirt.
Now that I've performed in nine of these videos, I've found myself watching them back numerous times and comparing the largely improvised movement to the kinds of movement which I usually choreograph (either on myself, or on others). There's a definite difference for me. In improvisation, my instincts seems to be to create movement that is much less controlled, and that switches between the extremes of moving fast and slow, rather than exploring the gradient of speeds in between.
With my opening movements in this particular film, I was trying to draw something from the light above me - perhaps some strength which then fed into the arm swings and fist punches that followed. At different points throughout the film, my arms make semi-box shapes, echoing the set of metal ladders you can see towards the end.
The various walls, entrances and corners presented by The Malt House provided the opportunity to play a little hide and seek, with me disappearing around corners and then sneaking back towards the camera. I'm really enjoying playing with similar elements in these films - those moments where I pull a disappearing act and then reappear again, either in the same place or in another. One of my personal aims for the films, was for them to enable others to see a site in a way that they perhaps hadn't before - I hoped that a dancer in the space could provide this. I think this 'disappearing act' is one of the ways in which this can be achieved - my eyes continually re-focus themselves when watching these moments, viewing my body, then the site around me, and then the site without me.
Potentially my favourite movement in this film, is the strange, repeated step-walk towards the end. I step with my right leg, then lift my left leg high, before sinking it slowly into the floor, crossing the left foot over the right. The repetition of this movement is something I find very aesthetically pleasing. I also love the end frame - it looks as if the building goes on forever, but really it ends just a few metres ahead of me.
The soundscape tracks a rather strange juxtaposition of birds and traffic noise. This signifies for me how the natural really has overtaken the urban in the case of this building - the shrubbery is truly king here now. I remember reading an article a while back, which noted that - if humanity were to die out tomorrow, in five years time you wouldn't be able to tell that we'd ever been here on Earth because the plant life would have worked its way through all of our buildings and monuments, covering them in an ocean of green. I'm not sure whether that's true, but this site is certainly a testament to that idea. Humankind now has to battle nature through a building that we once thought of as ours. Perhaps this is nature's reminder that this planet does not actually belong to us - we're just a new addition to the scenery.
Intrigued by my dance videos in urban exploration sites? The following posts might be for you:
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