DANCE ON LOCATION 015: Sellack Suspension Footbridge, England, UK

It's not easy dancing on a suspension bridge that bounces with every move you make... but I gave it a shot at Sellack Suspension Footbridge in Herefordshire, UK.

Sellack suspension footbridge is quite an experience to walk across... never mind dancing across it! The bridge bounces with every step you take, and can let off a few roaring squeaks too.

DISCLAIMER: This film was recorded prior to COVID-19 restrictions being tightened in the UK in September 2020.

As the Herefordshire Times describes it, the bridge was originally built in 1895, with the intention of providing a direct pathway between two churches which were situated in Kings Caple and Sellack, a route which previously featured a ferry across the River Wye. It was designed by Louis Harper, a civil engineer from Turriff in the North-East of Scotland, who built a number of suspension bridges in the UK during the nineteenth century. Unfortunately, few of them still exist, but the bridge at Sellack remains a testament to his talent.

Today, Sellack Suspension Footbridge is part of the Hoarwithy Circular Walk, a 4.5 mile walk in the Herefordshire countryside, often frequented by dog walkers and, in the summer of 2020, families and friends looking to spend a little socially-distanced time together in the outdoors. St. Catherine's Church also features on the Hoarwithy Circular Walk, and we stopped off there to create one of our dance films too (which you can watch and read about here).

The Dance

There's an almost meditative beginning to this dance film for me, with me leaning back and gently rubbing my head against the wall before bursting into more frantic movements. In the same way, this particular blog comes at a rather reflective moment for me during this COVID-19 pandemic, as regulations begin to tighten further across the UK. We've reached what politicians have called a 'critical moment' in this global situation, and I have found myself over the last couple of days thinking about how this pandemic has changed people's lives across the world, and what kind of winter we might have here in the UK.

I began footSTEPS as a direct response to the UK lockdown - it was a way of gaining back some freedom in outdoor spaces, but also in returning to dance as a choreographer who's work had almost been completely cancelled due to the pandemic (you can read more about the beginnings of footSTEPS in my first post). As I write this blog, I have woken up to a local lockdown in my area, and having last night watched the announcements from the Prime Minister of the UK, and the First Ministers of the devolved nations on how COVID-19 restrictions will now begin to tighten even further. As a result, watching myself dancing with my own shadow on Sellack Suspension Footbridge has a particular resonance with me this morning. I haven't really been able to dance with anyone else since mid-March. Subsequently, dancing with my shadow seems to have become a repeated motif in these short dance films. Whilst that may be an aesthetic choice for Ian (footSTEPS Director of Photography), for me it's the closest I have gotten to dancing with someone during this global moment. This morning, that fact seems rather sombre.

At the very beginning of the film, I wanted to draw attention to the steel wires underneath the bridge. I found it rather interesting to play around with transferring my whole weight onto them - in terms of my embodied experience of this site, this felt very different to dancing across the bridge itself. Whilst the bridge bounced and shook beneath my feet, leading me to feel a little unstable in my movements, the steel wires which supported the bridge felt sturdy and unmovable. I could throw my whole weight at them and they would not flinch.

As if strengthened by my interaction with the bridge's support structures, I then engaged in more powerful movements; arms reaching out in front of me, as if to lock someone in a bear hug, and then shaking my body town towards the ground. However, my knees repeatedly bending inwards and arms occasionally switching to more flowing movements was a way of anticipating the instability I would soon feel when moving across the bridge.

Sellack Suspension Footbridge also provided a variety of other metal structures to experiment with more weight bearing and balancing movements. Whilst the weight of the bridge was borne by the tough steel wires, I used the gate-like structures at the entrance to the bridge to bear my weight in exchange.

I particularly enjoy the aesthetic of moving my body behind the bars of these gate-like structures, as if the camera looks through the keyhole of one space and into another. This morning, for me, that keyhole hints at times soon to come.

Got a hankering to watch more dance films in green spaces? The following posts might be for you:

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