DANCE ON LOCATION 021: Knapp and Papermill Nature Reserve, Worcestershire, UK

By the small village of Alfrick Pound in Worcestershire, UK is Knapp and Papermill Nature Reserve. Its huge green shrubs and babbling brook provided much inspiration for a new dance film.

Knapp and Papermill Nature Reserve lies close to the small town of Alfrick Pound in Worcestershire, featuring 35 hectares of natural beauty. On site you will find an apple orchard, grazing cattle and sheep, many varied species of butterfly and 11 of the UK's regular breeding species of bats. The site is looked after by Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, who also run the nature reserves at Brotheridge Green, Blackhouse Wood and Crews Hill Wood, amongst others.

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

The nature reserve gets the 'papermill' part of its name from the several mills which used to sit on The Leigh Brook which runs through the area, one of which is believed to have been washed away by floods in the 1850s. When we visited, we noticed many trees that had fallen along the river banks - potentially during one of the UK's recent storms - and we enjoyed the early Autumn sunshine as it lit up the open meadows and woodland areas. At other times of the year, bluebells and wildflowers are in abundance, and the nature reserve's team engage in the traditional practice of coppicing - cutting new shoots of trees at ground level to encourage continuing growth.

In the surrounding areas of Knapp and Papermill Nature Reserve, the county of Worcestershire is home to West Midlands Safari Park, the Museum of Carpet in Kidderminster, and Worcester Cathedral.

Having spent quite a bit of this summer dancing in green spaces (and also spaces by water, such as on Sker Beach in the Vale of Glamorgan, at Sellack Suspension Footbridge in Herefordshire and at Burnham-on-Sea Low Lighthouse in Somerset) this particular setting felt like it would make a rather tranquil addition to the collection of dance films we have amassed so far.

The Dance

However, the tranquillity of the site was not always reflected in my movements. Perhaps it's the sound of rushing water which can make an otherwise serene site feel busy. Either way, the film starts with me rushing into shot, as if having escaped something from somewhere else.

There's that repeated motif of lifting my legs high again, each time with my knees bent. It's something I also did in the film we made at Vicars' Close in Wells, Somerset. In that particular film, this movement was about being purposefully ungraceful - consciously contradicting the sound of medieval choral music running through my head. At Knapp and Papermill Nature Reserve, this movement instead came as a response to the unevenness of the rocks beneath my feet - I lifted each foot and replaced it multiple times, trying to gain some control over my surroundings.

Despite the mostly green nature of those surroundings, I particularly enjoyed engaging with the details of each shrub, and somehow celebrating their differences. I vividly remember stroking the spiky long leaves of a plant which lay close to the ground, weaving my wrists and fingers through them... and then later experimenting with how my hands might be seen through the holes in those giant, flat leaves that lived further down stream.

As I now watch the film back, one of my favourite moments is when I pause for a few seconds in the dappled sunshine, reaching up to the sun with one arm, as if I were a growing stalk reaching for the sun. Here I recapture the tranquillity of the site again, before bursting forth with renewed energy. I switch between throwing my arms out in front of me and moving my joints in wave-like formations. In one moment I fight the tranquillity back, and in another I attempt to channel the placid brook by echoing its flow with my arms.

It seems right that, after following the water in this way, my final movements reach towards the full extent of its flow as it moves towards the bridge, whilst I remain stationary on the stones.

I've done a lot of dancing in green spaces over the past few months. Check out what I got up to on the following posts:

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