Working with Children (2020)

Three very different iterations of a work asking the same question: what are we protecting children from?

Working with Children (2020) is a choreographic essay about the ethics of working with children and the risk of intimacy and exposure.

Against a projected text that sits behind and above the children´s heads in a flow of continuous surtitles, 5 children create choreography live in front of the audience. The essay describes a complaint made by a parent and the ensuing fall-out with the commissioning arts centre, interwoven with reflections on safe spaces, the virtue of advisory warnings, how we behave in private in opposition to our public selves, and a very real biography of shame. The piece insists on vulnerability, and orbits around an imploding – and very funny – text made up of whirlwinds of thought all caught up in each other: what can we say, what can’t we say, who can say it, who cannot, and what are the implications of saying one thing and doing another? The children’s movement at times corresponds – either by accident, suggestion, or association – with the written language, allowing the work of the children to constantly slide in and out of focus.  

The working methodology involves a series of 4 workshops, each approximately 3 hours long, with local children aged 12 years leading up to the performance, following a preliminary meeting. The workshops can take place over consecutive days prior to the performance or over consecutive weekends. The public performance is treated as a continuation of the workshop process, so in effect, the audience really are watching children working. The workshops are structured around games designed to deal with themes of embarrassment / shame, intimacy and the risk of “being seen”. The children are given the tools to create their own choreography by responding to words, ideas and feelings through physical gesture. By inviting a group of 12-year olds to create the choreography for the work, I am challenging the notion of what contemporary dance is, and more importantly who gets to make it and where. If we want more diverse and inclusive stages, it is time to re-think how contemporary performance is taught and where we teach it. 

The specific choreographic strategy used in the piece was designed to create conditions for liveness and the unrehearsed moment. The projected essay behind the children’s heads (written as a 5-act structure, like a classical tragedy) offers a container for what I consider the unpredictable material: the children, myself in relation to the children, some “dangerous ideas”, and our collective choreography that is made in real time and which refreshes every performance.

Written & Directed by NICOLA GUNN
Performance & Choreography NICOLA GUNN and 7 CHILDREN

Working with Children is a co-production between BIT Teatergarasjen, Rosendal Teater and Carte Blanche and supported by Bergen Kommune, Norsk Kulturråd and Bergen Dansesenter.