We touched down smoothly in Yogyakarta, Indonesia with the sound of the call to prayer humming around in the humid city air.
Ready for a week of design, communications and branding with Nalitari but not knowing what to expect from Jogja, I spent my first day wandering and exploring and taking in the sights. The city oozes creativity, incredible street art is dotted around every corner and every alley, and if you look hard enough you’ll stumble across hidden Batik workshops set in tropical gardens. This was the opening for an inspiring and creative week in Jogja.
I met four of the Nalitari Team on Sunday and we got straight into reflecting on their digital presence and creating a way forward with a digital strategy and plan with clear aims and objectives to help them on their road to sustainability.
The team are a passionate, dedicated bunch and you can tell that they are in love with the community they’ve help to build around Nalitari.
Going into the project I knew that the Nalitari team knew what good design was, but it was clear that they were lacking in consistency which would really pull their brand together, increase brand recognition and professionalism.
We had a full agenda of design, digital strategy and communications planning. The week allowed me to analyze their communications, design and online presence with the team, support them with technical aspects and give the team time and space to ponder things like typeface and colour palettes, I’m not sure many organisations are able to dedicate time to do this!
During the experience, it was important for me as a facilitator to make sure what I was doing was sustainable, that the decisions were coming from the team and that they were understanding the key concepts. I worked closely with PR Marketing, Yoana, to show her not only how to achieve something but most importantly why we were doing it.
Nalitari is a wonderful organisation with their heart in the right place making interesting work, I’m proud to have helped them on their journey to sustainability and if you’re ever in Java make sure that you check them out!
Meet the Team: Hayley Holden
Calling Cambodia her home since 2015, Hayley is a Communications Specialist and Arts Manager based in south-east Asia. Hayley consults on We Are Epic Communications and Branding and is also the Projects Manager at Epic Arts.
Do you remember the first time you flew?! Cambodian Dancer, Thouen is embarking on his first flight. Actually, it’s the first time he’s left Cambodia.
We hope that the fright has worn off by the time he touches down for the second phase of production on ‘Buffalo Boy’ in the UK.
Dancers Thouen and Noth will be in the UK to continue developing their new piece ‘Buffalo Boy’ for two weeks with a creative team. There’s a team creatives working on the production, including dramaturge Lou Cope.
The Buffalo Boy project began in late 2017 with a creative team visiting Cambodia producing a 45 minute performance piece based on Thouen’s experience of isolation and communication.
Establishing an arts organisation in the UK that has previously been so embedded in the culture and context of Cambodia would always present new challenges. One of these is considering the new relationship between the UK-based We Are Epic and the Cambodia-based Epic Arts.
Ant often describes the relationship between the two as a bungee cord – each are connected to the other and able to stretch out to do their own activity, but also bounce back to help the other out. This seems like a great approach to maintaining the connection with Cambodia, but also being able to firmly establish We Are Epic, in its own right. Therefore, it seems entirely appropriate that one of the key strands of activity for We Are Epic focuses on International Collaboration.
It was identified through the Pinpoint Powwows that there is an interest in Epic Arts as an alternative culture, with having an opportunity to now access this within the UK being very significant. While links between the UK and Epic Arts have been established for many years, there have been a number of international collaborations already, with artists visiting Epic Arts and working with dancers to gain experience of working inclusively. What has been noteworthy for We Are Epic is that they can now work in the UK with artists who have benefitted from a cultural exchange with Epic Arts.
Kiki Lovechild, who visited Epic Arts in late 2016, is now exploring collaborating with We Are Epic as part of a PhD programme, thus expanding upon the connection originally made through the connection with Cambodia. Therefore, there is clear evidence to suggest that the UK inclusive dance landscape could benefit from more of these international collaboration opportunities for artists.
The process of working with dancers with a range of disabilities, plus a difference in languages, can present a challenging but greatly rewarding learning opportunity for artists, exploring ways to communicate beyond words and new movement opportunities. Therefore, We Are Epic has engaged with UK-based artists who have an eagerness to explore inclusive working practices with dance, with an application for James Cousins to visit Kampot and work with dancers at Epic Arts. These opportunities are certainly beneficial for a number of stakeholders and will be explored by We Are Epic in the future.
One of the main focuses for this strand of activity this year has been developing the work ‘Buffalo Boy’ with two dancers from Epic Arts, Thouen & Noth, performing and creating the piece, along with producer Lou Coleman and director Richard Poynton. The opportunities provided by We Are Epic being UK based means that there are people ‘on the ground’ able to find performance opportunities, venues, potential workshop activities and marketing channels.
The International Collaboration strand for We Are Epic has huge potential for making significant contributions to the UK inclusive dance sector
whilst also engaging with professional choreographers and developing their on-going relationship with Epic Arts in Cambodia. As with many projects that are internationally focused, there will be challenges and obstacles along the way, including funding application bids, visa applications, travel arrangements etc. However, the experience We Are Epic have of organising these opportunities and the case studies from previous cultural exchanges should contribute greatly to the success of the programme.
In March as part of our work to share, collaborate and raise awareness of inclusive practise throughout the world, Epic Arts and We Are Epic Director, Anthony spent four days in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Working with the British Council in Jakarta and over 30 Inclusive Arts organisations, Anthony delivered facilitated a series of workshops and discussions to engage and inspire collaborations between the sector leads. Here is a short blog about his adventure.
Making Some Noise in Indonesia!
Arriving in Indonesia, I was quite prepared for the sights, smells and crazy driving. After spending 3 years living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia I’m used to the usual things associated with big Asian cities. However, I did find Jakarta took the traffic jams to a whole new level!
After weeks of planning with the team at the British Council I was clear about the aim of the next four days. I was very excited to hear from Indonesia’s next generation of artists and organisations about their feelings and attitudes towards inclusive arts. I was particularly interested in hearing the differences and similarities between the sector in Indonesia and what I was used to experiencing in Cambodia. From reading the recent research it seemed that there was lots of cross over, especially with regards to some of the political and religious barriers.
Day 1 – Meet the Inclusive Artists of Indonesia
What struck me more than anything during my whole trip to Jakarta was the realisation of how big Indonesia as a country actually is. I knew Indonesia was made up of different islands, but wow! Over 16000!
Bringing together the artists, leaders and arts organisations from all over the archipelago is kind of a big deal, and I felt very honoured to have been able to participate in an event that brought together this group of people for the first time.
As I listened to each of the participants introduce themselves I knew that the trip had already been worth it. It was evident that this meeting of great minds was going to have a legacy far longer than the next four days.
I was invited to the lead the workshop to talk about and celebrate diversity to a group who I could see already had a richness and understanding of diversity! Admittedly, perhaps not with regards to disability but the room was full of different faiths, cultures and languages all discussing their successes and challenges.
Our local facilitator, Masslamet explained to me about one delegate ‘ This man speaks my local language, I mean, we all mostly speak Bahanese but this guy, he speaks my local tongue.” I have to admit I thought to myself, “what can I teach to these people? they already have fantastic inclusive attitudes.”
The participants did go onto explain to me that they needed to see more role models, examples of best practise and as I was able to refer them to many, I did end the day feeling pretty useful!.
Day 2 – I love it when a plan comes together!
By Day 2 we hit the tough stuff! Jakarta has a huge event approaching in October in the form of the Asian Para games. Ruth Gould from Dadafast and I were trying to act as Catalysts, encouraging and nurturing the raw enthusiasm of the participants and trying to channel their ideas into the barebones of a cultural offer that could stand alongside this huge sporting event. With many references to the UK cultural Olympiad and the impact that offer had as part of the London 2012 Olympics. “What do you need in order to develop this?” was the main question of the day and we were urging some of the talented leaders step forward and take on the responsibility of working with the British Council to sharpen this offer.
We decided together that it was important to ‘Make some noise’! and so a working group was formed to take ideas forward. I got a real buzz from thinking I’d played a small part in putting together this crack team of ‘doers’ together. I cannot wait to see what they put forward for October.
Day 3 – Changing Perceptions in the Mainstream
The British Council team provided an open forum for the
working group assembled the day previously to lobby to the media, ministers and officials of the Para Games.
Together we pitched that, the upcoming games was an opportunity to come together, to celebrate the diversity of the country. That with their help a platform could be created to demonstrate the richness and diversity of Indonesia’s arts sector in a way that is not tragic, patronising or second rate but that is thriving, alive, interesting, innovative and distinctly Indonesian.
Day 4 – Out and About
On my final day in Indonesia we went to visit two participants who were busy putting up artwork for their weekend exhibition. One artist, Hanna Madness was exhibiting as part of a fundraiser for a charity supporting people with learning disabilities. Hanna, who describes herself as an Arts and Disability Activist with random personality – Manic Depressive – Schizophrenic, explained to me how she was looking forward to her upcoming residency with UK Artist Vacuum Cleaner as she would use it to diversify the style of her work. A perfect example of how some of the partnerships created as part of the UK/IN season were really paying off!
After spending four days in the company of some very talented and driven people, I have no doubt that the future of Inclusive/Disability Arts in Indonesia is an exciting one. I left feeling proud to have been apart of the first baby steps of a movement that I think with more exposure to international artists, increased access to role models and high quality practitioners will snowball an Inclusive Arts sector to be very proud. I do hope I can continue to support the working group and I will follow their journey to the Para Games with great interest. The natural diverse make up of island cultures could see Indonesia leading the way and teaching the other members of ASEAN a thing or two.
One month into my role as Diversity Officer in July 2017, I had a series of conversations about how our association with Epic Arts could work, what it would feel like and look like. It had to be authentic, tangible and it had to be responsive to our local areas. For We Are Epic this meant using the resources and people based in the Midlands, and in Kampot for Epic Arts
A part of my wish list, it had to be an artistic relationship which was about working in collaboration, using strengths and best practices from each company, and have opportunities to learn and exchange knowledge between each other.
In the We Are Epic office at the Attenborough Arts Centre office chatting with Ant he mentioned Thouen, who had freshly graduated from Epic Arts’ Inclusive Arts Course in April 2017.
Thouen was eager to continue dancing and had no intentions of going back to work on his family’s buffalo farm.
Thouen wanted to make a performance piece about his stories, and continue developing his artistic skills. He didn’t know what, how, when or who…this was the seed of our collaboration and where Buffalo Boy started.
Richard Poynton came on board as Director and began to interview and chat with Thouen through Epic Arts staff, mainly Emily Gibbs the Dance Tutor. Richard’s questions were translated from English to Khmer and Thouen was invited to respond to Richard’s provocations. Working with Emily, Thouen started creating movement sequences in the studio with Emily emailing Thouen’s response back to Richard in the UK.
Between Thouen, Richard and Emily ideas of scenes, material and dance scores were beginning to appear from the stories Thouen was telling. Thouen continue creating material and was joined by Noth. Noth came on board as a dancer, with over 7 years experience dancing with Epic Arts and also a graduate from Epic Arts’ Arts Course.
Buffalo Boy had taken root in Kampot and was fast taking shape as a performance piece.
Back in Leicester, Ant and I were busy working out how to support the project. I was looking into creating R&D possibilities for Buffalo Boy and figuring out possible ways to make the project happen as an international collaboration. After juggling schedules, workloads, finances and speaking with Arts Council England, a plan was hatched!
Richard, myself and Ant would go to Kampot and do a 10 day R&D. Roo, a musician working with Epic Arts joined the team. We would collaborate with Thouen and Noth, spend 10 days as a creative team developing Buffalo Boy
London to Bangkok, Bangkok to Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh to Kampot, 2 days of travelling, another day or two to settle in and Buffalo Boy R&D began!
The studio atmosphere on the first morning was full of excitement, high expectations and a feeling on how is this going to work in practice. We had 3 ways of communicating and we welcomed translators as part of our team. We were working in Khmer spoken language, Khmer sign language and English spoken language, with the occasional British Sign dropped in!
Phoun joined us as part of marketing and design. He would work alongside Hayley, Epic Arts Project Manager, to draw and design a logo for the project and design graphics for the projection scenes.
After photographs, meet and greets, and everyone agreeing on the very packed schedule, we started. Thouen and Noth shared the material they had already created and Phoun and Hayley shared design concepts and mood boards.
Emily who had been choreographing with Thouen and Noth unfortunately got very poorly and had to leave the project. I stepped in and became part of the creative team as well as co-producer. I have experience of working in dance, theatre and performance and have my own artistic and Feldenkrais practices. However it was a bit of a surprise to jump into the project in this way, Emily had an excellent relationship collaborating with Thouen and Noth.
A week about getting to know each other and developing sections.
It was integral that inclusive ways of working and best practices were embedded right from the beginning. For me this meant finding pathways for Thouen and Noth to take responsibility, for them to begin to think and work out how best to include their access requirements into the piece, rather than adding them on. It was a bit of a challenge to start with, it was another way of creating work, another layer of the creative process to consider.
Three languages & carving out a creative process.
We were communicating in three languages and this diversity set a wonderful slower pace, a chance to listen, to clarify and to ask questions. I was learning Khmer signs as we went along, more than often mixing BSL with Khmer. Finding clearer ways to speak in English so the translator had a chance to translate my intentions through his different language filters. This rhythm of 3 languages and the time of translations invited trials to make work from Thouen and Noth’s strengths and abilities as emerging performers. It opened up conversations within the whole team about giving them opportunities to voice their opinions in the making process.
It became about Noth and Thouen having more visible responsibility in the overall project, saying what they liked, what they didn’t like and what they didn’t understand. Sometimes finding this newer way of working meant being left with creative tasks and discovering what they could do.
Sometimes it was them finding ways to record what had happened that day and how they could document their process so they could shape the next days work and have shared ownership of their artistic trajectory. Many times we ended up showing, sharing and relying on the non-verbal communication rather than the strength of verbal words. Approaching the creative process through this lens provided opportunities for Noth and Thouen to discover other ways of the making working
The inclusion of music was a focus throughout the R&D, Roo the composer was embedded in the making process, in the room with us, listening to Thouen’s stories and responding to the cultural music landscape he found around Cambodia to create bespoke scores.
Roo and Noth struck up a conversation around feeling the beat and music ques. Identifying as part of the deaf community, Noth relies on the beat (and visual) ques for his entrances and exits. As we were embedding access into the R&D and using access to influence Buffalo Boy I shared with Noth some of my experiences of working with dancers who required non-hearing ques. Noth, Roo and I spent time playing with louder, low frequency sounds for Noth feel his que, Roo translated some ideas into his compositions. We worked together with Thouen so that his visuals ques were clear enough in a particular movement sequence that Noth definitely knew his ques. Working in this way Thouen and Noth found more ownership in their work, their abilities to create work without relying on staff for ques and scene orders. Roo continued to compose, Noth continued to find ways of asking for clarity in the music. This conversation continued over the whole 10 days.
Mid day sun
The two-hour lunch break in the middle of the day was a much needed rest. Out of the studio and the heat. Down to the Epic Arts cafe for food or a bike ride along the river to feel the breeze, or a 30 minute nap to process and refresh. A coconut straight from the tree was always a welcomed treat in the afternoon.
As the weeks progressed the work was becoming stronger, abilities within the team were growing and conversation about piece, the scene order and material was steadily shaping up. Thouen and Noth had created ways to remember their material, to document what they had done. I was in and out of meetings with Epic Art staff about costumes, finances and meeting with Sokny and Ant (Co-Directors of Epic Arts) about plans for the piece when Ant and I get back to the UK. It was busy.
Back in the Buffalo Boy studio Thouen and Richard were working on performance skills, the importance of eye contact, having presence on stage and owning material. A big topic which was talked about a lot was looking after themselves, having breaks, warming up and down and finding a balance between rehearsing and performance modes. Richard introduced puppetry skills for the firefly section and taught acting skills.
The firefly section is Thouen’s main section.
He told us stories of enjoying watching the fireflies at night, how he feels and the slowness the world has when he sits and watches them. I had never seen fireflies and so the team went on a night river-boat cruise.
We watched as the fireflies clustered in groups, they were beautiful, like lots of tiny but quite fast, flickering lights high up. Silence, as they flew to a new position, re-gathered themselves and again lit up the tree. A cluster here, darkness, another cluster lit up as they moved around the trees. Quietly, in the dark we sat, noting the movements, the timing.
The next day Thouen, Noth, Richard and I continued to work on this section. Thouen was really creating artistic material from his experiences of the fireflies. The feeling of the material was deeper, the section flowed in a smoother, more knowing way. Being in the room and being a small part of developing that section will stay with me for a long time.
Towards the end of the R&D was a small sharing to the Epic Arts staff and students who were around. Noth and Thouen’s performance was received with waving hands, clapping and many teary eyes from teachers, staff and students who all saw the passion they have both put into the 10 days of work.
Epic Arts building is light, white with many windows, completely different from the black box set-up in the UK. The technical equipment is old and crackly and with little lighting capabilities. We hired The Royal Cinema, in Kampot Cinema for our final sharing. There’s a beautiful awarding-winning film about the cinema which was produced by Junction 15 Productions and Epic Arts.
Leading arts orgs and disability sector NGOs came down from Phnom Penh, Epic Arts were hosting an international school and they came to see, family and local supporters from the town came.
There was lighting, sound and after introducing the work, the project, Thouen and Noth spectacularly took the stage and performed Buffalo Boy. A standing ovation, waving hands, clapping and many teary eyes marked the end of 10 extraordinary days in the studio.
Back in the UK Ant and I are talking about how to develop the project, to continue to enrich the skills of everyone in the team, and following up conversations with individuals and organisations who are offering their support to keep Buffalo Boy alive.