Debbie Bandara : The magic of movement, A universal language for all.
I am the choreographer and associate director of The Oily Cart. I have established a dance theatre company, Forest Tribe Dance Theatre based in the UK. My practice is merging emotive sensory experiences through non- verbal movement.
I have choreographed several Oily Cart’s shows, including “Splish Splash” and “Kubla Khan”. I view movement as a universal language that all children can understand and it is limitless in how it can be explored. It is this universal language that can connect children and adults to gain a deeper understanding of the world in which they live in.
I was commissioned to work on “Stranden”, a show written by Tim Webb. The show is based on the poem “Dover Beach” written by Matthew Arnold. The key elements of the show was to have close-up interaction with children with PMLD. This meant that the interaction provided many opportunities for the children to communicate to the cast members.
Throughout the rehearsal process, I worked tentatively with each cast member to ensure that they were aware of their movement within the space and how this transmits to others. Even the way one breathes deeply can have a calming effect on others. I encouraged to bring the awareness of their body and to build on their characters in the show.
A lot of my preparatory work started from establishing a calm state, as it is this stillness that the audience can begin feel relaxed and take part in the show. From this point, introducing one layer at a time allow our audiences to process at their own pace.
Before the rehearsal period, I researched into the movement elements of the seascape and this has been explored with the cast. The “Stranden” team were lucky to visit a local beach near Gävle, and this harnessed the sounds, sights, touch through movement.
The choreography weaves throughout the show, through emotion, pace, dynamics. But, at all times, the focus is always with the children. The shapes that the bodies create to depict the sea and the clarity of the love between Frances and Matthew is expressed through the movement as well as the music.
My artistic expression has grown out my lifelong interest of varied dance and music genres including African, Indian and social dance forms.
My work in special schools, led me to understand the importance of dance and movement for children. I observed how it activates several brain functions at once, kinesthetic, rational, emotional and musical, not just stimulating one area of the brain at a time. Thus, incorporating movement into “Stranden” is an important element to offer to our audiences.
I explored “close-up” movement with the cast. This has been very enjoyable to watch. To see how they develop their own sensitivities and awareness of each child, knowing what each child likes and dislikes. Temple Grandin, an American professor who is on the Autistic Spectrum, revealed the importance of “deep pressure” touch to reduce tension and anxiety. She created a “hug machine”. This has been adapted into the movement language for the show to give a sense of security.
The choreography is not a stand-alone piece; it really encourages the audience to feel the story and to be active in their own way. Part of “Stranden” the children get the chance to move in their chairs around in the space, it is subtle but the all the choreographic elements reveal a real sense of atmosphere and dynamics in the space. Everyone in the room has a sensorial experience through the universal language.
I have thoroughly enjoyed being the choreographer and associate director of “Stranden”. To see it come to life and tour across schools and venues is exciting.
However, more importantly, to be able to share a world of immersive theatre to children with PMLD, the cast and Folkteatern Gävleborg is a very special thing indeed.
Many thanks to Scen:se and Folkteatern Gävleborg for making such an opportunity for children with PMLD possible.