Bodies of Water, Artmusic, Silk Mill, Frome

WATER is as indispensable to life as air –it is intimately connected with birth, but it is also linked to death …  all themes which surface during the extraordinary sequence of films, dance and music that makes up Bodies of Water.

The latest collaboration between two Somerset artists – dancer and physical theatre practitioner Melanie Thompson and composer Helen Ottoway – Bodies of Water is a piece that seeps into your consciousness (and yes, the watery pun is intentional).

As you watch the films made in Somerset and Denmark by Melanie’s sons and listen to the Sri Lankan soundscape created by Helen with nothing more than a simple wind-up musical box, you don’t initially find any points of contact.

But driving back from the atmospheric Silk Mill at Frome, and thinking over the following days, the connections in these apparently disparate works begin to mesh and entwine.

Melanie and Helen have worked together before, in Palace Intrusions, a series of dance/movement/music/art installations and events around the Bishop’s Palace at Wells.

Melanie’s work is mainly site-specific and the first part of the evening is films, made by her film-maker sons, focused at and around an open-air swimming pool in Somerset which Melanie looks after. The films are partly inspired by stories of drowning or near-drowning, all related to her family. The outdoor pool, she says, is partly a symbol of containment, but also represents safety.

The second element of Melanie’s new work is films made in Aarhus, where one of her former students runs a theatre. The films evoke themes of death, profound loneliness and memories of water, underpinned by a concept from the Aarhus theatre-maker, Biatnet Sandberg, of “writing beyond the page.”

Helen Ottaway went to Sri Lankar to take part in the Sura Medura residency that has become an annual event since the devastating 2004 south Asian tsunami. A brilliant composer and sound artist, Helen often works in collaboration with other artists and much of her work is site-specific. Her relationship with the beach where the residency is based – and the death of her mother last year – influenced her new work.

With just an old wooden musical box and blank ribbons of paper to make new tunes for it, she created a series of short pieces, that range from Blow The Wind Southerly, one of her mother’s favourite songs, to new works from Sura Medura, Fishermen’s Song, Corridor Song, and a piece that invokes the waves which wash away Helen’s musical drawings in the sand.

She says she used her loss and grief as the basis for her residency, “creating a new kind of requiem.” She talked to local people about the tsunami and drew on their experiences, her own grief and the gentle waves on the beach to create music that is ethereal, hypnotic and melancholy. FC

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