Thursday, December 8, 2011

footprints in the...rice...?

Martin Boyce

In Newcastle recently we discovered an artist whose aesthetic we thought was very 'Ko'. Martin Boyce - who then went on to win the Turner Prize! - creates sculptural installations that recall familiar objects and public spaces to form fragmented landscapes. Viewing these works is like experiencing a suspended narrative, which is essentially what we are trying to do sculpting sound and space, in Part Two: Dawn. We were also very excited to see his scattered paper 'leaves' - which would be beautiful for Part Three: Fall.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Krikalev rehearsal

Here's a tiny taste of Krikalev alone on space station Mir. Eyes peeled for retro film style too...

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Junction Residency November 2011

Day 5

Happy with how Part Two and Three are coming along, we were eager to get Part One up to scratch. We want it to work in its own right but also to serve the other parts as much as possible, so we spent the morning adjusting the dramaturgy of Captain Ko’s scenes with Stark. There may be a few set pieces that might have to go, which is a pity as we have grown to love them so much and it is always hard editing your own work. Part One is the most fun but the most challenging. We love the genre so much and think there is so much potential in it to speak about the themes we are dealing with, and yet most of the time we spend finding clownish moments, asides and jokes that say more about the genre of science fiction than tell the story. We must keep things simple.

Had a great email from our set designer Adrian from across the pond, in which all aesthetic ideas are falling into place. Very exciting times!

Junction Residency November 2011

Day 4

Our consultant producer Kate Bowen came to the rehearsal today. Sometimes it can be incredibly useful to have fresh ears to explain ideas to, and fresh eyes to see them on stage. We worked hard explaining to Kate how each of the sections developed, and how they worked with each other and, in doing so, helped clarify a lot of things for ourselves too.

In the afternoon we worked with Susanne on the video in part 1: testing out speech bubbles, discussing different backgrounds. The aim with the video is always that it becomes more than just cheap set or pretty pictures of flowers but that it engages with the performers and becomes an extension of the dramaturgy and exploration of the themes.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Junction Residency November 2011

Day 3

Today we worked on Part 3: Fall. We had Caroline free-style an amazing sound scape and put the whole thing together in a ‘working track’ for rehearsals in 20 minutes record time before jetting off to her radio course in Bletchley Park (where she tells us she is the only female and surrounded by classic renegade radio hackers!). Have had some interesting thoughts on live filming and camera angles...just complicating the technical aspects of the show even more (!).
Two things have become apparent: the first is that Thomas’s stomach muscles are going to have to go into some intense training between now and the summer and the second is that he is going to have to learn Russian (fluently!!!!). One step at a time...

Junction Residency November 2011

Day 2

After a heated early morning discussion (still unresolved) about whether we should keep the title of the piece as Captain Ko and the Planet of Rice - officially still only our ‘working title’ - we began the morning’s session working on the first scene of Part One, taking up from where we left off the day before. Caroline arrived shortly after and set up her sound dock, after which we began to work on Part Two: Dawn. Susanne arrived excited about having finally watched 2001 A Space Odyssey. We talked at length about the beauty of the film and whether we may come even close to what it achieves in the work we are doing. We hope, on some level, we will one day. Susanne also brought us a gift (see picture).

Dan Dare - the game of the future - a thrilling journey into space!

Other films discussed today were Dogville (particularly for Part Two: Dawn) and Out of the Present.
Also discussed Tacita Dean (for a great article about the artists go to The New Yorker's and Felicity Powell’s show at the Wellcome Collection on charms and objects (

Junction Residency November 2011

Day 1

We drove up to Cambridge nice and early only to realise that the theatre was closed until 10.30. Called the lovely Kate who eventually found us and opened for us. We set up in the studio space - an ideal space for this piece - and began working on Part 1 of our trilogy “Captain Ko and the Planet of Rice”. Briefly spoke to Katie Sykes, associate artist at Tobacco Factory Theatre who might be doing our costumes.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

This week we've been in the rehearsal room, scripting, story-boarding and developing the three parts of the trilogy making up 'Captain Ko and the Planet of Rice' (still our working title but we think it will stick!).
For Part One, we've been thinking along these lines...
For Part Two, we've been thinking along these lines...
It has been great having Caroline on sound and Susanne on video, in the room with us. Even Adrian, our great set designer, has been contributing from the other side of the Ocean (and then some!).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dr. Mario Parra

Mario’s job is to develop paradigms/ tests / tasks that may be able to detect dementia in the very early - pre-clinical stages. Before the disease’s onset actually begins. Amongst many other things, a part of Dr. Parra’s research, alongside Sergio Della Sala and Rob Logie, is a fascinating attempt to identify a particular diagnostic test that is unique to AD: binding. This is the ability not only to remember colour or shape, but to bind them together. Though anything conclusive is still a long way away, it was thrilling to see Mario explain how this kind of medical research could, one day, have a tangible effect on when we are able to diagnose AD, and therefore how early we are able to begin treatment.

Dr. Parra made the interesting point though, that (at present at least), this treatment, this rehabilitation, isn’t about fixing weakened systems. It’s about strengthening alternative systems to help cope with the weakness.

Again, the idea of ‘distraction’ came up. That an interruption to a process can derail a procedure. Someone with AD could, for example, be setting up for tea, get a phone call and then, having hung up, be completely unaware of why the crockery is out on the table, and clear it all up.

Linked to this, he told us of ‘The Breakfast Task’ where a patient is asked to prepare items for breakfast - cook eggs, sausages etc, for certain amounts of time each. Although, as he pointed out, there are a great many processes involved in this task and therefore can only really be used in conjunction with many other ‘pure’ tasks that focus on one aspect of cognition at a time, one of the most important is the ability to judge the passing of time (either with or without access to visual stimuli like clocks, timers, even the outdoors). This ability is greatly affected by AD and, as a result, patients’ biological clocks can be altered a great deal. It becomes difficult to know whether lunch was an hour ago, five minutes ago or even whether it’s time for breakfast.

This idea of being temporally disorientated, even within a domestic space, is, for us, a fascinating side effect of the memory problems associated with AD.

If Mario could address one issue of public engagement he would: Encourage people to try to get as early a diagnosis as possible. Don’t assume that decline in things is necessarily natural and normal, get it checked by a GP. The earlier they can diagnose dementia, the more effective the treatment can be.

and the image he described to represent AD was the logo he designed for the Alzheimer’s society of Columbia: a garden with some flowers in colour and others in black and white. It was his job, he said, to try to keep them in colour for as long as possible.

Kirsty Jardine

Kirsty works at the Alzheimers Society Scotland, helping to provide care, support and information to carers and people with the disease across the country. Her main job is to raise awareness.

Many people who are experiencing the first signs tend to cover it up - this is because as soon as certain cognitive functions begin to break down, especially memory, it’s a bit like losing your sense of time and place and this is firmly connected with identity.

Dementia is the disease that is most feared among old people - more than cancer or heart failures.

The main thing she has noticed over the last ten years is the increase in the number of old people living alone. The change in the way families live, fewer families live together across generations, families break down, there are a lot more separations, more and more people move abroad, away from the older members of the family. But also many people, when they retire, choose to move to the countryside, more isolated parts of the country - this causes complications in getting the care to them.

If Kirsty could engage the public with something it would be the idea that noone should have to feel isolated with Dementia. This goes from having the confidence to get an early diagnosis, to having proper provision of care.

Also: Dementia doesn’t mean you can’t learn new skills. In fact, Kirstly says that the more creative side of the brain is still very functional and may even be developed. You can live well with Dementia - if the support is there.

The image she described was, appropriately, the Alzheimers Society Scotland logo, an image of three individuals, embracing each other in support. It describes, she says, the way in which AD can both be incredibly isolating but also, with the right support, bring people together.

‘A life like Mr Magoo’ : Talking to Dr. John Starr.

Dr. Starr’s image to describe the experience of AD was Mr. Magoo. He described the extraordinary way in which a person with AD can (he stressed, not always, but often) go through life in benign obliviousness to the extreme amount of work going on around them to keep things ticking over. The shopping has been done. The clothes have been washed. The bills have been paid. It’s like, he said, the way Mr. Magoo can drive through town with his eyes closed, be picked up by cranes, dodged by vans, hurled around by ramps and rollercoasters and remain completely, happily, unaware of the danger he’s in!

This unawareness, though sometimes a blessing for the person with dementia, can be one of the hardest things for carers to deal with, as no matter how many manholes they cover, or ACME high voltage cables they cut, there is never any respite and no real recognition of the efforts they go to.

Dr. Starr’s outlook was optimistic. He described the idea of wellbeing as split into two types, ‘living well’ (the greek ‘eudomia’) and ‘living contentedly’ (the Greek 'atoraxia'). People with AD were, as a rule, if not experiencing the first, then largely experiencing the second. It is much more often the people who care for the person with AD, or the person visiting, who is aware of the disease.

If Dr. Starr could address one public misconception he would eradicate the phrase ‘Dementia Sufferer’ and insist on ‘Person with dementia’ (a distinction already enforced in all literature about any illness). The distinction is crucial as a matter of maintaining, for the carer as much as the person with the disease, a sense of personhood. They are person first, and someone with AD very much second.

'Now what do I do with you' : Notes on meeting Sarah and Richard

Meeting with Sarah, a woman with in the early stages of AD, and her husband Richard, was fascinating and unusual, because Sarah is in the relatively rare position of being able to reflect on her own condition. The main thing for Sarah, an otherwise very sociable person with a big and loving family, was forgetting people’s names. Knowing that she knows them - sometimes people she has knows for forty years or more - but not knowing who they were. This also affects her use of the phone, which she has now given up altogether.

Sarah told us of the time recently when she had packed a suitcase for a holiday, only to realise when when they arrived that all the clothes she’d packed were completely inappropriate.

She told us (with good humour), of looking blankly at the washing machine, thinking ‘now, what do I do with you?’.

We asked Sarah if there was a particular moment she associates with realising she had AD and she told us of a time (really, she said, the last time) she prepared a complicated meal and put the wrong thing in the mince. It wasn’t very nice.

Sometimes, Sarah said, she forgets to have lunch and is worried that, if she weren’t reminded, she’d forget to eat altogether.

“The Queen can never get Alzheimers Disease” : Speaking with Dr. Jennifer Foley.

'Playing Sudoku doesn't help'. The popular conception that AD does not appear in brains that haven’t been 'trained up' is, according to Dr. Foley, a misunderstanding that can, far from helping, lead to added stress as people try to learn new things they don’t enjoy rather than focussing on things they already do.

We spoke to Dr. Foley about the initial stages of AD and noticeable things that start to happen. Getting lost while driving, forgetting routes and maps, not grooming quite so well, putting the wrong things in the wrong places (like a can opener in the fridge).

One symptom that felt especially interesting to us was the changing ability to manage household tasks, particularly if a process that requires a number of stages is interrupted. It is this interruption of a physical action, when someone is required to hold onto previous stages in a process, that can lead to confusion. In this way, a physical process like laying a table for a dinner party or preparing a meal, can, when disrupted by another task, become ruptured.

This moment, she described as a ‘blankness’. This seemed an incredibly apt description to us of the point in time, sometimes only a few seconds, where the chain of a sentence or an action is broken, and there is a momentary disorientation.

Another interesting point of discussion was the idea of ‘prospective memory’, which can also be affected in the early stages of AD. This is the ability to remember future tasks (‘remember to call X back later this afternoon’). The separation here between the cognitive processing of the future and the past is incredibly difficult for researchers to disentangle. To what extent is this prospective memory - remembering to do something in five minutes time - the same process as remembering something that happened five minutes ago?

Finally, Dr. Foley told us (with tongue firmly in cheek), that technically, the queen can never be diagnosed with dementia, because a crucial part of the diagnosis is a change in your ability to look after yourself which, as it’s all done for her, will never be detectable at Buckingham Palace.

A trip to Edinburgh

This week we have been in Edinburgh spending time with the neurology department of Edinburgh University, talking about dementia and Alzheimers Disease (AD). Amongst a more general discussion, we asked each person we spoke to to explain both one image or metaphor that, for them, described an aspect of AD, and to tell us one thing about AD that they wished was better understood.

Below (possibly displayed above) are some thoughts from the discussions we had.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Why make a play about Alzheimers disease?

So much has been written on the subject of Alzheimers. So many people have experienced- directly or indirectly - its effects. It was, and is, important to us that our play become not just a rehashing of existing theories, or a family drama about a fictional sufferer, but a poetic exploration of how what we think of as reality can be distorted.

We have set out to try to tell a story in an unsentimental way, in a way that doesn't impose our own standards on the protagonist, but allows us to see the world through his altered reality. We are working with a neuroscientist to help us gain an understanding of aspects of the disease that is unemotional, detached.

In this way we liken it to our own starting point: science fiction. Where the rules of what can and can't happen are bent; where you can see an older version of yourself in the mirror; where time can move backwards as well as forwards; or where everyday objects can take on strange and sinister significance.

By doing all this, we hope to present something that provides a poetic, nuanced, and objective view of some of the aspects of dementia.

Objective 3: Write a play about Alzheimers Disease

And from the idea of Time, we began to look at telling the stories of people who are, in different ways 'outside' of time. Whether our perceptions of time - based a lot on history and memory - are altered for some people, as in the case of someone who has lost their memory, and what consequences this had for the 'important' memories they might have of global, historical events?

Objective 2: Write a play about Time

Last summer, we were given the fantastic opportunity by the Tobacco Factory and Theatre Bristol to spend four weeks workshopping our new play. We started out with the image described in the last post':

Two astronauts stranded on a planet of rice.

We suspected that these astronauts, who are no doubt from somewhere in the distant future, would explore the planet, and dig up whatever they found. But what would they find? What would two intergalactic archeologists find and, more importantly, what would they be able to do with anything they dug up? In other words, what does the past leave for the future?

Both of us are in our mid twenties, and have recently lost grandparents. Like anyone who goes through this, we wondered what they left behind? What stories had been lost, what memories and anecdotes and knowledge of the last century was disappearing over the horizon? And would they leave any behind? (In fact, in the case of Thomas' grandfather, who suffered from Alzheimers disease, many of those memories had been lost long before he died.)

We become concerned with memory and time, and began to imagine whether it would be possible for these future explorers to know anything of our grandparents. Or would the second world war, like so many wars before it, become fossilized from memory, into history, then into myth?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Objective 1: Write a play

It is easy to forget, in the midst of self justification and funding applications, that the ultimate aim of this project is to write a play. In our theatre we (Valentina and Thomas, the core artists of Dancing Brick) aspire to a writing that is pared down, and led as much by the image as by text. In the construction of the work we try to juxtapose images and ideas and allow the audience the space to draw links between them. Usually, and this play is the same, we start our writing with a single image, and spend the rest of the process unpicking, unraveling and exploring that image.

For 'Captain Ko' we started with the image of two astronauts stranded on a planet of rice.

We want the play to be funny / beautiful / spacious / accessible / poignant / inspiring.

In unpicking the image we have since been led to explore / been inspired by:
60s Science Fiction B-Movies
Alzheimer's Disease
The Soviet Union
The moon landing
Sergei Krikalev
Kerry Tribe


Hello, and thank you for coming to have a read of this blog.

If you don't know us already, we are Dancing Brick, a company based in the South East of England that makes visual theatre. We have been going for nearly three years and, at the moment, we are in the process of making our third full-length play. It is the making of this play that we intend to document on this blog.

We hope you will find it interesting both as a resource of research into Alzheimers disease and as an insight into our creative process. Please let us know if you have any thoughts about the blog, the work, or anything else.