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UK dancer Marina Collard: From performances to craniosacral therapy

Marina Collard
Marina Collard
Amongst the many pleasures of life, dancing must be near the top of almost everyone's list. Be it on the stage, on the dance floor, or simply in the confines of your room, dancing has that capability to transform and lift moods. A professional dancer is able to turn that pleasure into a life­long passion and career.
 
Marina Collard, a contemporary dancer from the United Kingdom, is one such professional who dances with a passion not many of us can pinpoint, but one with which most of us will be able to identify.
 
Marina was in Delhi recently to mentor six dancers from Asia as part of the annual dance residency programme with Gati, a dance forum based in the national capital. Gati has been inviting several dancers and dance educationists from around the world to propagate the world of professional dance beyond the realm of pure classical and traditional within India. As part of their activities, they provide support and guidance to several dancers of various styles to build their art form.
 
During the residency programme, artistes and mentors like Marina are invited to provide guidance to dancers selected from across Asia. The result of the residency is a culmination of their progress into individual performances.
 
Marina, being one of those mentors who are also performers, was invited to showcase one of her own performances independent of the residency programme.
 
I met her during her stay in Delhi and had a chance to watch her performance, performing style, and her mentorship ­ amongst her other work.
 
As part of being mentor, she was invited to guide the residents in the final stage of their residency – the point where they finally piece together everything they have learnt from the time as a resident into one cohesive performance.
 
Her performance, “Still Going”, was staged at the British Council in New Delhi. “Still Going” is a collaboration between Marina’s movement and the film work of Tom Paine. She performs with the question of retiring from her dance, and yet still feels drawn back. She ultimately performs the state of suspension between dancing some more and attempting to change activities.
 
Contemporary dancers across the world have the unique disposition of dancing a style that is as different from each other's style as apples are to oranges. Unlike most styles, where there are rules and a specific language to their movements, contemporary dance is better known as a vision and not style.
 
Marina was born and raised in London, and soon moved to Italy which provided the space for the beginning of her dancing imagination. She started with ballet lessons at the age of 4 years, since those were the only kind of dance classes "that were around me at the time, or rather what we knew of at the time".
Marina Collard with her mentees at the Gati Summer Dance Residency, at the Gati Studio in New Delhi.
Marina Collard with her mentees at the Gati Summer Dance Residency, at the Gati Studio in New Delhi.
 
Till she became 12 or 13 years old, ballet lessons occupied her after school hours, three to four times a week. After that, she began to experiment with other dance forms, including jazz. "I enjoyed dancing these forms, but I was not comfortable with them. It felt like these forms were not compatible with me. I knew I wanted to dance, but 
none of it felt right." So, she continued with only ballet, which was at that point the most comfortable movement form for her.
 
"By the time I was 15, I was still committed to only ballet. It was where I felt at home. Then, I went to watch a contemporary dance show, and I knew then, this is it. This is what I wanted to do. So, I continued with school and ballet till I was 18, after which I went to Trinity Laban, which was then just called Laban, to train in contemporary dance."
 
At Laban, Marina trained for three years, completing her BA degree. She trained mostly in the Graham technique and some Limon technique, named after Martha Graham and Jose Limon, respectively, and both "very different schools of thought". This difference becomes apparent in her practice, later on.
 
Marina is now also a therapist in Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy. "In Britain, it is very common for dancers involved in contemporary work to be involved in somatic practice. It goes with the territory. You end up covering a huge amount of practice and approaches to the body. I always had a very strong interest in the body, so much that I thought I would one day become an osteopath or something like that. But I ended up choosing craniosacral therapy, which is very different in approach from a medical practice and is more hands on."
 
Though she found her path to craniosacral therapy through dance, it has very little to do with dance and dancers alone. It is her understanding and increasing interest in the physical body as a dancer which led her here, and it certainly is a plus when she works with those who are from a dancing background for she is able to relate to their physical issues. However, most of those she works with have little or nothing to do with dance.
 
"They're very different and separate territories, dance and cranio. If I'm engaging in an artistic practice, I will work from the body. So, somatic information is very important. But, in my artistic practice, I have no interest whether I feel good or anyone else feels good. It's what we're doing in terms of art, what we're trying to make, which is of interest to me. Whereas, in therapy, in a one-­to-­one, it has everything to do with how they're feeling physically. When I'm a therapist, I'm just a therapist. My dance is irrelevant here. It certainly informs when I'm treating those who dance, but my therapy is not only for dancers."
 
I ask if there was any one thing or event that drove her passion for dance and movement through the years, or if she had any theme to which she was more likely to perform than any other.
 
“Themes and things are of no interest to me. Art practice, however, I’m interested in. I see contemporary dance as an art form. I feel it has a relation to contemporary visual art and other contemporary works. The fact that it's an art form is much more important to me than the fact it's about moving. It just happens to use the body. While I'm very interested in involving movement in my art form, I would not dance about for the sake of movement."
 
She insists on having no interest in inspirations either. "The whole notion of inspiration is very romantic, with having to sit about waiting for it to drop out of the sky....it's all fantasy. I have no interest in that."
 
"However, from when I was young, I've always been interested in various kinds of art and art forms ­ sculptures, paintings, movement or dancing. I think I've never stopped the inquiry, or that curiosity, around making or thinking about art, trying to unpick someone's work that interested me. So, it's never in isolation. It's a continuum of activity ­ that activity might be going to see someone's work, being in a studio working on something, or might just be somewhere noticing a surrounding ­ and a lot of it has to do with seeing and receiving information. I could sit here and think that I love the light lands on that wall in that way. It's all a bit of a constant awareness and little 
ramblings. Through these ramblings, something might start to surface and then you follow that, and it turns into a work. It gets clarified in the process." 
 
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When she agrees that her dance is covered by the "large umbrella of contemporary dance", I encourage her to provide me her view on how one could and should define contemporary dance. "It's not a form. Its form, instead, emerges from the ideas you have rather than having a form and theme beforehand. It's contemporary in terms of how the work is approached and talked about, more than anything to do with style."
 
Reminiscing over the struggles of thought process in my dissertation, I asked her opinion on the usage of traditional dance and other movement forms in Indian Contemporary Dance, and whether she felt using those traditional forms in their currently purest known form defeated the purpose of calling it contemporary.
 
"While I wouldn't want to say that any one approach is not alright, from what I have been witnessing with the residents here, their influences and who they are is in their work but they don't start from any particular form in their making. There's room for many different ways of working. Every country will have a kind of contemporariness that is specific to them, partly because, culturally, you can't help it. You can't deny the cultural influences that emerge in their work. Contemporary work is true to those who start to work differently, without denying them their Indianness."
 
So, has she, in the past decade or so, drawn upon her ballet and other dance lessons to create her work? "I stopped dancing ballet at the age of 21. I'm now 45, that's a lot of years of not doing ballet. I guess the training is visible in my body, but I don't think I draw upon it now." Does she, then, pick out certain movements from her daily observations and practise them in the studio? "Not at all, it's all about improvisation. It's the practice of just being in the studio, working and improvising."
 
Does that kind of working then help her create meaning in her work? "I'm not interested in meaning, either," she chuckles. In a developing culture of contemporary work these days, where audiences seek to relate and understand a certain meaning from these performances, how would she then expect her audience to see her performances? 
 
“I’m interested in the audience liking what they see, yes. But I’m not really bothered if you get some meaning from my performance, and the person next to you gets another meaning.”
 
There is a break in the conversation as she’s urgently called to help out a girl with a stiff back. I witness Marina in her therapist role; it is as I had imagined Marina the performer to treat her patient – with the intimate knowledge of how the muscles should move and feel against each other. The look on her face is of concentrated concern. Soon, the “patient” is recovering well and Marina changes roles again, back to being the mentor. 
 
A quick chat with the mentees reveals that Marina is the mentor they all feel fortunate to work with at the final stage of their residency. For each of them, she has managed to mentor them into creating a smooth performance from their chaotic ideas and movements. The difference in dance styles of the mentees did not faze her; rather, she knew how to carry forward each style into representing their ideas as best as they might.
 
True to her concepts, she even convinced one of the mentees to dress down the performance and focus on movement rather on embellishment.
 
This interaction with Marina left me with an impression of having met someone who practised, preached as well as went beyond fulfilling her ideals, rather than simply just talking the talk.
 
Vinita Abraham
 
Vinita Sonny Abraham is a post-graduate in Performance Studies and has trained in piano and ballet.
 

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