“Bodies attending to precariousness”

As part of her Morecambe Bay residency with Deco Publique, Jenny Reeves collaborated with Ellen Jeffrey to realise ‘Waders’, a response to the ever shifting patterns of the Bay. Here, they reflect.

In the summer of 2020, we began a conversation about the sea.

About dance and the sea, our individual loves of the sea, of the sea as ‘home’, the sea as voyage to another home, and, inevitably, the rising sea levels and the land that disappears into the sea, that is not-so-gradually claimed by the sea.

We asked one another how, as dance artists, we might address these changing human-ocean relationships as the climate crisis deepens, and what tools we bring towards understanding and articulating these shifts. We spoke. We wrote. And finally, here in May 2021, we danced.

On the rocky coastline of Heysham, looking out over the immense seascape of Morecambe Bay, we began a movement practice that seeks to respond to the entangled lines of flight, weather, wave and shore.

Morecambe Bay is a never-resting landscape: change is constant, movement ever-present. From the site in which we work we can see the sloping, almost sandy sides of the cliff-face, with deep curves that arc inland. The place in which we dance is each day covered and uncovered by the tide, taken away and given back. Each day of our visit, the site reveals subtle alterations: fresh deposits of sand, shifted pools of salty water, the appearance and disappearance of fragments of rock, shell, glass, plastic. Our bare feet sink and slip across surfaces, learning the texture and curve of a land that has so recently been – and again soon will be − a sea-bed, no longer light-bathed but water-buried.

There is so much information here, so much activity, movement and ‘doing-ness’. We are not alone in this place. Other humans, of course, share the day with us – fisherfolk, walkers, drinkers – but it is the birds, cacophonous and swooping, that far outnumber us all. They feed in the shallows, flying and diving, chattering and congregating. We follow the lines of their movement, mimicking their structures.

They are like us − we are like them − needing the sea.

A flock of beings seeking food, joy and home in the sea, lives lived according to the surgings of this great water-body. Again and again the birds claim the line of our gaze, our land-bound bodies spiralling, tilting and lilting to the patterns of their air-borne flight.

Moving the long limbs of our human bodies across sand and rock, tracing the lines and contours of this place, we embody something of the shoreline’s transience, a daily etching of the complexity of its patterns.

The movement that emerges has a slow, sustained quality – sometimes almost gentle, almost tentative in its approach. It seems to be almost a kind of taking-care: taking-care not only of our soft, fragile bodies against the immensity of rock, sun and sea, but taking care of the delicate ecosystem that comprises this place in which we are entangled. All bodies are fragile, and all ecosystems precarious.

How might the movement of such bodies – our bodies − be a sort of enactment of care, for this place that is disappearing? How can our dancing − and the watching of our dancing − invite an attentiveness, from ourselves and others, to this precarious place?

Dance is a doing that is unspoken. We do not generate facts or figures through our movement. We do not describe this place – or our concerns for its rising sea levels – through words or stories. Instead, the fragility of our bodies as only temporarily-living-things gives us all that we need to attend to a precarious and vulnerable world. To embody and empathise with its changing, shifting ways. Through our dancing bodies, we attend to the patterns of rock, water, sky and flight. We attend to the bone-like delicacy of the empty shells that press into the skins of our feet. We attend to the feathered bodies that inhabit this site, who so consistently attract the line of our gaze and who remind us that our relationship with the sea is at once fearfully precarious and utterly joyous.

As we dance with each other and with this place, we cannot help but wonder − when will this shore be uncovered for the last time? When will the time come for a footprint − webbed or toed or otherwise − to be the last to press into this sand before it is submerged, before it must wait patiently through the millennia to be uncovered once more?

As dancers, we work simply with our livingness: we work simply with our bodies, with the temporary presence of our ‘selves’ and give them to the soon-to-be-lost shoreline. What we give is without language and without technology, seeming at once so minimal and yet so much. We give the temporal movement of our temporal bodies.

It is all that we are, and we cannot give more.

− Jenny Reeves & Ellen Jeffery

About Jenny Reeves and the Residency:

Born and bred in Lancashire, Jenny has always had a strong affinity with her home and returned after a number of years training and dancing professionally across the globe. The forgotten and hiding stories from the North of England are what drew her back, to begin a wealth of creative work bringing light to our heritage. In 2016 Jenny created About Time Dance Company and since has built a brilliant portfolio of projects exploring heritage through dance.

The Morecambe Bay Residency Programme provides Jenny with a platform to create a series of performances, community engagement projects and in-depth research. Jenny is proud to be a resident dance artist in Morecambe Bay, the place which she calls home and the main source of inspiration for her creative work.

Keep an eye on our social media platforms and journal pages to see Jenny’s trail of dance explorations for the public to enjoy, both in digital and live formats.

Photography by Rebecca Duxbury

Film by Jonny Randall