Resting Place is a series of performance events and installations based on the archive of Clarice Alberta Spratling, following the journey which her diary describes through her time as VAD nurse in WWI. Find out full details about the many layers of the project here: www.restingplace.eu
Events in 2014
Ellington Park, Ramsgate, Kent: Sunday, 23 March 2014, 3pm-5pm
Charing Cross Station, London, Southern Train, Ramsgate Station, Kent: Saturday, 10 May 2014, 11.45-12.45pm
Seafront, Folkestone, Kent: Sunday, 29 September 2014
Wimereux, France: 2015
Dawn Cole and Roanna Mitchell: ‘Creating space to remember’. International Conference at the University of East London: Spaces of Memory & Performance: Trauma, Affect, Displacement.
London, 20-21 June 2014.
Roanna on joining Resting Place
I was immediately intrigued by the world of words, images, artifacts and unspoken events that frame Resting Place. Clarice Spratlings diary, the archive and Dawn’s work in response to it are such a rich source, and I am honoured and excited to be a part of it as movement director. The work, as almost always, began with first gut-instinct responses to the material, initiating a time of research and delving, senses wide open to everything that resonates with Clarice’s world. With my collaborator, Niamh Lynam-Cotter, I have started to explore Clarice’s words and the spaces between them. With each of her entries, more questions are raised than answers given. Everyday actions reverberate with the wider sociohistorical context of emancipation, colonialism, war, death, absence and longing. What do you document for those who come after you? What do you lay to rest?
On the Ellington Park performance:
Discovering and developing the movement language for the first Resting Place event has been a long journey. Ellington Park was Clarices’ ancestral home, and although it was already a public park in her lifetime, Clarice and her sister retained a sense of belonging and ownership to this space throughout their lives, talking about it as ‘our park’.
To find the movement for this event we tried to get to the heart of Clarices’ connection to this space. What were her favourite trees? What shapes of the landscape would she remember when she was far from home? How might she have experienced the push and pull between the adventure of going to help the war effort, and the familiarity and roots of home and heritage?
Neither of our performers are attempting to literally impersonate Clarice. Rather, we are allowing the words of the diary to exist alongside a dance of leaving home in the space that was home to Clarice.
Country dancing formed a large part of the research for this project, and featured in the final performance, involving audience and performers.
Joining the war effort was seen, by many young people, as a great adventure. The dangers of war, and the farewell from loved ones, paled before the colourful exuberance with which contributing to the war effort was celebrated. Communities were brought together in this moment in ways they hadn’t been for a long time:
‘I wonder whether it’s too much to hope that afterwards, when all the horrors are over, we shall be able to conjure up again the feelings of these first few weeks, and somehow rebuild our peacetime world so as to preserve everything of war which is worth preserving? What we need is a kind of non-material war museum, where, instead of gaping at an obsolete uniform in a glass case, we can press a magic button and see ourselves as we were while this revealing mood was freshly upon us. I know that sounds silly and there are no magic buttons. The nearest approach to them, I think, are poems and articles — and even the letters and chance phrases — which are struck out of people like sparks at a moment like this’.
From ‘Mrs Miniver’ by Jan Struther.
By introducing country dancing to the event in Ellington Park, we invited the audience to come together in an activity that echoes this sense of togetherness — alongside the touching bunting messages, sent from far afield, that had converged on the bandstand at the heart of the park.
I began to develop the idea of country dancing as a participatory aspect of the performance in Ellington park, by following an instinct. At London’s Cecil Sharp House I found a generous and nourishing environment in which to learn more, both about the dances themselves and about their history. Here I was able to establish much deeper links that confirmed for me the decision of integrating country dancing within the event.
The early 20th century saw a resurgence of English Country Dance as a popular pastime. Cecil Sharp, the founding father of the folklore revival at this time, collected traditional English songs and dances and founded the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), with summer schools in traditional dance being run across the country. These may well have been accessible and familiar to Clarice and her friends. Sharp’s work is preserved to this day at Cecil Sharp House in London, and passed on through teachers there, who generously dedicated time to Resting Place.
Contact with members of the EFDSS revealed further connections between country dance and the war effort: In 1917, dance teacher Daisy Caroline Daking travelled to the war camps in France and began teaching country dance as form of entertainment and recuperation to the forces — another kind of nursing.
Daking reported: ‘The comments that the men made were illuminating. The big, rather solid man who said, after going through two or three longways dances, “I’m going to take this up, it will keep me off the booze.” The little group in that other camp who said it had felt like paying a visit to Blighty… No.5 said he had enjoyed it ever so much. He wanted to apologize for his bad dancing, but he had had a toe amputated, and was still in bandages, and his boots were new.’ D.C. Daking, 1918
In recent years, Deborah Denenfeld has revived the idea of using country dance as a means of rehabilitating soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, through Dancing Well: The Soldier Project in the US.
Resting Place at Charing Cross Station: On the Performance
VAD nurse Clarice Spratling spent her last night before leaving for France at the Charing Cross Hotel, in Charing Cross station. The performance is placed at the central, balancing point of the station. The stillness at the centre of the concourse heightens the awareness of the movement that surrounds it, and invites the eye to roam the space, to notice with fresh eyes the station itself, and the windows of the Charing Cross Hotel which still face onto the concourse. This space is filled with the ghosts of journeys past, constantly growing in number, including Clarice’s journey in 1915, and your own journey today. Using the folding of pillowcases as a starting point, the movement explores the way in which domestic actions would soon become the routine of the war effort. The everyday starts to disintegrate, and sleep is already troubled by a hint of the nightmares to come. Pillowcases, laid out on earth from Clarice’s ancestral home, speak of her own final night on home soil, and of the many whom she will help lay to rest across the channel.
Folkestone Seafront: The Performance
The Folkestone performance of Resting Place is all about the horizon. It is about the opening up of Clarice Spratling’s horizon as she leaves on a boat from Folkestone to France. It is about the horizon that is framed by the bell on the seafront, where the outline of the French coast only becomes a reality when the sight is clear — just as those who went to war only seldom had moments of clarity about what they would face there.
And it is about the horizon as a space where earth and heaven meet, where the dead touch the living.
The movement for this performance takes place on the fine line in between, a line that Clarice would have navigated constantly as she tended to the soldiers who may or may not cross over to the other side into death.
We have kept the movements simple and clean, an echo of the efficient movements of a hospital ward and the lifeline of military order which gave a sense of normality, holding chaos at bay in the camps of France.