Oogly Boogly – Guy Dartnell

A festival project – big festivals and outreach tours – some dance, art festivals (Melb Fest), music fests, Malmo,

Still ongoing in Sweden. No longer in England.

In an inflatable venue

12-18 mths old babies - prelanguage

Copying and following is main aspect. We copy what the babies are doing, sounding.

Babies like us copying them pre-language, but seem confused if copying moves into language, hence choice to work with this pre-language age-group

8 babies with 2 adults per baby, and 4 performers – It is primarily an event for the babies. Tickets were free. Maybe room for 2 – 3 independent people too. Careful of ratio of adults to babies.

There is a very little introduction for the parents. They are asked to “just be here and be present for the babies so they always have you to come back to. If they want to leave you let them go, don’t encourage them to do things for us.” Doing nothing at all is inclusive.

Big round space and parents are asked to slowly move back and sit around the edge. Performers approach babies and get eye contact. The four performers initially just try to touch base with as many babies as possible and just copy what babies are doing. Lying down moving, doing or not.

To begin with the babies tend to go “oh you’re copying me “ – it’s a bit strange. Then they seem to have the realisation, “oh you are copying me, and they test performers out in the copying”. Babies may venture away from parents, performers venture out with them into the space. Performers are all taught to constantly be aware of all the babies all the time. Attachments only for a period of time. Babies do recognise departures, and arrivals – babies delighted with movement of performers.

In some ways the children reflect the parents.

No toys in the space, just people. So babies play with moving thru space, hitting sides of the inflatable, running, making noise. Very very slight ambient music. They tried to do it without music but the parents found it too uncomfortable without music. And the comfort of the babies is dependent on the comfort of the parents, so the artists needed parents to be relaxed.

This project has been experienced with people with a range of disabilities – “on the edge of language”.

Given that the parents sit back and watch the babies and performers interacting, it is a show for the parents, who are sitting back. “And often for the first time in their lives, where they can look at their babies for 45 minutes where they don’t have to worry about them. For the first time the parents understood that the baby isn’t theirs – there is a force in the baby that has its own will and nothing dependent on the parents.”

“In this instance nobody says that copying once is enough. If the baby keeps doing it, we keep doing it. Do it do it do it . etcetc – and a baby may be followed by all four performers with them following them. This baby can make 4 adults do things – “Wow, I am powerful.”

We did decide not to copy them being upset for any length of time. We encourage parents to come and get their child if the child is upset (often not about the show, but maybe hunger tired) We won’t copy the children if they are hitting somebody.

“A kind of ecstasy is created in the space….”

They start creating patterns, and pattern recognition

The most amazing pattern I noticed was when a child crawled over me, then I crawled over the child, and the child crawled over me…. The child set up the game, I picked it up,”

If a child falls over , I fall over with it. Oh, not something’s gone wrong, but oh we’ve all fallen.

‘You are trying to do exactly what they do.” Both in sound and movement. Sometimes you vary the callback slightly, then they vary the callback slightly.

There’s this thing where there is sometimes this edge. We as adults are not making them do something.

On the downside some children have to leave immediately. For some reason they feel scared. We never set it up as a social development thing, we set it up as a show. We decided to avoid research on child development best practice. We were trying to set it up as a show that babies would like, an entertainment, an experience.

One decision – it couldn’t just be a performance where we put babies on the stage, being looked at. It needed to be an event / experience – and this project was therefore embraced by the live art world – like other live art projects for discrete audiences.

For some, it explored the question - What is authentic movement? – attracted wellknown performers interested in authentic movement.

To be a performer in it you had to have almost no ego at all. Some performers from dance, theatre or live art background because we found that different performers picked up on different things with different babies. – eg theatre people easier for eye contact, and copy emotional state and being, not just physical copying

Started experimenting in 2003 – last time performed in Britain 2011/12.

“If you feel your child needs to leave the space, then please do.”

The legacy for Guy? – Started at Battersea Arts Centre “I ended up doing something I never thought I would do. When I did it, it was a mistake.” Was working with an impro technique called “The Game” – of copy and movement. Guy started to copy host Tom’s daughter at dinner. It went on for ages…. Tom fascinated that Guy and baby daughter went on for so long, and daughter was sp engaged…. Drunk dinner party conversation – 3 year funding plan with super ideas – final line about a possible show for babies – got research seed money. In some ways it’s the thing I”m most proud of… emotional response…. I was a solo artist, and this was a revelation to me. As an improviser this was just a gift, and as an improviser it just presents you a possiblity for real play, and inspired others work (another session group member spoke of being inspired by his work). Inspired parents to work with their babies, nursery teachers knew the benefits, but they had to produce evidence. They tried to do a project to collect evidence (with older children with disabilities – in a special school - using lots of dance practice – trained a couple of teachers to be like us performers – differences in the kind of hugs allowed in school compared to oogly boogly practice context). This school work took place in OB venue, not the classroom – importance of notion of context. Evidence - the children were engaging in it and the school saw a difference in them, in ways sometime that we couldn’t have predicted – eg self-hitting kids hit themselves less. Guy thinks he remembers Child who couldn’t open herself out, and previously had to be opened out – child now opens herself out.

OB has given now the venue to this school in Nottingham.

Created a little card of instructions so parents could take the principles away with them.

There is a film that can be shown in an educational context.

As choreographers we were copying all the babies movements – not just those considered developmentally significant. It was all focussed on how are they now in the moment and it is not about the next stage where the adults wanted or expected them to be …

We were never trying to create better parenting, and because we didn’t care about that, we created the thing that we did. We are not interested in that, we are interested in making performance.

Specific agenda – “to have the parents look at their babies”.

I know someone who practised at home, but no formal feedback or evaluation. This was in v early days of internet sharing etc

Pure copying – question from the session group: Is this offer and accept or not ? – G says we were aiming, by copying, “to let something live longer”

As performers we can say “Yes” to everything the baby does. But sometimes the parents have to say “No”, and sometimes that “no” is a limitation of themselves.”

“Improvisation is the formalising of spontaneity”

Babies in a way are pure spontaneity and over time you are formalising and teaching them to become their own adult.

Oogly Boogly was mostly embraced by the dance world.

Notes from Guy Dartnell taken by Catherine Ryan ([email protected])