Dance-maker Lucinda Coleman making dance with wily words and syllables that clamber to be stories gently moving.

Make Your Mark

June 2014

I had lunch recently with my friend Berenice, who is both a wonderful artist and thinker. Rarig image eggShe asked me about my experiences in Myanmar and listened carefully as I talked of creative cross-cultural collaboration and the making of art work across diverse disciplines.

“How do you define collaboration?” was her question when I paused for breath.

“That’s a hard thing to define sometimes” I sighed.  “How do you see it?”

She tilted her head a little and like me moments before, gathered her thoughts to give shape to ideas in spoken words: “When collaborating, you are making your mark on another person’s work- and giving them permission to mark your creative work also.  But more than that, you are marking another person.  And they are marking you.  So collaboration means not only is your artistic work marked by others and won’t be what you originally conceived it to be… but you too are marked as a person.  And therefore you are changed - as a person”.

Artists like Berenice are used to the language of mark-making.  As a term it refers to the lines, shapes, textures and patterns that pens, paints or other substances make on all kinds of surfaces.  Different artists make marks with different kinds of implements; the results often unexpected and impermeable.  My friend’s comparison seemed frighteningly accurate.

We tossed around ideas of collaborative practice further, agreeing this kind of mark-making was never equitable.  Someone may contribute 5% to my 95%, but I am still marked by the experience.  It is a harsh process, yet incredibly rich with the benefits of deep acceptance of another facilitating an even richer creative experience… and the mark-making of character.


* Image: Berenice Rarig, still from video ‘Elision Field’ – work in progress 

Meeting Places

May 2014

“Children, there are words pasted to the undersides of leaves that match your secrets” - Daniel Lusk

How do I begin to tell the story of secrets shared?  Our job in Myanmar recently was to carve out a space and hold it without judgement: to listen.  This is harder than it sounds.  I think it’s a greater gift than any of us realise to listen with the spirit and not make a judgement with the heart.

Creative practice and creative partnerships offer the gift of space for listening to secrets sometimes spoken, sometimes sung.  Our task as creative people is to listen and respond to something different from that of our experiences, and of our own ideas.  This can seem threatening to our closely held beliefs, though perhaps that’s ok.  Whatever the beliefs, if they have integrity and hold value, they are not in danger of disintegrating.  So we can risk a little authentic listening in the meeting places.

The thing to keep in mind about this kind of meeting place is that it is guarded.  It can only be entered because space has been created for a safe encounter with another.  This doesn’t happen randomly.  It takes preparation, discipline and commitment to the wellbeing of others.  It also takes a willingness to sacrifice your own agenda to hold the invitation for someone else to be heard.

Our job as remnant creative practitioners lately has been to hold the meeting places long enough for the stories of incredibly precious individuals to be told.  As artistic practitioners, our work has been to use the language of dance and music and visual arts to engage in a conversation of depth in these sacred meeting places.

hands dancing tree and Esther dancing hands dancing 2

 Photography by Amanda Humphries, 2014

Bubbles in the Glass

April 2014

The Glass Maker tells his story.  He stands in the middle of the disused factory and recalls the time in Burma when he was a boy and his grandfather was blowing glass.  His eyes are wide and wistful as he talks of his trade; his laughter sudden as he gestures to the abandoned machinery and fragments of glass that litters his family’s property.

There are glass vessels hidden and emerging along pathways dense with overgrown foliage.  Shafts of sunlight cut through the skeletal frame of old buildings to rebound from coloured fragments of glass pieces.  Some of what can be discovered is an offcut, some is whole: all is dusty, dirty and achingly beautiful.

“Do you see these bubbles in the glass?” asks the Glass Maker, bending slowly to retrieve a goblet from the dirt.   “They are not meant to be there”.

“I like them”, I smile.

“Yes” chuckles the Glass Maker.  “We say that the bubbles hold the soul of the Maker, do you see?”  He looks directly at me.  “So there is a little piece of the Maker in every glass that is made”.

Bubbles in the Glass

 Photography by Ben McLachlan in Yangon, Myanmar; March 2014, reprinted with permission.


March 2014

On our first day at the Children’s Centre in Yangon, Myanmar, Remnant Dance artists invited children to sign up for one of five creative workshops: dance, music, visual arts, photography and costume design.  Along with 23 other boys and girls, a tall 13 year old boy turned up to dance.  Throughout the following week, his attendance fluctuated for group activities, but he always turned up to dance. 

This quiet young man was lost in a sea of bodies most of time we were there.  I tried to seek him out to speak to him in my halting Burmese.  He always ducked away, grinning sheepishly at this foolish Australian woman attempting to have a conversation in a foreign language.  I laughed; he laughed: we accepted we could not communicate.

Except that he could dance.

During movement exercises designed to facilitate sensory awareness of another person, this young boy suddenly had a lot to say.  At first, like all the children in the dance workshops, he grinned self-consciously when beginning to move with others.  He avoided eye contact, ducked his chin and observed what was happening before participating.  Gradually, with many friends cheering him on, he would launch himself into a form of break-dancing; almost as a way to clear his throat. 

In small groups and partnering work, he responded intuitively to gesture and when my turn came to mirror his movements, he was gentle but sure in his movement choices.  As we danced together, he began to tell me how he felt.  With the slow arc of a curved arm he invited me to listen.  With the contraction of his torso, and the tilting of his head, he challenged me to stretch beyond my own limited reach. 

He looked me straight in the eye, hands splayed and parallel to the floor, a pulsing rhythm daring me to look beyond our differences.  I followed.  I didn’t avert my gaze.  His face opened; mine softened.  He played with spatial dynamics, telling me what this day was like for him.  He let go and flung backwards. I nearly broke my back following as he stretched for the sky, trusting to hope.

In reaching beyond the physical space we both shared, we discovered there was much to say through our language in common. Even stranger than that, this exchange allowed for one of the clearest and deepest conversations I have had during our time in Myanmar.

girl smiling cropped

Photography by Ellen Avery, reprinted with permission.


February 2014

There are more than two choices at the crossroads.  I count at least five paths that can be taken at the intersection of two roads. Continue on as you are; choose to go right or left into new territory or even go back from where you came.  You can also stop and make a life of sorts at the crossroads, without travelling down any unknown paths.

In the world in which I work and live, crossroads can be seen as problematic.  What is the right way to go?  Will I miss out on something if I go one way or another?  Perhaps I should just stop and rest because really I work so hard and am so tired.  Or, in the back of my mind is that little safe voice that soothes: you can always go back.

Lucid feb 2

In the bigger world, in which I don’t always work or live, not everyone is given the gift of a crossroads.  Not everyone has the choice to change direction or even stop a while to contemplate a new pathway. 

I recently visited a Children’s Centre in Yangon, Myanmar in preparation to work creatively with a Burmese community there this year.  A small child limped toward me expectantly on my first visit.  She was perfectly formed; her gait disrupted by a broken strap on one of her slip-on shoes.  Eyes wide, she stopped and looked up at me, wiped her runny nose with her hand and said something in Burmese as she took off the plastic thong and handed it to me for fixing.  I couldn’t fix it.  It was missing the part that anchored the bottom to the strap.  I shoved the flapping strap back in its hole, knowing it didn’t fix anything, but she smiled as she put it on her foot and shuffled off happily, glancing back at me as I stood quietly, a guest in her home.

I had careened off my well paved road some time ago; the trajectory thrusting me into this conversation with a young girl who just needed a new pair of slip-on shoes and a tissue for her runny nose.  As she continued on her way I realised she probably knew I couldn’t fix the shoe, but had been more interested in the cuddle and contact as I responded to her invitation for conversation.  I also realised she may never have the options I have had, both for conversation and the fixing-of-things, because of the privilege of choice at the crossroads.  We who have choices should take riskier paths for those who do not. 

Lucid feb 3

Why?  Because choosing an unknown direction just might lead us to encounter the most precious of individuals shuffling along happily.  Though some may never have the gift of choice that multiple crossways offer fellow travellers through life, we can choose to walk along someone else’s path a while.  In exchanging smiles and sharing space, we can be open to discovering what is the most important part of journeying on another person’s pathway. 

Lucid feb 1

Images: Glass Factory pathways

Photography by Lucinda Coleman, taken on location at the Nagar Glass Factory, Yangon, Myanmar