Interview: Daphna Attias on chaos, conversations & creating dance theatre in a hospital

This September, Peut-Être Theatre are creating a brand new dance theatre performance with the children at Great Ormond Street Hospital. We talked to Director Daphna Attias to find out more…

Tell us about Tidy Up – what is the show about, and where did the idea come from? 

Tidy Up will be a show for children age 3+ and their families. It will be about order and chaos in our daily lives. It will explore in a fun, non-verbal way why children seem to naturally gravitate towards chaos.

By definition chaos is ‘a greatly complex system whose behaviour is so unpredictable as to appear random’. So could it be that what ‘appears’ random to an adult is actually organised in a child’s perception and vice versa?

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We will play with the many different ways and rules we can reorder the same things, and explore if a system or a routine, destined to effectuate order, can uncoil into pandemonium simply by over-functioning. These are the questions at the heart of Tidy Up.

The idea originated firstly through conversations with my children: there is not a day in which I don’t ask them to tidy up their room and it’s a constant source of tension in most families. So I wanted to find a way to question if tidying up could be fun for children and if chaos could be fun for parents.

The second source of inspiration for the project is a book called The Art of Clean Up: Life Made Neat and Tidy by Swiss artist Ursus Wehrli, in which he takes everyday situations and tidies them up. For example, the fruit salad by colour and shape and the toys in the sand pit by size and function. Every situation is broken down to a logic and order that looks tidy but is not the ‘right’ order. We started playing with those images as inspiration and discovered a lot of questions.

Our approach is non-verbal, full of movement, music and visuals. We hope to knock down the preconceptions of right and wrong and trace what actually dictates our sense of order. We will challenge audiences to identify and question their own tidying-up habits and investigate children’s ‘right or wrong’ order. 

Children and young people are at the heart of the creative process for this show. The first phase of development was exploring ideas for Tidy Up with Roundhouse and local schools – how did you facilitate this, and what did you discover?

In December last year we did a research and development period supported by Roundhouse and GOSH Arts. We worked with children from the age of 3 to 7 and were really intrigued by the different approach of different age groups as well as the different approach of nursery and school teachers.

Working with children, teachers and parents helped us gain a deeper understanding of the notions of order and chaos in early years development and the different approaches in each stage. It was interesting to discover the difference in acceptance of mess and chaos between nursery and primary school. In the nursery, order is there to allow us to play with chaos. Chaos enables us to learn and experience new things. If a child is too focused on order in preschool ages it can be a cause for concern. In the school system there is a higher need for order and structure. One of the teachers used the term ‘No questions asked’ when explaining the meaning of ‘system’ to his students.

Part of our research included working with Dr Jane McNicholas, Principal Clinical Psychologist at GOSH. The conversations with her really informed our scientific research for the project. It was fundamental for us to realise how neurologic and cognitive developments grow together in preverbal and early years, and how neural-pathways develop through contact with daily organisational challenges. We analysed how patterns morph in early years and how they modify through age and experience. We also learnt how various coping mechanisms are rooted at a very early stage.  

Second image.jpgYou’re being supported by GOSH Arts to create the show alongside children and families at Great Ormond Street Hospital. What will this process look like?

Our work with Great Ormond Street Hospital began when we created Shh…Bang! back in 2014. We worked then with their audiology department, which had informed our process and deepened our understanding of the themes of the show. Since then we have been invited by GOSH Arts to perform at the hospital and run workshops.

GOSH Arts invited invited us to undertake a residency at Great Ormond Street Hospital in Autumn 2017 and we sat down together to think how we could make it meaningful for the patients, their families, as well as us as artists. We’ve made the decision to use this time to create our new show in collaboration with the children, families and staff at the hospital.

Patients will be invited into our creative space every day to take part in dance warm ups and music sessions which will inform the development of the piece. For children who are unable to leave their beds, our brilliant creative team will run one-to-one sessions on the wards so everyone at the hospital regardless of ability will be able to participate in our creative process.  These patients will have the opportunity to shape a professional show by being part of all aspects of its creation.

We will continue our research with the psychology and neurology departments and explore the themes of the show with children and families whose lives are in chaos and routines are broken whilst undergoing treatment at the hospital.

We will then premiere the show at the hospital in October half term as part of their family arts week before going on tour nationally.

_L8A9000.jpgAre the challenges and considerations when developing new work any different when thinking about performances in a health setting?  

Key to delivering an arts activity in that setting is flexibility. It’s hard to predict who can attend and when due to doctors visits and appointments. Some children can’t leave the wards and some children are only there for the day.

This is why we wanted to base ourselves at the hospital for the duration of the rehearsals and not to pop in and out. This will allow some children a longer term connection with us and allow us to be more flexible with how we work with them.

The team at GOSH Arts are brilliant and very experienced at delivering art programmes in the hospital setting so we will have their support and guidance every step of the process.

When I think of performances in hospitals, I think of Clown Doctors, and their close-up, bedside interactions with patients. I’m interested to know what dance theatre will look like?

The show we are imagining will be a dance theatre, non verbal, playful and interactive show. We want to bring the audience to the heart of the performance and explore if we could all make one big mess together.

It’s not art therapy in any way. That’s not what we do. Evidence from GOSH Arts suggests that creative environments and participating in artistic activity can have a positive impact on health and wellbeing. We hope to inspire the children and families who will see the show, allow them to think differently, and encourage conversations and play.

Peut-Être’s most ambitious project to date Tidy Up needs it’s final push in order to allow over 6000 children across the UK to enjoy a creative, uplifting and inspiring show. You can support this production by donating to the Tidy Up Kickstarter Campaign

In Autumn 2017 Tidy Up will premiere at Great Ormond Street Hospital before beginning a national tour. Click here for more details.

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