A community collaboration in Hawkwood’s woodland during the lockdown
In these difficult times, people have been finding different ways to work in nature and finding great solace from it. I have been dancing all my life and discovered the joy of moving outside nearly 29 years ago. For the last six years, I have danced around Hawkwood on my regular walks with my husband Harvey. Much of the time upon Wick Ridge, which has wonderful panoramic views of the River Severn round to Selsley and Rodborough Commons and Swifts Hill.
I have found such inspiration for dance from nature, discovering ways to move my body to represent shapes and forms I see around me. Tempo and rhythm are influenced by mood and weather rather than a musical score. This has allowed me to find my own inner dance. It has supported me through difficult times and enabled me to maintain an even keel.
During the last six months, I have been working with a group of dancers in the woods at Hawkwood to create an improvised dance piece. The journey in doing this has been so rewarding and satisfying. It started with a sound recording that I made with my husband as we walked through the woods in early spring at the beginning of the first lockdown in March 2020. The idea was to create a dance piece from the sound recording, but as we couldn’t meet in a studio very easily, I thought it would be good to meet on a regular basis in the woods, giving everyone the chance to experience the woods for themselves and discover their own movement and inspiration.
Each week we would move in a different spot where we were able to witness the different seasons from the lazy late summer days, to the rustic colours of autumn and the movement of falling leaves, to the skeletal form of winter. We sensed the woodland growing lighter as the leaves dropped, creating more open vistas through the bare trees.
Although at the beginning of September we were able to meet as a group, we couldn’t physically touch each other, something I greatly missed. So, I found myself using the trees as dancing partners, hanging, swinging and climbing in them.
The more time I spent in the woods, the more I began to become aware of some of the similarities between ourselves and trees. The way trees support each other through their root systems, young species being protected by older ones, diseased trees being nurtured by surrounding trees. Then there were the trees that had been around for 100 or more years and the stories they must have to tell, the events they had witnessed and the fashions they had seen along with conversations they must have heard. This connection with the Hawkwood woodland has been both nourishing and necessary for myself and our dance community of about 10 souls.
When we went into the lockdown in November, in order for us to continue with the work but keep to the rules of meeting with only one person, I began to issue instructions to everyone through email in advance. This meant that we could all continue to work on the project but on our own or with one other person. It also meant that people could move in spaces closer to their homes too. I also asked people to give written feedback to their experiences, giving them the opportunity to reflect on what they had witnessed and explore their creativity. The words, pictures and film clips people have contributed form a rich archive of work in progress.
Jemima Bennett trained as an actress/dancer at the London Studio Centre of Dance and Drama. She worked for 10 years touring schools in UK, Australia and New Zealand. She taught dance to special needs children and 10 years ago started running an improvisation dance group here in Stroud. With this group she has made four films and created a piece called Life Force in remembrance of her parents with Nicola Clark and Bartholomew Mason.