Echo Echo Dance host Vertical.Nature.Base.

The Derry dance company tries outdoor pursuits

'From climbing, investigating rocks, and crawling underneath things, we’ve created dance!'

Freelance choreographer Esther Alleyne, from Coleraine, didn’t know what to expect when she and her colleague, Yorkshire-born choreographer Bridget Madden, travelled down to Inishowen recently. But what they experienced was a real challenge.

For two weeks, Steve Batts of the Echo Echo Theatre & Dance Company joined forces with Belfast-based climber and artist Dan Shipsides for Phase One of Vertical.Nature.Base (V.N.B.), a camping project.

The camp, which took place at Shroove Beach near Greencastle, saw Shipsides, Batts and several others explore climbing both as a sport and a creative activity. Alleyne and Madden were two of the numerous participants involved.

Their work and research culminated in the construction of a metallic platform on the site. During that two week time period, Alleyne and Madden gained a feel of rock climbing – the sense, the taste, the touch and so on.

Then they replicated it all over again for Phase Two of V.N.B. This time, the platform was transported to Echo Echo Dance’s Bishop Street Studios in Derry-Londonderry for a series of dance performances at the end of September.

Describing the fruits of their labours, Alleyne says: 'We’ve kind of been working on embodying the landscape. That’s what we’re doing on the floor in Derry; translating our experience on Shroove Beach and putting it on the platform for everyone to see.

'It’s been an amazing experience.'

It’s as if a new form of dance has been created from climbing and research. And Madden shares her colleague’s enthusiasm, considering herself 'fortunate' to have worked in such gorgeous surroundings.

'The key to our research was to go down there with a real openness and awareness, to not bring any baggage from, I guess, the suburban world,' adds Madden. 'City life and outdoor life are very different.'

Shipsides, a highly respected artist, is pleased that the project attracted such a vast range of participants. 'Some knew about Echo Echo, others were interested in my work. Then you had dancers, contemporary visual artists and climbers. A whole mixture of the general public got involved.'

It’s a new and exciting experience for Shipsides to work with a dance company. To him, though, Echo Echo are more than that: 'They focus more on movement, which is what my work’s about. It’s not about what you see, it’s how you engage and interact with what you see.'

The project is part of Echo Echo’s Into Contact and is funded by Legacy Trust UK’s Connections programme in Northern Ireland. The idea for V.N.B. came about from the need to do something with climbing that was also unique.

Through this project, Shipsides and Batts have made it their mission to explore the deeper resonances and textures of climbing as an activity.

A series of exhibitions, practice climbs and discussions between the two men culminated in an exhibition in Inishowen, and the Derry dance performances.

It is hoped that these dance performances will expand movement as a poetic medium, and people of all ages were encouraged to get involved.

Batts, Echo Echo’s Artistic Director, is thrilled to have someone of Shipsides’ calibre on board for V.N.B., describing him as 'a very good camper', and more: 'He’s tidy, he’s efficient, an early riser and very good natured. We have a shared interest in exploring the outdoors, although he’s possibly more practical than I am!'

Echo Echo’s Development Officer Sarah Bryden concurs. 'It’s been a privilege to work with a fine artist such as Dan Shipsides to create this platform. This unique approach has yielded very interesting results.'

Visit Echo Echo Dance Company online.