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Anne Colvin: Noticing Connections and the Act of Being Alongside

After a month’s break, Between the Art is back for June with Dance Artist Anne Colvin.


Anne grew up in Dundee, on the east coast of Scotland, and later moved to London to study at Trinity Laban, which was known as The Laban Centre for Movement and Dance at the time. She now lives on the south coast of England in Shoreham-by-Sea.

As a Dance Artist, Choreographer, and creative practitioner, Anne has worked with many different people in a wide range of contexts. Before training as a dancer, Anne worked in a residential hospital on the outskirts of Dundee with learning disabled adults and children, many of whom didn’t talk and so they communicated with body language. This experience has informed the development of Anne’s work which has connection, inclusion, and collaboration at its core. People are at the centre of her work.

Anne has developed various projects for groups connecting dance to nature and the outdoors, including an initial project called Imprint. Commissions from South East Dance and Great Ormond Street Hospital Arts led to Anne establishing the company imprint, alongside Visual Artist and Film Maker Matt Bartram. They work with communities and arts professionals to create participatory and performance work with its soul in our nature spaces. Exploring different ways people connect with natural and wild environments, the imprints we leave and the memories taken away are key themes of imprint’s work.


In our conversation, Anne generously shares her creative process and how she adapts this to be alongside the many different environments, spaces, and people she works with. Anne and Matt's work at imprint feels highly relevant in today's current climate here in the UK - continue reading to find out more...


Dancers underneath a tree

Where do you work? What makes this place important for your creative process?

I work wherever I’m asked to work! Mostly, I’m approached by organisations to work with many different people, so the places I work are where others are at, and I go and meet them in these spaces. If I’m preparing spaces for people to meet me then the place needs to be light and bright and, if possible, outdoors. It’s about what I can bring and what I invite other people to bring to the space that creates an open and collaborative place of work. I love travelling to different places and discovering what this tells me about the people who are already there.

I feel a real privilege to be invited into someone else’s space and so it’s important to honour it. If I’m going to invite people to explore something new then the place they are in is really significant. This is why I feel it’s important for me to go to them. If a place is meaningful to people, then it provides familiarity, encourages relaxation, and they have autonomy because they feel that they are in more control. And it gives me an insight into the jewels that matter – and what we can play with.

For example: I created a project Get into Nature, on the south coast working with heritage sites including Birling Gap run by the National Trust, Wakehurst, and Weald and Downland Living Museum to make their spaces relevant to learning disabled adults’ experiences. This project was for learning disabled adults who often visit heritage sites in big groups or with older parents and can miss out on the opportunity to really explore the place for themselves. The project focussed on individually connecting to these outside environments through talking, looking at photographs, and finding a sense of place from their perspective.


"My work is about time for exploration, finding connections with our natural environments and linking these with our own stories, feelings and experiences. There’s so much that nature can offer us in terms of metaphor and connection."

How would you describe your creative process? Do you use certain mediums/techniques to develop your creative ideas?

I write things down a lot! I do a lot of writing that’s not necessarily in sentences, but more often single words. I might have one main word or phrase that keeps coming back to me which I’ll mind-map with more words, leading to more mind-maps, and so I end up with this web of many words that interlink and perhaps start to mean something completely different. I love words for two reasons: for their adequacy and their inadequacy! They can mean something very specific, and I love looking at the etymology of words and their origins; but a word can also be very inadequate and so I find writing other words that flip off from each other really interesting. These words or phrases often create images in my head, making connections, and thinking about what they could mean. There’s a flurry of curiosity.

It’s only after this that I take this thinking to a group of people or to whomever I’m working with. I often go on walk with them to start a conversation outdoors. Walking and talking, making our bodies move is a simple way of generating ideas without pressure. There’s nothing obviously ‘dancey’ about it; I might get a feel for dynamics or a sense of space, but the choreographed movement tends to come later.

Beginnings are so important. People say how important endings are but I think we often forget about the beginnings. My work is about being alongside somebody or a group of people, listening, facilitating an enabling space and creating rich beginnings that people feel comfortable with, and that inspire new thinking and creative ideas. Once we’re in flow, I move away to be on the parameters to see what others are creating, whilst noticing and holding the space.

imprint’s work is about time for exploration, and finding connections with our natural environments and linking these with our own stories, feelings and experiences. There’s so much that nature can offer us in terms of metaphor and connection.

Starting from a place of comfort and familiarity enables us to feel safe and gives permission to our minds and our imaginations to explore and lets new possibilities emerge. Acknowledging physical sensations can encourage us to be more curious and find those deeper connections - a bit like the mycelium that create the mycorrhizal networks between tree roots under our feet. This gives us all the ideals for moving, which isn’t necessarily like traditional movement or dance. There’s a process of layering that happens in the creative workshops, building up and then stripping back to find the essence of what’s important for the particular piece of work or project. Focusing on this essence is a key way of moving into a realm of performance that works with simplicity and has real meaning and connection for dancers and participants. It can appear simple but it can also be very complex without being complicated.


Dancers on a shingle beach near white cliffs

Do you have any rituals that help with this process of creating work?

When I’m creating work for myself, I need to get out and about, physically moving my body, not in a dance sense but just being outside, walking, swimming, and observing the physical experiences. There’s a sense of shedding, leaving something behind as I’m moving through a place, and then a feeling of being open to whatever is coming. I observe these physical sensations and let them settle on me and in me, lightly, without it being a set ritual. Letting things flow… I notice what is coming back to me: What do I keep thinking about? Where am I drifting? What else am I connecting with? There’s a sense of things moving through me and noticing what is settling, what is occupying my thoughts.

The richness of working with outdoor environments is that it’s never the same. I try to stomp from my house to the harbour wall by the sea, about four kilometres, most days. It’s so different every day and it’s a joy to experience. I love the weather and noticing how it moves through the body. It has a power that we can’t always see that embodies us and then drifts off again, disappearing. It has an impermanence that can be so exhilarating and freeing. Noticing all of this is key to my own experience of making work and of inviting others to connect with their own imaginations in an embodied way.


"Listen, notice, and be alongside. Being alongside is non-judgemental, open, and receptive. This is particularly key to when we are realising how destructive we can be as human beings, forgetting what is really important: conversation."

What are you working on at the moment?

We’re excited to be working with Great Ormond Street Hospital Arts again on a new project, Nature Inside. It focusses on exploring our connections with nature through creativity and will culminate in a series of Immersive Sharings with the children in the hospital and at a local school. These will include two films and interactive invitations to play, talk, mark-make and move. The children at GOSH experience significant health challenges and many have limited access the outdoors or wild places as a result. The project is about finding a way to support this nature connection in a way that feels as real as it possibly can be.

At the beginning of the project, members of the imprint team visited the school and the hospital to gather stories from the children. We offered sensory and natural objects to spark creative play, and encouraged each child to take us on their own imaginary journeys. We threw things, ordered things, balanced things, gave objects names and took them on adventures. We hid, we jumped out, looked for treasure and relaxed in the sun’s rays. Responding in the moment is when great ideas present themselves and where we create the deepest meaning for each individual. There were a lot of wonderfully bizarre and playful stories!

Matt and I are now working with three dancers to take the children’s ideas out into nature and make a dance film that reflects their collective ideas, experiences and imaginations and distils the essence of their interests and creative explorations. We’ll project the films into the children’s spaces, effectively bringing 'nature inside', and invite the children to watch it and connect with it in whatever way they want to. The films will offer an episodic story of what it’s like to be outside in nature in a way that means something to all of the children we have worked with.

Matt and I have started to develop a relationship with South Downs National Park, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. They have been so supportive of us for our Nature Inside project. We want to create more work that either brings people into the park to explore, or taking explorations from the park to those who can’t physically access it. We would also like to make some work specific to early years children, and continue to bring trained and non-trained dancers together to make relevant and meaningful work that everyone feels part of.


A dancer drawing a map in the sand

What does “sense of place” mean to you? Is this concept present in your work?

Sense of place is about the environment I’m in and being in conversation, feeling true sense of place because we are in conversation. There’s a notion of being present with something other: something other than my thoughts, a conversation away from my mouth or brain. Sense of place is about sensing, observing, and letting in, and then responding to it rather than replying.

There’s also an importance of community. You can feel a sense of belonging in a place even if you haven’t physically been there before. It’s a dense but rich web of things all in connection with one another. Community doesn’t always start with people; it starts with the outside and the pulse of the natural world and a single person’s connection with it. And so, the conversation echoes and draws others in.


Do you have a message that you hope to give to the world?

This question feels too much ego for me. So, I would say: listen, notice, and be alongside. Being alongside is non-judgemental, open, and receptive. This is particularly key to when we are realising how destructive we can be as human beings driven by ego and forgetting what is really important, the conversation. In all of the work that I do, there’s this sense of inclusion, that everyone is visible and feeling a sense of belonging. We can be alongside one another yet all be very different.


Two people looking at a camera in the forest

Anne's Book List:


1. Poetry by Mary Oliver

Oliver makes connections with the wild through her poetry in a quite direct way. It’s uncomplicated and she gets to the raw essence but also with tenderness amongst the harsh reality. She doesn’t dress it up with anything, and humanness doesn’t interfere. I like this way of noticing and being alongside the natural world, not trying to draw attention yourself but recognising that you are part of it.


2. Poetry by David Whyte

I love Whyte’s poetry. He writes quite long poems and this length often comes as a surprise as I’m reading and being amazed by it.


3. The Red Tree by Shaun Tan

I would recommend this beautiful book to anyone. It draws attention to trusting ourselves and feeling reassured.


4. Why Women Grow by Alice Vincent

Vincent became curious about women who garden, and so for this book, she spent time meeting and talking to different women who have their own gardening space. It questions why people grow and what the earth has to offer them. Vincent also reflects on where she is in her own life, so it’s filled with celebrations, grief, power, identity. There’s many connections between why women garden and how it makes a difference to them.


A collection of natural objects.

To find out more about Anne's work at imprint, visit imprintcreative.org and their Instagram @our_imprints




Images 1, 2: Zoe Manders

Image 3: Artist's Own

Images 4, 5: Matt Bartram

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