Chris Owen

How It All Started

It all started with a traffic jam. An accident involving two vehicles and a lorry on a motorway. I was aware it was a serious one from the length and weight of the waiting, combined with the collective stillness of the other vehicles that surrounded me. This wasn’t just any day for anyone, this was a life changing day for someone, and I was the lucky one who escaped intact within the warmth and safety of this fragile shell that encased me. All I could think of was, ‘Why me, why now? I’m going to be late for my tech rehearsal!’ I instantly felt guilty for having such selfish thoughts, so I surrendered and settled in for the long haul.

But this was a different kind of waiting, I saw this as an opportunity, an opportunity to do something different – to experience novelty. Only once or twice have I ever stepped out of a car on a motorway during gridlock traffic, and from such experiences I recall vividly the community spirit which waiting created, with conversations about rising petrol prices and s**t service stations. This was as good a time as any for such idle banter. I wanted to be the first to start the trend, to step out and take the risk so other people around me would join. This could be my chance to meet someone in the 1st lane of a motorway. We could start by hanging out together on the slip road, risk it to the 2nd lane, then maybe finish off on the hard shoulder. We could tell our children and grandchildren that we met in the fast lane of a motorway. I finally got out of the car, and instantly got back in as the traffic began to stretch away. Oh well, maybe next time.

I was finally on the move and on my way to The University of Salford to perform John Cage’s ‘Water Walk’ and ‘Space is only Noise’, at Sonic Fusion Festival….and I was late. I was to perform ‘Water Walk’ twice to book end a performance by the Manchester Camerata, as well as ‘Space is only Noise’ alongside some experimental sound designers and a brass band. Now, this was the sound world and not the world that I’m familiar with. This was my third encounter performing alongside highly accomplished musicians, but nothing really prepared me because anything goes. I had some intimidation to overcome.

In actual fact, I felt pretty good and relaxed considering, and I embraced being the counter point – or the token of the festival – the exotic one, the high maintenance one. After my sound check I asked the technicians if it would be possible to sweep the floor before my piece, they all paused…looked at me…paused again…then collectively looked at one another and replied, ‘yeah…I suppose’. With flowers in bathtub, water in pitcher, steamer at correct temperature, radios synced and grand piano tuned – ‘Water Walk’ was ready for the observers. Afterwards, people were very responsive and were particularly interested in how a dancer might learn it differently from a musician. I explained that dancers have good body memory which is vital in the execution of ‘Water Walk’, as it is fundamentally about movement, memory and time – and the playing of each object, which is as simple as…just playing an object.

From my research of other re-stagings, I discovered musicians use an action/time based app (like an alarm clock for your phone that tells you what to do when). I found that this made the human redundant, and had the potential to prevent the openness of interaction and engagement with the work that Cage so often talked about. I returned the next day with ‘Space is only Noise’. It was a very different gig, more of a younger crowd with a DJ from Radio 3, a band with members from Death in Vagas and a German clarinet drone duo. My piece seemed to integrate well, and sounded loud. Louder than usual. I was okay with this because I wanted to expand everything from my body, to the sustained notes that play out with me.

I will be doing it all over again (minus water walk) on Tuesday 31st March at Unity Theatre, Liverpool, as part of MDI’s Leap Dance Festival 2015. The evening will also feature work by my fellow MDF artists – Bridget Fiske, Joeseph Lau and Lisi Perry. There will also be a panel discussion with us lot about creating work in the North West. I will be travelling by train to that one.

Keep making and doing.

Chris x

I am Christopher Owen

I am Christopher Owen. I am from a town in the North West, called Macclesfield. A town on the edge of the Pennines, notable for its divisive introverts – with a slightly depressive demeanour; including Ian Curtis (Joy Division), New Order (some of), The Macc Lads, & Mr Methane (a guy who made a career out of his arse, literally). As a boy I would do my best to escape. I continued north to Manchester, a city exclusively Victorian & permanently covered in cloud, a city that confronts you, accepts you, ignores you & needs you. I had to leave Manchester to come back, to gain some understanding of something greater.

I work in the composition of dance & the organisation of sound. I make solo work & group work, I walk a lot, I write a lot, I get stuck a lot, I think a lot & I move a lot. Being a Moving Dance Forward associate artist will give me the luxury & support to do all those things without having to wait on tables etc. to fund my habit.

Since being awarded the MDF fund, I have restaged John Cage’s Water Walk for a sharing at Salford Uni. I am interested in following this up & understanding Cage’s methods – the use of scores & chance procedures, in relation to my own work. I will also try out some new ideas, some old, some good, some bad.

Ultimately this fund will help me understand more about what my practice is, & what my voice is as, an emerging male artist working in dance today.