Wading to Shipley

We’re pleased to announce the online premiere of a new short film, Wading to Shipley, which we’ve been finishing this summer since the conclusion of our live performance dates in July. The film traces a walk down – and in – Bradford Beck, coming into Shipley, and combines music and narration with visuals. To view the film and read more, just click on the “Bradford Beck” tab on the menu bar above, and selected “Wading to Shipley”. Enjoy!

Beck under Bradford…

A short post, this one, just to connect with a fascinating blog post I recently discovered here, from someone who has actually walked the full stretch of Bradford Beck as it flows underground through the city centre… It doesn’t finally emerge until the Canal Road corridor in the Frizinghall area on the way to Shipley. A very good read.

As if to link up… I’m currently working on a video edit of the film we made for our Multi-Story Water performances last year, for which I walked the daylit stretch of the Beck (with handheld camera) from Canal Road to the Leeds-Liverpool Canal Aqueduct (where the Beck passes underneath it). The video will be posted soon on this site.

Mirror Mirror, on the floor…

various may 13 026Here’s Bradford’s city centre Mirror Pool, the City Hall behind it, yesterday afternoon as the sun shone. In the foreground is Andy from Pro-Audio, on the phone trying to figure out why he can’t get control of the fountains at his lighting desk. We were setting up for last night’s Blue Mirror performance – commissioned by Bradford Council’s Chief Drainage Engineer Tony Poole, to help open the Flood ResilienCity conference taking place in this city this week, with delegates from across Europe (don’t ask me about the weird spelling…). I’m such an idiot that this is the only picture I remembered to take – I got a bit preoccupied with just getting the show to happen – so we’ll have to wait for Simon Warner’s official pics to see what it all looked like… (from his point of view)

The brief had been to make a theatrical presentation for the Mirror Pool, on flood-related themes… In keeping with my own creative interests, I had interpreted this in site-specific terms, on two levels: (1) the Mirror Pool area is a site in which you frequently see children splashing about having fun, so it seemed to me that an appropriate creative response would involve children as performers; (2) that Bradford’s flood risk problems largely arise in areas where the river itself is invisible – submerged beneath the city in Victorian tunnels. Indeed the Beck actually passes by quite quote to the Mirror Pool, which according to the maps is in the risk area – yet the Mirror Pool (opened last year at a cost of millions) is the only water visible in the area. So I had set out to devise a performance that “made visible” something of the Bradford Beck river system, by thinking of the Pool as a kind of microcosm of the city…

With the help of the Council, we identified two primary schools in the west of Bradford – St. James and Crossley Hall – that were interested in participating in a project about rivers and flooding, leading to a performance. I wrote a previous blog entry about my scouting trip along Pitty Beck and Chellow Dean Beck, the two tributaries of Bradford Beck that pass near the schools. Subsequent to that visit, before the Easter holidays, I led two Year 5 classes from Crossley Hall on adventure trips along Chellow Dean, upstream towards the old Victorian reservoir — although on the second occasion we didn’t get that far because we got caught in a snowstorm and had to turn back! In fact in this picture below, if you look closely, you can see class teacher Miss Taylor gesturing with her thumb to pull everybody back in the opposite direction…

DSC00923

Only minutes earlier it had been much less snowy, as you can see from this image (taken by Miss Taylor, I think – who kindly supplied all of the pictures below), as the some of the children and I pick our way across the stream in the Chellow Dean wetlands area…

DSC00827In fact, the weather got so terrible in that period just before the Easter break that I twice had to cancel the planned walk along Pitty Beck with the St. James Year 5 class, which we only finally did a few weeks ago. As a result, St. James have only been doing their river project work this term – too late to feed it directly into making the performance itself. The Crossley Hall children, however, did some beautiful natural art work in response to the river trip… natural art 2 And they also learned about the water cycle, and how their bit of river fits into the wider geography of water movement – as illustrated by this picture below…

water cycleThey also did some really amazing expressive writing, some of it in semi-pictorial form, like this piece below… from which I directed lifted quite a bit of the wording, to weave into our performance text…

image-1 (2)The raindrop is “falling from the sky” to “meet my destiny”, while the river is saying “come on, come on”, welcoming it down: “I’m here for you and I always will be…” (There’s a pretty profound sense of ecological consciousness in there that adults might do well to think about!) Finally, the kids also did some imagining of fictional creatures that might live in or around the river, like this scary looking fellow… IMG_0129This gave me the idea to use some fantastical creatures in our performance – hence the “Sewage Goblins”, the “Elves of Industrial Effluent” and “the Foul Flies of Fly Tipping” – for which the children also made masks to perform in. These three groups (the three class groups involved) were the hideous minions of “the Evil Queen of Concrete”, who has smothered Bradford Beck (“Just call me Brad”) and family of little Becks… “Moo-ha-ha-ha!”

The moo-ha-ha was the very distinctive, very funny laugh for the Evil Queen decided on by Neiha (sorry – not sure of correct spelling), from Miss Butler’s Crossley Hall class. She’s a very sweet, shy girl but she was brilliant as “Elvira” on Monday night – word perfect too! She brought her evil minions down from 3 directions on Brad Beck (Maneeb, a small but very feisty boy, again perfect for the part – and again I don’t know how to spell his name) and his family. The other speaking parts with lines to learn were “Hope” and “Dwayne” – Annam and Aiden from St. James – who appeared at the end of the play to exhort us all to do more to “be the friends of Bradford Beck…” – to clean it up and make it happy. (The script was originally Hope and Faith, but Mr. Wilson wanted us to use a boy, so…). These guys too were great. It was strange watching these speakers in the middle of the Mirror Pool because they seemed so far away in this big space: the radio mikes meant we could hear every word crystal clear, though, and none of them fluffed a line!

Most of the script (which you can read here, if you like) was written to be delivered by narrators – one from each of the three classes involved – who could read from clipboards and so didn’t need to memorise lines. Uzair and Laiba (from Crossley Hall) and Iqra (St. James) all did a tremendous job with this, again speaking steadily and clearly so that the whole narrative came across clearly even in the slightly windy conditions. The challenge in writing the script for them had been to create something that said something about the Bradford Beck system – its geography and its history, and potential flood risk – in a way that would be clear to the children and make sense coming from them as speakers. I think for the most part we managed this, and we had some very positive feedback from some of the conference people about how well we’d balanced the positives and negatives in thinking about the state of the river and its potential risks.

The trickiest part of the whole process, though, was the choreography. The Mirror Pool is a big space to work in, so I always knew we had to make something that was primarily visual and movement-based (with music, narration and fountains…). I was lucky enough to be able to bring in Lucy Hind, a really wonderful movement director (worked on the Paralympic opening ceremony last year!) who was great with the kids and fun to collaborate with. It was very interesting to watch her gauging what the kids could cope with, movement-wise, and adapting accordingly. Our problem, though, was that we had quite limited rehearsal time at the schools (quite rightly – they have other things to be teaching these children!), and that we had extremely limited rehearsal time actually on site at the Mirror Pool… The first time the kids came together to work on it there was after school on Monday, shortly before we performed for our audience. So the results, in all honesty, were a little bit more chaotic than Lucy and I hoped… We just hadn’t had the time to work out all the details on site, and the kids were getting distracted pretty easily by the opportunity to splash about! (well they would, they’re 9 and 10!). What they lacked in rigorously drilled precision, though, they more than made up for in enthusiasm and energy, especially when it came to the splashing. And there were some sections of the show that looked really great – with the three classes stretched out along the three arms of the “Y” path that cuts across the pool, all twirling round, stamping feet, raising arms, etc. It’ll be fascinating to see how the pictures turn out…

I was also pleased to see that my “river trains” idea worked out OK. In this bit, different groups of children – linked in ‘conga’ lines with hands on shoulders – converged on the middle of the space from different directions, in a sort of mapping out of how the different tributary becks flow into Bradford Beck. The idea was that we’d locate the city centre in the middle of this map with a mini version of the Mirror Pool itself and the buildings around it (made by the children from boxes etc.). Unfortunately, the wind caught some of the models, and the kids carrying them had too much ground to cover for the narration to gel with what they were doing… But the big long river train came together beautifully. Geographically speaking, it ended up heading off somewhere towards “Leeds” instead of “north” towards “Shipley”, but I’m sure I was probably the only person watching who noticed this particular subtlety…

So, key learning point: children have less spatial awareness than you assume they will, especially in a big space. They’ll also naturally group together to feel safer when exposed, so instructions like “spread out across the space” are largely lost on them. (Maybe these are concepts that we grow into as we get older.) All that said though, I think these children did an amazing job considering the limited time we had and the scale of the task we gave them! And most important of all, they really seemed to have fun on the day, especially during the bit where they got to go bonkers in the water.

So thankyou Lucy, thankyou Mr. Wilson, Miss Taylor and Miss Butler, and thankyou most of all the Year 5 children of Crossley Hall and St James (some of whom I have become very fond of, and will miss!). All in all, it was quite an experience, and a lot of fun too!

 

 

A Tale of Two Tributaries

Today I went on a bit of a scouting adventure… Not in the Shipley area, this time, but out to the West of Bradford, in the vicinity of Chellow Dean Beck and Pitty Beck, two of the main tributaries that flow in to help form Bradford Beck before it flows underground and through the city centre. (They’re the two wiggly bits coming in from the north of the main arm of the Beck in the diagram below, prior to the Beck turning that big corner in the city and going north to Shipley and the Aire.)

Bradford Beck catchment

Anyway, I was scouting out these tributaries, prior to leading some primary school children on field trips along them. This is part of their project work on water and local rivers, which we’re hoping will provide the basis for a performance for the Mirror Pool in Bradford’s City Centre on May 13th (a follow-on, of sorts, from last year’s performances in Shipley). Since the Mirror Pool is a site in which one can frequently see kids splashing around (OK, maybe not at this time of year!), it seemed logical to work with schools to make something for it. This is in response to Bradford Council’s request that we make a performance for the Mirror Pool to mark the opening of the Europe-wide Flood Resilient Cities conference.

The collaborating schools are Crossley Hall Primary and St. James’ Church Primary, which are located close by to Chellow Dean Beck and Pitty Beck, respectively. And what both tributaries have in common are wetland areas that were put in by the Council from 2004, including special reed ponds. These are, apparently, an experiment in treating water quality: according to Tony Poole (Chief Drainage Engineer at the Council), the reeds and their soils have a natural cleaning/filtering effect on water that may already have been contaminated upstream by human impacts. What I hadn’t gathered from talking to Tony, however, was just how different these similar wetland projects appear in practice…

chellow pitty 041Here’s the treatment pools in the Chellow Dean wetlands (covered with some snow and ice first thing this morning), with the Beck flowing on to the right, and the reed ponds in the background… Like the whole wetland area, the landscaping is neat and appealing despite the oddly geometric ponds, and the reeds grow high in their neatly defined beds…

chellow pitty 087There’s a sense, from the whole spirit of the place, of the community here taking pride in this slightly incongruous bit of ecological intervention… That impression is thrown into sharp relief by the comparative state of the Pitty Beck wetland area…

chellow pitty 103The whole area feels neglected, scrubby… even the ponds look poorly maintained and manicured by comparison with Chellow Dean. The reed ponds (in the background of the shot above) have a lot of rubbish in them too…

chellow pitty 105Tony Poole had mentioned to me that there are less people living around the Pitty Beck wetland, and thus less of a sense of community ‘ownership’ and collaboration in keeping the area up. But there are in fact quite a few houses not far from here, and I saw people walking dogs etc. My impression, though, was that this area was generally more run-down and disadvantaged than the area around Chellow Dean, and that the Council has perhaps not done enough to engage and involve them in the area’s upkeep (let alone keep up the area themselves!). It surely can’t help when local residents are confronted with signs like this at the entrances to the wetland area:

chellow pitty 123No doubt the sign is up for legal reasons (to prevent a “right of way” establishing itself by default, through what they call “custom and practice”), but the wording is unwelcoming, to say the least. Little wonder, perhaps, that at least one of the locals has responded rudely:

chellow pitty 109If you can’t quite make it out, that’s the word “DICKHEADS” scrawled across the map explaining the purpose of the wetland area… And in the photo below, you can see where Pitty Beck gets sucked into a huge, unsightly bit of piping that takes it underneath the main Thornton Road just to the south (the road visible on the graffiti-ed map above!).

chellow pitty 114Crossing over the main road, in search of the Beck’s continuation, I was confronted rather abruptly with a long line of high fencing and walls, and a notice that leaves you in no doubt that you’re not welcome…

chellow pitty 117Here, it seems, the Beck flows into private land – the Stone Heights property development (est. 1999) with its perfectly manicured gardens, tennis court, and elevated summer house that looks uncomfortably like a watchtower…

chellow pitty 121As may be apparent from this picture, I chose to disregard the “No Trespassing” signs in order to see if I could get closer to the river (because trespassing is not actually an offence unless you break something, and because I firmly believe that watercourses belong to everybody, property laws be damned!). The river is at the bottom of the valley in the shot above, below the high wall buttressing the road… Shortly after taking this picture I was politely ushered off the property by a gardener who explained that the owners are “a bit funny” about uninvited visitors… And that no, they probably would not be responsive to a request to bring some schoolchildren on a visit…

My experience attempting to walk along Chellow Dean Beck had been very different. There’s a pleasant valley walk up through the wetland area, as the river weaves and bends its way through the soft ground…

chellow pitty 049No sense of feeling unwelcome here. And there’s evidence of playful, personal interventions in the landscape – such as the little guitar-playing frog and improvised treehouse below…

chellow pitty 050If you track Chellow Dean far enough upstream, under another main road and up through an open field, you eventually get to the gorgeous surroundings of the twin Victorian reservoirs, full of bird life and a haven for dog-walkers…

chellow pitty 067The reservoirs no longer serve any utilitarian purpose: it was long since concluded that Chellow Dean Beck has little enough water in it without the Council siphoning it off (presumably to serve the wool industry and its dye-houses, back in the day…). But it’s all maintained beautifully as a park area. I also was also personally pleased to see the domed Victorian pumping station at the base of the lower reservoir, very similar to the ones next to the Aire to the west of Shipley.

chellow pitty 069The field trips for the two school groups, then, are going to be rather different. The Crossley Hall children have been doing project work on ‘the Victorians’ so maybe we’ll hike them up as far as the reservoir (the teacher’s suggestion), and take in the views… Lovely. The children at St. James’s have an altogether less appealing walk to enjoy, but we shall see what they make of it. Better turn my mind to thinking how to engage them!