Falling in love with Caroline Bowditch

Caroline Bowditch, Falling in Love with Frida. Photo: Anthony Hopwood 

Caroline Bowditch is an Australian born but now Glasgow based performance artist and choreographer.

She has just finished a run of UK shows touring Falling in Love with Frida, her sell out Festival Fringe 2014 and Herald Angel Award winning show.

Alongside performing Caroline has international experience as an artistic consultant and an ongoing advisory role as part of British Council’s Unlimited Access project.

We were lucky enough to catch some of Caroline’s time as she was reaching the end of her most recent tour.

You’ve just reached the end of touring Falling in Love with Frida, following on from a sell-out run at the 2014 Fringe Festival. What’s the journey been like?

In many ways it’s been a really slow burn, we worked out by the end of this tour we’ve probably performed the piece about 80 times. Over that time it’s evolved, grown and changed throughout.

Our very first preview was back in February 2014 at Glasgow’s CCA, followed by a further five previews. We asked the audiences at the end of each performance for their feedback. Listening to the audiences really fed the process before we premiered in May in Nottingham.

As well as the feedback, the performance has very much come from the dancers. So while the ideas used to generate the movement may have come from me, the movement we see has come from the bodies on stage. The words came from the experience of me writing a love-letter to Frida every day for a week, a process lovingly facilitated by Luke Pell that really formed the spine of the piece and the dramaturgy throughout the piece that other things have been hung on.

We’ve used Frida’s images to generate movement, and the list of the injuries she sustained in her accident. And in the end there’s a lot of me in all of it, whereas in the beginning there was less so.

Performance wise, we were at the Fringe in 2014 then enjoyed a short break before a show in Manchester in March this year, and then back to the Fringe. The tour we’ve just come to the end of started in September and has seen us take in 16 venues all over the UK, we’ve been everywhere from Ullapool to Saddler’s Wells!

Caroline Bowditch, Falling in Love with Frida. Photo: Anthony Hopwood 

What have the reactions been like from audience, are there common threads people take away from the performance?

It has been fascinating. On this tour we started doing post-show talks that really feed us as performers. These talks give us a chance to see what’s resonating with the audience.

There’s been a lovely mix of responses, I tend to ask people to pick out what words come to mind to describe what they’ve just seen and lots of people talk about the beauty or sensuality of the piece, as well as the strength of women. Comments that have stood out include a woman who said “I felt like you were doing the show just for me” and another audience member who simply said afterwards “I feel more loved”.

The integrated use of British Sign Language (BSL) also frequently comes up. One gentleman who came to see our show at the Fringe commented how he was so used to seeing performances with the interpreter put off to the side of the stage, making him as an audience member feel cast off to the side. Coming to see Frida was the first time he’d had the experience of it being easy, being able to sit anywhere he wanted and book any show he wanted.  He was in his 40s so somehow that feels very wrong that this was his first experience of this but I’m also he glad he was able to experience this with us.

What influences and inspires you as an artist?

I think I’m really interested in who’s in the room. I am a choreographer who asks a lot of the performers I work with, in that I ask them to bring a lot of themselves. I ask a lot of questions and sculpt what people give me. I don’t necessarily teach movements to people. Ideas start from what people ask me or say to me.

For example one of the next projects I’m working on is called 'The Beauty Collection', which came out of an interview I did with a disabled dancer who has incredible facility physically. I asked her “What is the ultimate piece you would like someone to make on you?” and she replied that she would like to work with someone who made her feel beautiful. So I followed that up by asking her “and what would that look like?”. Her response to this was “I would be stiller… and it would involve an incredible frock”.

The conversation really got me to think about beauty and our ideas of beauty, and where these come from especially when we rarely see non-normative bodies represented in mainstream media.

The other piece I want to make is ‘Squirt – The Snail Searching for a Home’ which will be a piece for children and families. That came from somebody saying there is very little work being made that involves performers who have non-normative bodies for children. So as a disabled child if you go to the theatre you see people that don’t necessarily share your physicality, therefore we disabled bodies remain absent or there is very little aspiration potentially for young disabled people to be on stage so I wanted to address that.

Caroline Bowditch, Falling in Love with Frida. Photo: Anthony Hopwood 

Aside from being a choreographer and a performer, what does your role as a consultant mean to you?

There’s a quote that goes “if you think you’re too small to make a difference you’ve never tried to go to sleep with a mosquito in the room” and during my time as Dance Agent for Change in Scotland I started to think of myself as a bit of mosquito buzzing in the ear.

I ask questions that potentially other people are too scared to ask and I call people on things, but rather than just call them on it I support them to find the solutions. So I don’t point the finger, I say “could this be another way?”, “why is it happening like this?”, “how would that work?”.

It’s really important we continue these conversations. I don’t think people necessarily actively discriminate, I think sometimes it happens because they’re scared or they don’t know. They don’t know that it’s happening, so the more information we can share, the more conversations we can have, the more people engage then the better off we are.

In many ways Scotland is really a leading force, and there are things I’ve taken from my roles in Scotland to share around the world. This includes the Creative Thinking Network, which has now spread to Ireland and Melbourne with the model being taken on in other places too. As well as this, the Dance Agent for Change role is now being adopted in England because they see that it works and it’s efficient. 

Scotland is leading because we do amazing things here, and there’s a commitment to keep making sure those amazing things happen and grow.

Caroline Bowditch workshop 

What’s next for you?

In preparation for Squirt I’ll be seeing as much children’s work as I can, as well as interviewing some kids themselves to find out what they know about snails because at the moment I know nothing! So I’ll be asking for their opinion about how a snail should look and move and think about how to make this come to life.

I’ll also be thinking about some professional development for me as it’s been over a year of a lot of teaching or performing, so if I’m entering another making phase I want to think about how I feed me as the artist.

Excitingly, we’ll also be taking Frida to Australia in March and the plan is to go to India with her in 2017. We know it’s a piece people just seem to love, as do we, so it’s incredible to think we’ll now be entering into an international phase and taking the performance to even more people around the world. For one dance piece to run for so long is quite unique, so it feels unusual but also really lovely and fortunate.

Caroline Bowditch, Falling in Love with Frida. Photo: Anthony Hopwood 

Find out more about Caroline Bowditch at http://www.carolinebowditch.com/

Falling in Love with Frida Image credits: Anthony Hopwood. Workshop image credit: Matthew Andrews.

Falling in Love with Frida was part of the Made in Scotland programme 2014.

This article was published on 11 Dec 2015