Caro Meets Dance & Physical Interview

Lydia Fraser-Ward: Woman of Mass Destruction

By | Published on Thursday 10 July 2014

‘Women Of Mass Destruction 2’ is a pretty provocative title, so I was immediately drawn to it, and even more interested once I had read what this show is all about. A platform for emerging female choreographers, it consists of four separate dance pieces from four different choreographers, each musing on the theme of the relationship between art and nature.


The show was conceived and put together by Lydia Fraser Ward, a freelance choreographer and theatre producer whose specialism lies in creating live performances in unusual spaces. She has a rather impressive CV, having held roles at Bush Theatre, Battersea Arts Centre, London Bubble and Akademi South Asian Dance, and worked with the likes of Theatre503, Blind Summit, South East Dance, Pagrav Dance Company and The Lost Picture Show, as well as being a resident artist at IdeasTap, Creative Entrepreneur in Residence at Kings College London and a Fellow of the RSA.
I caught up with Lydia to find a little more out about her latest project.

CM: What is ‘Women Of Mass Destruction’ and how did you come up with the idea?
LFW: I was first offered a night to present my work at Rich Mix back in 2012, but at the time I was working on rather challenging dance piece called Binge all about women and excessive drinking. It wasn’t that I was trying to make a big political statement, I was actually interested in exploring my own allergy to alcohol and inability to get drunk but because it was quite a hot topic at the time, I thought it would make the night more interesting to include work by other choreographers who also had something to say about non-typical behaviour and roles for women – and so it began, with the first year based on the subject of ‘destroying the female body’. It was such a huge success that Rich Mix invited me back to run the platform again, and since I was working on a piece about how nature revolts against human behaviour, we’ve entitled this year’s platform ‘Destroying Mother Earth’.

CM: This show consists of a number of short pieces created by different artists – can you tell us a little about each one, and the theme of the show in general?
LFW: The evening consists of 4 very different pieces of new dance work all connected by the theme of ‘women versus nature’.

Heidi Seppälä has created ‘#Flashbacklash#’, a piece where she is violently attempting to connect with nature in a place where it no longer exists. Re-thinking Nokia’s slogan “connecting people” she questions whether it is actually people we connect with through our devices, or if technology has replaced the real connection with other people and nature.

Konstantina Skalionta has created a piece called ‘Beauty-Fool’ which examines the struggle many women face in addressing their body image and the suffering that an attempt to be beautiful causes.

Nina von der Werth is creating a durational performance which moves audiences to different spaces in the building. Her work ‘We’re Headed for Drought – But Aren’t They Lovely?’ looks at the world’s freshwater shortage crisis in relation to the power of women’s voices to make important political and social change.

Finally, my own piece ‘That Which Grows’ is a physical theatre piece that looks at the development of secrets between close relationships, and explores the imagery of burying those secrets in the earth and how that kind of toxicity effects the natural world around people.

CM: How did you go about finding the artists who have worked on this show?
LFW: I put out an open call for expressions of interest back in the Spring through a number of arts channels and newsletters. I had a good response, with a wide variety of strong proposals, but after short-listing and meeting with artists to discuss their pieces further, Nina, Heidi and Konstantina all really shone through and I saw our four pieces working well together as part of the same evening’s line-up. Thanks to support from Arts Council England I’ve been able to offer them all a seed commission to develop their new work as well as studio time and artistic mentoring.

CM: Why do you think women choreographers struggle to find opportunities? How do you think we can we change this?
LFW: I think it’s a particularly competitive field for female artists, and often it’s hard to shine through no matter how strong your work is. ‘Women of Mass Destruction’ is less a platform for women and more an event that enables artists to look at expected norms for female choreographers and their work, and to challenge them. I’m excited about what women have to say about what’s expected of us, especially if it’s something that provokes new thinking.

CM: This is the second ‘Women Of Mass Destruction’ show – do you see it something which could keep going indefinitely?
LFW: I’d love it to keep running, there’s definitely been appetite for it from audiences so far. Rich Mix has been incredibly supportive, and assuming they are still interested and able to work with me, I’d like to see it return to Rich Mix again in the future as well as other dance venues further afield. One day I hope that the platform could tour outside of London so we can share the work with broader audiences.

CM: Why were you initially attracted to dance as a medium? What keeps you interested?
LFW: My background and training is actually in European Theatre and I specialised a great deal in Laban, Lecoq, Growtowksi – lots of movement stuff. I found that using gesture and everyday movement in an unusual way – turning things upside down, shaking them up a bit – was an excellent method to question our everyday lives and still keep things personal. I really love messing around with what we think we recognise and understand to see it from another perspective.

I like to describe my work as ‘making strange things familiar and familiar things strange’ and dance has an incredible ability to do that, sometimes through the simplest artistic choices. It has the ability to work as a universal language, which, provided it remains true to genuine human emotions and experiences, can translate across cultural and linguistic barriers, and nothing else really compares with that.

CM: Can you tell us about your company Fantasy High Street, and what it does?
LFW: Fantasy High Street is a relatively new company, which I started working on 2012. It’s an outdoor events company that partners artists across multiple disciplines including dance, theatre visual arts, film, with local high street businesses to create imaginative interactive events.

We’ve only been trading for just over a year now, but we’ve already had four remarkably successful commissions across the UK and rather wonderfully have been nominated for a Southwark Arts Award and two Arts and Business Awards. We have three brilliant events coming up in August and September as part of our Adventures in Nunhead programme including an Edible Flower Garden & Apothecary Bar which we are running with local florist AG Flowers on Saturday 16th August, a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in partnership with Ayres Bakery on Saturday 30th August which is just perfect for families and kids, and a bike-powered cinema which we are running with Rat Race Cycles on Friday 12th September on Nunhead Green.

We also have a big event coming up in London Bridge in September which we’ll be revealing further details on in the next few weeks, so if you want to find out more about that, go to our website  or check out our Facebook page.

CM: You are currently Creative Entrepreneur in Residence at King’s College London as well as a Resident Artist at IdeasTap. What exactly do these roles involve?
LFW: My role at King’s College London is part of the work I do through Fantasy High Street. Thanks to my relationship with Kings, I’m able to evaluate the impact and contribution that outdoor cultural activities make towards town centre regeneration and community engagement with public facilities which is really important, especially when you consider some of the challenges the UK high streets are facing at the moment. IdeasTap is the home base for Fantasy High Street, but I also run free workshops and seminars there on a regular basis, often on producing events and creating performance platforms like ‘Women of Mass Destruction’.

CM: What’s next for you?
LFW: Other than Fantasy High Street events, I am already working on a new dance piece called ‘Dominoes’, which uses trigger sensor technology to explore relationships between close social groups. I’m interested in exploring the combination of ‘game theory’ and ‘complexity theory’ to see how the choices that one person in a group makes can affect the outcomes and future choices of all the others, and how that may or may not be exploited to the individual’s benefit.

I think there’s great potential to explore how rules like that can shape choreography and how technology can be thrown into to the mix to affect the dancer’s environment too. Thankfully, I am being supported by Au Brana studio in France with a early stage residency in October, so I’ll be able to start getting that project on its feet soon. Opportunities for dancers and collaborators to work with me are regularly published on my website.

‘Women Of Mass Destruction 2’ is on at Rich Mix, this Friday. See the Rich Mix website –  right about here – for more info.

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