Behind the scenes: Developing the story of Moving Resting Nesting

A talk with some of our collaborators: Cherry Wen Wen Lu (Visual Artist), Sarah Dixon (Dramaturg), Caroline Liffmann (Artistic director associate) and Julie Lebel (Artistic director and choreographer)

Moving Resting Nesting is Foolish Operations’ new creation with and for young children and their adults. It’s in the last year of creation and will premiere at the Surrey International Children’s Festival in May 2022. There are 15 collaborators (!) working on this project and there have been several research phases that have included different combinations of these collaborators.

Last summer, Cherry, Sarah, Caroline and Julie collaborated on developing the dramaturgy and story for Moving Resting Nesting through illustrations created by Cherry. The process took place through multiple Zoom sessions over several weeks. Together, they developed a story through illustrations that are set around the performance area. The dancing and performance elements of MRN also follow the same story arc. Below are some thoughts from the group on the collaborative story-creation process and how it led them to the heart of the Moving Resting Nesting project.

What inspired the Moving Resting Nesting story?

Sarah Dixon, Dramaturg: I brought up a project of mine that I had done for my daughter in which I created three characters and used them as the centre of a cartoon I would draw for her and put in her lunch every day for school over three years. This was a story that kept unfolding with no beginning, middle or end. It created a very flexible, playful way to explore ideas and relationships through the characters and the setting.

What was your role in this project?

Cherry Wen Wen Lu, Visual Artist: I saw my role as that of an interpreter, translating movements, thoughts, and ideas into drawings. I enjoyed observing all the in-process dance videos throughout the year which were used as strong references for the character movements.

Caroline Liffmann, Artistic director associate: This was a very rich process with eyes on it from multiple directions. My role was to look for stories and meanings that arose, and then help us make choices about going in one direction or another. Part of this included looking for any gaps or missing pieces in our thinking, and looking for ways to integrate and embed our guiding values, both of which are an ongoing process.

Was this the first time you had worked in this collaborative way to develop a story?

Julie Lebel, Artistic director and choreographer: Stories often emerge quite late in my usual creative process, after choreography and other elements like music, costumes, props, video, etc. It doesn’t come in words. Working through illustrations and images with Cherry was new to me and helped clarify the story arc of this new work a lot earlier than usual.

Caroline: It was exciting to be in dialogue this way, and also for my mind to jump between the page and my body and the different ways the stories can be shared.

Did anything surprise you during this process?

Julie: We quickly established our 3 main characters – the child, the tree and the fantastic bird. The images are in sets of three and propose a “situation”. We discussed general ideas and Cherry would play with different situations. The role of the child in relation to the bird and the tree was difficult to establish. We were all struggling with the fact that the human in this story has the potential to disrupt and damage the environment. For example, Cherry proposed an image of the child looking closely at eggs in a nest. In April, learning with Sara Ross in a workshop offered by EartHand Gleaners Society called “Understanding Bird Language”, I learned that coming close to a nest brings a scent trail for other predators to find a direct route. We decided to keep the nest in a safe place instead!

Which is your favourite illustration?

Cherry: My favourite part of the illustrations were the trees; the character grounded the flow of the stories just as the real trees in the park establish the space in which the performers and audiences play. To me it became a metaphor of how we ought to exist in the environment around us.

What did this process reveal to you about the Moving Resting Nesting project?

Sarah: This process has reminded me of the importance of art and storytelling to bring humans into the moment of their lived experience. How to continue to learn about how we choose to be in relationship with each other and our world.

Julie: Working through iterations like this – drawing propositions, discussions, reflective process, gave me hope for humans in relationship to nature and especially the contribution of the child – the child as endlessly and contagiously curious to remind adults of the wonder of nature and the environment. Children help us all to learn more and be better stewards of this land for the generations to come.

Photography by Riz Herbosa and Illustrations by Cherry Wen Wen Lu