By Sarah Gallos
In April 2022, Julie and I travelled to Sudbury, Ontario. Foolish Operations had been planning to perform there in May 2020, but when the pandemic hit, our presenter, Antoine Tremblay Beaulieu of the Carrefour Francophone, recognized that wouldn’t be happening anytime soon. Julie and Antoine set to work dreaming up an exchange where local artists could be immersed in Foolish Operations’ way of working, creating movement experiences for all ages. They engaged in rich knowledge exchange discussions. Their shared hope of creating ideal conditions for children to thrive in artistic experiences as co-creators, was a defining value for the project. The plan included discussions and workshops covering FO principles of practice and company values. Time would be split between artistic dialogue among company members and local artists, and actual practice with children and their educators. The goal was to create space for the participants to explore the rich potential of creating artistic experiences for and with the very young and their caregivers. We would play with experiences from a Foolish Operations mindset and share our tools, and practices.
We had the privilege of joining artists Candice Irwin and Janie Pinard for this exchange. We began our shared time together by participating in Dancing the Parenting; FO’s weekly caregiver and child movement practice. Julie and I shared FO’s reflective and inclusive practices. Jochelle Pereña, Teaching Artist & Professional Learning Manager of the Luna Dance Institute (Berkeley, CA, USA), offered her knowledge of Early Years Development, Attachment and Play theories for deeper understanding of the movement vocabulary and realities that exists in preschool-aged children’s bodies and lives. Julie facilitated Ensemble Thinking, the improvisational practice of the Lower Left Collective and a core practice in all FO’s workshops and performances. Emilio Portal, a local musician, was invited to play live music during our time together, and became a welcome member to our discussions, reflections and planning for the week ahead. We would practice with the children of the forest daycare at the Collège Boreal, and their educators.
On our first day in the forest, we observed the setting, the children and their educators. I loved what I witnessed. Their classroom is a ‘base camp’, a little spot in the forest with rocks for climbing, and surrounded by trees. Every day, they spend hours in this space, with nature and the environment serving as another educator. Julie spoke of how the children are great movers, that their physical literacy is excellent and how they have much freedom to explore the space. Céline Kerampran,Outdoor Educator for the centre Boréal des tout-petits, explains:
“On the motor development level, the forest is full of obstacles essential to the development of children. Slippery rocks and roots hidden under leaves… these are not dangers but opportunities to learn, to improve your self-confidence and your physical abilities. Children also learn to measure risk and make the right choices.”
[Sur le plan moteur, la forêt est pleine d’obstacles indispensables au développement des enfants. Les roches qui glissent et les racines cachées sous les feuilles… ce ne sont pas des dangers mais des opportunités d’apprendre, d’améliorer sa confiance en soi et ses capacités physiques. Les enfants apprennent aussi à mesurer le risque et faire les bons choix.]
In the afternoon of that first day, the artist team reflected on what we had observed, first with Celine while still in the forest, and then, more in depth, with the artist team back at our live/work space. From these observations, we created potential activities to explore in the days to come. This became the format of our daily practice: mornings in the forest with the kids and educators, afternoons reflecting and refining what we, as artists, would try the next day. Janie reflected :
”creation of structure and activities, discussions, group agreements and reflection (personal and in group) is necessary for this work, but to be able to let go, to be open, flexible, present and curious with young children is also important (even more??????) in work that has a huge focus on the creation that comes from them, and co-creation.”
[la construction de structure et d’activités, des discussions, des accords de groupe et la réflexion (personnel et en groupe) c’est nécessaire pour ce travail, mais d’être capable de lâcher prise, d’être ouvert, flexible, présent et curieux avec les petits enfants c’est aussi important (même plus??????) pour un travail qui a un immense focus sur la création qui viennent d’eux et la co-création”.]
Every day, we would return and try again, building on our collective experiences. The artists were making discoveries. Emilio reflected that: “It was fascinating because I think the way that children operate is very different from how adults operate. We discuss this a lot in our meetings – wanting to plan things and have a structure of what would happen – but that obviously rarely happens, there is a broad structure that happens but the smaller events change and shift, it’s fully collaborative with children, with everybody that is there.” Candice noticed “how much more responsive the children were to movement and sound before structured language.” Reflecting on her experience, she said: “ Their awareness of subtlety constantly took me by surprise!”
As the week progressed, we all had beautiful moments of discovery. Julie loved improvising with children and trees. She recalls Ludivine, 4-years old, inventing a beautiful short melody close to a bird song and full of rhythm. Julie played power reversal and clown-like movement games to amplify movement possibilities: fall differently, react in slow motion, mirror their movement, etc. I found myself deepening my practice of quiet observation and looking for subtle avenues to propose a learning moment with a child or several children. Candice also noticed that the children ”recalled an idea or game we’d introduced earlier but expanded the idea through their own movement vocabulary, creative ideas or expansions of the rules of the game.”
The educators noticed children moving and behaving in ways they had not observed before and expressed surprise and joy regarding these observations. As Gloria, one of the educators, mentions:
“the children had the opportunity to express themselves in a creative way, everything was based on the child and not the artists.”
[les enfants avait l’occasion de s’exprimer d’une façon créative, tout était basé sur l’enfant et non les artists.]
Many educators recorded the benefits of coming down to the child’s level and moving like the child, for example crawling like the pre-walking child. The educators commented on the power of non-verbal interactions. The College Boreal also invited educators in training to observe and participate in the experience. Everyone was gaining things from the experience.
Collectively, the artists settled on using a structure called “I-We-Us”, an adaptation of “I to You to We to uUs” identified in research done by the Luna Dance Institute with Edward (Ted) Warburton, PhD, (University of California) and with Luna’s Patricia Reedy, Director of Teaching & Learning and Nancy NG, Director of Community Engagement as well as MPACT program instructors.To explain the “I-We-Us” a bit further, the ‘I’ allowed the participating artists to take a moment at the start of our mornings to settle in the forest: orienting and honouring our improvisational curiosities. The ‘We’ moments were organic interactions between child and adult. In these moments, the artists tried to apply knowledge and skills from our research while keeping our curiosities open. We allowed space for the children to have their own autonomy in how they engaged. Emilio recognized:
” The merging of dance, theatre, clowning and music and being vulnerable together – this contrast is very interesting to children, usually we are trying to tell children how to do things and children are trying to explore and play. Play and vulnerability is so critical to this kind of work, being open to how children react, but also how they initiate things. I said something in our session when we were talking about approaches – « play is the glue ». That’s the motto for me, it’s an amazing motto. No matter what you do you can’t forget that play is your grounding and the root of your practice. That’s a big takeaway and will definitely affect my practice in the future with kids. It’s hard for a lot of adults to go there – being more free, less expectations, less inhibitions and moving with that youthful and innocent energy.”
For myself this involved recognizing where the children were in their developmental movement pathways and honouring that through my movement choices with them, as well as saying yes to the children’s suggestions.
We would culminate with a big ‘US’ moment – children and adults, artists and educators creating a rhythm and dance together as a final moment to bring closure to the practice of that day. Janie shares:
“I always loved our big group moments at the end (‘US’ moments). It was a kind of musical celebration that we created together. After our adventures in solo, duo, trio, small group… We gathered and we all witnessed reactions to the rhythm with hip, foot and knee movements that follow the beat… it was an organic moment in which everyone contributes in their own way.”
[J’ai toujours adoré nos moments en gros groupe à la fin (moment Us). C’était une genre de célébrations musicales qu’on créait ensemble. Après nos aventures en solo, duo, trio, petit groupe… On se rassemblait et nous étions tous témoins des réactions au rythme avec des mouvements de hanches, de pieds de genou qui plient au beat …c’était un moment organique auquel tout le monde contribue de sa propre façon.]
On Friday, we said our goodbyes to the forest daycare and shifted into performance mode to prepare to present Tricoter with local violinist Duncan Cameron for the grand opening of the new Place Des Arts de Sudbury. Janie and Candice also presented a score at the GNO, developed with Ensemble Thinking practices in mind, throughout the weekend of festivities. Candice mentions:
“I’d love to continue exploring how these interactions in the daycare centres can be the catalyst for creating more performative work with and for this age group. From working with Julie and Sarah, and then witnessing their performance of Tricoter at the end of their visit, I see a clear connection between these two experiences. I’m excited to learn more about how to get from this beginning place of facilitated play to a place of playful performance for young audiences. “
I think I can speak for everyone by saying that we were all moved by the experience. I was reminded that collaboration with other like-minded individuals,children included, is where magic happens. When we work through exchange in a supportive setting, everyone can achieve their best. This was possible thanks to the support of the Carrefour francophone Team, Antoine Tremblay Beaulieu, the local participating artists and educators of Boréal des tout petits – thank you for all your perspectives, contributions, and support – (including the fully stacked kitchen, Antoine!!)
We are also grateful for the continued support of the Department of Canadian Heritage for its continued support since 2020 which allows us to develop our expertise in working with and for very young children in a bilingual context.
What I learned over those 10 days have changed and settled me. I am so excited to continue these explorations and to make more experiences possible.
I want to express a huge thanks to everyone that was involved in this project. It was one I will never forget.