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Black Rock: From Climbing to Performance (REF 2021 Practice Research Submission)

Shearing, David (2020) Black Rock: From Climbing to Performance (REF 2021 Practice Research Submission). The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London. ISBN 978-1-8383968-7-9

Abstract

Black Rock was a practice-led project that posed the question: how do you translate the experience of rock-climbing to an audience on the ground? The project was commissioned by Kendal Mountain Festival and The University of Leeds to celebrate the 30th anniversary of first ascent of ‘Indian Face’ with the technical grade ‘E9 6c’, one of the most significant feats of international rock-climbing history by elite climber Johnny Dawes.

It explored and revealed the historical and cultural context of climbing in Wales and the UK, seeking to bridge two distinct audiences of climbing professionals and outdoor enthusiasts with non-climber and non-specialist individuals within an immersive theatrical context. It sought to translate, capture and represent the complex embodied pursuit of climbing. The piece addressed the limited context of live performance to tell mountain narratives. Black Rock explored notions of embodied translation through its immersive presentation and thematically challenged conventional masculine narratives of mountain experience documented in historical literature through the use of a lead female writer and two female lead dancers/partners.

The project was developed through mixed research methods, including detailed site surveys of Snowdon via research visits with specialist mountaineers, performance scholars and site-specific artists. It drew on one-on-one interviews with over 20 climbers, movement workshops with dancers and climbers, and historical and geological research edited into a newly commissioned script (Claire Carter), an 18-channel sound composition (James Bulley), choreography (Carlos Pons Guerra) and dramaturgy (Jonathan Pitches). As lead artist-researcher I directed, designed and coordinated the project and its dissemination.

Black Rock culminated in a new 50-minute performance event at stage@leeds (2017), that combined custom immersive design technologies (including new responsive lighting and sound array), ecological materials, multimedia design, choreographic practice and new writing.

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