Caldonia Walton on ALEX
Shining a light on the mental health of young people, digital dance film ALEX draws on personal experiences and research with a youth group, hospital and school to tell a story of three characters with the same name.Interweaving contemporary dance, text and poetry with an original score,ALEX has been adapted from the original stage production, Weight/Wait, to become an interactive online film during which audiences will be prompted to respond and give advice to the characters via a comment box. Co-creator and performer Caldonia Walton speaks to Hinton Magazine about what audiences can expect from the film, and why now is the perfect time to explore this topic.
What can viewers expect from ALEX?
Viewers can expect to join a journey of three young people called ALEX as they move, dive and tumble through a story of them navigating counselling, dancing with their inner voice and keeping their head above water. The work aims to be relatable and humorous, yet deeply moving as you see how the literal and physical 'weight' of their mind shakes their confidence. The work shifts between dialogue, theatre, dance and poetry, aiming to keep audiences on their toes as they see where the ALEX's go and how they deal with their inner voice.
How has it been creating online work compared to creating work for the stage?
It was fascinating taking the staging and choreography from the live production and finding the different locations for the work to sit in. We've noticed how much we love the difference of colour in the shots of the locations and how that truthfully reflects the emotions felt by the characters in those scenes. In the live production, the change of location with minimal set was always quite difficult to share. It's been fantastic to create a website and make the work interactive online too, it feels like ALEX can now live on for much longer than if we were touring and performing it. However, I must admit the drive and adrenaline when making a live show wasn't as present in this creation process, and that's something I love!
Can you tell us a bit more about the interactive aspects?
The work is interactive in that the audience are directly addressed, and asked to respond and answer a question halfway through the work. They are prompted to offer advice to the Alex characters and write it into the comment box that pops up. This advice is then collated into a 'legacy page' that appears at the end of the film, a page where audiences can see a rotating selection of twenty pieces of advice that other audience members have written. People can continue to revisit this 'legacy page' to see advice on how to deal with their mental well-being, know that they are not alone in this journey and potentially reflect on whether they could say their own advice to themselves.
What do you want viewers to take away after seeing the film?
I would like viewers to be moved by the story and how the use of dance can portray emotions that are hard to put into words. But also, for viewers to feel hopeful and confident about the recovery process; it may be long, there may be twists and turns in the road, but it's a journey that a lot of us are continuously navigating. Dealing with our mental health and working with our inner voice is a universal experience that we can talk openly about and share advice collectively about. I hope after watching the film that people may also have an insight into how others may be feeling, and can offer to help if they think others are struggling. The ALEX website will have a 'Resources' page that offers websites to visit and numbers to call for young people to reach out to.
You’ve been collaborating with psychotherapists to create the work. How have you found the process?
Very interesting! Great to get Terry Hyde's and Tatiana Cantaud's perspective on the work, understand how we could share a universal experience, rather than just a personal one, and know how to safely present the work in schools. Tatiana Cantaud has been working with me to create the lesson plan and worksheet package to go along with a screening of ALEX in schools. Her input has been invaluable in making this package appropriate.
What’s next for you?
Setting up various school screenings of ALEX, which includes a worksheet, lesson plan and 1-1 with myself or Kathy Richardson and putting it forwards for more film festivals. I'm working as a choreographer on a new R&D project with composer Ping Lee, creating work about a family dealing with long-term illness, grief and loss. Then, as a dancer I'll be playing Fifi in VOXED Out Late' s production again soon, and touring a new double bill for Ransack Dance Company in Wales. I'm also completing a part-time MA in Creative Practice with Laban/Independent Dance. Kathy (co-collaborator) has just moved to Costa Rica, living and working at a retreat centre as a yoga teacher and massage therapist.
ALEX is available to stream online from 3rd – 31st March https://www.swindondance.org.uk/event/alex-weight-wait-the-film/