The Making of Medsmama in Brief

Story 571 | Contemporary, Creative Work, Cross Media, Elbow Room Dance Company, Video Work | Creative process | 1 Project

Ani describes the journey……The making of Medsmama involved 2 years of research and development, before our 6 week make period in a Scout hut on the sea front in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire. All an enormous privilege, here is the process in brief.

The very beginnings was to interview remaining survivors of the events that took place 1915/16 in Turkey, under the cloak of the First World War, to which my beloved grandmother was party. Astrid and her mothers extraordinary story, in interview, is available on this website.

Then an initial 2 days in London scouting out existing creative work with Gaby Agis along with time spent with Levon Chillingarian OBE who initiated me into Armenian folk music and Shakeh Avanessian, an International Folk Dancer who introduced me to her performance work. All this before a field trip to Armenia itself, my first visit.

There musician and composer Daniel Weaver worked with traditional musicians to create the underlying score. Whilst I worked with Andranik Michelian and the community to develop a deeper connection and broader understanding of the dances we danced at cultural events in London in childhood and expand upon that vocabulary.

I travelled Armenia attached to a video camera, with which I feverishly filmed almost everything I saw, including the almond orchards reminiscent of those Medsmama’s family owned and played in as children, in the mountains, close to Adana. This raw material fed into, the final work. My intension is to share these videos here at a later date.

On my return I was honoured to work in a studio filming with Shakeh in her gorgeous traditional costume, to create the representation of the goddess seen in the finished piece.

Meanwhile, I had developed a relationship with writer John Harvey, who absorbed all I was getting up to. He eventually created some incredibly powerful text, which we integrated into the work.

Youth dancers I had working relationships with in the community were brought in to the Lemon Tree to represent Medsmama’s sisters, whom I choreographed dancing playfully in a traditional circle, which was eventually overlayed onto the orchard scenes I’d filmed in Armenia by video artist John McGeoch.

The overriding pressing question throughout was who would share the stage with me as Medsmama. And there is no way I could have anticipated what happened next in finding the remarkable Ruth Posner. One of the early dancers of The London Contemporary Dance Company, Ruth had turned actress when she spotted the call for Medmama. What’s more, she knew first hand of that huge missing piece of Medsmama’s story that I was searching for, in that she had lost her entire family in the Jewish Halicaust of World War 2. I would like to take a moment here to pour out as best I can the enormous gratitude I feel to Ruth for trusting me and stepping back out onto the stage to dance Medsmama. She was really the star of the show for me.

Though it was young Medsmama I was getting to know and bring forward  through this process so I also brought in Adrienne Hart to represent her in her earlier years.

And I would not be representing this piece fairly if I was to leave out the contribution of the very gifted Lighting Designer Simon Gane. I’ve been fortunate to work with him on many many occasions (most recently Alter;nativity 2016) and here he lit up the stage with beautiful Armenian rugs of light, amongst other things.

The contribution to each of these collaborators was overwhelming. Their work was astonishing and with Gaby Agis being my third eye, over 1 week of the 6 week devising process, assisting in Directing the piece, the challenge was to keep this rich tapestry balanced. So that no one art form or piece overshadowed or drowned out the other.

Ultimately, unlike Metchen, Medsmama, though primarily dance theatre, was not all about the dance. It was an honouring of my wise, beautiful, quietly dignified, kind, supportive and extraordinary grandmother and a telling of a story that she could not, one the Armenian community in Diaspora is still seeking acknowledgment for. It remains politically and morally important to air and share. It was also a wonderful oportunity for me to take a deep dive into my heritage, which continues to inform me and to be the cross media artist I am just beneath the surface. Though of course my first love Dance, Dance Dance, Dance does tend to take over somewhat!

Why Medsmama? On a very personal note. As a loan parent desirous of committing to a major project, I felt I owed it to make something meaningful to my son also. The work had to be personal this time. And now I find myself a grandmother, the legacy of this project for me, is the gift of passing down as custodian to Medsmama’s great, great grandchildren her story and our rich heritage. May there be many circle dances!

Dance: Contemporary, Creative Work, Cross Media, Elbow Room Dance Company, Video Work
Credits: None…

Published: 6 Jan 2024 @ 10:38


This story is one of many within the following projects:

Project Medsmama

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