In October, 2014, I had the good fortune to meet Dr Louise Ritchie, a researcher and lecturer in Drama, Performance and Television at Aberystwyth University. We were both attending a Welsh learners’ weekend called Campiaith–I was facilitating a bilingual capoeira class and Louise was a student attending the full workshop. We exchanged numbers, initially with an idea for me to run a capoeira workshop with the students. In the course of a phone conversation, we discovered we were both working on ‘train projects’: my project “Singing the Line into Existence,” and Louise’s “Day Return.” Both projects have an interest in, and involve performance place and travel. As a result of this chance meeting, a reverse Strategic Insight Programme placement or SIP was awarded to me, to work with Louise within the University, to build upon this shared interest, and find similarities and crossovers. Since then, our work has roller-coastered into a busy and fruitful new collaboration that runs parallel to Singing the Line into Existence and Day Return called Walk the Line.
Louise and I have had regular meetings full of enthusiastic creative ideas involving research and performance.
In this blog, over the next few days and weeks, I will up date you on the research that we are conducting together such as papers and books I have discovered in the course of my research. I will also reflect on research already conducted for Singing the Line into Existence since July 2012, and my involvement with the Traws Link Cymru campaign, since February 2013.
Our first SIP meeting on the 4th December 2014 was a good indicator that collaboration with Louise was going to generate an abundant in ideas. At this meeting, we made plans and organised an open field trip Walking through History on the 14th December, to mark the 50th anniversary of the flood at Llanilar near Aberystwyth. This flood event was the catalyst for passenger rail services to be truncated.
On the morning of 14th December, 9:45 am, Louise Ritchie, artist Naomi Heath, and Dylan Lewis, committee member of TLC and former mayor of Aberystwyth met me in a car park–formally Llanilar station, We set off for a morning walk to the spot where the flood happened very close to what was Felindyffryn Halt towards Trawscoed. (Our departure was documented by a journalist for the Cambrian News and published in the Decembe issue 2014. My hope that a wide selection of the community could join us bringing with them enthusiasm to walk, respond, tell stories, share interesting and relevant facts along the line. However this was not the case as we due to time constraints we ran out of time to orgainse it. However, on reflection, the group of artists who did join us – a train enthusiast and 1 artist was very powerful. Simply doing the act in an intimate group, sharing stories and historical facts, recording and documenting and creating art brought a wealth of insight into the project.
The walk was very powerful reminder that involving yourself in a project, brings thought and action: It can (literally) move you to think differently through your body.
Let me quickly share with you the actions and outcomes of that day and some of the art work produced. I also want to share some of my reflections on my own practice and an idea for a future performance:
The morning was damp and overcast but mild as the group walked towards where the flood happened. Dylan had been sent an email containing a scanned photograph taken on the 14th December, 1965, showing the exact spot where the banks had been breached. We used this photograph (on his phone) to locate the spot. As we walked, we talked and shared ideas and stories, Dylan pointed out significant structures such as the platform, original fences and bridges, while Louise Ritchie documented by filming parts of the walk.
Naomi Heath created sound piece called Abandoned Line-Wordless on Sound cloud She tells us about her own experience:
“ I was concentrating on the ambience of the place, recording the sound, when I began to lag behind. I was re-feeling an isolation I had felt most of my life.. It all creeped over me, headphones still on and sound recorder on I ran for the others. As I ran along the train line to catch up with them I began to listen to the rhythm of my body and very soon the pace and flow of my body was becoming more rhythmic. You can hear my heart beating, grit below and breath, which make the components of a train. I wished for trains and I found one in my pocket”.
On a few occasions during the walk, I focused on my intentions on re-opening the line. Every foot step symbolised moving closer to the vision of re-enstating the Aberystwyth-to-Carmarthen line. I consciously focused my intention into the earth, imagining the the line reopening and asking the univere to manifest it. ( my new agy bit coming out now hey!!) Imagining the rippling the message through the earth up into everyone’s consciousness. Dance artist, Anna Halplin is a dance artit who uses this techique and I have been very interested in this lately, and I will developing this technique and other dance training further in work.
Water was reseached further, and I am intersted in reflecting on the power of nature, in Chinese Taoist thought, water is representative of intelligence and wisdom, flexibility, softness and pliancy; however, an over-abundance of the element is said to cause difficulty in choosing something and sticking to it. In the same way, Water can be fluid and weak, but can also wield great power when it floods and overwhelms the land..
I would like to explore these idea’s further in future performances: I plan to revisit this site again and connect once again with the place, with movement and feeling.
January and February has been a busy and exciting month both for the ‘walk the line’ project. Louise and I have focused a lot on the Aberystwth-to-Carmarthen Line, as this year, 2015, marks an important anniversary of the closer
At the beginning of the month, TLC held the first Aberystwyh public meeting: At this meeting, Mike Walker (TLC committee member) was first up, giving a very powerful and visually arresting powerpoint presentation of the origin, aims and nature of the campaign to date. Geraint Blayney (TLC) followed. He took us on a detailed journey along the line as it is today, with the help of satellite images of the terrain. Elin Jones, Plaid AM for Mid and West Wales, and Elizabeth Evans, Ceredigion Lib Dem Councillor for Aberaeron, spoke strongly in favour of the campaign, and the benefits – economic, social and environmental–that would flow from re-opening of the line. The floor was then thrown open for questions and comments, almost all of which were [in favour of…or something more specific as everyone who spoke probably felt that they had a positive contribution to make] and TLC members were able to respond and take note of useful suggestions. At this stage of the meeting, student representatives from both Lampeter and Aberystwyth Universities stood up in the audience to show their support. After the student had spoken, Louise stood up and announced that we (Louise, film maker, Russell Ritchie and I) will be walking the line from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth on the 21- 22 of February to mark the 50th anniversary of the closure of the line. Since then, we have started our research into the route. I have bought a pair of walking boots, (as I have been advised that the terrain is quite overgrown). Many tunnels are closed and parts of the track are now privately owned. Camera’s hired, badges made and bought , organising who will meet us etc.
INVITATION –Walk the line
On Saturday 21/22nd February 2015 Joanna Bond and Louise Ritchie will leave Carmarthen train station on foot to walk the approximate 55-mile length of the disused train line that ends at the final station stop in Aberystwyth. The journey marks 50 years since the lines official closure on February 22nd 1965 in response to the Beeching report and a flood that damaged the tracks. The project invites people from the surrounding area and further afield to join them along the way; walk for a while, share a story, a photograph, an object or a cuppa. The project aims to use the journey to examine and explore connections between places and people specifically the connections that exist now in the present. Updates of the journey will be shared on a blog site that we have yet to build…we’ll share the link soon. Do come and walk with us if you can.
Thank you for reading. I will leave you this from Johnny Cash