Meeting Caroline Waters at ECITE 2016


Ilze Zirina

Caroline Waters is CI practicioner since middle of 80’s. Based in Great Britain, Caroline is currently an Associate Lecturer of Dance at Chichester University, is a Broadcaster on Brighton and Hove Community Radio and a performer in Tanglehead Productions and The Carnival Collective.

Amongst all the traveling teaching at international level, Caroline was an Associate Lecturer at Dartington College of Arts UK for 11 years (96-07). At Dartington Caroline taught on the Contextual Studies part of the Theatre program, as well as many years on cross college collaboration projects.Caroline has put a great input into ECITE (European Contact Improvisation Teachers Exchange) development by being on the the organization team of ECITE 4 times, twice in the UK, once in Budapest and once in St Petersburg. Besides organizing different CI events in Europe and being a performance curator at the CI25 Contact birthday celebrations in Ohio, USA, Caroline has strongly supported CI development in Russia. She has been on the organization of Contact Moscow for 5 years, has been developing work in Saint Petersburg and Siberia. She also organizes Benefit Gigs for Oxfam that bring a mixture of live music and performance together.

Experienced, bright and contradictory personality who made Ilze Zirina become curious about Caroline’s journey in Contact Improvisation world.

Ilze Z?ri?a: One of your starting points at the professional life was Mime and Physical Theatre. Is there a mime and theatre “person” somewhere in you still and how are skills of being a mime actress supporting your professional life today?

– Caroline Waters: It was my very first basic physical training a three month intensive in Mime Physical Theatre. And I think, it’s the best thing I ever did. It gave me a huge grounding in relationship – space – self, creating material. But I have always been passionate about improvisation. I still call on these very basics. Because Mime and Physical Theatre is not so much about text, it was really about physicality of the body. And I have always been interested in improvisation as a performance and CI is a language you can use in that context.

– Ilze: Do you have experience as a Mime and Physical Theatre actor?

– Caroline: Not so much Mime, but Physical Theatre – yes. I mean, I don’t think I have stopped.

– Ilze: Do you incorporate it in your work today?

– Caroline: Yes. I am a bit of comedian when I am on a stage. I play around… You know… We get very serious in contact (a little example in movement what makes audience giggle). What about mime – it’s another thing. But then, I was trained as psychological mime as well as an usual mime.

– Ilze: Together with Steve Paxton you created Touchdown dance company in middle of 80’s with sighted and non-sighted dancers. Can you please tell more about how it started: reasons, artists, the content of work?

– Caroline:   The context was – Steve was a teacher of Contact in Dartington College of Arts and I was a student. So, I had to do Contact, it was part of my degree, I had no choice. And he was my teacher – a strange man who comes up and we have to… (a light but expressive movement with arms and giggling in audience again) you know… work with the arm (laugh in audience . And in the second year we had this thing called Contextual Practice because, in my case, there was a third year, when we had to go out into the world and do the work as a student and then – to come back to College for the 4th year.

Steve had worked with a blind boy previously and one year he came to Dartington and wanted to work on healing project. He saw, a concept of a project in Dartington where he could bring his ideas together to work with visually impaired and CI. The tutor of our course was Anne Kilcoyne who was a psychologist. In my year it was a first experiment in terms of visiting a blind rehabilitation center and bringing these worlds together. We did many mistakes, we made many people cry and we got a little bit lost in bringing our sighted world to this place, but we also found ways of making it work. And it was really profound experience. For me it seemed naturally to go on with visually impaired and I found Contact quite easy to pick up. I think, it was really, really amazing work. The Project was supported by college. Steve put his own money he was paid by the College to make it possible for visually impaired to be in a project. We managed to make it run for three more years at the University and then set it up as an outside project.

– Ilze: How many artists were in the company?

– Caroline: Well, the basic company started with Jerry, who was a visually impaired man and Anne was the Tutor/psychologist, and Steve, and me. There were us four as a base. And we had open workshops. We tried to make it half and half: half – visually non impaired and another half – visually impaired. And it was open for everybody: social workers, dancers, actors, other people. That’s how it started. I left after six years and how it is now, I can’t tell. Katy Dymoke took it on and developed in her own way.

Ilze: Did you perform?

Caroline: Steve always performed everything. It was just a part of what he did. No big debate.

Ilze: Would you agree that visuality makes other senses weaker? What did you learn from non-sighted dancers?

– Caroline: The sad thing I learned, was one thing about our world: we don’t allow… touching the world. A lot of blind people, if you go like this (slightly touches the arm), you get a recoil. And the statistics says that visually impaired people are 25% more tense than anybody. So, there is a tension. I think it blocks our senses. It depends, there is a difference if you are born visually impaired or you become visually impaired. My strongest memory is when Jerry, who was our colleague, taught the class. He has been sighted but very poorly sighted and eventually lost his sight. When he massaged or when he took my arm or body – the quality of touch was completely different. I felt like I was was being read. And also, he knew when I’d come in the room. I would walk down the corridor and he says, “Hi, Caroline!” and I say, “How do you know that it was me?! You can’t see me!” It was just incredible to be in that world.

I know I’ve become very lazy with my sight. I tend to dance with my head down and I forget that I can look at people. And I remember, after many years of working with visually impaired, the first time when I came back to Dartington, I was teaching and suddenly looked up and understood, “oh, you all can see me”… You know, I’ve spent all this time trying to teach contact to people who will never see it. So, I was in a very different place with the material. And I still can not teach copy. I don’t ever want people to copy me. I find it like, “Oh, what are you doing?! You copy me!” But that’s how people, you know, if you are sighted tend to work.

– Ilze: Would you agree that CI in UK is well developed? What main reasons would you call?

– Caroline:   I think, we’ve go through phases. I think the London jam is very well working jam and it has taken years to get there. It’s usually not very many British people (laugh). I think, CI has a chance to be in Great Britain because it was taught in colleges. Sixteen to eighteen, that’s where you mainly find it. But also in universities CI is taught. It’s getting less, it’s changing again. The government likes to stamp on things that are experimental. Across Europe they are losing our experimental colleges… I don’t know… It’s very London based. We have a little group in Liverpool. There are little groups. But I don’t know if it’s well developed. We all try… (laugh rustles the space).


– Ilze: How do you see the development of CI today? Does it go somewhere: “on – in – for – with “ (during the creative process of ongoing performance group we did a unannounced performance score, where the keywords are “on-in-for-with”).

– Caroline: I see CI going into the healing world or other practices. I was always attracted to it seen as an art form. The fact that you can talk about it, the fact that you can dance it, is very exciting. The fact that people use it as a tool to build community – OK. Or take it to other places – fine. But I am interested in it as an art form and dance form, and performance form. But then – I come from a very formal background and Steve Paxton is an incredible thinker. Some newer dancers they want their own things – thinking about living in communities and other stuff. You know human beings: we like to be in a community but we also like our own way.

– Ilze: Please name one word – what’s the beauty of CI?

– Caroline:   One word?! (a little performance about “struggle to find that word”. Laugh in audience) I would never call it beautiful (laugh in all ). So, I’m struggling with… Well, I enjoy cooperation and listening. For me as a more experienced Contact improviser, I love the listening quality. What’s great about being here, is – I feel we have more intelligent bodies. And that’s not a hierarchy thing. I feel, It’s a listening touch and that’s what I love about touch.


Photo: Shai Levy

Ilze’s participation in ECITE 2016 was supported by State Culture Capital Foundation and Latvian College of Culture