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Your Space Or Mine

Artist and choreographer Magnus Westwell lights up the CarWash

East London, on the autumn equinox. Machine Woman is visible in the horizontal slit in the DJ booth which has been built above BUILDHOLLYWOOD’s brand new creative space, CarWash. The concrete floor of the former actual car wash has been brushed and a tarpaulin roof has been strung across the brickwork. On the other side of the wall is an overground part of London underground, on the other side of which illicit artworks by celebrated graffiti artists are visible. Outside, the exterior is adorned with billboard artwork celebrating Scottish artist, choreographer and composer Magnus Westwell and tonight’s 20-minute excerpt of the brand new cross-creative production Broken Light of my Heart.

It’s been a busy few years for the artist and director. As well as performances at dance mecca Sadler’s Wells and London’s experimental hub Cafe OTO, Magnus has scored the soundtrack for Paolo Carzana’s runway at London Fashion Week and performed for Louis Vuitton.

Right now, Magnus Westwell is inside, awaiting the start of the performance. Their Company, Bright Storm Group, is made up of trained and untrained dancers and tonight they’ll premier this 20-minute piece which takes clubs and raves as its inspiration. It twists, deconstructs and amplifies the kind of moves you might see under dancefloor strobe lights into something wholly new.

It feels powerful, in the individual rhythms of each person’s performance,” says Westwell. “It’s very musical and rhythmical. Repetition, loops, and what that can do. It feels like a deconstruction of music and dance. The artists never really face the audience.”


Words by Emma Warren

The effect is stunning. Parts of the choreography slow the dancers’ movement right down, so it looks as if you’re watching at half-speed, a kind of post-production trick achieved by incredible physical control plus the disorienting effect of smoke, lights and Machine Woman’s specially-commissioned live set. Other times the dancers speed up, creating hyper-movement, flexing and arching through shapes that evoke grainy videos of 1990s raves and the kind of euphoria generated in the highest and wildest moments of a club night. It’s radical, momentous, thrilling and exceptionally moving.

Rehearsals with both the dancers and Machine Woman only take place a day before the performance, and the Shoreditch CarWash space – as new as Broken Light – was newly prepared for them. “When I first walked in it was in its rawest state,” Westwell says. “Peeled back brickwork and plaster. The floor was completely uneven. I found it really inspiring. It feels more like a club or a tent in a festival. It being right next to the train line feeds really well into Machine Woman’s music.” As well as music and visual art, Machine Woman is the driving force behind record label Take Away Jazz and hosts a regular show on Rinse FM, spotlighting emerging talent within electronic music.

This collaboration is part of BUILDHOLLYWOOD’s Your Space Or Mine series. The large-scale, UK-wide creative project started by offering a wide range of artists, musicians and thinkers billboard space to share new or existing artwork. The launch of Broken Light of my Heart marks a shift into curatorial commissions and public art – including sculpture and now performance.

CarWash itself is a rare addition to a network of spaces usually only spoken about in terms of loss. It’s managed and curated by BUILDHOLLYWOOD as an accessible hub for art, music, fashion and specifically for unique collaborations and partnerships. Westwell’s work is opening the space and workshops, pop-up events and other performances will follow. “It’s amazing to be working with a new cultural space in London, that’s there to platform new artists,” says Westwell. “It doesn’t have a hierarchical feel. It’s needed”.


*Billboard imagery and concept film by BLOODYSOFFE

What’s your relationship to club culture?

I ran a club night for a few years with a friend. It was called Lazarus, a queer club night that platforms dance and DJs and live music in club spaces, side by side. I see it as an inspiring space with a lot of potential. I was curious about the limits or possibilities of that space.

What did you discover was possible through running Lazarus?

We were platforming dancers, choreographers and trying to create this seamless transition, DJ sets flowing into performances. Now I’m really interested in how I can create work for those kind of spaces. I’m interested in how people can watch dance at a club night or a music festival and how that can inspire people to move differently, or respond to music differently.

Do you see that signal transmitting from the trained dancer to the ordinary dancer, giving them permission to move differently – or do you think the trained dancers make other people shy?

This piece has a mixture of trained dancers and those who don’t have formal training. I find that really interesting. One was dancing for NDT (Netherlands Dans Theatre) just before, and others have a completely different relationship to dance and movement. For the audience, there’s a lot of different things they can pull from. Trained and non-trained dancers together, doing the same choreography in totally different ways.

Can you show me a move you might see in a club and then turn it into something?

[Magnus demonstrates a head movement, swinging from side to side] Swinging the head, then we’d take that and make it really extreme, and then loop it for maybe two minutes.

Will you show me what you mean?

OK [steps back and shows me]. They loop that for a really long time and it puts them into a state of physical exhaustion. It’s trying to find this really extreme form of dancing. Sometimes we really warp the time, so everything really slows down.

At what point of the choreographic process does Machine Woman come in?

It started out as a conversation with us, maybe two years ago. The whole world was created around her music. Every performance could be slightly different. She created some new music and we also used some of her already-released music.

A quick choreographic question. Even though you’ve got a range of technique and skill in these dancers, how does the teaching work? Is it different given that you’ve got such a range of body ability?

We start with an idea based around improvisation. All the artists moving in the space then just seeing a glimpse of something and developing that. Sometimes I’ll teach a movement I’ve thought about or that I’m impulsively making up on the spot. Everyone is doing the movement in completely different ways, and it looks great. There’s a sense that everyone is an individual and that they’re bringing their own personality to the performance. It’s doing the opposite to what a ballet company or even contemporary companies do, where they put everyone in the same style of movement. I’m giving the artists the same sources and allowing them to do whatever they want with it: twist it, bend it, make it different.

Can you give me an example of what your untrained dancers contribute to the piece?

A rawness. There’s a quality that’s hard to find in trained dancers. You go through all those years of dance training and sometimes it’s really hard to even walk like a normal person. It’s hard to take away the training.

What do you want people to get from the piece?

I’m quite a big believer in letting the work speak for itself. I’m often thinking about inspiration, and the work that inspired me when I was younger, or when someone releases an album and I get obsessed with it. These things change my life a little bit, the way I process emotions. At the back of my mind is wanting to contribute to that.

What’s next for Bright Storm Group?

This is the beginning for our dance and performance company. I want to finish creating an album, because I’m also a composer and musician. I swing between the two. After this I’m going to focus on that a little bit, hopefully release something early next year. I’d love to be able to tour this work around the world. And then just see from there.

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