Jo Shapland: Told By the Wind

October 3, 2016 by

I like it when seemingly scattered and diverse elements connect up and when my diverse creative skills are brought together in the cradle of form. My personal history that brings me to the latest performances of Told by the Wind is just such a thing.

It starts way back in the 1980’s at London Contemporary Dance School when the two ‘Elder’ teachers of that school Jane Dudley and Nina Fonaroff (soloists from the original Martha Graham Company and artists in their own right) introduce me as a young dancer to the Noh theatre, the aesthetics of Japan and the beautiful work of film-maker Andrej Tarkovsky and ‘Sculpting in Time’. I see Noh in London and it gets to me in a way I can’t define even if I want to.

Fast forward ten or so years and I’ve not long returned from dancing Aletta Collins’ opera choreography in Japan, and, due to a nudge from a colleague in that production, I am in India learning about southern Indian performing arts. This involves my first (and rather in at the deep end!) experience of training in the dance-like martial art, Kalarippayattu. I fall in love with the ancient theatre form Kudiyattam and the seasonal Theyyam festivals.

Five years later, someone who has seen my solo performances of that time keeps suggesting I connect with Phillip Zarrilli, because she thinks we have so much in common theatrically. He has brought over a Kudiyattam actor to the UK and I enrol in a duo of workshops first with him, in his very special Asian Martial/Meditation arts based Psychophysical Actor Training, and then with the remarkable Kudiyattam actor. Phillip is a kalarippayattu master and I am blown away with this form and how his approach consciously works with subtleties of directed awareness and inner connection that I didn’t find in my contemporary dance and ballet training, or in my otherwise rich experience in Kerala.

Phillip’s training and application to performance has been part of me ever since. The projects and trainings that I’ve gone through in Britain and internationally have been diverse. While these enrich my personal practice, I regularly return to the form, simplicity and physical strength that Phillip’s training holds me in. I am grateful for the ways this gives me space to create from. It also helps me physically to continue as a dancer, now in my 50’s. I am amazed at what the body – or rather bodymind – is capable of doing when it is centred.

Phillip’s incredible knowledge of theatre across cultures and his track record as an academic and writer challenge me to enjoy going deeper into research.

I have no doubt that it is a good idea to deepen my own research by doing a practice-based MFA at the University of Exeter (with Phillip as convenor). This gives me opportunity to both research ‘phantasmal noh’ and to go into more depth with my site-sensitive performance/installation practice, through three productions and a body of writing.

I first meet Kaite O’Reilly in the queue at Chapter café while working in Cardiff in the noughties. I know who she is before I – er – know who she is! The delight of meeting her is where we start, and, fast forwarding to 2016, I now know that her brilliant mind and sharp yet sensitive and intuitive dramaturgical and writing skills make for a thoroughness and passion that weaves us together and unites us in our creation of Told by the Wind. I see this as my foundation from which my part in our co-creation of Told by the Wind sprung.

It is a joy to return to this piece. The specificity of the form and my inner ‘script’ that I am constantly reviewing and renewing, means I can enter in to it, be held in it, and connect with my co-performer, Phillip. This is a ‘listening’ approach that creates space, inviting the poetry of imagination and creation to enter the event that ‘we’, i.e. the performers, the audience and the place and time, are sharing. I think the piece speaks for itself, and it speaks to us when we do it.

We’ve performed it in such diverse places in the world (including in Tokyo on my 50th birthday with a female Noh actor in the audience – what a treat!) and it really gets to people! You are so welcome to come and let it get to you!

Jo Shapland

…at a threshold…two figures…two lives…multiple time spaces…

TOLD BY THE WIND ‘dances’ an inner landscape. Interweaving movement, dance, lyrical text, and silence, Told invites the audience to enter this imaginative place of possibilities where two figures and two lives are always poised at a threshold

Video Trailer with tour details:


Small World Theatre

9th October 3pm

Chapter Arts Centre
12th 13th October 7.30pm

Northcott Theatre
17th October 7.30pm

From Chicago to Tokyo, Berlin to Wroclaw, The Llanarth Group’s “hypnotic” TOLD BY THE WIND has received outstanding reviews and enthusiastic responses from audiences. Created in a former milking parlour in rural west Wales before touring internationally, the production returns to the UK for a limited tour from 9th-17th October 2016.
TOLD is co-created by a team of Wales-based artists including Kaite O’Reilly (Ted Hughes Award for ‘Persians’ with National Theatre Wales), dancer/choreographer/interdisciplinary artist Jo Shapland and performer/director Phillip Zarrilli (Artistic director Llanarth Group)

“…hypnotic…a haunting, painterly beauty…[with] the astringent purity of a haiku poem…intense meditation in movement…the performers have a remarkable presence…” **** THE GUARDIAN

“perfection in movement, text, staging…a beautifully contemplative sixty minutes” BRITISH THEATRE GUIDE

‘…minimal…mesmerizing…evoking both later T.S. Eliot and haiku’

‘…Beckettian magnetic poetry…all dropped like shapeless stones into a moonlit lake of silence…’ CHICAGO TIME OUT


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