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Head to the beach at dusk. Helen Galliano and Dimitri Launder entice us to join them

Arbonauts co-founders and Artistic Directors Helen Galliano and Dimitri Launder write for Run-Riot about their site-specific performance SILT taking place on an Essex beach on Friday 24th and Saturday 25th September at 6pm.

SILT is an outdoor, site-specific performance created by Arbonauts, the artists Helen Galliano and Dimitri Launder, and commissioned by Metal for Estuary 2021 festival. SILT is a climate-responsive piece drawing upon the dystopian tides of our times, exploring the challenge of rising sea levels and imagining how humans might evolve beyond an impending climate disaster. It is performed live at dusk in the water of a tidal pool by a group of community performers made up of open water swimmers from London, Kent and Essex.

The first ripples of ideas for SILT began with exploring the site of the tidal pool at East Beach in Shoeburyness when we were on residency with Metal in the autumn of 2019. We began to think about a dystopian performance that looks at a fractured evolution beyond rising sea levels - imagining a community of people who discover and dwell in the intertidal pool. Silt is the transgressive, fertile sediment between land and sea, and our present and future selves. Climate change and disruption mean that our shores will no longer separate the land from the ocean, we will be forced to adapt and evolve. SILT the performance explores these submerged narratives by reimagining the mudflats of the Thames estuary as a future commons, an intertidal zone populated by the timeless need for humans to establish a community that can sustain itself.

We knew we wanted to work with local participants as performers and started to build relationships with open-water swimming groups in the local area to gauge interest. All was going well, and in March 2020 we received funding from Arts Council England and Metal and we began planning for the performance to take place in September 2020. And then - the global pandemic began to unfurl.

It’s been eighteen months since then, time in which we have planned and postponed the performance twice, and also welcomed our second baby together. During this, we have found a creative release and calm in making work in which the body and the landscape are an innate part of our devising and rehearsal process. Our global sense of grief and uncertainty - the horrors of both the pandemic and extreme weather - gave us an even stronger need to make work with community performers that is generous in its engagement with participants and audience (free tickets!!).

The warmth of the cold water swimming community to our ideas has been extraordinary - they don’t balk at being asked to do the Hokey Cokey as a warm up exercise after 2 hours in a cold wetsuit being dragged through mudflats by large sticks. It’s been incredible for all of us after many months of isolation to finally build a relationship through the rehearsal process with the group we are working with, after months of online forms and yet another zoom meeting.

Creating the physicality of the performance with the participants has been a joy and a privilege - to work with bodies of different ages, shapes, strengths and experiences - this process has mirrored a hope in the resilience and adaptability of humans, themes that we explore within the performance. Working with our collaborator, the dance artist and choreographer Becky Namgauds has been an integral spark in building a physical language that reflects the timelessness of the human desire to not only survive but dwell in our environment. The SILT creative team also includes the sound artist Lee Berwick who will create a bold soundscape using recorded sounds from along the estuary that will be played live during the performance.

Working in a tidal pool is a challenge in itself as the pool is only ‘revealed’ at low tide, so our rehearsals are all timed for when we can access the pool. We will perform SILT as the tide turns from high to low tide, and dusk falls - a transitional moment between this day and the next, between the present and the future.

Researching the evolution and history of the tides and humanity's intimate relationship to them has been an integral inspiration. The thought that many millennia ago large tidal ranges could have created isolated tidal pools in which life may have evolved from sea to land, stranded between mega-tides of that period. What will evolve from the washed-up silts of our low-lying landfills as the tides continue to rise?

SILT has been commissioned by Metal for Estuary 2021 and supported by Arts Council England and the DCMS via Creative Estuary and Estuary 2021. SILT will be performed on Friday 24th and Saturday 25th September at 6pm at East Beach, Shoeburyness, Essex. Tickets are free but are now all sold out, you can join the waiting list for returns via this link.


More about the company, collaborators, and the festival:


Arbonauts create bold site-specific performance, challenging the meeting point between theatre, dance and installation. Founded in 2012 by Helen Galliano and Dimitri Launder, Arbonauts is a multi-disciplinary company with an experimental and collaborative core.

Our sell-out London productions include Biped’s Monitor (2012 & 2013) presented at dusk in Nunhead Cemetery and The Desire Machine (2015), a 360° performance installation created 10m under the Thames at the Brunel Museum (shortlisted for an Off West End Theatre Award 2016).

In 2016, Inside Out Dorset commissioned us to create The Soaring Sky, a walk- through performance of birdsong along a coastal path, sung live by 25 local singers and attended by over 800 people. We worked with costume design students from Arts University Bournemouth over 8 months and toured to Latitude Festival in 2017, working with 30 community singers.

Our partners and supporters indicate the breadth of our creative ambition, including: Arts Council England, British Council, British Land, Ideas Tap, Latitude Festival, London International Mime Festival, London Mayor’s Fund, Metal, Nunhead Festival, Shoreditch Town Hall & Southwark Council. Since 2013 we have been featured in: The Times, London Live TV, Time Out, Metro, Independent, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Run Riot & A Younger Theatre.

“Perfect for those seeking unconventional theatrical experiences.” A Younger Theatre

“Immersive experience experts Arbonauts are back with another mind-bending mixture of art, theatre, music and low-lighting.”  Time Out

Becky Namgauds is a choreographer and dance artist creating intense, powerful work. Inspired by personal and political issues, her work is female-driven and internationally influenced with recurring themes of feminism and the environment. Namgauds has created dance for theatres, outdoor festivals and film. In the past she has collaborated with Hofesh Shechter Company and LIFT. Her show Like Honey was part of the British Council Edinburgh Showcase 2019, and her solo Exhibit F premiered at Dance Umbrella 2019, touring in early 2020. Her outdoor work Rodadoras, performed by three female dancers in half a tonne of soil continues to perform nationally and internationally since 2018.

Lee Berwick has always been intrigued and interested by the transitory and non-physical nature of sound and many of his recent works investigate the relationship between sound and physical space – space modulating sound and sound modulating space. A fifteen year stint working within the butoh lineage of Hitchikata and Ashikawa as composer/collaborator with Sweden’s SU-EN Butoh Co has informed his unique perspective of space, energy and performance.

He is a part of the Inner Ear Performance Collective and has made numerous installations, performances and interactions with sound and film at a range of art festivals, art galleries and acoustic spaces all around the UK and Europe including Tate modern, ICA and Hayward Gallery. He has taught and spoken at various schools/institutions around the world and has performed everywhere from Armenia to Mexico and New York to Tokyo. Lee also produced and wrote music for his critically acclaimed Digidub record label and performed globally as a DJ and a live act.

Estuary 2021 is the second edition of the large-scale arts festival that celebrates the lives, landscapes and histories of the spectacular Thames Estuary. The core programme of Estuary 2021 took place in the Spring of 2021 presenting specially commissioned artworks, discussion and events that respond to powerful themes resonant to the 83 miles of the estuary and its South Essex and North Kent coastlines. SILT is part of the ongoing programme of Estuary 2021 and will take place in late September.

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