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Q&A: Marisa Zanotti and Lea Anderson talk Pan’s People Papers

The Pan’s People Papers, is a project by writer-director Marisa Zanotti and choreographer Lea Anderson responding to the work of choreographer Flick Colby and the seminal 1970's dance group Pan's People.  I caught up with Marisa and Lea to find out what Pan’s People Papers is all about and how it’s reshaping the way we view and experience Dance Theatre work.

Bethan Wood: What is The Pan’s People Papers? 

Lea Anderson: It is a dance theatre work on facebook. Simple!

Marisa Zanotti: It's a project by myself and Lea Anderson that responds to the work of Flick Colby and her dance group Pan's People through a series of 'papers' in the form of short films, animations, written essays and public discussions. A Transmedia project that took place in real time over 3 days, featuring a fictional choreographer and his troupe in the days before a performance on Facebook and Twitter and now a website archive that houses these things.

Bethan: How did the project come about and what initiated the collaboration?

Lea: When Marisa and I were working on "Edits Film” in 2011/12, Marisa mentioned she had an interest in Pan's People. Everything about Pan's People, the phenomenon that was Pan's People and the historical context. Maybe there might be some common interest there for a project?

Marisa: I had begun to watch Pan's People on Youtube when I was supposed to be doing other work, sometimes for hours at a time, I knew that there was something there to be explored and that Lea was the only person I wanted to do that with. 

Lea: I was actually very interested in Pan's People. PP had inspired me as a child, they were often the only women on TOTP (an unmissable TV programme for me) who were not audience members, and they were the only female TV dancers I ever saw who were well known by name. I had heard Flick Colby (their choreographer) interviewed on the radio and she had said that a girl who was serious about being a professional dancer should be doing ballet class every day by the age of 13. I followed her advice. 

Marisa: Like Lea and many dancers who grew up in the 1970s I wanted to be in Pan's People, they were very cool, they could be anybody, sometimes they were avant garde in routines like Space Odyssey or Spirit in the Sky. 

Lea: For a while now my work has involved “reconstructing” and “correcting” “dance" films. Pan's People dances on TOTP seemed perfectly ripe for re-examination. At first Marisa and I discussed the possibility of a live lecture-demonstration kind of a performance with guest “professors” presenting “ Papers”. After a period of not getting very far trying to interest producers in this, Marisa suggested that it might take the form of a multi-platform digital dance theatre piece. It took me a while to understand what she had in mind, but I was totally up for it. 

Marisa: I had been exploring Transmedia work, however found only drama or gaming forms, I was very interested to try to develop a Transmedia choreography. I had been thinking that increasingly we experience dance via social media.  Dance has a particular social media culture including the making of trailers in the style of film trailers for shows, choreographers and dancers sharing rehearsal processes and sharing work that inspires them.  This stream of data is interrupted by advertising and it all becomes one big flow of stuff where adverts, personal information, rehearsal footage bleed across boundaries.  I knew that there was something in there that could be interesting and that could engage audiences in a different way.

Bethan: What was the process of developing the project and how engaged were people, given the iconic subject and revelations around Jimmy Savile?

Lea: Of course the Jimmy Savile revelations colour the subject. It is part of the subject. 

Marisa: The revelations about Jimmy Savile and the culture at the BBC in the 1970s defined the direction of the work. In researching for the script for the transmedia work, I began to ask who Pan was. This took me to Greek myth and reading about the relationships between powerful gods and young women and visual trickery, there's writing on the website about this under the Glamour and Salvage tab. 

In a more immediate way directing the dancers in the reconstructions of You Little Trustmaker we corrected their gaze to make it accusatory, a way of meeting the lecherous gaze of cameramen and viewers, a way of taking us all to task for what we missed that was in front of us.   

Lea: My main initial obsession was the reconstruction and restoration of the dances. Marisa and I first studied each PP dance (that still exists on film) in great detail in order to discover which dances constitute the essence of the body of work.   

Lea talks about this as approaching the dances as 'Historical Reconstructions' 

We then took these works for dissection and reconstruction in the dance studio. We worked mostly with dancers who had worked in this way before with me (Kath Duggan, Gary Clarke, Inn Pang Ooi. Makiko Aoyama and Celia Watts) but also some dancers who I had worked with before on other types of projects, who I knew would just be perfect (Harry Alexander and Lauren Potter). I wanted to understand the work by pulling it apart, and looking at it frame by frame, and this became an overwhelming concern for myself and the Historical Reconstruction Experts. The Historical Reconstruction Experts were highly engaged in the process. Even the dancers who had no previous connection with PP became excited on exposure to the material. It was important for Marisa and myself to “correct” the casting. The correct casting obviously is a group of performers of various ages, gender and ethnicity. 

Bethan: What was different about making and sharing this work?

Lea: I thought that it would be a good fit with an audience dedicated to social media, but had not realised that it might confuse people. It did confuse some people because it is a work in itself. It is not pointing to or publicising a live work. This is unusual, and caused some confusion. Maybe not so much confusion for social media enthusiasts.

What I loved that was different was the mystery and space between the posts. Also the fact that you could stalk the project online as much or as little as you cared to. 

Marisa: Making the work happen over a period of time with the reconstructions happening first and the script developing afterward. Transmedia gives you the possibility to create a world - for example we had the fictional multi national PAN Global that posted adverts through the work. The Transmedia work was interesting because it was making itself in a way when people shared it, interacted with the characters and in responding to technical glitches - this made the Transmedia work very much more live that we had originally anticipated.  

Lea: Marisa suffered the technical consequences of pioneering this way of working and engaging with the necessary software. I will let her decide whether she ever wants to talk about this again.

Bethan: Were there any unexpected or memorable moments that stood out for you during or post the process?

Lea: Nothing springs to mind that is appropriate for public consumption.

Marisa: I probably wouldn't write a character who tweets at between 3 and 5am every night in case of technical glitches, that mean you then have to stay up to do the tweeting! The costume designer Simon Vincenzi suggested that we have the dancers smiling fixedly for the second reconstruction and he gave the dancers marabou mouths under their fishnet masks -really unpleasant! I really enjoyed writing live as The Ballet Mistress where I channelled Alisdair Sim, I also discovered my inner lad as Dionysus. 

Bethan: Interestingly Greek Myth plays a role in the work, what relationship does this have with the Pan's People?

Lea: This company of dancers were nominally the People of Pan. Pan is a very interesting and complex Greek God. It is natural that we start the story there.

Marisa: Greek myth runs through our culture in ways we are not even aware of, it was easy to find a story that could be adapted for our time.  We chose the story of Pan and Echo, where Pan becomes obsessed by Echo and when she rejects him has his followers tear her into a thousand pieces.  In our story Echo is a really lairy dancer, Pan is a drug taking choreographer, when Echo rejects Pan she's trolled and comes off social media. The story ends on Pan's newsfeed, which is haunted by a spirit who may be Echo. 

Bethan: Pan’s People Papers is a form of Transmedia storytelling, what opportunities and experiences does this offer to both artists and audience?

Marisa: I love it and feel we've only scratched the surface; I love that you can move between realities, that audiences can move around Transmedia spaces and that artists can make their work easily accessible. I also love that it allows you to have many versions of a project in different places, a live work, a cinema work an online work that feels particularly right for me as an artist and the way I think and for these times.

Bethan: What next for Pan's People Papers - and what next for other projects you have on the Horizon?

Marisa: MozFest 16, Lea and I are looking for opportunities to work together again. In the meantime for me a residency at International Museum of Surgery in Chicago and a collaboration with composer Matthew Whiteside. 

Lea: At the moment I am working on my Pop Portraits project... creating portraits in movement of popular artists (Michael Jackson, Mohammad Ali, Tina Turner etc), designed to be performed in art galleries. Also I am working with artist Jasmina Cbic on a filmed reconstruction of “The Miraculous Mandarin”, a controversial and scandalous “lost” ballet from 1926. I am recreating it from 5 photographs and a drawing and it will be presented in Aarhus as part of its City of Culture.

To explore the Pan’s People Papers head to: http://panspeoplepapers.com

Follow Marisa on Instagram and twitter via: @m1zanotti

And follow Lea on Instagram via: @squeakingshoe

The Pan’s People Papers was commissioned by South East Dance for Brighton Digital Festival 2015 and supported by Arts Council England Grants for The Arts, University of Chichester and 422.TV.