Bristol – Jacobs Wells Road Dance Centre and former baths

Here is the Bristol Community Dance Centre on the Jacobs Wells Road.

Bristol Community Dance Centre, Jacobs Wells Road. 12:15, 23rd March 2022 in Sketchbook 11

This is building is special for me. Here I learned how to stand up straight, and I learned where my feet were. Or rather, I learned how to learn those physical things, or I learned that they could be learned. My teacher was a dancer, Helen Roberts.

Earlier on, many years previously, in another town, in a different life, I had been to a performance by London Contemporary Dance Theatre. There I saw, for the first time, movement as language. The way I described it to myself was: “First they teach you a language, then they talk to you in it.” That, for me, was Contemporary Dance. Once I’d seen it, I wanted to do it.

Life events unfolded and I was in another town, another life. And still, the idea of Contemporary Dance remained. Searching through printed events listings, in fuzzy type on thin paper, I found a Contemporary Dance class, for beginners. It was in Bristol, half an hour’s train journey from Bath, where I was living. So I turned up to this building, with shoulders hunched from stress and aching from desk work, and body strong from running and swimming, but uncoordinated. Without ceremony or introduction, the class started. This was the early 1980s.

I kept on with the beginners’ class, for years. It didn’t get any easier, but I felt that I was learning something. Recently I found a word for what I was learning: kinaesthesia, awareness of where my hands and feet are.

Helen Roberts was up at the front, calmly demonstrating the movements. Sometimes there was recorded music, once or twice a drummer. Sometimes she simply counted or sung a rhythmic click-type song. I copied the movements as best I could, and tried to follow her directions. Arms up, arms wide. “Arms wide” she repeated, with a bit of a glance my way. I was concentrating. My arms are wide. “My arms are wide” I said to myself, “just like Helen’s!”.

“Look at your shadow” suggested Helen, gently. There weren’t any mirrors. I looked at my shadow and I saw me. Rather than ‘soaring bird’, I was ‘drooping tree’. I lifted up my arms. It felt far too high, far too difficult. And that was the beginning. Holding your arms out wide is hard, it takes practice, it takes proprioception, which (I now know) is the sense of where your limbs are in space. It can be learnt, improved, refined, made easier, made more intuitive. I’m still learning.

I learned what it feels like to stand up straight, to line up my spine, to tauten my legs. I learned to “uncurl” from a deep fold into this upright standing position. It’s a pleasant feeling. We did it again and again in this beginners’ class. I did it again and again also outside the class, and it helped me: movement as medicine.

Life moved on again, another town, a different life, moving from place to place.
Now it’s 35 years later. I’m getting older and need to stretch stiffening muscles, aching joints. I have a sequence of exercises given to me by an NHS physio after an injury. In the sequence was that very same uncurling exercise: medicine as dance. With the remembered movement came Helen Roberts’ voice, instructing me, encouraging me.

I incorporate several more of Helen Roberts’ movements into my routine now. I reach upwards, the energy “flowing along the arm and out of the fingertips” as she described all those years ago. Although I don’t know quite what that means, I find it makes a difference to think of it that way: a static movement made dynamic.

I hold my arms out wide, and catch a glimpse of my shadow. I check that my arms are really out there, in the widest possible preparation for an embrace. Even if I don’t do it perfectly, I know now how to learn. I know there is something there to learn, even in this simple movement. And I do it again, and again, with more knowledge, more awareness. It is strangely satisfying.

Helen Roberts – if you are reading this, thank you!

Here are some photos of the dance centre now, and work in progress on the drawing. It seems that the dance centre is closed. It looked closed when I saw it.

Here’s a map:

Sketch map of Bristol Harbour area showing the Jacob Wells Road and sightline of the drawing.

Here is a 2012 video of Helen dancing and describing her work:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJxSshFh6PM&ab_channel=JudithJarvisgyroscopic

Bristol – St Mary Redcliffe BS1

Walking back to Bristol Temple Meads I stopped by the “Thekla” boat and music venue. Much of Bristol docklands area has changed radically in the last 35 years, in appearance and use. But the Thekla is still there, still in the same place, still a music venue, although the music has changed somewhat. I looked across the water as I thought these things, and saw St Mary Redcliffe.

St Mary Redcliffe from The Grove car park, next to Thekla, 23rd March 4pm in Sketchbook 11
The future: “Redcliffe Wharf” – photo from https://www.generatorgroup.co.uk/development/redcliffe-wharf/

St Mary Redcliffe has been there since the 12th century. The current building dates from the 13th and 14th century, and the spire was rebuilt in 1872.

On the left of my drawing, the building with the graffiti, that’s the last remaining undeveloped parts of the docks. The vans and lorries parked in front of it turned out to be a film crew. As I walked past, I saw the big hoardings advertising the redevelopment of the site to become “Redcliffe Wharf”. The developer’s website tells me:

This exciting development is the last direct waterside location on Bristol’s Harbourside. Once complete the development will create around 41,000 sq ft of highly sustainable Grade A office accommodation plus 45 two and three bedroom apartments, two waterside restaurants and space for local businesses.

website for the “Redcliffe Wharf” redevelopment

As I was drawing, a person came and stood, for quite some considerable time so it seemed to me, directly in my field of view. This person was a member of a group. They all walked past, saw me sitting on the kerbstone drawing, and then wondered what I was drawing and went to have a look across the water for themselves. This particular person then chose to align themselves exactly in front of me, adjusting a camera and taking multiple shots. I practised Zen patience, cleaned my palette, mixed some colour, looked at the seagulls, and waited. Then I decided to take a photo.

When I finished my drawing, I walked on into the picture, and past St Mary Redcliffe.

I hope the redevelopment does not touch the beautiful tranquil garden at the top of the hill.

Map from about 2005, showing the sightline of the drawing

Bristol – view from Nova Scotia Place BS1

Wandering in a warm Bristol evening I rounded the harbour and found myself in Nova Scotia Place. This is a secluded domain, enclosed by water, and main roads. There is a pub, the Nova Scotia Hotel. People occupied the outdoor tables, with pints and conversation. I walked onto the small promontory and looked at the little cottages opposite.

Sketching at Nova Scotia Place, 22nd March 2022, 6pm

The warm evening became rather cooler. I packed up when I’d done the pen sketch. The bench that I had been using was a memorial bench:

In memory of Alan Helliwell (German) remembered by family, freinds and work colleagues of Underfall Yard who died too early. 7/2/1961 – 03/10/2009 after several near misses.

Later I put on some colour:

“TS Adventure Sea Cadets” cottages seen from Nova Scotia Place

Mud Dock, Bristol

After a swim in Cleveden at high tide, I walked along the docks at Bristol.

I remember when “Watershed” was a kind of hippy place, half-derelict, half-dwelling, with a shop selling joss sticks, and a long smock-style dress in a wood-block print, that I should have bought. Or may be I did buy it. Or may be I agonised over the price, and waited, and thought, and now Watershed is a totally different place, with a cinema, and several bars, and they’ve mended the pavement outside, and parked yachts outside, and built a bridge.

The bridge leads past the art gallery called “Arnolfini” to the restaurant and bike shop called “Mud Dock”. I sat on a cast iron mooring post, and drew a picture.

Mud Dock, Bristol 22nd September 2021, 10″ x 8″ in Sketchbook 10

I did the pen and ink on location and added the colour back home at my desk.

This picture includes some collage: the slivers of paper on the bottom right are stuck on with rice glue. Underneath them, you see the “shadows” which I made by placing slivers of paper on the wet watercolour and waiting for them to dry.

Bristol Skyline from Mud Dock

I did this directly in pen, no pencil, and it took just over half an hour. Outdoors it was raining.

Mud Dock Deli (@muddockdeli) is directly above a bike shop, all wooden and modern. On another table, a coach was advising a man on how to conduct himself in a forthcoming interview. Make your career relevant. Smile. Be serious but not too serious. Be keen but not desperate. I couldn’t work out what the job was, and both men were out of my line of sight. Their conversation was a sound track to this drawing..

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