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Performing arts students collaborate with York Art Gallery to bring current Bloomsbury exhibition to life

Published: 23 May 2022

A group of students on a stage with a brightly coloured backdrop

BEYOND BLOOMSBURY: LIFE, LOVE AND LEGACY, currently on display at York Art Gallery, has been the source of inspiration for a series of collaborative performance pieces by York St John students.  

This major new exhibition explores the lives and works of an extraordinary group of writers, artists and thinkers, known as the Bloomsbury Group, who were active in England in the first half of the twentieth century. 

Students from across the Performance Department at the University joined forces this semester to participate in explorative practices and to produce cross-arts performance fusing music, dance, and text. 

The collective student pieces, titled ‘Beyond the Rules’, were performed in the gallery itself, allowing viewers to immerse themselves in the performance whilst, at the same time, viewing the art works and Bloomsbury artefacts.  

Collette Webb, second year music student at York St John University who worked with acting students, said:

“Working with my peers from other disciplines really allowed me to be more playful with my composition. Responding to their choreography and own interpretations of the artwork, pushed me in different musical directions.  

“We were really pushed out of our comfort zone. As musicians, we are used to working off sheet music. This opened new creative ways of composing music. For example, I was inspired by vivid wallpaper from the Bloomsbury House. The layers and colour inspired me to create a piece of music that included staggered entries from the musicians, and to use our voices to add playful layers. It resulted in what I term a ‘sonic wallpaper’.”  

Lauren Streeter, second year music student at York St John University, said:

“We were lucky enough to visit the exhibition earlier in the year, and were asked to respond to the various pieces of art works. I saw it as an opportunity to make music out of artwork. I reflected the messy lines and expressive strokes in my music, by using structured and chaotic music pieces.”  

Frankie Grist, second year music student at York St John University, said:

“This was the first time we have performed in a public space since the start of the pandemic. It was daunting at first but being in the York Art Gallery I feel we all conquered performing in a location, and grew in confidence.” 

Fiona Burton, Public Engagement Manager at York Museums Trust said: 

“It’s been great to collaborate with York St John University and support drama and music students as they’ve developed creative responses to the artwork in Beyond Bloomsbury: Life, Love and Legacy at York Art Gallery. Our mission at York Museums Trust is to work with communities to inspire, to share and to care for cultural heritage. We know that our visitors really enjoyed the students’ performances, which added an extra dimension to the experience of the exhibition.” 

Dr Morag Galloway, Lecturer in Music and Musical Theatre at York St John University added:  

“Working in York Art Gallery is something I have done before as a composer and is always a joy. It has been fantastic to be able to collaborate with them and our students, who have, in turn, collaborated with each other.  

“Responding to the Bloomsbury artwork really encouraged our students to think progressively and experimentally, to push boundaries artistically, and stretch and develop their skills in ways they were not expecting. Performing for a public audience in the gallery gave the students an incredibly authentic experience which we are all incredibly grateful for. It has been brilliant.”  

Nicola Forshaw, Senior Lecturer in Dance and Drama, who helped to organise the event, said: 

“This has been a fantastic commission for our first year drama, dance and acting students. The Bloomsbury group exhibition provided a very rich stimulus for our students to respond to through movement and physical theatre. It has been a truly collaborative process and we saw music and theatre students come together and grapple with ways of interpreting the exhibition through both disciplines. We are very proud of what they have created and look forward to further collaborations.” 

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