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Laura Hope Steckler - This River Interview

Depicting a poignant and uplifting journey of ageing, Laura Hope Steckler presents her courageous piece This River in collaboration with film-maker Ruth Barrie and in association with the Audacious Women Festival. A new film based on Steckler’s poem of the same name, This River incorporates movement, text and stunning visuals to investigate the intimate joys and sorrows of reaching that ever-nearing stage of life. Derived from her personal relationships with dance and disability, Laura Hope Steckler showcases a beautiful and hopeful performance piece that explores the acceptance of the challenges of aging with humour and pathos.

Based in Scotland, Laura Hope Steckler is a 70-year-old American performing-artist whose practice triumphs over physical limitations. Having been told at 25 that she could never be a dancer due to a diagnosis of congenital fractures and an unstable vertebra, Steckler continues evolving her practice to overcome continuous challenges. After she experienced a relapse of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME or chronic fatigue syndrome), Steckler has translated the original live performance piece to a film filled with humour, allowing her to accommodate for her hidden disability whilst also showcasing her beloved artform.

This River depicts Steckler’s and our own profound journey of healing and relishing in the physical and mental capabilities we must appreciate. Inspired by her love of sensuous and organic movement, Steckler also draws from her mature age, her work as a somatic psychotherapist, and her hidden disabilities. After 10 years of not producing new work, Steckler returns with original text and contemporary dance, with This River’s intimate journey.

Photo by Ruth Barrie

Ahead of Laura performing in Edinburgh on 29th September at The Space I caught up with her to discuss the show. 

What inspired you to create the piece?
The piece is based on a poem that I wrote a few years ago. It’s about the journey of ageing. I had been thinking about some of the positive aspects of ageing such as developing a taste for exotic foods and that wrinkles can look like the ripples of desert sand.
How did you approach developing the piece?
I explored the development of the piece with a colleague Angus Balbernie.  We discussed how the poem might translate into live performance, which is my passion.  We broke the piece down into sections. To represent various stages of life I used two wedding dresses as part of the ‘set’, and also as costumes. I turned some of the poem into spoken text.  In other sections I found movement that I felt reflected the intention of that section.  It was interesting and challenging to put together the very different and seemingly disparate elements of the work. I think having made it into a film supports that synthesis.
How has dance changed your life in terms of battling through the physical and mental challenges you’ve faced?
These challenges have made me dance in a more organic and subtle way.  I used (and still use) ‘somatics’ practices that are aligned to dance to find ease and flow in my body.  I can no longer dance like I did in my younger days – not because of age but because of my vertebral problem and my ME. I have learned that less can be more, and that stillness, and subtle movement, are also valid and beautiful. I can’t dance for extended periods of time, which is why I made the piece into a film, but I integrate bits of movement into my day. I use slow movement that incorporates a lot of breath, often done lying on the floor.  I find this soothing and nourishing.  
The production marks your return to the stage, how fulfilling has that been for you, especially in defying the odds to keep on dancing?
It’s been amazing.  

I made This River into a film with Ruth Barrie because I just was not strong enough to do the whole piece when I had a residency at DanceBase to develop the work.  Rather than postponing, we shot each tiny section twice and then I had to lie down. We meditated a lot. I visualised success a lot. But it still feels a bit like a miracle that I did it! I love the content of the piece, the mix of humour and seriousness. It’s very satisfying. I loved working with Ruth and have found in her an artistic soul-mate. She came to the work shortly after the death of her young son from brain cancer and became bonded to the piece – she was moved and engaged and found the process healing. I feel really lucky to have connected with her.  

I first became ill with ME in 2011 while working on a group project called ‘Hologram’.  I had to abandon that project just as it was emerging, which was devastating.  
What keeps you inspired in terms of creativity?
I am inspired by my own life experiences and the paradoxes of life and culture, by the impermanence of life, by the pain & joy of shared humanity.  
What do you want an audience to take away from seeing the show?  
I hope they will have a really good laugh and maybe a bit of a cry… I hope they will have a new perspective on ageing - and maybe even death. I hope they will see their own bodies as part of nature. And I hope that younger women will be less afraid of the aging body.
This River plays at The Space in Edinburgh on Friday 29th September at 7.30pm. Tickets are available from

Photo by Ruth Barrie

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