Mayfly R&D

February 3, 2018

Part 1- The Research


Embarking on our R&D ‘Mayfly’ it felt like a long time had passed since we’d been in a studio not on a raft! It has been a fascinating and rewarding process and has felt liberating and productive in a myriad of ways.


During any research you find yourself in search of the why of it all, the deeper why that compels you to make…the spark, the inspiration and the cause. For this R&D we have been looking at the fascinating life of the Mayfly. Our intention for the research was to explore it’s life cycle, and upon further research so much has been revealed about this incredible creature …it is in fact 350 million years old, and has barely evolved in that time, which makes it older than dinosaurs and far more resilient than us humans as yet!


The Mayfly is often thought to have one of the most fleeting existences on our planet. We see them emerge from rivers on a spring day and for 1 day only they dance their incredible swarming dance. Seeming to disappear again fatigued after their moments of glory.


This is not quite the reality of the situation.




In brief the Mayfly are hatched from eggs on the river bed and spend up to two years undergoing a series of transformations, ‘moults’, growing and forming into their almost adult selves. After which they depart the water and wait in the vegetation on the riverbanks for their final reveal. They shed their skin, become their full adult selves and dance across the rivers surface. This is their mating ritual a time when they don’t even have the capacity to eat, their bodies have evolved to fulfil only one function and they swarm our rivers frantically spiralling, dipping, darting and shimmering. Their last dance, after which the females drops her eggs into the river, dies and drifts off downstream, for the whole cycle to begin again.It’s a fascinating biological tale and mystery of evolution.


Throughout its life the theme for this amazing insect is Transformation whilst moving. Often they emerge from the water at Dusk/Dawn and it seems like they are creatures that are between worlds- they even bring energy up the food chain being aquatic and terra based creatures.


The scientific name for the Mayfly is Ephemeroptera- root links to Ephemeral.




1. Lasting for a very short time.

Synonyms: transitory, transient, fleeting, passing, short-lived, momentary, brief, short, cursory, temporary, impermanent.


Throughout our research we are discussing the many parallels between the Mayfly as a metaphor and the nature of being human.

The human experience is a never-ending process of growing, changing and transforming again and again throughout our lives. Whilst some periods of life offer a steadiness or an ease even, others come with speed and intensity. Great successes, great sadness, emergencies and dreams come true all accelerate us into hyper speed. We like the Mayfly adapt, evolve and transform.


Themes that have emerged are: Survival, Transformation whilst moving, Change, connection to the natural rhythms in life, connection to the environment, the need for connection to others and what makes us resilient, the fight to survive- transcending survival alone to something higher.


The Mayfly as a symbol has come to mean a variety of things to humans over the years…“The mayfly has come to symbolise the transitoriness and brevity of life. The poet George Crabbe, known to have been interested in insects, compared the brief life of a newspaper with that of mayflies, both being known as “Ephemera”, things that live for a day.”


So whilst Crabbe’s biology is a bit off for centuries the Mayfly was observed to live only on this day and the allure and intrigue of this fleeting moment really captures the imagination.


Words that have emerged for Eithne during the process…


The Mayfly

A steady countdown

To the makers moment

A spring day

A long night


Burning fast and bright after years waiting in the shadows

Preparing in the watery depths

For the dance of a lifetime



We have been captured by the very fact that this final transformation of the Mayfly involves a carefully choreographed dance. It is as fleeting, momentary and illusive as watching the moving body. Enjoying the traces in space, which disappear before your eyes. It seems dance is the perfect medium as it is fleeting, momentary and intense by its very nature.


Part 2- Studio based movement research


We spent Week 1 of the project working in the studio delving into improvisation. Working with a myriad of different tasks we have started to develop movement qualities that relate to our theme.


We are trying to let our movement develop by spending more and more time improvising. We have the knowledge from many hours of discussions about the themes of the work so rather than try to choreograph something straight away we are creating scores which help us to explore some of our ideas quickly and physically.


We are improvising for about half an hour at a time, filming this and then watching back to see which physicality’s read, find out if any duet work takes us a step closer to the choreography and see if there are any beautiful accidents of spacing and relationship between the two of us.


Every time we watch a video we see a new physicality we hadn’t thought of and we draw this out as an improvisation task of its own.


Breakthrough time! Using the idea of transforming whilst moving we have been shifting the task on within the improvisation, allowing the body mind to influence the process and this is helping us move in new and varied ways. We are allowing the instinct and subconscious mind lead the process and in order to do this we’ve used a series of words- respond, change, avoid.


This way of working feels like a maturing of our process and whilst it’s scary to not always know where we are going, we feel we are getting a lot out of letting our movement lead the way.



Part 3- Researching the environment


The other element we are exploring is water. The watery home and lifecycle of the Mayfly has inspired us to explore what moving in water feels like and portrays.


Working at Volcano Theatre Swansea with the very talented Gerald Tyler, we have constructed a mock-up of what the final set might look like. We imagine a beautiful flat black tray shimmering with an inch of water.


As you can see our wildest dreams have been fulfilled…

 Or have's all about perspective!


In all seriousness though, this pool has allowed to thoroughly research our plans to work with water – we have:

  • Tested out 6 different surface materials for the floor.

  • Tested different depths of water.

  • Tried out different costumes (inc. wetsuits underneath).

  • Begun to understand the physical challenges of dancing in water.

  • See how a moving body in water creates powerful imagery.

  • Light and film in the water to get a sense for how the eventual piece could look.

  • Considered the environment of the piece as a whole and if it would work as we had thought in the outdoors

This opportunity has been invaluable.


Through these explorations and conversations with Gerald we feel we’ve really gotten to grips with water the water can offer, what our options are and what challenges it will bring. We know what it would be to undertake this as a fully fledged work/works, and what we'd need in order to do it well- (materials included).


We have had in depth discussions about aesthetic and content- what the look of the work might be, what the feel is and what the environment of the water is asking for.



Part 4- Capturing the R&D on Film 


In our final week we have returned to our improvisation and the exploration/crafting of a movement language and captured a sense of the watery research on film. 


Hosted at Chapter Arts for the beginning of the week filmmaker Roger Graham came into the studio and spent two days filming our explorations. As we are both in the work this has been hugely beneficial. It has allowed us to feel the reality of performing in this wet scenario (certainly challenging), but also to see our movements and the water from an audience’s perspective.


Filming has enabled us to capture some of our movement explorations on film and given us the sense that it really does work on camera- we are now considering the life of the work as a film, installation or indoor work as well as how it may work outdoors. We’ve discovered the potential in the reflections of the water as an integral part of the overall work and the controlled environment indoors allows different elements to be drawn-out, for example, there can be much more stillness.


Part 5- Photoshoot


We finished off the project with a photo shoot with Jamie Morgans, in Bute river in February…yes we are mad and yes it was damn cold!


We considered a number of places to capture a sense of the research however the river felt fitting because it is the Mayfly’s natural habitat.




Coming to the end of this project it has encompassed so much more than we had intended when we set out and we’ve gained a new perspective on how to be sustainable as a company as well as new wonderful creative working method to use. 


We believe this project on from here is a slow burn and needs time to be developed into a fully-fledged piece of art but in the meantime Roger is going to cut together a short film from the research. In the meantime we have very simply cut together this from his footage- edited by us it’s just to give an impression of what we got up to.




Password: mayflyfeedback


If you would like to give us any feedback we've created a survey to structure the feedback using the Liz Lerman method.  LINK HERE





We would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to our supporters on this project. To Arts Council Wales for a research and development grant, to Creu Cymru for match funding, to The Riverfront for in kind rehearsal space, Welsh translation and marketing, to Chapter Arts Centre for space in kind and to Volcano Theatre for space support.


Without that crucial provision we would not have been able to run this project. 


We would also like to thank our collaborator Gerald for being incredibly astute, knowledgeable and for reminding us of what is important. Jamie Morgans for the fantastic photos and to Roger Graham for capturing the research findings as well as we could with the tiniest of spaces in a paddling pool! 


Thank you all!











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