Simone Kenyon – Into The Mountain

A unique new live artwork by Simone Kenyon, inspired by Scottish writer Nan Shepherd’s masterpiece The Living Mountain, will this summer bring together dance, song and a guided walk within Scotland’s dramatic Cairngorm mountains, for locals and international visitors. Nicola Jeffs explains all.

First written in the 1940s during the Second World War, the Aberdeen writer’s book remained unpublished until 1977, and has recently been championed by luminaries of nature writing, including Robert Macfarlane. Indeed, her most famous quote ‘It’s a grand thing to get leave to live’, appears on the Scottish £5 note – and another line ‘I have walked out of my body and into the mountain’ is evocative of the guiding principles in this special new project, which also marks the Scottish Sculpture Workshop’s 40th anniversary year.

Simone Kenyon, Quarry 2, Into The Mountain rehearsals, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Scottish Sculpture Workshop. Photo by Lucy Cash.

Each Into The Mountain performance is open to just 30 audience members, whom will be led in small walking groups (offering a short, mid and long-range route) through Glenfeshie (an area vividly described by Shepherd in The Living Mountain). The groups will converge within the landscape at which point they will witness a choreographed performance by five dancers (Jo Hellier, Claricia Parinussa, Caroline Reagh, Keren Smail and Petra Söör) moving in collaboration with the mountain ecology. Their performance will be accompanied by a vocal score composed by artist Hanna Tuulikki, which will be performed by the Into The Mountain choir, made up of women local to the Cairngorms and led by vocalist Lucy Duncombe.

Simone Kenyon, Line 22, Into The Mountain rehearsals, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Scottish Sculpture Workshop. Photo by Lucy Cash.

“Typically mountaineering is an adrenaline-fuelled activity that seeks to conquer heights and overcome the challenges of difficult terrain,” says Simone Kenyon. “Nan’s writing proposes an entirely different approach, attempting to collaborate with the changing conditions of the variable mountain landscape and offering ecstatic revelations about how being with the mountain alters her state of being. Within her writing, she took a more-than-human perspective and let the mountains teach her through close observation and listening. In her observations, Nan allows us to see the daily nature of the extraordinary, all things upon which this project draws upon.”

Simone Kenyon, Green and Blue 2, Into The Mountain rehearsals, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Scottish Sculpture Workshop. Photo by Lucy Cash.

As she meticulously developed the concept for Into The Mountain, Kenyon held numerous talks and workshops and collaborated closely with the many women who have personal relationships with the Cairngorms, to explore how they navigate, encounter, embody and exist within this unique landscape. From exploring the landscape with local Eco-psychologist, Margaret Kerr, site visits with Heather Morning, Mountain Safety Adviser with Mountaineering Scotland and embodied, attentive walks with Jean Langhorne; to leading movement workshops in Glenfeshie for dance practitioners (in partnership with Dance North), Simone’s collaborative approach uniquely brings together voices and experiences from varied disciplines and backgrounds. Through this project, Kenyon with collaborator Jo Hellier has also led 8 sensory workshops with schools local to the Cairngorms which will form an Education Pack to be distributed by the Cairngorms National Park Authority, geared at helping young people engage with their surrounding environments.

Simone Kenyon, Edge 2, Into The Mountain rehearsals, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Scottish Sculpture Workshop. Photo by Lucy Cash.

Sam Trotman, Director of the Scottish Sculpture Workshop, states: “Into The Mountain’ is a seminal project that is pioneering in its approach to performance making and format. In collaboration with women who live in the Cairngorms, Kenyon has spent years learning with and coming to know these mountain landscapes and this work rethinks modes of art making, to place the natural ecology as a central collaborator. We believe this poses new approaches and we are excited to now bring an audience directly to these sites of scientific and ecological interest, to experience this new approach to being in the landscape.”

Simone Kenyon, Into The Mountain research, 2017. Courtesy of the artist.

Into The Mountain

Lead Artist - Simone Kenyon
Producer - Scottish Sculpture Workshop
30 May – 2 June 2019
Cairngorms, Scotland
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The Living Mountain
Nan Shepherd

160 pages
Canongate Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-0857861832

In this masterpiece of nature writing, Nan Shepherd describes her journeys into the Cairngorm mountains of Scotland. There she encounters a world that can be breathtakingly beautiful at times and shockingly harsh at others. Her intense, poetic prose explores and records the rocks, rivers, creatures and hidden aspects of this remarkable landscape. Shepherd spent a lifetime in search of the 'essential nature' of the Cairngorms; her quest led her to write this classic meditation on the magnificence of mountains, and on our imaginative relationship with the wild world around us. Composed during the Second World War, the manuscript of The Living Mountain lay untouched for more than thirty years before it was finally published.