Herring Girls

Herring Girls is a semi-improvised dance theatre piece in development with planned showings in Liverpool in Autumn 2018. The project is led by Vicci Riley (a North-West based performer, movement director and teacher with interests in contact improvisation, somatic work, working with local communities and performance improvisation) in collaboration with Judita Vivas (performer, physical theatre artist and teacher) and produced by One September

Vicci and Judita met in Southern France while working on separate solo performance projects. Afterwards they spent two weeks training and devising together in Liverpool. During this time, they discovered shared working methods and themes, namely, relationships between women in all of their complexity. They also discovered and got utterly fascinated by the herring girls (whom Vicci has researched thoroughly on the Isle of Lewis) - women who "followed shoals of herring", travelled to gut and salt herring in UK fishing ports in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

The performance involves two female performers, co-existing in and responding to the landscape they create around themselves. Vicci and Judita envision this work to be easily transported and performed not only in theatre venues and festivals, but also in rural areas, seaside towns, museums, galleries and church halls. Improvisational structure of the performance is both abstract and specific, inspired by the herring girls, their rich imagery, physical labour and camaraderie, as well as the broader themes of fishing, seascapes, female inter-dependence and migration. Using movement work, light, costume and simple objects, like fishing nets, salt and bandages, they aim to create minimalist yet visually and aesthetically dynamic performances layered with recorded stories and sound.

The work was supported by "Print Art On Stage" (residential program at Arts Printing House, Vilnius, Lithuania). The final piece will travel and adapt to different coastal places around the UK and abroad.  

"The girls even worked at night by the light of naphtha flares. Troughs full of silver fish were a wonderful sight, under the light of the naphtha, glistening in the troughs, the stalwart girls bare armed, black wet aprons spangled with scales, red weather worn comely faces crowned by multi-coloured scarves, with shuttling hands wielding gutting knives and casting the gutted fish into waiting barrels. Herring never stops growing. It changes it’s shade after death. Glowing herring - a source of light. A flash - herring - men would hide behind shelter of stone. On the sea - like a sudden shower of snowflakes when twilight fell a shimmer or silver - Gaelic natives knew it as “the burning". Their migration movements were a mystery - a set of musical co-ordinates sheltered for them somewhere in the stars, silver reflecting silver..."

"Though the gutters are not a few of them good looking creatures, yet the appearance of the general mess after they have worked an hour or two biggers all description. Their hands, their neck, their busts, their dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms. Every bit about them fore and aft are spotted and be-sprinkled with little scarlet clots of gills and guts. Bloody and all begrimed with slime, the gutter stands up with knife in hand or stoops her horrid head “with scaly armour bright” and plunging her bare and brawny arms again into the trough, scaters all her gills and guts as if no bowels of compassion existed anymore on this terraqueous globe. Towards eve they carefully wash their faces, arms, legs and slip on their better garments and go sedately about their business" (Alasdair Morreach, 1842, Clann-Nighean an Sgadain). 

Performance photos: Glasses'n beard photography