Q&A with Pell Ensemble

Published Fri 5 July by Owen

Ahead of Leytonstone Arts Trail, we spoke to Rebecca Evans about Pell Ensemble's latest project TrailblazARs that will feature as part of the trail this year. 

What is the TrailblazARs project and how did the project begin? 

Leytonstone TrailblazARs is a walking app using augmented reality, movement, sound and heritage to celebrate 5 different locations along Leytonstone High Road. All of the locations celebrate people or places that have created change in the local community and beyond. 

The project was born out of myself and collaborator Su Adams passion and past experience in using movement to teach digital skills.  We also felt an AR app could bring the heritage of the High Road to life in a new way.  

From the beginning of the process, as a local resident, I felt strongly about working with the local community to understand what and where was important to include. So Su and I started with a tour of Leytonstone High Road with local historian David Boote of the Leyton and Leytonstone Historical Society. We also had a day at Leytonstone Library where local residents were invited to share stories and memories about the area and what they would like to see included in the app. Throughout the process residents of Leytonstone and the volunteers from Legends of the Forest have all given useful feedback on different versions and have helped us to test the app.  We also had support from Vestry House Museum in finding relevant images.  

Much of the work Pell Ensemble creates is interested in dance and technology. What is it about these two areas that interests you so much? 

Part of it may come from growing up in a home where my father was a pastor and my mother was a chemical engineer, there was a collision of the spiritual and scientific, of the abstract and concrete, of the heart and mind. So much like this, human movement and digital seem to fit on opposite sides of a coin and can either be explored in conflict or used to compliment each other. I am interested in the power and relevance of digital and dance and how we accommodate the fear and hope we have around technology and its impacts on our future as humans.

Co-creation and working with others is at the heart of this project what was it like working with Connaught School for Girls?

Yes, we worked with nineteen year 8 and 9 students from Connaught School for Girls, they were brilliant, as was the school in supporting us to deliver the project. Working with the students we collaborated in researching and deciding the final 5 stops for the app, writing about each stop to create a voice over (which students recorded), choreographing movement in response to the heritage material of each stop, making costume and sound choices as well as learning how to paper prototype, create digital content for the app and build in the Blippar platform. We also underlined the importance of designing for a specific user by sharing with the students the information collected through our workshops and surveys with local residents, this helped inform the content, build, marketing and design. Through this process, they were able to understand the journey of building a creative digital product for the public from beginning to end. We feel that the final outcome is a reflection of all the people who lent their voice and creativity to the project.  

What do you hope people using the app will gain from the experience?

It is a fun and beautiful experience made with and by people from the area, we hope this comes through in the APP and gives a sense of pride about the high road. We also hope that heritage can come alive for people in new ways and inspire a deeper connection and involvement in the community.