November- Dances with Trees


Delighted to feature a tree dance story this month. I met Zhang Yi a month ago at a contact improv performance and was thrilled when she agreed to come to my favourite woods to help make a video.  Special thanks also to Robert Harvey and Ciorras for permission to use the music for this video.

Ladybird of Dongxiaokou 6m40s video Niamh Cunningham 2020


Youtube link to video : 

Youku link 




I write this sitting under the shade of a big tree.  I seem to have a natural connection.  It is as if I want to protect it and at the same time be protected by it. But language can only go so far. I like to hug the tree and lean against it, as if giving myself to it. Sometimes when I lean on it, I feel a kind of steadiness, a kind of stability, a real type of support. Sometimes when I see it damaged, I also feel sad. Once I saw a pile of tree branches being cut down on the side of the road. Sometimes I see people wrapping light strips around them. I feel both helpless and apologetic… I like to hear their rustling sounds like copper bells when they are blown by the wind. I like watching them dance naturally with the wind.

      Trees also have a slow steady flow of energy. By steadying myself for a while, I feel that my energy is also stable and orderly. Observing it, I see the silent tension of life. It’ s quiet growth can withstand time. I have to live with the four seasons. There are times the wind will move and the wind will be quiet.

      I have a deep admiration for nature, and often a kind of joy. I feel that we belong to nature and we are part of it…


Contact and Improvisation:

Last winter I saw people moving freely while dancing in a way of communicating with each other, I saw people using their bodies to exchange weight, support, and play together.  Being in a relaxed state in the present moment allows “Contact Improvisation” to happen.  I see a certain kind of “relationship”, between people and the environment, and between people and nature.” A state of symbiosis. Sometimes I dance alone in the empty playground, in the soft ground, under the tree, in the sun, I feel both “independent” and “dependent”. Since I was young, I used to watch myself dancing in the mirror .I vaguely remember this blurry image of my younger self moving. The body may be my first home. I live in it in this way, watching my every move and slowly getting to know myself.

Zhang Yi Nov 2020


Zhang Yi is an contact improvisation dancer here in Beijing , she has been a fitness instructor for the past ten years.

Improv contact dancer Zhang Yi

Memory Palace of Trees 2020 is socio- ecological art practice which invites your participation to tell a story (or give some kind of information) about trees. It is a social enquiry of how to live better with the planet and with people by simply sharing stories. You are cordially invited to tell me your story of a tree or trees. (email : I would love to hear from you. Throughout 2020 a story will be posted with either an artwork already made or perhaps your story will inspire me to make a new work!