Questions for fellow choreographers

How do choreographers do what they do?

Whilst watching Siobhan Davies and Matthias Sperling in rehearsal last week, I began thinking about the reasons / implications of this way of working. For those of you who did not see it, Davies and Sperling’s hour-long rehearsal / discussion was broadcast live via web link. The public was able to follow the discussion and contribute to it by posting their questions. I couldn’t help being intrigued by the number of questions that arose from two people talking about a dance performance that no one had seen. (because  of course it has not been performed yet.)

At the moment several choreographers and companies are trying to open up that studio process by allowing the public to interact via live screening of rehearsals. But does the time in studio constitute all of what we do? Many of us are lucky to be able to get into a studio and try things out, without having to fork out money to pay for space. So a lot of our process has to happen else where. Of course the time in the studio is important. But so too are all the endless hours leading to and preceding the work in the studio. A number of questions have come out of these thoughts. Have you got any answers?

How do you arrive at making?

I know Siobhan Davies proposed a similar question in a series of talks last year. My question is really based on physical exploration. How do you bring yourself to that creative space that is grounded in movement? Do you go to classes? Do you watch dance works? Do you think about movement?

How do you keep the studio time open?

How often do you invite external feedback into your process? How do you maintain some form of perspective? How do you remain relevant to the current dance scene?


Emergence and Divergence

In December 2010 I attended a workshop with Joao Fiadiero in Real Time Composition. Here were my thoughts immediately following this workshop:

This week I attended a research lab with a dance artist called Joao Fiadiero. He calls his work Real Time Composition. It has some resemblance to a group improvisation or a devised theatre piece, however he insists on some very particular details. The idea is that as a group we work to develop a line of thought (emergence) and sustain that to the point of collapse. Communication is completely non-verbal during the actual composition. However after the process he would dissect each move and discuss whether it was the strongest option or not.

We had a lot of problems with various members in the group either willfully or unknowingly sabotaging the work with their own ideas. Luckily towards the end of the week this somehow resolved itself with these individuals becoming quieter, participating less and in one case not returning to the sessions.

The process of composition involves making choices. In a group situation this is complicated by the question of others intentions. To remove this problem Joao has three rules. The work starts with someone providing an initial image / idea / action. It’s direction is not clear. So the first rule is to inhibit one’s impulse to act on a situation, to consider all the possible next steps and then to decide how to contribute. Of course if your initial idea still seems to be the best option then you can go with that. In the mean time someone else may have already contributed a second action. This second action gives the first action some direction. In this instance everyone has to re-adjust their minds to the situation and take in this new information, letting go of the previous idea. Letting go is a second rule. A third action confirms the direction and establishes a line of thought, what Joao calls a “Tube”. Now the whole group contributes to this tube of thought taking it to the point of exhaustion or collapse. The third rule is to do with making a change. The tendency will be to try to see something different, to originate a new idea before the previous thought is completely exhausted. If everyone did this then the direction of thought would never be established, the work would keep falling apart at the third action. So Joao’s third rule is to do with when a change should take place. This, for him, should not be a question of individual choice. It should be a necessity. You can initiate a change when you run out of resources, when an accident happens that changes the situation or when the material begins to loop. An accident could also mean that someone in the group misinterprets an action generating a new line of thought, for example. Or if something placed in the space accidentally falls. This brings about a divergent strand of thought, a new paradigm, which grows into another tube.

This notion of emergence and divergence occurs naturally in evolutionary and social theory. And of course it has many obvious applications to composition, creativity, scientific research etc. But I felt it resonated strongly with the question of choices in life. If 90% of your life is out of your control, then the question of autonomous decision-making needs to be adjusted. You cannot expect all the things that you want to happen, or all the things you work for to pay off. You could keep attempting to construct your life, but the truth is that this would take a lot more energy then necessary and it is simply inefficient. So the best solution is to make decisions based on the way things are, and to learn how to let go of your intention when accidents arise, to learn how to reconsider your options in the light of this new information and to discern whether it would still be valid to continue with your original intention or if that pathway has now ended and your energy could be more efficiently used in another direction.

The clarity of this image has resonated strongly with me on both an artistic and a personal level. During the course I was running off to teach every evening. One evening, following the second day of workshoping I realised how deeply I had been invested in the work. The whole day had been spent practicing RTC by breaking down every single move. Analysing each contribution, and inhibiting every impulse to act. That evening I turned up to teach my class, intending to go through my usual class format. At the end of the class I realised that I had only been able to get through what would normally take up only  15 minutes of the class. My sense of time had been completely distorted, and the number of options at each stage in each exercise had multiplied tenfold.

I know Joao’s workshop will have a long-lasting effect on me and my work.

Thoughts on Ros Warby’s ‘Monumental’

Another Dance Umbrella season, another chance to witness the world’s most renowned dance artists packed into a month-long festival. It’s easy to get lost in this dance maker’s heaven. Whilst I’m still mesmerized by Trisha Brown’s repertory evening and still laughing from Matteo Fargion and Jonathan Burrow’s ‘Cow Piece’, one work that struck a deep sounding chord for me was Ros Warby’s performance of ‘Monumental’ last night.

I say “last night” with a specific intention. The performance tonight will be different. It’s an indeterminate work. Warby’s association with the American choreographer Deborah Hay resounds strongly in her creative practice. Like Hay, Warby refuses to fix material. Instead she works through the piece, generating material as she goes along. To do this she says she is constantly reading the layers of elements that inform the present moment: the space, the audience feedback, the projected images (birds in flight, birds crashing into the sea, birds dying) as well as the thematic elements. She uses the structure (lighting cues, costume changes, visuals and sound) to frame her performance explorations. The piece retains its identity through these fixed markers but it also remains open to differences capturing the vulnerability of the moment of making, its rawness and the hightened performance presence that this brings to the work.

I was particularly interested in the way she classified this work. This, she says, is not the same as improvisation. For Warby, an improvisation is a tool for searching material from the body. The awareness is more open to anything. Whereas, her performance practice has a more channelled focus. She doesn’t call herself a choreographer either. She says that choreography is what results from the interplay of the elements of the work, in which her collaborators play an important role.

Warby’s approach to making work is one to envy. She never starts from a concept. In her own words, themes “arise from the floor”. One member of the audience asked very poignantly how she is able to secure funding for a work that has no definite starting point. Her reply was that her applications talked about the basis of her approach and the importance of her collaborators.

I spent some time trying to work out how my own work fits in against that of Warby and Hay. This is what I think: Whereas Warby’s work is clearly indeterminate, it is not about indeterminacy. Like Swan Lake, for example, is not about the ballet technique, but about the tragic love story, so Warby’s ‘Monumental’ conveys the themes of strength and vulnerability in the imagery of soldiers and swans, through the medium of an indeterminate performance practice. Does our knowledge that the work is not fixed affect our appreciation of it? Would the work resound as strongly if it were all set? Rhetorical questions perhaps. In TV solo I am trying to draw out the indeterminacy as a key feature of the work. It would be like making a ballet piece about the process of making a ballet piece, to use the same comparison. The question I can’t help asking myself is: am I just years behind Warby, or am I simply on another track?