Looking Back – Writing as a Mode of Making

For the last months I have been working on evaluating the different stages of my project Before I decide (2011-12). Some of it will be further developed into possible publication but for now I thought to post these different chapters to give a greater insight into the work. The evaluation is divided into the different phases as followed:

  • The unfolding of ideas
  • The rehearsal process (February – March 2011)
  • 1. Performance at stage@leeds (March 2011)
  • 2. Performance at Howard Assembly Room (2nd July 2011)
  • Reflecting – letting ideas settle/grow (August 2011 – July 2012)
  • R&D weekend (16th and 17thJune 2012)

Some of these will merge into new headings as I rewrite them for this blog but I will try to keep the original feel of it and not jump ahead too much or let new influences alter it.

Enjoy reading!

 

THE UNFOLDING OF IDEAS

The beginnings of projects always fascinate me – there is a freedom of letting ideas wander in all directions, making connections between different inspirations, trying not to select but letting it all float and unfold in unexpected ways.

I always start writing in my notebook from very early on, catching ideas as they come, having the notebook laid out open on my kitchen table so that my eyes can catch it when I walk past. This time I knew it would be a longer project and therefore bought a bigger notebook – always A4 so that I can see different ideas next to each other, making connections as the ideas lay out.

There is a difference between ‘mapping’ (mapping out concrete key points) and ‘touring’ (adding ideas/inspiration as they appear without any order or hierarchy). ‘Touring’ examples regarding the interaction with sound/musicians, were Alvin Lucier’s “I’m sitting in the room” (1969) and Pauline Oliveros “Tuning meditation” (1971), which I came across when co-teaching with the composer Clive Wilkinson at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance.

Alvin Lucier (1969)

In my notebook no explanation is written next to it but both works had a sense of layering material I wanted to capture. Reflecting on how the work unfolded, these notes were not directly visible in the performance but influenced how I worked with live recordings during the performance process, using loop stations to layer sounds as the performance progressed. This refers back to my work in 2009 (Gleichzeitig 3, Leeds), which had an emphasis of layering material as a documentation of time passing.

These notebook entries are similar to what Lee describes as,

“letting my imagination roam for what I might call a ‘dream’ image of the piece” (Lee, 2010, p. 26).

These entries have a sense of letting questions, ideas and images float without selecting or setting them in some kind of order. This reminds me of my yoga practice, the use of asanas/meditation to be able to be in the presence, not jumping ahead to rushed conclusions – and as the title of the work says: stretching the moment of ‘Before I decide’.

These early stages of the creative process include working with, as Pollard calls it,

“multidimensional schematic categories [dealing with] modulating between the present perception and the anticipated” (Pollard, 2010, p. 32).

 

Working on Lehmen’s ‘performance walk’ with the ‘Architects of the Invisible’ for Light Night in October 2010 (Leeds) drew a clear link to Lehmen’s work and his ideas for Funktionen (2004). Defining a group of performers as a social system (Luhmann, 1995), their interactions become one of the five functions/categories, which are material, interpretation, manipulation, observation and mediation. These functions clearly link to the instructions I give to the performers.

Linking my work to Lehmen’s work, Luhmann’s social and Foerster’s cybernetic theories made the following questions arise:

  • Am I as the ‘Visible Choreographer’ part of the group of performers/social system?
  • Or do I belong to the environment, which makes the social system select the produced material?
  • Or do I belong to both?

In reference to Lehmen and Klien (2008) it was clear to me that I needed to keep the hierarchical element within the work to create this friction between the traditional concept of choreography and the democratic setting of improvisation. The relationship between the group and myself was not as clear yet but I knew that I wanted to create an environment where shifts of dynamics/control would be possible.

 

Apart from the notebook I started a diary on my flip camera, ‘Talking diaries’, three weeks prior to the start of the rehearsals. I set myself a task of talking into the camera at a specific time twice a week. This would continue as the rehearsal process started, documenting the findings or questions at different phases of the creative process. There was a clear ritual and rigor of having to stick to these times even though I did not always have a new idea or thought. Listening back to the clips, there is a sense of sometimes ‘mapping’ or ‘touring’ – changes in the voice, gaps between sentences, eyes wandering around the room, leaving sentences unfinished. But there is also a clear evidence of relieve when something more concrete came up, especially because I knew that a selection of these clips would become part of the performance.

I wonder if my notebook is therefore a more honest documentation of the ‘touring’ or the, as Lee calls it, ‘roaming’ of my imagination. However, both forms of documentation were vital in their different characteristics, the open notebook – always present and ready for notes to be added – and the set out dates for the ‘Talking diaries’, giving structure to the thinking/process. Early entries in the notebook include Yoko Ono’s Fluxus instruction ‘Snow piece’ (Ono, 1963), which later appeared in the work, giving it a sensual feel and referring to some work I did in Berlin in 1998.

 

SNOW PIECE

Think that snow is falling.

Think that snow is falling
 everywhere all the time.

When you talk with a person,

Think
that snow is falling between you and on the person.

Stop conversing when you think the person is covered by snow.

                                                                        (Yoko Ono, 1963)

 

In one ‘Talking diary’ entry (3rd February 2011) I question when a creative process actually starts, which refers to Vincs’ idea of a rhizomic structure in relation to the interconnectivity of ideas within practice-led research (Vincs, 2007) or Sanchez-Colberg’s idea of each work leaving traces in all following works (2002).

Bringing these talking diaries into the performance by exhibiting them in the foyer of the performance space but also playing them off an amplified Dictaphone during the performance itself, made the whole choreographic process visible, presented the ‘visible choreographer’ within all stages of the process, as well as documented the creative process with its many different facets and “multidimensional schematic categories”(ibid). The writing in the notebook continued even throughout the performance event and is visible to the audience by a live camera pointing at the notebook and projecting my writing for the audience to read.

Apart from the audio memories of the early stages of the creative process, the notebook kept its focus on the present moment of my decision-making – “Before I decide”.

 

References:

KLIEN, M. 2008. Framemakers, choreography as an aesthetics of change. Limerick: Daghdha Dance Company Ltd

LEE, R. and N. Pollard. 2010. Writing with a choreographer’s notebook. Choreographic Practices. 1, pp. 21-41

LEHMEN, T. 2004. Funktionen. [online]. [12.07. 2010]. Available from:

http://www.thomaslehmen.de/seiten/e/07_funktionen.htm

LUHMANN, N. 1995. Social systems. Stanford: Stanford University Press

ONO, Y. 1970. Grapefruit. New York: Simon and Schuster

SANCHEZ-COLBERG, A. 2002. Future/Perfekt: re-locating performance…or a dance about everything and the kitchen sink. In: V. PRESTON DUNLOP and A. SANCHEZ-COLBERG, eds. Dance and the performative. London: Verve Publishing, pp. 165-195

VINCS, K. (2007). Rhyzome/Myzone: A case study in studio-based dance research. In: E. BARRETT and B. BOLT, eds. Practice as research, approaches to creative arts enquiry. New York: St Martin’s Press, pp. 98-112

Photos: Dr. Fiona Bannon, Joshua Hawkins, Kelly Preece, Harry Theaker, Andy Wood