The choreographer as the total performer/ total person

"An infinite winter" by Peter Laycock (2010)

‘An infinite winter’ by Peter Laycock (2010)

Turning up the volume on the internal noise,
Wanting to let it leak out,
Exposing the interior by giving attention
To what I was trying so hard to block out.
 (Stuart, 2010)

As my practice of the ‘visible choreographer’ develops, one important aspect for me is the visibility of the human side of the choreographer. This includes being confronted with moments of not knowing in front of the audience, of having to react to unexpected responses by the dancers and of having to let go of control. This can provoke a great sense of vulnerability, usually not visible to the audience.

Stuart captures the sense of vulnerability within performance – the internal noise – that fascinates me and plays a driving force within my recent exploration of the ‘visible choreographer’ and its possibilities within the performance event. Referring to Mantero and her idea of the ‘total performer’,

Stuart states, “I am not so much interested in the total performer as in the ‘total person’, including their hidden self. How does the person rub up against the performer?” (Stuart, 2010, p. 29).

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Meg Stuart

The choreographer becomes present as a ‘total person’, not only as a choreographer’s signature (Melrose, 2006) embodied by the dancers. This presence includes more than just managing the performers and their actions, and in relation to Stuart offers the question: How does the person rub up against the choreographer? What parts of my self are usually hidden, how can I present my total self within the performance event?

The ‘visible choreographer’ becomes

“a body dreaming in public” (Gormly, 2010),

being fully present, allowing the vulnerability of not knowing to arise, constantly provoked by the use of improvisation and its unpredictable nature.

De Spain highlights the great amount of intimacy within improvisation by explaining its demand of staying in the presence, describing

“the interplay of what I want and what is wanted of me” (De Spain, 2011, p. 29). He defines being intimate as “becoming so close to something or someone that the subject/objectness we usually feel dissipates (at least for a while)” (De Spain, 2011, p. 27).

This subject/objectness is evident in the relationship between choreographer and audience as there is never any direct contact between both. Usually I watch my work during the performance standing in the back of the auditorium, observing the audience watching my work, never being visible to them. The choreographer usually only communicates to the audience by having her ideas embodied by the dancers. Ideas get translated through the object, the dancer. By having the choreographer as an active member of the performance event this subject/objectness of the relationship disperses and the choreographer enters a place of intimacy and vulnerability. This does not only offer the audience a more intimate experience of the choreographer’s presence, as the ‘total person’, but also offers new challenges and opportunities for the choreographer.

Her presence becomes a solo within the performance context. One could say that the role of the ‘visible choreographer’ becomes an autobiographical performance within the setting of the choreographic process, making not only direction and instruction processes visible but also presenting the self of the choreographer, her thoughts, her personality, her doubts.

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‘Momentary Distraction’ (2011)

Kron explains: “to use the detail of your own life to illuminate or explore something more universal” (Kron, 2001, p. xi), highlights how all aspects of life inform the choreographic process.

My life experience as a choreographer filters through the creative process and this process includes all possible creative pathways, not only the ones selected for the final performed work. The ‘visible choreographer’ therefore draws attention to this broad range of ideas and influences, the dreaming, the thinking and roaming before the decisions get made – ‘Before I decide’.

Heddon explores the idea of the self by saying: “There is the self who is performed, and the performing self” (Heddon, 2008, p.27).

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‘Before I decide’ (2011)

This means, not only can the ‘self’ not be separated from the notion of the choreographer, the ‘self’ is also split in performing and being, the performing ‘self’ as the choreographer and the presence of the performed ‘self’. How am I present during the performance event and how do I present myself? Or referring to Stuart what do I hide? The performance framework adds a layer of selection within and highlights my personal approach to my role as the choreographer. How do I rub against the convention of my role as the choreographer? What aspects of the choreographer’s role create the friction?

Working within the setting of improvisation, I, familiar with the use of planned structures, struggle with staying in the moment, resisting the choreographer’s tendency (my tendency) to plan ahead, control the unfolding of the creative process. What happens if I step back, stay a bit longer in that moment of uncertainty, the moment “Before I decide’? What vulnerability do I face and how can I mediate this to the audience? This refers back to De Spain and how

“the interplay of what I want and what is wanted of me” (ibid.)

offers the opportunity of intimacy and vulnerability. And Gormly’s idea of

“a body dreaming in public” (ibid.)

becomes the articulation of my thoughts, questions and doubts as the performance unfolds.

I am still in the process of finding different ways of mediating this ‘dreaming’. During the R&D in June 2012 I played with commenting the performance process, following my stream of consciousness whilst observing the performers. After overcoming a first shyness and getting comfortable with the speaking, I experienced a greater easiness with the directing, the talking became a description of the seeing, I was able to follow the work and its organic flow.

One dancer commented: ” Your instructions became more intuitive because you talked about what you experienced inside as you observed and did not just rely on the external. The talking became an indirect instruction, less ‘do this, do that’ – much more organic and more because you had done some research in your head, which we were part of” (Marie Hallager Andersen, 2012)

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R&D weekend (June 2012)

Another dancer added that I stayed longer with one idea, gave it time to let it unfold more, which offered a greater opportunity for the dancers to explore it physically. The waiting became part of the directing and I seemed less panicky (Daliah Touré, 2012).

I am fascinated by these challenges I face within my practice, the vulnerability of ownership and responsibility and how it offers me new ways for performance. There is an autobiographical aspect to my work, which I usually only find within solo work. Being able to stay within my choreographic role and performing together with my company allows me to stretch this experience. It is a very personal process and helps me to take greater ownership of my role as a choreographer, but it also offers an exciting perspective of challenging convention. How can it change our view of choreography and performance, how can sociological studies give us a greater insight in its operations, focusing on its human side and the interaction between all participants?

To be continued.

 

References:

DE SPAIN. 2011. Improvisation and intimate technologies. Choreographic Practices 2. pp. 25-42

GORMLY, J. 2010. Everyone is going solo, together. [online]. [20.11.2011]. Available from: http://www.danceireland.ie/downloads/library/Everyone-is-Going-Solo-Together.pdf

HEDDON, D. 2008. Autobiography and performance. New York: Palgrave MacMillan

KRON, L. 2001. 2.5 Minute Ride and 101 Humiliating Stories. New York: NY, Theatre Communication Group

MELROSE, S. 2006. The body” in question: expert performance-making in the university and the problem of spectatorship. [online]. [28.05.2011]. Available from: http://www.eis.mdx.ac.uk/staffpages/satinder/Melroseseminar6April.pdf

STUART, M. and Peeters, J. (ed). (2010). Are we here yet?. Dijon: Les Presse du Reel

Photos: David Blinks, Joshua Hawkins, Ulrike Heuer,