Lee highlights the importance of the relational practice with her dancers and how she as the choreographer
nurtures the growth of the piece (Lee, 2010, p. 34).
This idea of nurturing implies two strands for me. Firstly, there is the nurturing and providing of an environment of trust so that the company and I can explore ideas without fear of failing. Secondly, and of course strongly related to the first one, there is the nurturing of the work, letting it grow without too much control.
Nurturing an environment of trust is especially important when working with the concept of the ‘visible choreographer’. Sometimes I find that my ‘over’-sensitive way of caring about the atmosphere between all participants can stand in my way, especially in this kind of work where the conventional format of the hierarchical structure between choreographer and company gets irritated. I consciously choose dancers who are independent, intelligent and not afraid of questioning authority. I want the dancers to challenge my decision-making, which can cause disagreement and insecurity but is necessary to gain greater depth of research by making each decision process conscious and working outside the known. This can provoke vulnerability on both sides. A great amount of trust within the company and for the work is necessary and therefore it is essential to give emphasis on nurturing the research/creative environment.
An on going discussion and discrepancy within the work with the ‘visible choreographer’ is the need for an artistic vision to provide a framework for the dancers to work within. This can make them feel safer as the fear of being judged by the audience and myself, is at times very present. However, as much as I want them to feel confident I do not want to fix the parameters too much to make sure that a shift of control can occur. If the dancers’ way of interpreting my tasks would always be how I envisioned it their responses would never irritate my planning ahead. Nevertheless, I do want the work to have a clear style and when working in March 2011 we agreed on specific rules to set guidelines for the dancers.
To still give space for the unexpected we invented the ‘joker card’ similar to John Zorn’s use of the headband (Guerrilla System) – whoever wore ‘the hat’ could do what he/she liked, which created a great change of dynamic and moments of un-expectancy. Nevertheless, discussions throughout the rehearsal process made me realize that the dancers felt more empowered and confident when working within a set framework and a clear aesthetic vision contributed to it.
In regards to Ingold and the idea of the choreographer providing an environment for the work to grow (second strand), again a great amount of trust is important. During the work on Before I decide I sometimes felt that I could step back and see where the work ‘wanted’ to go, that it developed best when I did not control it, trusting that it would unfold in the right way and nurturing its growth (Lee, 2010). Working with a theoretical concept rather than a pure narrative idea, for me the creative process included two very different moods of working. These were: Following the flow of the work and my intuitive ideas and stepping back and observing my thinking.
Being in it was as important as stepping out of it. There was a constant shift between cerebral and phenomenological ways of working, seeing the work as an object and being within the work/being the work. The timing of when to do what, became significant. When do I follow the flow of the work and when do I bring it to a hold? Discussions within the company played a big part of the work and it was important that everyone was fully involved in the conceptual ideas underlining the work.
What interests me here is that both elements, the cerebral and phenomenological approach, are strongly linked to the performers. The subject of this work is its participants and their interaction, which makes the distinction between the company, the work and myself at times quite blurry – makes the relationship between all three constantly shift.
This refers back to Lehmen’s Funktionen (2004) and his idea of:
People do not make communication. Communication makes people (Lehmen, 2004).
How much does the work influence the company and myself? How much can we allow it to take its lead?
This dynamic was similar during the performance event even though the performance had a more defined framework. There was still a shift happening between different moods but the relationship changed from the company and I in relation to the work, to myself in relation to the company and the work. During the performance the company became the work, which I crafted. However, my distance to the work kept changing – at times I stepped out, observed how it unfolded, even ignored it, giving it time to develop (I always had books with me, which I read to distract me or take ideas from). Then again I was in the work; I became the work, when interacting with the dancers.
I’ve realised the importance and effect my positioning in the space had on the trust within the group of performers and on how I could nurture the work. We played with different options of where to place myself in the performance space. Sitting centre stage on the floor with the work happening around me, made my observing an active participating and the stepping in and out was easier. The transition between the different moods of working became smoother, I was able to observe, mediate my thinking without jumping ahead. This highlights the importance of staying in the presence, trusting the work to unfold, nurturing the growths of the work.
But the question stays: When do I observe and let the happening unfold and when do I interfere?
INGOLD, T. 2011. Being alive, essays on movement, knowledge and description. Oxon: Routledge
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:
ZORN, J. 1984. Cobra. [online]. [10.02.2011]. Available from: http://www.4-33.com/scores/cobra/cobra-notes.html
Photos: Josh Hawkins, Ulrike Heuer, Andy Wood