Ancient Modernity #4 - On ownership and generating movement
It is the end of week 1. I’m trying to decipher how much the anxiety rising inside me this week has been normal blank-paper nerves- the feeling of being at the beginning with nothing but ideas and a limited time frame ahead- or whether some of it is sensible anxiety brought about by potential problems. Usually in the space of a week I, with my team, produce reams of material. With my regular Joon team back home I can make a 10-minute piece in a week. However, this week has felt slower. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it has induced some anxiety.
I think it is really good for me to work slower, to research, to take my time to consider what it really is I want to say. I also don’t want to suggest that we have not made progress, there was some beautiful work made this week that I can see a great deal of potential in developing. I suppose I just felt that there was a small block in the flow and I have been trying to identify it.
The crux of the problem is perhaps my working style. Many of the dancers are used to working in one of two ways- improvisation OR set material taught and learnt. Then here I am, ebbing and flowing indiscriminately between both methods and demanding not only a high standard in both, but also that the dancers themselves help me to transform improvised material in to fixed structures. Here’s the catch- I am also demanding that they make the subtle distinction between fixing material in their body, and creating choreography. ‘That’s my job’- I find myself saying a lot. Allow me to elaborate…
During our workshop week we worked very much in a pattern: 1. Technique class. 2. Improvisation. 3. Creative choreographic task. 4. Sharing. Perhaps I should have mentioned to the group that this was not necessarily how the creative process itself would continue. I made an assumption based on the team’s standard of performance that they would not only cope and adjust, but expect and understand how I planned to work. However, I think we are still figuring each other out. I cannot operate the way I would with British dancers, because these guys have a different training, different culture, different relationship to their bodies. Everyone seems fairly at ease in improvisation. I can guide them through and they invest beautifully, move beautifully, and, in contrast to my previous experience of working here, listen to each other’s bodies openly. Everyone also enjoys choreographing. Here I use choreography to mean the process of making a sequence of movements in relationship to others, and to the space. However, if I set a creative task involving movement challenge- i.e a means for creating new movement within their own body, creating new patterns, pathways or vocabulary, or even attempting to revise and fix physiological pathways established during an improvisation. There-in lies our problem. This simply hasn’t been happening. I like to draw movement information from the dancers bodies themselves because I find it more authentic. However, if they also do the editing, developing, spacing and relationships, then I am merely a facilitator. In community contexts I prefer that way. But with professionals I like to put my own clear stamp on the work.
I have been contemplating this distinction a great deal. I think it’s out of enthusiasm that they want to leap into choreography. I wondered if it was a language thing because it seemed at one stage that what I was saying was going totally unnoticed, but I don’t think its lack of understand of my words, but rather, an assumption at understanding before I’ve even spoken- an expectation that they need to create great scenes for the piece, when actually I want to be in charge of that. So I made an assumption, and so did they, and communication broke down. Henry Winkler said “assumptions are the termites of relationships” and I think that goes for the creative relationship also.
I think it is a really valuable thing for the dancers here to grasp. You often hear artists here complaining of copywrite theft (or whatever you might call it in a scene almost totally devoid of contracts and legal structures around creative work…) ‘He did that movement in another work…’ ‘he copied that scene from her piece…’ I think that the problem stems from the lack of training. I don’t mean so much initial training, but especially ongoing training. By the time I was creating professional choreographic work, for myself or on behalf of another choreographer/director, I had 7 or 8 years of classes, workshops, and sharing choreography (in school settings or community settings) under my belt. Three of those years were full time. My body had absorbed thousands of movements, each subtly different from the other within the realms of my own physical capacity (and continuously pushing beyond), and from hundreds of different teachers. I do not mean to blow my own trumpet here, my experience particularly as a performing dancer is surpassed by huge numbers of my contemporaries back home. And that is not to say that any of us are ‘better’ than the amazing, passionate, creative, expressive, dynamic and feeling-full dancers in my team. Not at all. But respect has to be paid to the differences. The fact is my movement vocabulary, and that of my team back home is simply wider. I have more tools at my disposal. Each dancer here has their unique style and is beautiful to watch. But if they do their signature moves again and again, all the work will be the same. The only way to combat this in the long term is to create more of a culture of sharing between dancers (why don’t they take class from each other I wonder when people like me are not around…?) and also of continued professional development. We are all still learning… In the short term, however, I have to find a way with each individual to get them to work on a more microcosmic level, within their own body, creating some new physiological pathways and experiences, and opening our way into new material, leaving the choreography to me.