Delusion, choreography and dramaturgy

I am a choreographer and I understand this work to involve developing imaginative and playful questions of how to represent ideas through embodied actions and dance. These ideas take various forms and are constructed (or emerge) in multiple ways. Sometimes they are wonderfully clear, other times less so, but the ideas always involve a kind of grappling with possibilities, actions, images, sounds and offers. The ‘game’ of choreography feels like a tremendous privilege — it is difficult, rewarding, fun, complex, tangible and elusive.

The difficulty I encounter most often — as viewer, maker, dancer and teacher — is one that might be thought of as a kind of delusion. Creating any object, activity, performance or choreography inevitably involves an encounter with desire. We want things to happen in particular ways, and often we want these to be experienced by others in equally particular ways (this includes people working solely in improvisation). Dance’s preoccupation with the word intention points to this desire to create art works that in some ways reflect the things we are attempting to express. The ‘delusion’ occurs when I replace what is actually happening in the studio or on the stage with what I imagine (or want) to be happening.

Recently an ex-student of ‘mine’ suggested my mantra is, “What is there?”

I think this is an important question for choreographers to constantly test themselves against. The capacity to project our desires on choreographic movement (in particular) is strong indeed, and it requires robust self-esteem to become aware of the disparity between what one wants to see (hear, feel etc) and what is actually going on as work, ideas and images are being developed.

This is why I tend to work with people who assume some form of dramaturgical role. Although the dramaturge was historically responsible for ensuring the context and frames for scripts and settings were accurate, in dance, dramaturges have increasingly been given responsibility for tracking the possibilities for meaning in performance work.

My approach has been to ask a dramaturge to check in with what I want to be going on (or am imagining is going on) and what is actually going on. Of course, I am writing of reality and imagination as if they are a binary, but the reality (!) is much less clear and it is within ambiguity that the possibility for rich, complex, chaotic, simple and affecting choreography is made possible. And yet the question “What is there?” — and the practice of addressing this question — remains fundamental to how I understand my relationship to movement, audience, meaning and art.

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