new project and respecting the dancer

Tomorrow I begin work in the studio for a dance project that will be shown in the Founders’ Studio at The Place in London starting 17 September. It is called Pause. Listen. and is a collaboration between Chisato Ohno (dance), Jackie Shemesh (design) and me (choreography). The project is, in some respects, new, but it is also part of an ongoing process that Chisato and I started in October of 2012 when we would meet in the (cold) studio on a Saturday morning to find out how we might work together. Then, in 2013, we spent more time together at The Place as part of their Choreodrome programme before heading to Bassano del Grappa later that year for a residency in the garage at Centro per la Scena Contemporanea.

I see two particular challenges for this version or iteration of the project at The Place:

  1. To what extent can we remain open to the idiosyncrasies of the Founders’ Studio such that the different materials, designs and possibilities of the project are shaped by that studio?
  2. How might the choreographic[1] aspects of the project be developed in a way that fully respect the autonomy, experience, skill and interests of the dancer Chisato Ohno?

I understand my role to be to imagine a series of questions that serve these two key aspects of the project. In this respect, the project is not a dramaturgical one. We are not attempting to make something about something, but rather are setting in motion a constantly evolving collection of dances, sounds and designs.

Project site is here: http://www.skellis.net/projects/pauselisten

Tickets (sold in pairs) can be bought here: theplace.org.uk/simon-ellis-chisato-ohno-and-jackie-shemesh. Space is pretty limited so it might be worth nabbing tickets sooner than later.

A special shout out to The Place in London and to Centro per la Scena Contemporanea in Bassano del Grappa for their support of the project, and in particular Eddie Nixon and Roberto Casarotto.


  1. ‘Choreography is a trace-work of feeling in time. … Choreography is a transaction of flesh, an opening of one body to others, a vibration of limits. … Choreography is a corporeal passage in which the body is both a question and an inaccessible answer. Choreography is the indecipherable language of bodies presented for interpretation. In choreography the negative comes into presence: the unseen shimmers, the unheard whispers, the unfelt is caressed and we intuit the unknown.’ – Adrian Heathfield http://www.corpusweb.net/answers–2228–3.html  ↩
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mres performances

Early in 2010 the University of Roehampton’s Department of Dance was overhauling its suite of Masters programmes. I was (and am) interested in how framing choreographic and performance practice as a form of research might support practitioners develop their ideas, work and critical-reflective skills, and so I proposed to my colleagues that we develop a Masters by Research in Choreography and Performance.

http://roehampton.ac.uk/postgraduate-courses/choreography-and-performance-mres/index.html

The MRes is designed to provide an open environment for experienced practitioners to question how artistic-scholarly thinking and ideas might influence, corrupt, infect or challenge their work. Depending on the student, it might also act as a way of bridging their practices with academia whilst allowing them to continue their work as professional artists.

To this date, two cohorts have completed, and next week the latest group of students – Charlie Ashwell, Sónia Baptista, Robin Dingemans and Hamish MacPherson – will present their work at Roehampton. It’s a remarkable mix of ideas, practices and performances, and it is also the first time that a cohort has found a way to present their work at pretty much the same time. I’m proud of their endeavour, their differences and the way in which they have pushed their own understanding in order to challenge how practice is presented and articulated.

Check out the details below, and I hope to see you there.

Monday 1 September

  • Before and after seminars: Robin Dingemans – The Assimilation Project, 1 hour duration one on one performance during day and evening. Contact robin.dingemans@gmail.com to book.
    & Untitled. Both presented in spontaneous locations.
  • 6 – 7pm: Robin Dingemans – research seminar
  • 7.30 – 8.30pm Hamish MacPherson – research seminar

Tuesday 2 September

  • Before and after seminars: Robin Dingemans – The Assimilation Project, 1 hour duration one on one performance during day and evening (Tuesday also). Contact robin.dingemans@gmail.com to book.
    & Untitled. Both presented in spontaneous locations.
  • 6 – 7pm: Sónia Baptista – In the fall the fox, performance lecture
  • 7.15 – 8pm: Charlie Ashwell – Becoming Witch, a lecture performance

hard to see

Dance is hard to see. It must either be made less fancy or the fact of that intrinsic difficulty must be emphasized to the point that it becomes almost impossible to see.

– Yvonne Rainer (1974), Work 1961–73, New York: New York University Press

One of my undergrad students from the last academic year – Kine Samuline Ødegård – used this Yvonne Rainer quote as part of her dissertation. What I like about it is the simplicity with which Rainer approaches the problem of seeing by stretching the solutions to both ends of a continuum.

Thanks Kine for tilting my head in this direction.

all day long

I’m sitting here in tears listening to Sarah Montague interview Ken Robinson. Here’s a bit:

SM: Are you really saying that dance is as important as maths at school?
KR: Yes.
SM: You are?
KR: Yes.
SM: So every child should have as many dance lessons as they have maths lessons?
KR: Yeah, absolutely, yeah. Yes, of course yes, because children, like you and me, are not brains on a stick. We are embodied.
SM: But everything we do in life, almost, requires some mathematical ability, whether it’s going into a shop or buying your home or seeing your salary. You don’t dance, necessarily, that frequently.
KR: No, but you live in your body all day long. You are in it right now. And our physical condition, how we relate to ourselves physically is of fundamental importance to our sense of self. I mean, when you say that we use mathematics every day, actually we really don’t. A lot of the mathematics we learn in school we never use again in any practical sense. Very few people after school use calculus or algebra. Yes, general arithmetic, things of that sort. I’m nor arguing against that. I’m always keen to say this: I have never anywhere said that the arts are more important than the sciences, or that dance is more important than mathematics. What I am saying is that they are equally important and they are all connected.

The interview is here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04d4nvv. It’s worth listening to the entire talk, but it is towards the end when Robinson starts talking about how he believes schools and teaching should work that it is most remarkable.

If you are in a location that is geo-locked let me know and I’ll sort out something.

skellis.net

I’ve been cobbling together bits of HTML and CSS for my own website since 1999 and last year I decided to find someone else to do it. I asked Jonathan Craig to do the development and he recommended Angie Yuanmalai to redesign the site.

When you are used to designing and implementing something yourself it’s an unusual experience to have conversations about your tastes and interests. I think this is because the design (should) somehow reflect your aesthetic in a way that is out of your hands. It’s akin to asking someone else to position a rear-view mirror on your behalf.

Nevertheless, I’m really proud of the work that Angie and Jonathan have done. It’s simple and clear, renders beautifully on different sized devices, and it’s now live. Check it out:

skellis.net

There’s a lot of content from old projects that needs to be added to the site, but for now it reflects the work I’m currently involved in.

And thanks again Angie and Jonathan for your work and for tolerating my demands.

two things – plasticity of choreography and collaboration

I’ve been excited by a couple of things lately about dance and choreography that have come out of both practice and discussions with others. Here they are, in note form:

The plasticity of choreography

  • Choreography takes many shapes and forms, from very conventional tasks to more radical proposals for generating performance
  • The methods or approaches for choreography are dependent on my understanding of the people I am working with, the nature of our relationship(s), and the ideas and materials we are working with together. This leads me to consider …

The limits of collaboration

  • I feel a strong sense of frustration with the conversations that go on about collaboration as some kind of panacea for old-standing issues of authorship, ownership, agency and autonomy
  • choreographer Robert Clark says that the skills to do with collaboration are different from skills to do with ‘creativity’. See simonkellis.wordpress.com/2013/10/20/somewhere-in-the-middle/
  • in other words, choreography is as much to do with relating between artists as it is to do with – sorry about the bluntness of this generalisation – making movement
  • I make work with other people because of the problems (some of them can be quite serious) that are generated by these exchanges, and because of the differences that are revealed by relating with others
  • By working with others I am not seeking confirmation or validation as a choreographer or dancer