improvisation

Improvisation is the assumption of innocence in the context of experience.

– Someone, somewhere

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dance is a messy business

The first and only time I met Meg Stuart was at a workshop in New York City in November 2001. I was floored by the clarity of her thinking and improvisation practices, and loved what seemed to become available to the people in the group through her provocations.

This conversation with Catherine Sullivan from 2008 is old news really, but it’s filled with insightful questions and ideas about the state of dance, dancing and choreography.

I particularly like these bits (both spoken by Meg):

Dance is a messy business because our bodies and movement are influenced and sometimes contaminated, even by the quality of our daily life, emotions, memories, and experiences. I often describe the body as a container that receives and transmits signals, energy, and identities. Movement is one way of filtering and processing the accumulated input. There now seems to be a shift in the field, a renewed interest in physicality, movement research, dance vocabulary, and its origins. I find this exciting.

And this:

…when I collaborate with someone, it’s not to connect—it’s a rupture; I’m trying to disrupt flow in movement. I’m also disrupting my process and that keeps it vital.

the para-academic

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of being back working with students in the classroom-studio at Roehampton Dance. Their questions were fantastic, they were curious, engaged, and of course a bit nervous on the first day of their Masters programme(s). I was reminded of just how delicate the teaching and learning environment can be, but also how privileged it is to be working with such motivated, articulate and intelligent people (students and colleagues alike).

But I also know that these are difficult times in academia. My experience is increasingly of being subjected to a near endless stream of checkpoints, checklists, and A3-size forms (with special plastic sleeves). The irony of course, is that this pressure (pressure to conform, pressure to produce, pressure to communicate, pressure to tick those fucking boxes, pressure to respond quickly, pressure to be on on on, now now now) prevents me from doing the work that I love: teaching and researching[1].

It is into these anxious times that Alex Wardrop and Deborah Withers have published their open-access PDF called The Para-Academic Handbook: a Toolkit for Making-Learning-Creating-Acting [2].

Here’s a taste from their introduction:

Scoundrels have infiltrated the academy—bureaucrats, managers and marketing ‘experts’—some of whom know very little, or even care about, education. Armed with training manuals that outline ‘best practices’ and productivity mantras, permanent academic, administrative, and facilities staff members buckle under the increasing strain of paper work and mandates, emotionally drained by petty fights over room allocation and resource management. – p.6

Life as an academic is, I suspect, a fight to continue making decisions that are in the best interests of the students and colleagues that I work with; decisions that can help protect us from the burdens of managerialism and bureaucratic wrangling.

I’m proud to call myself a para-academic.


  1. This is not to say that I don’t expect to do administrative work, or that somehow I should be exempt from doing work that’s not exciting, rich, etc. Rather, it’s a question of how much bureaucracy and admin is actually serving the best interests of the students.  ↩
  2. Wardrop, Alex, and Deborah Withers. 2014. The Para-Academic Handbook: a Toolkit for Making-Learning-Creating-Acting. Bristol: HammerOn Press. http://www.hammeronpress.net/PHA_PDF_SPREADS.pdf.  ↩

knowing and not knowing

The other day I happened across a very small notebook that had five pages of handwritten text in it. These were the first notes I jotted down for a work from 2008 called Gertrud. It was strange to see just how similar the outcome of the project was to these initial thoughts, as if the choreographic process was a matter of executing ideas.

Such knowing in the process of making choreography is in direct contrast to the work that Chisato Ohno, Jackie Shemesh and I are doing for Pause. Listen. Here, the project is constantly adapting and shifting, informed by different spaces or rooms, and changes in our interests and experience. It is much more a process of not knowing in which the work is constantly re-made for different environments and times. In the Founders’ studio at The Place in London it is a matter of finding different kinds of sensory frames – light, sound, space and movement – that might build on, in and around Chisato’s delicate, spacious and complex dancing.

 

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