Last Wednesday the esteemed dance anthropologist Andrée Grau died suddenly. She had an inquisitive, sharp and beautiful mind, was quick witted and profoundly inspiring to her students.

Here’s a video of Andrée from 2011 talking about dance anthropology. In it she suggests that “to dance is a social duty”.

Rest and dance easily Andrée – your intellect, compassion, and beautiful wrestling with ideas will remain. Of course I’ll miss our bloody-minded arguments, but know that I will do my best to remember my social duty as a dancer.



conflicts of interest – letting us know that they know

The thing about conflicts of interest is that they are inevitable. I’ve experienced them from various sides: I’ve benefited from them, missed out because of them (perhaps), others have benefited from them because of me … you get the idea. I’ve seen them involve friends, colleagues, husbands, wives, partners, families, former lovers. In a few situations the conflicts of interest were named, but nothing was changed or adapted because of them. In even fewer cases (perhaps two that come to mind) the conflict was named and the decision-making process was adapted. In all these cases we could never know who – or how – people have been privileged or disadvantaged by the conflict. Indeed, I’d argue that in any decision-making process our cultural, racial, gender-based, political, aesthetic, social (the list could go on and on) understandings of the world and people act as conflicts of interest (we just call them biases). Given all of these things, how could I ever know that I’m making the best possible decision for the people and organisations involved?

But the really insidious thing about obvious conflicts of interest (marriage, partners, friendship, etc) is how they affect other people. The simple perception that there is a conflict of interest – by those just on the edge of the event or decision – is enough to cause righteous frustration, anger and bitterness.

In the dance community people just say that conflicts of interest are inevitable because “it’s a small field”. But this is not the problem. I know of no organisations in dance that have publicly announced conflicts of interest and the steps they took to counter the conflicts.[1] Such a simple action would at the very least let the dance community know something they already know. More importantly, the organisation responsible for the conflict of interest would be letting us know that they know.

  1. But I’d love to hear different.  ↩

documenting the document

Previously I’ve posted links to Windows and MacOS copies of my practice-as-research PhD project Indelible (2005). For people using Intel versions of Mac computers (roughly post 2011) the interactive component of the project does not work. I’ve been wanting to update the code for nearly 6 years and have now stopped imagining that this will happen.

Instead, I’ve made two video screencasts of the interactive component:

  1. A brief (6 minute) tour or sample of the materials:
  2. A complete (84 minute) video of all of the materials:

This video documentation of interactive material probably compromises the integrity of the project, but it seems important that there is some way for people to have access to the work.

Let me know if you have any questions.


paradoxes for students

I spent a couple of hours in a choreography class with first year undergraduate dance students at Coventry University last week. Here are the notes I sent to the group after the session. Perhaps of interest?

  1. Ideas. It’s the quantity of ideas, not the quality of ideas. Ideas have no value. They are neither good nor bad. The trick here is just to begin with your work/practice/writing/making and feed in more and more ideas. These, in turn, generate more ideas. Ideas are self-generating. See Johnson, S. (2010). Where Good Ideas Come From. London: Penguin Books.
  2. Imagination. What do you need to stimulate and nourish your imaginations? Films, books, conversations, music, observations, listening, seeing. What do you focus on and what do you notice in your periphery? See Casey, E. S. (2000). Imagining. Indiana University Press.
  3. Commitment and care. A key paradox (at University and perhaps even in life) is to be fully committed without caring too much. Commit. Don’t care. Of course I don’t mean don’t care because being committed is a sign of caring for something. It’s more like focus on the process of commitment, and don’t care about the outcome. This is hard at University because in the UK children are told from age 6 that you have to do certain things – and give certain answers – in order to succeed. This is a terrible lie that is sold to the young people of this country. The deepest challenge you will face at University is coming to terms with the opportunity provided in your classes to explore your ideas, imaginations and spirits with freedom and courage. If you succumb to the desire to get good marks you will miss an extraordinary opportunity to explore what you are capable of, what you are interested in, and just how committed you are prepared to be (the paradox is this will mean you are more likely to get good marks). The strange thing about commitment is that – like ideas – it feeds itself. We get better at being committed by practising being committed. See Ken Robinson TED talk: (you’ve probably already seen it)
  4. Text and iteration. This session was not about manipulating text. It was using text as materials in order to understand the principle of iteration. Change the word text for movement and this should be clear. See Kelley, T. (2007). The Art of Innovation. Crown Business.
  5. Liveness. What is alive in what you are making? (Maybe it’s just a little bit). How do you know if something is alive? I don’t know the answer to this question (because in part it’s about taste). One answer could be: You will just know. Don’t kid yourselves when it isn’t alive. Don’t pretend it is. It’s hard to bring back something from the dead. Better to keep feeding and nourishing new versions (or iterations).
  6. Swearing. Don’t ever ever swear. Fuck yeah.

our white friend

Colin Poole and I have been working on a new performance project. It’s called Our White Friend. Here’s an initial blurb and link, and here’s the r&d blog. More details soon.

Our White Friend

20160120-colinsimonandi_ourwhitefriend - final.jpg

Tim Wise is an American authority on white racism. Through public lectures and books he educates white audiences to recognise and be responsible for their race-based privileges. We are interested in Wise’s craft in public speaking, his authority on race, and what might happen if we were to imagine that he is an artist. How might this proposition enable us to test the limits of Wise’s practice as public speaker and white ambassador? Whose voices count in this debate, and whose faces are acceptable?

– Colin Poole and Simon Ellis

Image: Shawn Calhoun (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic, changes made)

not knowing what we are looking for

Humans see and hear what we expect to see and hear. Philosopher Alva Noë writes it like this:

if I mention my hat, and then my scarf and then go on to mention my dloves, you will very certainly hear what context dictates I am likely to have said — which is not dloves (not only is that not a word in English, but the dl sound doesn’t even exist in English) but, of course, gloves.

hearing, perceiving, learning, is always a matter of using what you know to make sense of what is on offer.[1]

In research, learning and creative processes this is a curious situation. How are we to notice difference and newness in circumstances when we don’t know what we are looking for?

My experience in dance and dance research is that the problem is more about not even recognising that, as a consequence of being human, we are engaged in a kind of dilution of experience and attention.

The challenge then becomes to build perceptual tools and systems of communication with others (and with ourselves) that help reveal the things we want to see and hear, and that we imagine we have seen and heard.

return to their skin

On Lydia Mokdessi discusses Anneke Hansen‘s hymn:

Part of it is an affirmative of the undeniably physical nature of existence. We are animals, there is nothing pejorative about that, it is just a fact. That reverential response can come from…this culture we’re living in doesn’t particularly value the body, you’re meant to vacate yourself in as many ways as possible, sensation isn’t particularly valued, and what can happen with really good dance, if the performance is really highly embodied, is that it can open up a space in which the viewers get to return to their skin. That is really important to me as a value to strive for as a dance artist. Any big religious questions are kind of above my pay grade. My business is the dancing. But within that there is an opportunity; as you hone your craft and technical skills you can hone yourself as a being in the world. We have ways of practicing applying attention, and we don’t often have access to developing those skills in other ways with the same kind of clarity. I don’t want to pretend that being alive is not a big deal. I’m here, you’re here, our minds get to meet. I want to recognize that there’s some glory in that.


– Anneke Hansen