Encoded Duets is shared practice and collaboration inside of a solo practice-performance continuum.
My process began by setting out the framewor of making a solo iteration of the three collaborations. The three collaborations were: the Perfection Project, a group performance-collaboration bwteen dancers and scientists, and 2 shared practices with improvisers Myfanwy Hunter, musician, and Chelsea Byrne, dancer. I pursued this because I felt was important for me developmentally as a dance maker to work on the solo form. However, I have also come to Melbourne to meet people and I do not like to constantly be alone. Additionally, I value a practice that is integral to everyday life, so that when the time comes to collaborate and/or share in public, there is not a disconnect between what has been practiced and what is being performed or shared.
The first collaboration, initiated by the Science Gallery of Melbourne, was called Perfection: part experiment/part exhibition. It was a collaboration between the graduate dance students from the VCA at the University of Melbourne and science students from the University of Melbourne.
Beginnings of collaborations are often daunting, but I found the premise and set up particularly daunting: eight people who have never worked together before from different fields and backgrounds get together once a week and put together a performance based on a theme. As I prepared for the first session I remembered a John Cage piece I read about called “How to Get Started,” which was a collaborative improvised performance structure he devised for a sound design conference in 1989. On ten sheets of paper, Cage “jotted down” ideas to use as the “basis for a kind of improvisation.” (‘John Cage | How to Get Started,’ 1989.)
I didn’t take this into the Perfection Project sessions, but I worked with it in my solo practice sessions, using notecards to record prompts for improvisation. This stuck with me during this process as a way of notating and mixing up topics and materials throughout. It brought attention to the movement between solo and collaborative sessions and the cyclic nature of practice beginning again and again.
Notation was what I brought into the Perfection Project, sharing with the group different examples of dance notation. This is common ground for dance and science: the difficulty of notation, documentation, and translating multi-layered concepts to other dancers/scientists as a well as the general public or audience. I brought in a score based on Feynman diagrams. The material generated by this score hasn’t carried through into my solo practice, but this engagement with notation, communication, translation, and conveyance have been key drivers.
This audio track (above) is from shared practice with Myfanwy, recorded by Myfanwy as part of our practice. It’s long, but you can hear the way chatting integrates into practice. Later in the track you hear text from the cards being read.
What emerged is a cycle of of observation and gathering of resources. The sharing is not necessarily about using every single one of those, but more importantly deciding which resources are most useful or what the criteria is for discernment. I used a structure of working both alone and in collaboration as well working both indoors and outdoors.
I conceptualise shared practice as an often missed step and precursor to deeper collaboration. It makes space for emergent relationships. Sharing one’s current practices, allow practitioners to build on what already exists rather than manufacture something new. Shared practice is also about meeting someone new and sharing place, inhabiting that space, and allowing common interests and materials to manifest through the meeting.
VIEWS AND FRAMES: WHERE WE PRACTICE & PERFORM
In his 1971 essay, “The Function of the Studio,” Daniel Buren likened the studio to “the first frame” or “a filter which allows the artist to select his work screened from public view.” He writes: “A work produced in the studio must be seen, therefore, as object subject to infinite manipulation [...] isolated from the real world.” (Buren and Repensek 1979) As early as the late sixties Buren’s work was concerned with doing away with such frames. He used a pattern of stripes to draw viewers attention to the world around.
In an interview for Walker Arts, Buren talks about the stripes he posted around Paris in 1968: “[…]the simple gesture touches 100’s of things, which are part of the location, which for me still […][it’s] something I’m interested in: to physically enlarge the way to see.”
I am not willing to give-up studio practice or working in a theatrical or art space, because these spaces are available resources and should not be wasted. Working indoors provides shelter, ease, and a touchstone from which to observe and jump off. Artists should not have to suffer, but can still endeavour to gently enlarge views.
Where we dance is a choreographic choice that shapes or frames the dance and the way an audience engages with it. I have tried to be alert to the influence of a site on practice and performance. The studio space I was using, Space 221 at the VCA, is both a studio and a black-box theatre and was my primary indoor studio space for the end of this process. In her thesis, Clare Dyson writes about the “invisibility” of the black box theatre due to it’s architecture, colour, and the codes surrounding it. I have wanted to make the codes and nature of 221 visible and connect what happens inside to the outside.
From the beginning, the Royal Botanic Gardens were an obvious choice as a primary outdoor site. Beautiful, interesting and somewhat protected from the hustle and bustle of the city, one could say that RBG a bridge to nature. The other primary outdoor site is Merri Creek, a much abused creek, heroically rehabbed by the community through recreation and hard work over the last thirty years.
Outdoor practice is not like going to the studio. There are many options in terms of deciding where you’re going to go and how you’re going to get there. I consider journey to a site an integral part of practice. You can stop along the way or have a predetermined landmark or path. This part of the practice can be open or closed or set with the option to change.
An outdoor session of just two or three hours generates a lot of data, like written reflections, photographs, videos, or other generative processes. An outdoor environment is simply a lot more changeable from day to day, hour to hour, or even minute to minute. A larger area provides a lot more to take in. As I move forward in this research, I would like to be more methodical and/or conscious about collecting data and documentation of outdoor sessions as well as the choices about which sites are chosen.
more INDOOR-OUTDOOR PRACTICE
On the right is a video amalgam of a couple of different types of audio thick descriptions during solo outdoor practice. The pictures and video were taken during intensive in Kiah and during a visit to Mallacoota, my home, afterwards.
TOOLS, TOUCH-STONES, & MATERIALS
Over his career, Daniel Buren utilised the pattern of stripes as what he calls “visual tools.” Originally, he started with stripes in the 60s as a way to “flatten the canvas” or to make it less “expressive.” This is similar to what Yvonne Rainer was working on around the same period, utilising pedestrian movement or codified dance movement in a non-spectacular, almost pedestrian way in order to upset traditional notions of composition. He has said, “Being always the same, it has the quality of a tool,” and “the visual tool is no longer a work to be seen, or to be beheld, but is the element that permits you to see of behold something else”
Rosalind Crisp has likened her “tools,” which I have been utilising in my practice, to scales, geared toward what she calls “choreographic improvisation,” and a way of working with the materiality of the body (Glaser 2018). These tools are a way to know one’s own body by visiting them regularly. Contrast between novelty and repetition, as well as the concept of home-base has come forward in this work as it did last semester in Helen Herbertson’s classes and as it has in my past work with various somatic and spiritual practices, like yoga and the Alexander Technique.
In solo and shared practices I am exploring the materiality of my body in different environments. Alternately, translation and remembrance occur in the different environments. Each environment, whether bodily, built, wild, domestic, or institutional contains different animals and fosters different discussions.
INTEGRATING ART, LIFE, AND ENVIRONMENT
I have been inspired and influenced by Jennnifer Monson, who I knew, worked with and took workshops with in Vermont and New York City in the 90s and early aughts. In the documentary, New York Dance: States of Performance, she says: “My dance work often pulls together things that [...] resonate with how I experience myself as [...] [both] a human and [...] something that’s wild or natural” (Blackwood 2005).
In talking about several different projects where she followed the migratory pathways of different animals over several years, she said:
“It became much more about driving in the car, shopping in the supermarket, and choosing a campsite… Those were the parts I wasn’t thinking about when I started the project. I wanted to sleep next to the tide, see it come in and out of all day, and be awake for sunrise and sunset and be in tune with these natural cycles, which I think is really important but I began to see the importance of all the cultural ways we understand and know the world. And there’s always this blending. […] To be aware of this blending is what I’m trying to get at in my work.” (Blackwood 2005)
In my shared sessions with Chelsea Byrne, part of our “warm-up” has been a social catching up, a warming up to each other as we had only met a couple of times before embarking on our weekly sessions. We shaped our practice sessions, but haven’t wanted to suppress our chattiness because it felt organic. We did it with awareness, and it seemed we both needed and enjoyed having a chat. We realised though, we needed to change up this mode before it interfered with what we wanted to accomplish.
During one session, we made a clear parameter of no chatting. At a certain point, we ended up chatting again while still dancing. We then decided to move outside. During this outdoor session, we noticed that the chatter was a non-issue. Being outside gave us focus because it was a potential performance with people all around. We were more engaged in a performance practice of observation and being observed.
PRACTICE, PERFORMANCE, ARTEFACTS, AND FOSSILS
This brings forward an eminent question addressed throughout this investigation: “What is the difference between practice and performance?” I have identified several concepts about performance that have facilitated more connectivity through transitions between practice and performance, which was one of my initial objectives.
First, thinking of performance as a continuum of practice, as Myfanwy has written about in her thesis, which she called Assisted Solo. Part of her research is around the “solo-social continuum” (Hunter, 2016).
Another concept is presenting performance as artefact of practice. I like the word artefact, as it references both tools and art as well as pointing at something arising from the past.
A third concept is performance as fossil. Describing a performance as a fossil also points to it being of and arising from Earth, and it’s etymology points to being un-Earthed by digging.
Another way fossilisation compares to performance is in noticing the relationship of dance material to stasis. How do elements stabilise or evolve, when does improvised material becomes “set.” When, like a living fossil, do patterns or codes stabilise, mutate, adapt to a new environment, or get absorbed by other patterns. I have been following that some aspects remain recognisable over time others do not at least from the outside. This is another area that is ripe to be observed and developed through a more thorough documentation process in the future.
This dance is an artefact from shared practice in two dyads:
Myfanwy Hunter, viola
Susannah Keebler, dance
Chelsea Byrne, dance
Each practice session makes marks that layer and support the next. We don’t erase what’s come before, but retrace our steps and share our experiences with each other. We practice in different environments: street, sidewalk, garden, creek, hill, park, alley, theatre, foyer, hallway, tutorial room, dance studio, lounge room, balcony, porch. These varied practices in varied environments both disrupt and dissolve habitual codes and lay foundations for new pathways to be forged. During this dance, you are invited to change your seating or standing location for new perspectives on experiencing the dance and the space.
The structure of the performance needs to support audience as well as performer if we want dance to be accessible to a wide audience. This is complex, because it is possible that we don’t know our audience yet. The relationship possibly needs an initial warming up period, sharing practice, and then needs to built over time. This is another element that I will be including in my research in the future: how to include audience in practice.
DISCONNECTS ARE PORTALS
This project began with a feeling of disconnect between practice and performance. The sensation or experience of disconnect is one of the things that moves me forward in everyday life and creative practice. When I notice lack or shortcoming, this is an area I want to bring interest to. Another area of disconnect for me has been in the realm of this documentation. I gathered lots of reflective data, but it feels disjointed from the performance.
The experience of practicing or performing in front of a camera is different to practicing and performing without a camera in the same way that there’s a difference between practicing and performing. The camera can act as an audience for practicing performance and I often use it as such. However, when I am sharing practice or performing, using a camera feels disruptive, as that has not regularly been a part of shared practice.
There is also the issue of subject agency. In shared practice, ideally everyone has complete autonomy. When something is captured in camera, however, it is in the hands of the photographer/editor and it’s used undetermined.
In performance with an audience, it requires informing the audience and/or asking their permission to video. I didn’t attempt this in this performance because it had not been integrated into practice and so felt like it didn’t belong to this particular iteration of the project. I did make a video documentation of the solo performance iteration. It is without an audience, so I am duetting with the camera, but I hadn’t practiced this, so there is a lack here that has the potential to be explored in the future.
I am interested in documentation as a feedback for me as a choreographer/performer as well as for its potential as an audience builder. I would like to pursue an integrated approach to documentation and feedback as a primary part of practice.
I am searching for interfaces that serve to connect my practice with varied communities. One suspicion is that shared practice and collaboration between different arts and non-arts practices such as the event we took part in at the Melbourne Science Gallery is successful strategy for reaching a wider audience. I have not yet found much written about interdisciplinary dance and audience engagement. This may be a clue as to why dance is such a marginalised art form. I will continue to ask with whom should I share with? The simplest (maybe not the easiest) way to answer this question has been to simply walk outside my front door, out of the studio, and dance.
Blackwood, Michael. 2005. New York City Dance: States of Performance. On-line.
Buren, Daniel, and Thomas Repensek. 1979. ‘The Function of the Studio’. October 10: 51. https://doi.org/10.2307/778628.
Dyson, Clare. 2010 ‘Performing the Unutterable: Mapping the Experiential in Contemporary Dance’, 261.
Glaser, Laura S. 2018. ‘A Contemporary Dance Practice Generating Ad Hoc Dances: Inspired by and in Conversation with Rosalind Crisp’. Journal of Dance & Somatic Practices 10 (1): 23–34. https://doi.org/10.1386/jdsp.10.1.23_1.
Hunter, Myfanwy. 2017 ‘Navigating Relational & Representational Failure in Music-Dance Collaboration’, 91.
‘John Cage | How to Get Started’. 1989. http://howtogetstarted.org/cage.php.
Rosalind Crisp, and Debra Hay. n.d. HZT OPEN LECTURE / 06.12.2016 / Deborah Hay, Rosalind Crisp, Susan Foster on Vimeo Interview by Susan Leigh Foster. Accessed 11 September 2018. https://vimeo.com/200198459.
Walker Art Center. n.d. Artist Talk: Daniel Buren. Accessed 26 September 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYJaYzmZoes.