Friday, June 9, 2017

Artistic Research and PhD Land

I haven't posted in a while--- close to 4 years...I think...

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumbler and the websites for Restless Productions and Project CPR became my social media platforms. Email, texting, and documenting rehearsals through the same device as all other communication became my way of life.

I kept up the National Novel Writing Month too, though last year I failed at my attempt due to...below...

I am now in the depths of a Practice as Research PhD in the UK (University of Chichester), which also means that I have moved countries again, or rather I am dividing my time between two countries...again...

I am dancing under the influence of words, ideas, and discourse and making connections with some incredible artists whose minds are as sharp as their work is creative. My networks are expanding, but more importantly seem more appropriate for me- less cliquey- more about the work somehow, rather than where the work is seen or who sees it...somehow.

I need this space to rant, to outpour, as a way to deal with all of the facets of my thinking around choreographing and dancing and to cope with the PhD process. It is going well btw, but I need more coping mechanisms to see this all the way through. I don't know where it will lead... that excites me... but it also makes the journey particularly isolating...though I am crossing paths with fellow explorers on their own trajectories.

I will be posting here regularly -- also providing documentation of the work I have been creating and presenting in the UK over the last year or so.  Thankfully I am surrounded by ambitious, strategic and   independent thinkers who don't mind dancing with me from time to time and who think that my perspective is exciting enough to follow it!

I continue to write, create, read and evaluate how art and surrounding matters are contributing to an understanding of the chaos we are creating in the world, the strength of humanity, and ways to relate to power structures as we fathom the messiness of "progress" and "future".  

I am grateful for Brain Pickings and Performance Philosophy for keeping my mind active and outward-working, and the many Dance Studies authors who have saved me from having to write about the value of dance and choreographic practice as an academic area of study.



Saturday, February 9, 2013

Vancouver 2013

So much great dance and theatre in Vancouver. While I am suffering slight withdrawal from the PuSh Festival being over - partly because they create an environment in which artists meet artists meet audiences...there is so much local talent that I can enjoy.  I am a creator too, most of my income goes back to the is paying off in other ways, I have made some smart choices and this year's schedule is packed, creative, career-enhancing and presents a significant period in my choreographic career. I am a confident artist, not arrogant but confident, and I can only be inspired by other people's work. I know how to apply these experiences to my own creation and my own creative thinking. DanceHouse brings us international dance groups of the highest calibre all year and this is such a great thing for Vancouver. I know I benefit from their programming. I  still travel to see my favourite companies (usually balancing creating my own work and guest teaching on these visits, especially to Europe).  DanceHouse allows me to see even more and means I can take risks with what I see when I travel, and at home. I have had the pleasure of working with The Dance Centre in Vancouver for many years. Most recently our company (Restless Productions) was presented in their Global Dance Connections series. They continue to show great work--  Lee Su-Feh and Benoit Lachambre coming up next. Of course Chutzpah and VIDF are here too, ensuring that Vancouver is firmly on the international dance scene. The local companies continue to operate in their own bubbles... there are gatekeepers... but I am no longer interested in trying to open locked gates. I am more interested in how to get around them. There is always a way... I get so excited when I hear that other people are pursuing their dreams.  As Vancouver expands its reputation as an important arts destination, we have to also see that now some of the work being created here is also world-class. Keep it growing Vancouver! Keep it going Vancouver!    

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Choreography vs Interpretation- a definition found through a surprising source

John Berger's Once Through a Lens has provided me with a way to understand the differing roles between being an interpreter and being a choreographer. Its significance to me is in how to work in the studio with dancers. When do I dance, when do I watch, how do I know which one is most effective? What are my goals when I dance with my dancers? Do I know what I am watching when they dance? My decisions have sometimes felt like a desire to 'control' the situation- but my aim is not to 'control'- my aim is to know or be aware, be a part of what is happening, and add to what is happening. As a choreographer I have to do this from the outside because it is impossible for the dancers to be outside. I am on the outside of what?  They are on the inside of what?  The inside has a life - has lives, how these develop, morph, play out and unravel is the game - their game to play. What its value is and what its meaning is- is -for a short time- mine to ascertain, mine to communicate, mine to mould (not to mould the players, but to mould the values of what is being played out)- to mould the story within which these characters live. However, once that story is even partially understood by the players, it is so important that any desire I have to be a character in that story is purely in relation to what the story dictates it needs. I have to get out of the way of the story to truly see it.  Luckily for me I am more interested in  discovering and in sharing knowledge than in having power or "owning" anything,  so I work well in a seeming position of powerlessness. I find both a freedom there and paradoxically a sense of self-power through observation, where ultimately I can 'sense' rather than emote or express. Somehow for me it's deeper.

So I now realise that I can help bring this depth up to meet the story- not through characterisation but through the organisation of 'main' action. 

Actually I suddenly have a strange feeling that several people have tried to tell me this over the years!

I guess it takes a while to manifest information sometimes... the deep stuff anyway!

Here's the John Berger text that most inspired me:

The notion that life, as lived, is a story being told is a recurring one.
The metaphysics of storytelling has ceased to be a merely literary concern.
What separates us from the characters about whom we write is not knowledge, either objective or subjective, but their experience of time in the story we are telling. This separation allows us, the storytellers, the power of knowing the whole. Yet, equally, this separation renders us powerless: we cannot control our characters, after the narration has begun.  

In the creation of The Moment of Forgetting recently premiered with our company Restless Productions this was my process, identified quite late and especially leading up to the premiere and in my experience of watching the performances. I think this text became my ultimate mentor.

My job now with the work is to develop and refine those characters in relation to each other, and to provide a more refined situation in which they can develop. By refined in this context I mean that the dance/music, dancer/ musician interaction components cannot be neglected. The show was described as specific and unique, which pleases me. This could not have happened had the performers not invested in their own understanding of the work. What was compelling in these interpretations and how did they define the work? The conversations with the performers when we redo the work will be crucial to maintain a freshness while refining that which has already been developed. Time and separation... experience and sharing... observation...sensing... organisation, equally required.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Moment of Forgetting

2 September 2012

More inspiring research during the creation of  The Moment of Forgetting

I like to find phrases that inspire me to focus how I develop my work - to help me move forward in the process of creating a work- to help make decisions, and to provide restriction. This way I am loosening my attachment to reams of text and instead focussing in on how these particular phrases speak to me in terms of a timing, a tension, a contrast, a statement, and a way of delivery. Ultimately then I think about how to make this association a 3D experience so that I can first transpose it into a theatrical/ choreographic stimulus for myself. In the past I might have tried to share this with the dancers but now I understand that perhaps more useful is to share through the physical and share the idea through at least some form of visceral translation first. It not only saves time- it also allows for the dancers to find their artistic contribution through a set of given physical restrictions too.

This weekend I am working with these two ideas. Perhaps I should post the results next week. Hold myself to my words!

"Forgetting can be so closely tied to memory that it can be considered one of the conditions for it." Ricouer-The Historical Condition

"We live with such easy assumptions don't we? For instance, that memory equals events plus time. But it's all much odder than this. Who was it said that memory is what we thought we'd forgotten? And it ought to be obvious to us that time doesn't act as a fixative, rather as a solvent."
-Julian Barnes- The Sense of an Ending

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

After After Trio A or Post Post Modern Dance

I have just had the fortunate experience of performing in Andrea Bozic's After Trio A as part of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in Vancouver, BC, Canada. This was truly a once- in-a lifetime experience and in keeping with the work I am not being unnecessarily spectacular. The premise is that two dancers learn Yvonne Rainer's Trio A live in front of an audience. As the film of Rainer's original work is only about 6 minutes Andrea Bozic had dissected the choreography into three two minute loops. One loop would be played each night to allow for us as performers to genuinely learn a 2 minute segment. First, Performer 1 (me) would learn/ dance the work displayed on a TV monitor (monitor is out of view of the audience) then the same footage is also displayed on a bigger screen (in view of the audience). Performer 2 (Anne Cooper) would learn from me live or from a live recording of my first attempt whereby I was watching the small hidden monitor. This small monitor is also out of (Anne's) Performer 2's view. The audience would watch us learn the choreography (by repetition of the loop), forget the moves, remember the moves, guess the sequence, and mimic each other's memory of this two minute segment. We as performers were to stick to the task and not 'perform' for the audience. Each of the three nights we received a new portion of the choreography - so we didn't know what we would be doing- this kept us authentically tied to the task of learning it for the first time each night. The work lasts approximately 50 minutes.

As Andrea Bozic states, her premise is to offer a dialogue with the original material, not a reconstruction. I can tell you honestly that if it was supposed to be a reconstruction then I would not have been chosen to dance this work. It does make sense that I was chosen though because of my obsession with dance as an intellectual source as well as an emotional one. Thinking, emotions, physicality , behaviour, expression are all connected and I dance the same way. I do not deny one part of me for the other as a dancer. This process appealed to me on so many levels and primarily because I was asked to engage with all of these parts of myself in rehearsal and in performance.

First Anne Cooper and I were asked to read material around Yvonne Rainer's broader work including the famous No Manifesto and the Mind is a Muscle, of which Trio A was a part and then specifically around this work, including Rainer's re-evaluation of her own manifesto and then Andrea's interpretation of that dance-famous text. We were able to hold a skype conversation with Andrea Bozic before she arrived here from Amsterdam during which we discussed the theoretical, philosophical and pragmatic concerns around the process. So when Andrea arrived with her incredible team (Visual artist- Julia Willms and Sound artiist-Robert Pravda who joined us on stage) we were able to throw ourselves into the physical structure of the work.

How did we rehearse a piece like this then? This was wonderfully prepared for us. Andrea arrived with the work storyboarded - all of our entrances and exits , loops and points of focus (gaze) mapped out. The only variable then was the content- that which we would be learning. So for rehearsals Andrea had prepared choreography of her own that was based on the principles of Rainer's original Trio A. This meant we could practice the timing sensations of a 2 min loop with all of the surrounding theatrical elements while maintaining an authentic learning experience each and every time. Anne and I rehearsed in both roles - Performer 1 and Performer 2 and we settled on the roles in which we felt most comfortable. Andrea chose based on the order that met her choreographic vision most closely. My experience as Performer 2 was unstable- I giggled a lot as it was thrilling and confusing to pick up the choreography through Anne's body. As Performer 1 is learning directly and immediately from the source there is more focus in that role. Performer 2 has to determine the choreography by osmosis almost - guessing the correct directions and nuances through the live body of another. Performer 1 has to as much as possible glean the accurate information form the video source- and so the two experiences are radically different. Anne and I are both experienced improvisers but this particular work required us to deny our desires to interpret material. This was not allowed. "No to Interpretation". So the role of Performer 2 did not offer me enough structure to prevent me interpreting. I opted for control and repetition, also wanting to be closer to the source. And I got to wear the sparkly green top with my tap shoes as Performer 1 - maybe that was the real reason...

I am primarily a choreographer these days, so this was so much fun to be back on the stage especially for such a unique and intense process. Being on the inside of a work is a very different experience. It;s hard to say how. As you can't really ever be both inside and outside of the same work it does not seem important to articulate the difference really- just to know that it is different is powerful enough. What I do think is important is that experiencing the "other' role can be hugely beneficial. I became hyper-aware of how the see-er communicated information to me, how I received it -based on my experience inside the work, and how much repetition I can handle as a dancer. Keep it coming- keep telling me - keep feeding me your priorities and I will work my ass off to make those things happen. Strict guidelines, clear goals, eye on detail, discussions about why and what is expected, responses to what is working and what is not, iteration of key concerns, questions, repetition of the answers, answering myself with confidence in the work. The voice of the choreographer in my head as a support out there as I played out the rules of the game made it exciting, made it a team effort and put the choreographer's vision smack bang centre stage. There was a wonderful balance of information and space. I always felt that the task was conceptually clear even if it was humanly impossible to achieve. The fun is in trying it… and because it was always clear as to what the choreographer was interested in there was never a confusion - just complexity , intensity and challenge, which made it more fun. As a choreographer I am now more aware of how far I can push my own perspective. An important stage in my career- especially pertinent as I am now also a co-artistic director of a new dance and music company called Restless Productions.

So what is the significance of Yvonne Rainer and what was so intriguing about it for me?
Yvonne Rainer is a pioneer of post modern dance - her language is quite pedestrian and idiosyncratic but also non-spectacular and un-presentational. Some have argued that it is boring. I can understand this as a viewer but not as a mover. Andrea made sure the performance was not boring by adding projections, bells, a loud speaker dropping, and costume, and apparently our lack of performing was also deeply engaging for the audience. All part of Bozic's plan. There is too much going in the movement for it to feel boring. Here I will sound like a dance geek- the physical nuances require specific weight and transition somewhat illogically (for me) to the next move so there is a constant complexity in its seeming simplicity that for a dancer is a skill to master. The "No Manifesto" mentions No to Style. Rainer's work is full of style- as a diversely trained dancer the moves remind me of "in the style of " Graham or Jazz even Fosse-ish in places, beginnings of release etc, but if you feel those places in your body you are probably doing Rainer wrong for even though they speak to these styles- she has removed the initiations and punctuations- she has removed the style from these shapes and motions. So to see it as a dancer is one thing to do it as a dancer is quite another. And to see it might be slightly boring to our sophisticated and fast eyes- it is 50yrs old- but to do it is for certain not boring - or rather to attempt to do it correctly is far too complex to be boring.

But still the significance of this work is not in the reconstructing- for me it is in precisiely what Andrea Bozic has chosen to do with this- to be in dialogue with it. Rainer's work is a legacy but to me its value is not preservation as an end-to-itself but in how this period of history relates to our present and how the two perspectives morph/ collide/ influence each other to create a vision for a future of dance that does not recreate old themes but invents new ones. I am not talking about universal themes of emotion, nature, communication, aesthetic, but of how these relate to the people of our time- as an act of discovery. How does history speak to us? How do we respectfully and contemporaneously respond? We can mis-read history, mis-quote and mis-understand what has gone before and we can mis-dance it too! Take it from me I know- I just did! And It was great fun.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

More Dance Writing Trials

Vancouver East Cultural Centre
11 November 2010

Hero & Heroine- The Response
Amber Funk Barton - great turner/ whips around like a ballerina let loose on ice. I get the sense of cartoon hero/heroine, depicting comic strips; taking the frames and stringing them together in movements. Amber Funk Barton and Josh Martin are "Mr and Mrs Smith" without the context. I lose interest quickly. The constant changing dynamics and use of slow-walking to end ideas becomes predictable. There are some extremely powerful and breathtaking moments. These talented dancers are a joy to watch. They command the stage and dance well together. I see so much potential in Amber's work, but I would like to see her tackle more mature themes (or if she is going to stick with relationships, tackle them from a more mature perspective). I find that her works speak to her youthful side, but if she is to grow into her years, she needs to start digging deeper.

Audible - 605 Collective
605 Collective are my guilty pleasure, but after this show I wonder if I need to feel guilty about it anymore. They are -for my money- the most charismatic ensemble that Vancouver has to offer right now, helped enormously by Shay Kuebler's lack of self consciousness on stage. They have a great sense of composition, they exude energy even when standing still. They work together. They work smart and hard and you can tell they care about us, the audience. I saw Audible in 2008. Their style is so 'hip'/current; they are almost in danger of being "so 2008" with this piece. They have given this work a wonderful touring life recently but I am ready to see what they do with a new idea that can speak to their ability to be relevant, youthful and intellectual with their work. I hope the demand for this particular piece does not trap them creatively, because if we are patient I am sure their next piece could blow our socks off all over again and with even more gusto.

Tobari by Sankai Juku Writing Trial

Sankai Juku
Tobari- As if in an Inexhaustible Flux
presented by DanceHouse
Vancouver Playhouse
5 Nov 2010

In the words of artistic director, choreographer and designer Ushio Amagatsu, Tobari, in Japanese, “is a veil of fabric hung in a space as a partition. Since olden times, tobari has been used poetically to express the passage from day to night in expressions like wrapped in the veil of night.”

The work is divided into seven scenes with titles like: From Unlimited Nothingness, Reflecting on Each Other, A Vertical Dream of the Future, and In an Inexhaustible Flux.

White, textured stage.
Black oval cuts across centre.
White reflects under,
Drawn to the glow.
Top tinted blue.

Show starts
Soloist gestures
British/Canadian eyes see a peace sign.
Space, marked!
Movements cut through time.
Space of body, marked!
Long gaze to the horizon line
Expansiveness lies beyond sight.

Hovering centre.
Bended knees just off ground.
Slow walks to the edge and...
Physics and skepticism tested
Hover gone.
Dancer leaves.
Hover re-created.

Bodies, all knowing, wise without force, capable without pride, gracious without righteousness, skilled without pretension.

Reveal starry skies
Orbit centrality.
...placing feet in the spaces of feet before.
Respectful consideration for
Already-marked space.
Constantly moving
Territory, marked?
A defense?

In the middle of the inexhaustible flux, not sure of its beginning or its end, yet its existence defines our own.

Planet revolves
Oval Hovers.
Scene and seen.
Nature and Experience.
Steady, inevitable.
Piercing /caressing.
Life. Death.

Personal moments of realisation only change our personal perceptions of the world. They do not and can not affect the way in which the ‘world’ turns.

Hands light and percussive, holding petals, sensing air.

Synchronous technical feats.
Four: elbow, forearm, drop body, drop hips, turn onto backs, pause, flip, rest.
Six: kneeling, heads dropped, hands reaching up.
Repetition (a direction, a move, a speed) sets up the meditative.
Unified repetition.

Double time gestures feel quadruple time against the butoh-slow.
Punctuating the meditative.
Stacatto, theatrical-ity and practical-ity, scuttles and stops.
Mark scene.

Dark blue dress robes
Waist-to-knee orange,/black/white
Brief release from chalk covered, bare chests
Decorative, processional.
Grateful contrast.

Solo contrasts groups.
Face creates images
Open hands open more
Action reveals action

On reflection...

Forbearance, compassion, tolerance, liberality attract/repel restraint, necessity, strictness,moderation.

Transparent authenticity.
Hands raise slowly to hearts.
Connected in the current of a wave.

Claire French © 2010