These proceedings are dedicated to the memory of Dr Maggi Phillips (1944–2015). Associate Professor Phillips made an outstanding contribution to dance as a teacher, researcher and scholar. In her quiet manner, she inspired us with her insightful musings, extraordinary intellect, imaginative yet rigorous writing, irrepressible humour, and above all with her non-judgmental and positive support.
This publication of 31 papers with authors from 13 countries takes as its focus the theme that was the title and driving force of the activities comprising the 2014 WDA Global Summit. Hosted and presented by World Dance Alliance (WDA) and the Centre National de Danse Contemporaine (CNDC), the Summit was held in the city of Angers with its impressive history and its contemporary outlook. In addition, it was supported by the Dance Delegation of the French Ministry of Culture, together with our partners, the University of Angers and Angers Loire Tourist Office, and with the assistance of scores of people both in France and internationally through our WDA committees.
The Summit embraced Contemporising the past: envisaging the future in an interconnection between theory and practice, as echoed in the proceedings through papers by artist/scholars and artist/teachers. The Summit program featured 346 presenters from 38 countries and included an international conference of 197 presentations, 31 showcase performances featuring 83 dancers, 34 masterclasses with 24 teachers and 650 participants, and a choreolab with mentors Robert Swinston and Germaine Acogny working with four emerging international choreographers and 38 dancers. In addition, there were evening performances featuring the work of French companies including Robert Swinston’s Event and Olivier Dubois' controversial work Tragedie. The principal aim of the Summit was to provide a supportive platform for sharing research and creative work, as well as nurturing professional development opportunities. Importantly, this gathering was a networking opportunity to forge new partnerships, potential collaborations and to strengthen existing relationships.
Following the Summit, we invited conference presenters to submit a full paper in order to provide a publication platform to continue the conversations around Contemporising the past: envisaging the future. These conversations include how we engage with a contemporary networked world of digital transformations, interdisciplinary/transcultural practices and pedagogies in ways that intersect with the ongoing evolution of our social and cultural identities. Underpinning these enquiries lies the premise that knowledge of the past enriches and informs the present in envisaging an innovative and dynamic future for dance.
Emerging dance scholars who presented at the Summit were invited to contribute to the July 2015 issue of World Dance Alliance’s Journal of Emerging Dance Scholarship. This issue, with the themed title 'How dance is analyzed and re-imagined in diverse settings', includes writing from Anja Ali-Haapala, Hiroki Koba, A. P. Rajaram, Kaustavi Sarkar, Sophie Williams and Wei-Chi Wu.
The following papers were chosen in a double blind refereeing process followed by a thorough editorial process. Our heartfelt thanks go to the international review committee for their comprehensive feedback and time spent providing constructive comments. Special thanks also to our editorial committee for their painstaking work: Linda Ashley, Debanjali Biswas, Stephane Burridge, Dena Davida, Julie Dyson, Bilqis Hijjas, Marie Gabrielle Houriez, Nicole Harbonnier-Topin, Sarah Knox, Rose Martin, Ann Moradian, Kelly Preece, Jennifer Roche, Janet Schroeder, Jordan Vincent and Bethany Whiteside. Our appreciation also goes to Ausdance, in particular publications editor Rachael Jennings whose attention to detail and collaborative approach made the final stages so enjoyable. Finally, thank you to the authors whose positive engagement with the review process has made editing these proceedings a stimulating and pleasurable experience and whose papers have made a significant contribution to the field of dance scholarship and practice.
In a world fraught by bitter divisions and unspeakable violence it is more important than ever to confront and challenge intolerance in all its forms, and to interrogate the past to work towards a more humane future. We need to embrace the cultural diversity and multiple viewpoints which the arts contribute; to the individual, to society and to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. As did the WDA Global Summit, these proceedings aspire to contribute to that larger cultural agenda by bringing together artists, scholars, educators and those with a passion for dance from the Asia-Pacific, Americas, European and African regions. In exploring the cognitive and the sensory, the rational and the instinctive, the explicit and the implicit, these writings create and celebrate common and differentiated dance understandings—at times directly and provocatively, and at times liminally and poetically.
In reinforcing the Summit and proceedings theme, we draw on dance historian Laurence Louppe in Poétique de la Danse contemporaine (Contredanse, 2010, translation, Sally Gardner):
It is clear that evolution in dance thinking can only occur by recognising the heritage of modern dance and the bodies of knowledge it furnishes, including in its rupturing processes. Without these, neither the dancer nor the theoretician breaks with anything, especially not with the said heritage which he or she often reiterates without any knowledge of what has already been given shape and without re-tracing the great disruptive forces which could give real substance to further ruptures (p.7).
Within this overarching theme the authors interrogate a number of issues which are organised into five sub-themes:
- Approaches to choreography and performance
- Shifting cultural dance identities
- Contemporary research perspectives in contexts past and present
- Changing dance pedagogies
- Site-dance: a dialogue of past and present
Approaches to choreography and performance
These five papers explore links between the past, present and future of choreographic activity, foregrounding shifts in both dance practice and analysis/theory of dance practice. Authors investigate the somatic, experiential and non-linear; employing strategies of disequilibrium, destabilisation, re-integration, and decentring. In addition, interdisciplinarity and cultural perspectives are interrogated in discussing works that go beyond form, structure and experience to matters of science, social justice and audience engagement.
- Haptics and the fall: spaces of contact improvisation, by Romain Bigé
- Conversations on the frontlines of the body, by Lucinda Coleman
- Towards contemporising qualitative movement analysis, by Nicole Harbonnier, Geneviève Dussault and Catherine Ferri
- Mapping the experiential in contemporary dance, by Clare Dyson
- Decentring dance dramaturgy—a proposition for multiplicity in dance, by Anny Mokotow
Romain Bigé, drawing on his personal experience and the texts of Steve Paxton (initiator of contact improvisation in the United States) explores the specificity of this practice, its current state and its evolution. He privileges the haptic and the sensory in a weighted experience of space where constant contact and oscillating imbalance, through mutual falling and support, creates an environment of destabilisation. In marrying Aristotelian philosophy and notions of space with the practitioner’s play of disequilibrium Bigé posits that the nature of contact improvisation and what it can tell us about the falling body is integral to all dance.
In contrast Lucinda Coleman situates dance as a space for social justice and activism in which differing cultural perspectives are privileged. Her approach encourages ‘engagement with social issues along frontlines of the body’. This is exemplified by a case study in which Remnant Dance partnered with a Myanmar charity for orphans to make a film with children from Myanmar in a multi-arts community project set in an abandoned glass factory. In this project young Burmese participants were encouraged to tell their own stories, using movement as a shared language where the transparency of glass was utilised, for example, in writing names on broken glass fragments. Through applying practice-led research methods involving reflective practice, Coleman suggests that this engagement resulted in a form of praxis comprising a dialogic relationship between interdisciplinary art-making and social justice agencies.
Focussing more on the nature of dance itself as a movement practice, Nicole Harbonnier, Geneviève Dussault and Catherine Ferri examine movement analysis processes by skilled, experienced experts through two different approaches: Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) and functional analysis of the body in dance motion (AFCMD). In this comparative investigation the authors hypothesise that creating an interdependent framework of both approaches will enable a more complete articulation of movement analysis and thus contribute to updating Laban’s conceptual configuration in the light of new knowledge. In merging the two systems, the external attributes of form, function and expressivity of LMA are integrated with the more internalised AFCMD approaches, in which ideokinesis, somatics, visualisation and neuroscience’s mapping of the experiential come together.
The papers by Clare Dyson and Anny Mokotow cover differing aspects of performances codes. The former questions the way in which artists might engage audiences through a variety of different models, and directly links dance presentation formats to audience engagement. Dyson maps, along a continuum, five fundamental areas in experiencing contemporary dance from the point of view of process as well as the final production. These five areas are defined as: variations of site, liminal spaces, audience agency, audience-performer proximity, and performer qualities.
From another perspective, Anny Mokotow suggests that multiple performance approaches, particularly in dance, form part of a contemporary (philosophical, cultural and artistic) outlook in which non-hierarchical and fluid conceptual structures are crucial. Drawing on Derridean and Deluzian notions of ever shifting and multiple centres, as a dance-maker and performer, she argues for a non-linear dramaturgy through the lens of decentring (with the body as its defining agent), proposing an ‘alternative linearity’ that encompasses the physical, spatial, temporal, interdisciplinary and intermediated aspects of dance practice today.
Shifting cultural dance identities
Cultural identity in our globalised and often displaced world—both literally and metaphorically—continues to be a key preoccupation for dance. Community dance practice, empowering individuals and groups, reconsideration of definitions of tradition, intercultural dance in diasporic communities, maintenance of dance’s religious and sacred functions, and the de- and re-contextualised cultural dance in a social setting, are the concerns of these eight papers, all of which assert the ongoing significance of place and culture in a hybridised dance landscape.
- Linking the tradition to modernity with the choreographic aesthetics of Shen Wei’s and Xiaoxiong Zhang’s The Rite of Spring, by Ting-Ting Chang
- The reinvention of tradition—in contemporary Chinese classical dance creations (1980–2010), by Zhu Min
- Dance of a Tibetan lama in exile, by Shanny Rann
- Salsa and the city: a case study on a Glaswegian ‘community’, by Bethany Whiteside
- Dublin Contemporary Dance Theatre: body, language and fleshing out the bones of Irish cultural heritage, by Emma Meehan
- Reclaiming the community of Cabelo Seco through dance, by Ralph Buck
- Peace moves: dance, identity and peacebuilding, by Erica Rose Jeffrey
- Afro-Caribbean dance, critical thinking, and global activism, by Suzan Moss
In examining diasporic identity, ‘Chineseness’ and ideas of re-orientalisation, Ting-Ting Chang focuses on the differing contexts and resulting choreographic aesthetics of two versions of the Rite of Spring by Chinese choreographers Zhang Xiaoxiong and Shen Wei. She uses both works to discuss how choreographers negotiate tradition and innovation through their particular creative processes and aesthetic visions in producing subtle hybridisations of western contemporary dance and Chinese cultural influences.
Unlike the previous paper on ‘Chineseness’, based on recent case studies of choreographic work, Zhu Min posits that (re)invention of tradition within mainland China arises from a modernisation of tradition in an evolutionary process, with a conscious formalisation of ‘tradition’ in dance through the institutionalisation of ‘classical’ Chinese dance drawn from opera, martial arts and ballet. Occurring from the early 1950s, this process was driven by a political and ideological agenda in a nationalist environment. Unlike ruptures with tradition, which tend to characterise the western process of modernisation, Chinese dance practitioners embrace national characteristics as a deliberate principle of dynamic cultural continuity, rooted in a training system in which ‘the philosophical premise of a tradition [is] a constant state of invention and reinvention’. Zhu argues that the resulting deconstruction and reconstruction in form and style leads to variation in Chinese dance vocabulary and the hybridisation of contemporary Chinese classical dance works.
In a fundamentally different environment Shanny Rann’s contribution demonstrates that in spite of spatio-temporal displacement, the essential elements of traditions can be brought back to life. Diaspora takes on a potent meaning when speaking of Tibetan spiritual leaders in exile. Looking at dance as a sacred cultural practice in preserving not only tradition but a complete spiritual belief system outside the country of origin, Rann’s research focuses on the cham performance of the Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa, a highly revered reincarnated lama who currently resides in India. This is dance with the introspective gaze of deep spiritual experience, unlike those created with an external focus, to communicate directly with an audience. Rann’s personal account of an audience with this spiritual leader is a powerful example of a living tradition, never more salient than in troubled times where the preservation of Tibetan culture is crucial as a continuing dynamic presence. Especially in exile, Tibetans are reinstating the ancient practice of cham with an unyielding drive for survival against the erosion of time and space.
Bethany Whiteside, in contrast, examines cultural transposition of a dance style as practised in a setting and country radically different from its country of origin. Her ethnographic study interrogates patterns of social interaction through the micro realities in behaviour at a salsa club in Glasgow, Scotland, and demonstrates how those community norms can override the nature, function and content of the original dance. Through observation and interviews she maps how a distinct salsa sense of ‘identity’ has emerged out of Glasgow; one containing inherent tensions between the staged promotion of authenticity and the ‘exotica and glamour intrinsic to the global salsa experience outside its sites of origin’.
The theme of identity, but within one’s own country, is continued by Emma Meehan through an account of the early development of contemporary dance in Ireland and the history of its first professional company, Dublin Contemporary Dance Theatre. The latter was founded in the early 80s when Irish artists were increasingly making contacts with companies in Europe and America and bringing back new working methods. At that time, changes in social and political conditions in Ireland opened the way for cross-fertilisation of ideas. In addition, the gradual lessening control of Catholic morality and censorship over Irish culture allowed a more nuanced and complex sensibility of what ‘Irishness’ might encompass. Importantly, Meehan points to the necessity for documenting dance histories as a marker of where we have been, and how dance charts and even precipitates cultural and social change through a reappraisal of shifting values and styles in performance and their ‘embodied histories’ .
The final three articles in this section are dedicated to ‘shifting dance identities’, and demonstrate the power of community dance and the positive role it can play in situations of social conflict. Through the ‘Meeting the Rivers’ intergenerational community arts project, Ralph Buck maps small but profound and affirming changes in the violent, distrustful, marginalised and poverty-stricken Cabelo Seco, situated on the edge of the City of Marabà in Brazil. Affecting pedagogies of practice are outlined by Buck who draws on key arts education theorists to propose practical strategies in shaping the development and implementation of this initiative which assisted in rebuilding the community of Cabelo Seco. His educational focus and practice is centred upon valuing dance in a way that enables community transformation; in a classroom, a street, a hospital, a refugee camp; and attests to the ability of community dance to make a difference in people’s daily lives.
Focusing on another case study, in Mindanao, the Philippines, Erica Rose Jeffrey explores how embodiment and the collaborative relational aspects of dance can assist as a peacebuilding strategy in an environment of violence and suspicion: helping to shift cultural prejudices, and minimise potential and actual conflict by building trust and cooperation as well as positive concepts of identity. Dance activities (such as ‘mirroring’ tasks), designed to build confidence in personal movement identity and empathy between participants, can create ‘safe conceptual meeting places’ and the possibilities for social bonding. However, as Jeffrey warns, these strategies also carry risks due to the nuanced complexity of culturally specific gestures and potential misunderstandings that might occur in particular situations.
Suzan Moss also investigates dance from a politico/social perspective, through an interdisciplinary pedagogical approach to Afro-Caribbean Dance at Bronx Community College, where the class combines studio practice and creative writing. Bringing together movement experiences, class discussions, and written assignments helps to create a powerful platform for teaching critical thinking and global activism for students predominantly from Afro-American backgrounds. This innovative learning program specifically examines the role of dance during the slave trade and its adaptation over time, as a basis for understanding African culture. In parallel with this historical perspective, exposure to information on the widespread prevalence of modern slavery is used to introduce awareness-raising activist tools.
Contemporary research perspectives in contexts past and present
This section tackles the issue of dance research and its evolution through various levels of reflection: the specificity of the choreographic field linked to the ephemeral character of dance, the complex relationships experienced with other written or visual language forms and the possible means of conserving its memory.
Moving from the recent history and debates around practice as research to a more historical view of artists across the centuries positing arts practice as a significant form of knowledge creation and interpretation, this section also embraces artists’ practices and how they represent their work, and multiple ways to consider the dancing/writing inter-relationship. It looks both back and forward to dance developments in policy as well as new immersive technologies, with an interdisciplinary focus encompassing management, disability, science, and pedagogy.
- The documentation of Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker’s choreography in A Choreographer’s Score, by Renate Bräuninger
- The science of art: how kinesiology, computation, and Kinect may reveal the ‘code’ that transforms movement into dance, by Christopher Dolder
- Being visible: dance, disability and difference, by Sarah Whatley, Shawn Harmon and Charlotte Waelde
- Interrogating the contemporary in contemporary dance: presence, performativity, actuality, in the trans-modern choreographies of M. Marin, F. Chaignaud, C. Ikeda, O. Dubois, by Michel Briand
- The establishment of a policy for contemporary dance in France (1975–2010), by Patrick Germain-Thomas
- Mindful motion: engagement with the messy vitality of research, by Fiona Bannon
- Playing past and future: Knowledge as revealed by artist and scholar, by Maggi Phillips
- Staging the logocentric body: transcribing dance as utterance, by Rachel Sweeney
Several papers emphasise recording limitations and the documentation gaps this may entail. Renate Bräuninger revisits questions of performance documentation and, in particular, the problematics behind documenting live dance through the notion of scoring. Using de Keersmaeker’s A Choreographer’s Score, Brauninger discusses the format and content of this ‘score’ which is in both printed and digital form. She notes that although it contains much of the choreographer’s writing, the work is documented after the event rather than including notation before or during the making process. She also discusses how the various documentation formats are a testament to the ongoing search for ways to effectively capture dance, embracing the complexity of the components, including form, purpose and authorship, in an attempt to preserve practice, and to enable the restaging of a dance work.
Christopher Dolder’s article also explores dance documentation, beginning with an account of the history of dance notation from the 15th century to the latest advances in technology, setting the scene for a more sophisticated and holistic approach. Dolder has been developing and testing the capability of a new tool—Physical Data Capture Lab—which will potentially provide the physical data necessary for the creation of a personalised avatar in virtual space. In combining motion capture, sensing and other 3-D software, his aim is to bring together the ‘internal’ aspects of dance with the ‘external’ aspects developed by other forms of notation. The ultimate goal is to create ‘a visually descriptive dance meta-language that integrates movement, art, anatomy and biomechanics into an inviting and user-friendly human-computer interface’ to enable a student or dancer to process both kinesiological and aesthetic information. Still in its infancy, this research is an ambitious experiment of combining science and art through emergent technologies.
A different interdisciplinary coming together occurs between dance, disability and law in a unique research project by Sarah Whatley, Shawn Harmon and Charlotte Waelde, who examine the experience of differently-abled dance practitioners and challenge existing norms and the dominant aesthetic frameworks by which we engage with this growing sector. The authors argue that disability dance forms part of the cultural heritage of dance, especially in relation to identity. Interviews with disabled professional dancers reveal a strong performance practice countered by frustration at the lack of audience literacy in the reception of their work. Together, dance and law experts investigate strategies to empower dancers with disabilities, in recognition of the fact that these performers are currently almost entirely absent from the cultural heritage of dance. They further argue for the necessity to develop a critical literacy that will provide a space for disability dance to be an integrated part of the arts environment and thus engender more informed understandings and debates.
In terms of current cultural dance heritage in France, Michel Briand takes up the very notion of ‘contemporary’ and its elusive definition. He juxtaposes several coexisting temporalities in both performance and its reception: time measured and its duration, the instant, eternal flux, and, more broadly speaking, the past-present-future trinity. In illustrating this argument, Briand takes four French contemporary choreographers to examine what he refers to as the dialectical tension of the contemporary in dance; specifically in terms of binaries including those around temporality, presence, reflexivity and performativity. In his four choreographic examples, Briand foregrounds the nature of co-presence in dance and text in performance, and suggests that the notion of time in defining the ‘contemporary’ in dance, privileges its ‘spirality’. The four works examined all draw on archaic, ancient and/or mythic themes and text in their creation of this time trinity. Briand also proposes that the contemporary embraces the trans-cultural and the trans-historical in an evolution of art and aesthetics.
In contrast, Patrick Germain-Thomas examines the dramatic policy shifts in contemporary dance in France since 1975, with cultural initiatives by the French government resulting in major changes to government funding for the sector. Well subsidised regionalised choreographic centres, together with project-based funding for independent contemporary choreographers and dancers, however, have led to an imbalance between the amount of work produced and audience demand, resulting in the need for a second tier of funding by venues and other distribution outlets. The drive for innovation in contemporary dance, with its focus on open-ended processes, continues to be supported but is at odds with the ongoing dilemma of accessibility in attracting, keeping and growing audiences. Significantly for the art form, the strong social anchoring of contemporary dance, despite this public support, is now constrained by a lack of theoretical resources in French—in the field of dance history and aesthetics—hindering the possibilities of informed debates and thus the democratisation process.
This section also focuses on the artist/researcher through debates around praxis, with its variant views around the articulation of the nexus of theory and creative practice. Fiona Bannon presents a provocative and thoughtful discussion on the dangers of codifying practice-as, practice-based, and practice-led research into a set of methodologies that can become formulaic and work against the open-ended emergence and transformational aspirations that originally inspired the development of artistic practice in research settings. Bannon proposes the concept of ‘mindful motion’ which focuses on the generation and revelation of ideas. Through a journey of not knowing, practitioner researchers can more effectively engage with the potential for knowledge which emerges, and in so doing create their own frameworks through which to view experience and comprehend ambiguity, leading to insightful discoveries for themselves and, more broadly, in the field of creative practice research.
In order to progress the current debates around this form of research as a field of emergent knowledge, Maggi Phillips turns to the past and visual arts. Taking the Velazquez painting of Las Meninas, she juxtaposes Michel Foucault’s scholarly gaze and interpretation with Pablo Picasso’s visual interpretation and ruminations of the same work, exhibited in the Barcelona Museum. This juxtaposition across time becomes a springboard for a philosophical discussion on how past and present play into the future, adding a sense of lineage to the more recent arguments of what constitutes art as research, and reflections on art as ‘thinking-in-practice’, in order to produce viable research knowledge.
Also drawing on the past, Rachel Sweeney explores writing dance historically from Noverre to Foster to Lepecki, and examines, in the current context, the relationship between words, images, languages and movement. She proposes that the ephemerality of dance is captured in memory, text and bodily inscription and that phenomenological responses to dance may reveal, in the writing, hidden creative processes, through ‘affective engagement’ of dancer, viewer, writer. Her paper discusses how this relationship between writing and dancing can vary from mutual or independent to symbiotic, arguing that the dancing body is not passive matter waiting to be shaped by logos. Rather, it is invested with physical thoughts of its own making, transpiring towards meaning-production in those slippages that appear between flesh and paper.
Changing dance pedagogies
This series of papers concerns various aspects of pedagogical reflection: the educational value of dance, new teaching approaches and intersections of innovation and tradition. The importance of somatics, including body/mind integration, embodied awareness and functionality of movement, is the focus of several papers in relation to the development of sustainable and renewed pedagogical approaches to training dance artists, teachers and scholars. The transferability of this internalised embodied learning approach is applied to teaching and learning traditional cultural dance as well as community and professional concert dance.
- Dance learning in motion: global dance education, by Ann Kipling Brown, Susan R. Koff, Jeff Meiners and Charlotte Svendler Nielsen
- Dance in higher education in the UK, by Duncan Holt, Angela Pickart, Kelly Preece, Sara Reed and Cathy Childs
- Self and peer review in dance classes using personal video feedback, by Csaba Buday and Evan Jones
- Emerging choreographies: developing new pedagogies in dance, by Aastha Gandhi
- Yoga teachers’ insights in working with dancers: pedagogical approaches in transformation, by Karen Barbour
- Disciplined creativity, by Aadya Kaktika
Ann Kipling Brown, Susan R. Koff, Jeff Meiners and Charlotte Svendler Nielsen set up an international study to map perspectives on the value and frequency of dance experiences in diverse settings, through questionnaires targeting dance educators and students in different countries in Europe, the Americas, Africa and the Asia Pacific region. Preliminary results foreground the importance of embodiment in terms of participants feeling an interconnection between their mind and body, as well as reporting holistic development in terms of creativity, self-expression, broadened forms of communication and confidence building. Also highlighted are the social, cultural and community benefits of dancing, whether within one’s own family and friends or as a more structured activity. Finally, the study reveals an overwhelmingly positive response as to the value of dance education in the curriculum.
Mapping a different educational terrain, Duncan Holt, Angela Pickart, Kelly Preece, Sara Reed and Cathy Childs present a study of dance in higher education in the United Kingdom, examining the UK education system, the origin of undergraduate dance programs and the now perpetually developing curricula, along with the future prospects of UK dance students. The authors argue that innovations and shifts in performing and choreographic practice have had a significant impact on pedagogical approaches in UK universities, with a current emphasis on somatics as a training basis and a ‘focus upon increased sensory awareness, body/mind integration and efficiency of movement’. This approach is posited to be of more relevance to 21st century thought and practice than conventional dance training based in modern or postmodern techniques. Student expectations, modes of assessment and philosophies underpinning the different types of institutions are also discussed, as are precarious career outcomes, in contrast to the rise in dance-based research and publications.
In the field of pedagogical innovation, Csaba Buday and Evan Jones document a study of the use of smartphones to record and play back movement sequences in both ballet and contemporary technique classes. In pairs, peers took turns in filming each other and then analysing the playback within a studio setting. This immediacy facilitated the dancers’ capacity to associate what they felt as they were dancing, with how they appeared. The often-dissonant realities of self-perception and perception by others were seen to generate improved performance and a higher level of knowledge related to dance technique. This approach also led to a more realistic self-assessment for learning outcomes and importantly to greater ownership by students of their learning process. This case study demonstrated a marked and rapid improvement in the accuracy, dynamic and increased movement range of the students’ technique in addition to a greater level of reflexivity and critical analysis by the students about their own progress.
In the contrasting setting of an annual mentoring residency for professional dancers, Aastha Gandhi outlines the program of Gati Dance Forum, founded in 2007 in New Delhi. Introducing emerging pedagogies in the Indian context of contemporary dance (predominantly based on classical Indian forms), she describes choreographic approaches which move away from traditional norms through investigation of exploratory processes that contemporise ancient dance forms in the making and dissemination of new work: physically, methodologically and performatively. The main focus for choreographic creation is body centred rather than starting from external ideas or narrative content. Working in sub-units of movement explored through the body, this process later integrates those units into a choreographic whole incorporating mythologies or contemporary concepts, and thus provides a ‘structural continuity of narrative’.
Yoga, also a body-centred practice, is the pedagogical focus of Karen Barbour’s paper. She undertook a study in New Zealand of yoga teachers who work in a recreational or health environment, outside a professional or tertiary dance setting, but where some of the participants had dance training backgrounds. Her research revealed that the latter, unsurprisingly, demonstrated a higher level of concentration, body awareness and movement skills than others in the class. Despite, or perhaps because of, this high level of training, the most significant benefit to those students in the yoga class was to ‘unlearn’ their performative expectations and behaviours and work more internally. A mutually fruitful exchange occurred from this experience with dancers bringing their fine-tuned knowledge of corporeal movements to the yoga class, whilst the yoga teachers were able to free the dancers of the needless constraints of working extrinsically.
Aadya Kaktika investigates essential elements of traditional training in Indian classical dance, to counteract the assumption that a repetitive learning regime leads to fixed and immutable forms of learning and practice. Kaktikar argues that traditional Indian dance pedagogies provide access to the ‘kinetic sensorium’ which foregrounds bodily experience as a central element in teaching Indian classical dance. Importantly she suggests that this type of ‘guru’ learning underpins a creativity in its very discipline, and that far from mindless repetition, this type of learning inculcates mindful, holistic performances where nuances of difference and individuality provide agency to the performer in tangible and powerful ways.
Site-dance: a dialogue of past and present
This final but smaller section is included as a separate theme in view of the rapid growth in practices and scholarship surrounding the investigation of site and the environment, across both professional and community engagement sectors, with increasing inclusion in dance education and training. Terms such as site-specific, site-based, performance installation or ‘performing’ site cover a broad range of approaches in dance, though most espouse or adapt the open exploratory processes of much contemporary dance. The common elements of these diverse practices is placing site or environment at the centre of the work(s)’s spatial and temporal exploration, forging an interdependent relationship between site and spectator/ performer.
- Indeterminacy in site-specific performance, by Benedict Anderson
- Evoking poetics of memory through performing site, by Cheryl Stock
- Interject: a choreographer’s struggles in one specific site, by Sue Cheesman
- Environmental dance: listening to and addressing the big questions gently, by Joanna Stone
As an experienced practitioner, Benedict Anderson draws on his own work in three different environments to investigate not only intersections of body and site, but the indeterminacies of site/boundary and performance/spectator, which encompass both disruption and permeability. He firstly investigates how indeterminacy is played out in relation to spectators in a single site, and proposes in the second study, of mutable territories of multiple sites, that the audience journey between the sites is determined by the very indeterminacy of those sites. In this scenario Anderson reveals how indeterminacy can be understood as a ‘convergence of site, place, history, language and performance to create a coherent theme’ across all sites. In the final case study he focuses on the ‘material qualities of each environment’. Through the processes engendered by the three exemplars, Anderson proposes a ‘spatial dramaturgy’ which creates ‘a framework of unframed spectatorship’ where indeterminacy in relation to site is ‘the unconscious apprehension of space’, exploring site ‘through temporal modes of occupation, performance and spectatorship’.
A multi-site project is also the focus of Cheryl Stock’s paper which evokes a Malaysian-Australian collaboration Naik Naik, in the world heritage setting of Melaka. For both Anderson and Stock the sites themselves foretell the performance journey that will unfold, despite specific interventions in the site and often spectator choice of pathways. However, Anderson focuses on the sites as ‘relational territories’, often between the performance and the audience, whereas Stock focuses on the performer experience in relation to site and memory. Naik Naik is partially recaptured through the presence and voices of its collaborating artists; and from moments recalled, the research seeks to uncover a poetics of memory, through metaphor rather than narrative. It explores complex and interdependent layers of experience revealed by the artists’ cultural, ancestral, historical, personal, instinctual and embodied memories connected to sound, smell, touch, sensation and light, in a spatiotemporal context for which site is the catalyst and where artists and the sites themselves become both memory-gatherers and memory-keepers.
Whilst Stock insists on the specificity of site in her multi-site work, Sue Cheesman interrogates a process of transference of previous work from several sites (between 2009–2012) and the re-visioning and re-shaping that necessarily takes place in that process to make a new site-specific work. Interject (2013), performed on a ledge inside the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts at the University of Waikato, New Zealand, incorporates ideas, movements, digital records and concepts from the previous sites together with interactions of herself and her dancers with the everyday use of the site and the renegotiation of previous dance content. The re-visited site results in a virtually new work, but one that retains traces of those that came before. Largely spatially driven, particularly in terms of the formal architectural setting, it also highlights the audience / performer relationship in a shared public space.
In a radical provocation to the performer-centred and indeed human-centred dance practice of most site-dance as she sees it, Joanna Stone introduces the notion of environmental dance, based on ethics that support a ‘non-anthropocentric value theory that recognises the intrinsic value of all species to the function of an ecosystem’. In pursuing an environmental dance practice that de-centres human experience from the environment, Stone examines the concept of ‘ecocentrism’, based predominantly in somatic practices, to pursue a new ideology in environmental ethics through ‘an artistic experience in nature’; one which she and fellow practitioners define as being ‘rooted in the act of “listening”’.
In summary, these 31 papers traverse a wide range of conceptual underpinnings, processes, methodologies, pedagogies, cultural embeddedness and varying practices, to reveal a rich and diverse dance ecology. It would be naïve to believe that this ecology is particularly robust, but its very diversity and continual adaptation are surely signs of continued survival. Acknowledging the strong roots of our dancing past, even as we rub up against it to make room for the new, assures our journey into the future.