How are dance artists speaking about, writing about, and communicating their work? discourse #1

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As part of developing the National Dance Forum's 'lines of focus', curatorial panel members shared their thoughts about the inherent concerns and realities affecting current professional practice in Australia. This is Matthew Day's response.

If I think about dance on a national level, the most far-reaching 'thematic' concern I can identify regards discourse itself. That is, how is dance spoken about, written about, communicated?

This could be considered on lots of levels. As an (independent) choreographer:

  • How does a choreographer think/talk about what it is that they do?
  • How might discursive practice come to be understood not as something that happens after or from outside, for example by critics/curators/presenters, but rather as intrinsic to choreographic practice.
  • How do we understand what we are doing as we are doing it?
  • How does the choreographic work articulate itself discursively?
  • How does this discourse feed back into the work; how does it generate choreographic intelligence?

And, how do we extend this intrinsic discourse towards potential audiences while maintaining our artistic integrity? How might we find ways to communicate the real work we are doing rather than sensationalising our work in order to reach a public? Can we not assume that the public is intelligent, and that it is our responsibility to connect with them in meaningful ways?

The following quote is from a recent RealTime interview with Deborah Hay by Rennie McDougall. It's quite a long quote, but it's very good. 

Were you always writing? Oh no, I was not always writing. Writing started happening when I realised my survival depended on it. Because the way in which I’m working was not synchronous with the way people were writing about dance. Like to talk about my work as—if I think about Jeanine the other day—as attaching her right arm to her knee and crossing the stage on a diagonal…that writing does not help me. But that’s the way a lot of dance writers describe the movement. And so I realised I better start writing, because I don’t want to be remembered the way they’re writing my work. So I’m grateful for that, feeling so strongly about it and taking the steps necessary to pick up the pen. The power in that. And what I noticed, after my second book 'Lamb at the Altar: The Story of a dance', people who are critics and writers were writing differently, picked up that I was feeding them some other perspective to have a look at movement, and it began…it really was smart. I think dancers at a certain point recognise they better get smart, about writing our work. You know artists used to— I’ve talked about this quite a bit—in the 60s when I was in New York. The people who were writing about art were Don Judd, Dan Flavin, Robert Morris. The artists who were making conceptual art were the ones who were writing, were reviewing one another’s work and writing about their own work. So they provided art audiences with a frame for looking at their work that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. And dancers really didn’t start picking up the pen…Yvonne [Rainer] did. But most of us didn’t, not recognising the power of language until fairly recently. And that it helps audiences frame what it is even if it’s one person who might read a dance journal. Or it helps reframe for audiences how else to look at dance. And there’s some great writing being done by dancers right now.

At this NDF, how could we implement this focus as an action rather than as just a theme?

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