The ethos of the mover/witness dyad: an experimental frame for participatory performance

In This Article

This article reflects on a dance improvisation project in which the foundational relationship of the Mover Witness Dyad (MWD), the private exchange between mover and witness (and more commonly known as Authentic Movement) became an ethical and physical paradigm for an improvised performance. The untitled performance (danced by Olivia Millard, Peter Fraser, Jason Marchant, Sophia Cowen and myself) took place over three nights in Melbourne in November 2014. It was specifically informed by the experiences, observations and questions drawn from an extensive studio practice of the MWD by myself and the other dancers.

The practice of the MWD is a therapeutic relationship between contemplative mover and attentive witness. Falling within the wider field of Dance Movement Therapy (DMT), the MWD has uses as a therapeutic aid, in personal development and also as a context for exploring dance improvisation. 1  

An important feature of the MWD is that attention, in whatever manifestation, is directed inwardly and is engaged bodily (Olsen 2007). The form parallels dance improvisation in its emphasis on open, exploratory movement, which is grounded in the particular sensibility each individual brings to embodiment. Never intended as a performance practice, the MWD has nonetheless been used by dancers as a method for investigating dancing and towards informing or generating performance content (Olsen 2007, p. 324). US dance artist Jennifer Monson, for example, has utilised the dyad ‘as a means not just of deepening appreciation of the natural world, but of generating new ecological knowledge and of exploring environmental values‘ (Stewart 2010, p. 32). 2 My project had no specific environmental considerations, but it still threw up considerations of values; in this case values associated with audience participation and the ethics of ‘witnessing’ improvised dance.

The practice of the MWD involves an exchange between mover and witness in which the mover freely associates through movement, with their eyes closed, according to personal inclination. The mover encounters ‘felt’ states of embodiment, and particularly what Daniel Stern would call ‘vitality affects’. Dance movement produces and displays variable, abstract qualities often not tethered to the communication of a specific affective category such as distress or shame. But Stern’s ideas provide a clear insight into the relationship between ‘abstract’ movement and affect as it operates in improvised dancing. His notion of vitality affects articulates the qualities our bodies feel when we perceive dynamic and temporal patterns and changes (Stern 1985 pp. 53–61). Hubert Godard also makes the point that affect first registers in our bodies in the postural muscles, that is, one’s affective disposition is embodied in our musculature even before one moves and ‘every affective charge will bring with it a modification, however imperceptible, in our posture‘ (Godard 2004, p. 57). The MWD’s focus on bodily states of being thus make it a useful practice for understanding the affective origins of movement. Through the practice’s emphasis on free association in movement, this usefulness is also applicable to dance improvisation. The witness in the MWD is present to provide a safe context for the mover (whose eyes are closed), and to ‘reflect back’ the experiences of the mover through active, non-judgmental witnessing (Stromsted & Haze 2007, p. 57). The witness is not required to decipher or analyse the movement but to capture and hold what has taken place and, once moving has ceased, to name associations generated within themselves in a communicative interaction with the mover. The attentive presence of a witness significantly impacts on the quality of engagement for the mover and enables a level of deep attention that is less accessible without their presence (Adler 1999, pp. 153–154). This aspect of the MWD reflects its need for a ‘safe space’ for learning (what D. W. Winnicott called the ‘holding environment’); the psychological containment that a mother (witness) provides for the infant (mover) is metaphorically recreated in the MWD (Meekums 2012, p. 53). According to Stern it is in the mother/infant relationship that the recognition of the energetic states, and consequent correspondence between them takes place. He calls this exchange affect attunement. In other words the mother becomes attuned to the intensity, modulations and changes over time of the infant’s energetic (affective) variability, and reflects these back to the child through her own embodied states and vocalisations (Stern 1985, p. 157).

It is this relationship of exchange between mover and witness fundamental to the MWD that has been influential in the formation of this performance. As ‘choreographer’ for this performance 3 my inquiry was whether it was possible to establish the ethos of the private, therapeutically oriented, mover-witness relationship in a public performance. What emerged from this experiment was a particular approach to performance propelled by, if not entirely capturing, this ethos, and inviting a specific quality and emphasis on audience participation. The active role of the witness in the MWD transformed the role of the audience in this event; a greater emphasis on the experience and activity of the witness/audience was paired with a diminished emphasis on the dancer as the central focus. The performance featured layers of uncertainty which initially disordered and then animated audience engagement. Firstly, there were the changes rendered by the public viewing of a private practice—and how to be both ‘witness’ and ‘audience’—to the extent that the very possibility of the MWD as public performance came into question. The performance also used the configuration of the MWD by providing time for a concluding, reflective discussion between dancers and those watching. But in contrast to the MWD, the witness/audience were also provided with a series of Watching Scores—written prompts that suggested ways for those watching to think about the activity or physically position themselves in relation to it. The Watching Scores were intended to give insight into the thinking that had gone into the work’s conception. But as such they revealed a pedagogical dimension that complicated the experience for the witness/audience and elicited an ethical consideration of how to watch.

Another layer of inherent paradox emerged from the post-dancing conversations and the use of Watching Scores. Instead of giving primary importance to the experience of the mover (as the MWD does) this event paradoxically gave greater ‘voice’ to the witness/audience. My assertion was that conversation and language formed a central part of the performance itself; that an aspect of the performance was to an extent formed and realised through reflexivity, discussion and debate. Thus it was through non-dancing processes that a dimension of the work was brought into being, and so bringing the dancers and the witness/audience into the same circle of creation. This contention had the potential to diminish, if not marginalise, the dancing itself. Notably, semantics became implicated in an otherwise improvised dance performance, a form which often seeks to resist the categorical impacts of language. But the performance was not an attempt to ‘language’ dancing, nor did I wish to diminish the physical poetics of the dancers by reductively naming what we did. I saw the conversational and written components as ways to bring into focus aspects of what transpired between dancers and witness/audience: how the dancers’ movement and presence invoked thoughts or responses from the witness/audience and vice versa (whether privately or through physical and spatial relationships), and so lacing the witness/audience into the fabric of the work. It was a strategy specifically derived from the MWD (which ends with a discussion between mover and witness) and was, therefore, specific to this performance. It is not possible for me to do justice to both sides of the dancer/audience equation within the limits of this article and so the dancers’ experiences are missing. Of particular interest instead are some of the ways in which the witness/audience articulated their participation in the creation and definition of the event. 4

The MWD’s grounding in psychosomatically motivated movement partners well with a developmental exploration of dance improvisation: as way to investigate and understand the specific conditions of an individual’s improvisation practice (the reason I began utilising the form). The MWD is not intended as a dance improvisation practice even if it is premised on the emergence and free association of embodied content (movement, gestures, sounds). Yet the practice does generate awareness about psychosomatic patterns of physical engagement (proprioceptive, muscular, rhythmic, affective and so on) that each dancer negotiates when improvising. However, it is not the dancer’s intricate experience of the MWD on which this article is focused, but the impact of the witness in the conception, and then outcome, of a performance. To reframe the practice of the MWD as the subject of a performance in its own right is necessarily experimental. Practicing the MWD, and questioning it from the position of dance improvisation, led me to think about how the dynamic of its relationship might be maintained in performance. Initially this situation seemed contradictory, perhaps impossible. In the creative practice that developed as an extension of the MWD, the four dancers and I established a structure for improvising together. Experimenting by improvising singularly and as a group, with various combinations of eyes closed and open, our aim was always to maintain the interiority or somatic free association of our improvisation as established by the MWD. But our improvisations were always most richly articulated in the enabling presence of ‘witnesses’: watchers whose attention was attuned to the non-judgmental, care-directed disposition underpinning the MWD. It was this realization—that a witness watches with a different eye to that of an audience member—which led to the experimental strategy for performance in which the audience was cast as analogous to a group of attendant ‘witnesses’. To suspend judgment or leave expectations aside, requires a different approach to watching performance than might be expected of a conventional dance audience member, premised on a different set of values and principles. This newly differentiated role involves an active monitoring of one’s own responses and a physical responsiveness to the activities. Put another way, the witness ‘participates’ in the outcomes and is consequentially implicated in the ‘composition’ of the experience. The ethical conception of ‘witness’, derivative of this therapeutic context, was critical to the performance’s ethos, structure, outcomes and eventual definition.

solo improviser performing with audience members watching onAll photos: Katie Banakh

In a therapeutic application of the MWD, the mover explores movement in response to whatever states or associations that arise. Ideally this should be without reference to any demands for how movement might be understood (that is, as a ‘composition’ with specific attributes). The mover’s motivations need not be predetermined. He/she gives him/herself over to the act of ‘listening’ (to their body) and attempts to act upon whatever emerges without assessment or judgment. Because the mover’s eyes are usually closed, these stimuli are not externally directed, but call on internal somatic, affective, psychological and imaginative impulses. There is no obligation to move except when the mover feels motivated to do so. Each mover has their own set of motivations creating individual qualities of movement and presence. The mover may be quiet and still, or animated and wildly energetic. But they need not pursue this with a choreographic sensibility. One does not need to interpret or organise the various manifestations according to a choreographic or performance imperative, only to listen to and follow them.

Paired with the mover role is the role of witness. In the MWD as therapy, the witness makes specific care-directed contributions to the operations of the practice—they provide a therapeutically safe context for the exploration of emergent affective content. Perhaps counter-intuitively the witness’s presence makes it possible for the mover’s experience to unfold without reserve as if, after Winnicott, metaphorically ‘embraced’ by the witnesses presence. The witness attempts to observe the mover’s unfolding experience with a non-judgmental disposition: to receive without personal projection or expectation but also to provide physical and psychological ‘safety’. Movers must be safe from walking into walls when their eyes are closed, as much as they are free from evaluations that might, however subtly, ‘direct’ a mover’s experience (away from the negative and towards positive evaluation). Instead, the witness provides a facilitating presence, a psychological ‘imaginary’, onto which the mover can project variable aspects of their own immanent and imaginative experiences. This is an ethical stance, based on trust, which requires the witness to assess their own responses to what they see without a judgmental division between ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The witness is attentive to the mover’s experience even if this confronts the witness’s own attitudes, experiences, expectations and so on. To an extent the witness actively constitutes what is possible in the emergent dynamic between mover and witness. By facilitating unconstrained emergence of psychosomatic material for the mover, the witness participates in its activation.

As I pursued and developed my interest in maintaining the ethos of the MWD beyond the privacy of the dyad itself, a hybrid performance situation emerged, with a distinctive form (derivative of the MWD) that entwined the therapeutic and the artistic, and offered an extension of what performance might entail and reveal. The hybrid performance became the most significant consequence of this project, offering new possibilities for the performer-audience compact by reconfiguring this into a triangulation between performers, and those in attendance who alternately consciously respond as participating ‘witnesses’ but who also participate as an active, mobile audience, caught up in the composition of the event. The conception of this performance as participatory has aligned this project with current practices in dance and theatre, but also in the visual arts, for which participation is seen as an urgent and essential component.

As Jacques Rancière has convincingly argued about theatre, there is a false binary at work in assuming a division between an active performer and a passive audience. An audience, even if seated quietly, will always actively reconstitute what is being presented from their own experience and their own imagination. It is not necessary to directly include them in the production of theatrical activity for them to be active (Rancière 2011). One of contemporary dance’s general preoccupations has also been ‘to maintain on stage the value of an experience/experiment in process—an experience which of course concerns the spectator as much as the performer—without which the dance is lost‘ (Louppe 2010, p. 260). And yet, the quality of attention that the witness gives to the mover in the MWD seems different to the attention an audience gives to a performance. In examining the performance art of Allan Kaprow, author Laura Cull makes the point that while Rancière’s critique of the active /passive divide is indeed accurate, Kaprow’s work also questions the necessity of spectatorial action (Cull 2011). Kaprow’s work creates the possibility that audience attention can be invoked or strengthened through the participatory requirements of attending to something. Requiring a specific quality of engagement from the audience, Cull calls this ‘ontological participation‘ (Cull 2011, p. 80). It was invoking this quality of participation, of attending to an ethos and thus giving rise to ontological considerations, which was the heart of this performance.

Because of the procedural demands and my ethical aspirations for the performances that culminated my work with the MWD, questions and uncertainties about the different identifications of involved witness and detached audience certainly emerged. It is impossible to dictate how people might respond—only to invite the possibility of experimentation. Those in attendance remained, at some level, a segregated audience—a group of people making private assessments and personal decisions about what they are seeing. The resultant tension that emerged between these different roles (of witness and audience), and the ways in which it energised the performance, became the most powerful outcome of the project. Whether or not they chose (or were able) to take up this invitation, the audience was still confronted with a fundamental premise of the MWD: ‘how is it possible for me to be in an active, attentive engagement with the dancers while maintaining an enabling, non-judgmental disposition?‘

The performance event

The invitation for the untitled event billed it as an experimental performance, premised on the practice of the MWD and which posited a participatory role for the ‘witness/audience’. The event took place over the evenings of Tuesday 11, Thursday 13 and Saturday 15 November 2014. The venue was The Sacred Heart Oratory, an erstwhile chapel, now converted into gallery space, and situated amongst the many reconfigured buildings in the Abbotsford Convent facility in Melbourne. The three evenings together constituted a single event and attendance at all three was a requirement for attending any at all. This requirement meant many interested people were not able or willing to attend, but it also meant those in attendance were genuinely motivated to attend and to participate. Twenty-three invitees agreed to participate, although five of these attended less than three times. All were given ‘Notes for Witnessing Audience’, which set out the score for the event and the expectations of the witness/audience, part of which read as follows:

The witness/audience’s role will be to ‘contain’ the dancers (to keep them safe as they may have their eyes closed), and to discern what is happening. But the witness/audience will also be asked to ‘compose’ the event from their position of perceiving the whole. Each witness will be provided with ‘watching scores’; 52 cards, each one with a different statement or suggestion to focus perception, or to frame the improvised dancing. Witnesses are free to choose one when you want to, read it, and return it to the pack. The scores aim to reframe the role of audience into an active witness. How does being a witness reframe the role of the audience?

The Watching Scores were intended to give the witness/audience some insight into the thinking that had gone into this project; to indicate to an audience what possibilities and values were contained in the MWD and what kind of investment of attention was necessary. 5 They also provided suggestions for how an audience member could activate or experiment with their watching by attending to their own embodiment or spatial positioning, given that the MWD allows the mover to ‘meander’ without regard for maintaining the viewer’s interest. The four ‘suites’ of cards were divided into four specific categories reflecting the areas of engagement of the project to give specific insight into my thinking towards this practice; the artistic influences and the insights gleaned from the studio practice. The audience members were invited to follow the suggestions, or to consider how the dancing might be thought about in light of a statement, or as a reminder to implicate their own body in the experience of watching. It was a frame of reference that might merge with that individual’s personal history, perceptions and inclinations thus creating a unique perspective for each audience member. The Watching Scores and iterative cycle were together intended to indicate how important the committed involvement of the witness/audience was to the entire event.

The Watching Scores were offered as optional and attempted to be non-coercive. But they also partially obscured the role of ‘witness’ as defined in the MWD. They were partially intended to describe and invoke a situation where the improvised dancing could be watched on the terms of the MWD. They also offered suggestions and ideological positions that might ‘frame’ the experience for the witness/audience in relation to the practice of improvisation. These dual intentions became contradictory: any pedagogical intervention contradicted the intention of the MWD where what emerges is through free association and not with deliberate reference to anything else. So the use of the Watching Scores revealed the tension between trying to facilitate private experience and presenting performance and complicated the experience for the witness/audience.

Each evening was structured according to specific blocks of time (signalled by a bell) marking the emergence from eyes closed to eyes open (for the dancers). Each of the iterations, conducted in silence, lasted for 40 minutes and was followed by a seated, group discussion. The ‘Notes for Witnessing Audience’ set out the score for the witness/audience members, briefly detailing the changes over the 40 minutes as well as encouraging witness/audience members ‘to roam, sit, watch, or read some watching scores‘. These notes also prompted witness/audience members to participate in a post-performance discussion where they (and the dancers) could ‘articulate something about what they did, felt or noticed‘. The importance of these discussions to the functioning and evaluation of the event was also noted.

Is this a performance? The witnessing audience

Each evening of the event was inflected with multiple affective and kinaesthetic qualities arranged by the shifting relations of dancers and witness/audience. For each of the dancers, moving still offered the possibility (if not the demand) of poetic articulation, of dancing, and therefore with aesthetic attribution, despite their weak obligation towards formal choreographic determination. These articulations were certainly available to be ‘composed‘ (for either mover or witness) but more as relations within the attending self, than as a formal choreographic entity. Both types of participants were invited, through the various, rhythmic and qualitative modulations of affectivity and activity, ‘to become more attentive to the individuations of which they are composed‘ (McCormack 2013, p. 112). This involved all participants in a relational field of discernment and transmission; of noticing and influencing the perceptual differences between movement qualities, interests, presence, or spatial and corporeal relationships.

participatory performance in a church hall—performers with audience standing close by

For the witness/audience, as for the dancers, perceptions of the shifts in this discernible field were innumerable and diverse and it would be impossible to adequately catalogue this diversity. However, it is possible to say that certain patterns of engagement were evident from the both the dancers and the witness/audience, and that these patterns changed over the three nights. Each evening finished with a conversation, in which all participants sat in the communal address of a circle. These matched and enacted the therapeutic component of the MWD in which first the mover and then the witness begin reflexively to bring into thought and language, aspects of their experience. 6 These conversations became a central feature of the event, a sibling to the scored component, enabling individual questions or understandings about the event to be circulated. There were many impressions, points of view, issues, questions, concerns and uncertainties expressed in these conversations but I will address only a few aspects.

In general terms these conversations helped steer a path through the uncertainty that was an initial component of the event for all participants. Indeed the conversations were perhaps the most significant structural addition to the performance situation. It became a socially reflexive extension of the performance that both defined and qualified resonant features for and between all participants. Clarified positions were carved out of these discussions that were not immediately available–only after reflection. In one sense the performance was ‘made’ or substantiated during these discussions. This is contentious given that language became prominent to the potential detriment of the dancing. Yet the dancing itself was discussed very little; little attempt was made to describe what we did. Of much more concern was the experience of watching, and the features of being a witness/audience. What was most urgent, notable or convincingly articulated was picked up on by others, giving some shared understanding to what had happened previously. The initial challenge that faced the witness/audience was to determine how to watch given that it wasn’t immediately clear whether the event was a performance. 7 This question was partially directed at the threshold that emerged between the perceived polar inclinations (and resultant unease) spanning active intervention and supportive distancing. To violate this threshold might invalidate the event when approached as a ‘practice’ (with its therapeutic, and therefore ethical, aspirations), or alternately, invalidate it as a performance (with its spectatorial benefits). For example, one witness/audience member forcefully expressed it like this after the first evening:

…all the rhetoric that we were fed coming in… was to do with the engagement, the participation, the exchange. But in this room there was this incredible force to assume this spectatorial distance and position, that at times I felt like I was really fighting …the desire to just go and stand in the distance position [and say] ‘entertain me‘.

Another member had a different perspective on the same evening:

There were people standing on the periphery but there was constant movement and there was constant change, prompted by the cards and prompted by people moving around. There were moments when I was going ‘Who am I watching again?’ because it was fascinating to watch the movement of people through the room, not just the people dancing…As a witness, as an observer, who was I watching, who was I observing? And at one point I found myself in the middle of the piece and…the five of you [dancers] were circling around me. That felt like it was a tension…am I now part of the performance, am I part of the practice, can I move with you?

A third person’s response to this issue:

I felt like it was quite hard not to feel like I was interfering by taking a place which was involved. So…standing on the back or on the wall wasn’t so much about being a spectator… How can I be that witness who is just allowing when I’m so close and interfering with any sort of breath or sound or any sort of energetic minds that might be being made by the person…because we were allowed to move around. All of those things were incredibly delicate and that we’d come in and made it not so delicate. I didn’t know… I started going, I can’t remember if I’m meant to be audience or respectful witness.

When the different roles of ‘witness’ and ‘audience’ were conceptually merged, those watching were prompted to think carefully about how to engage or how to watch. The debate in the discussion, exemplified above, enunciated the reflexive activation of noticing, of discernment (however vigilantly), in the face of the uncertain, and affectively delineated parameters of the event. What might the respective roles (of mover or witness/audience) entail: the capacities of the role, the responsibilities, the delicacies, the affections towards which one might gravitate, or the situations one moved away from? Confronted by ambiguity, the witness/audience were consequentially placed in a position of vulnerability which seemed to catalyse an ethical evaluation: how does one position oneself, physically, spatially and philosophically, in relation to the activity. Thus a distinctively new role of witness/audience emerged from the situation of co-presence and corporeal observation.

audience and performers sit in a circle discussing participatory performance experience

In discussing Felix Guattari’s thinking on therapeutic practices, Derek McCormack draws out a relationship between the ethical questions therapeutic practices produce, and the aesthetic. McCormack begins by pinpointing the ethics of therapeutic embodiment:

Therapeutic practices are ethical in the sense that they are concerned with the Spinozist question of what bodies can do, and what they might be able to do if the generative conditions are opportune. They produce opportunities for expanding the range of ways in which bodies can be affected by other bodies, and, in the process, open up new possible forms of life whose value is not specified in advance (McCormack 2013, p. 114).

Value in an embodied therapeutic practice can never be predetermined because movements are individually differentiated according to complex affective and emotional entanglements. Accordingly, the event attributed no relative value to any of the improvised gestures, movements, rhythms, positions or qualities of being the dancers brought into being. They were equally valuable. Equally, the witness/audience were free to position themselves according to their own attractions and interests but, as they acknowledged, they did so in an atmosphere in which the ethics of the situation needed consideration. An ethic of watching is summoned based on the observation of another’s embodiment.

Returning to the progression of the performance event, by the second evening a different quality of engagement emerged that seemed energised by greater clarity about the possibilities of engagement. I speculate that this difference was in large measure a result of having a temporal gap between iterations. This provided time to digest or unravel the previous evenings uncertain impacts and allow one’s body to release from the affective grasp of this uncertainty, before re-engaging into the next iteration. The iterative aspect, the repetition over three evenings, became like a meta-refrain within an event that was replete with individually differentiated micro-refrains. For one witness/audience member the second iteration prompted a more secure response, indicating a clearer investment, or interest in experimenting with his/her agency within it:

But you’ve also given us a liberty as an audience because we’re not in a configuration of sitting and watching a performance. We’re actually moving through a performance, therefore I had an experience of realising, well I’ve actually been given an opportunity to view dance in a way that I never normally do. Like I can go up really close and watch it very closely, or I can lie down on the floor, or I can watch it peripherally. So as an audience member, because I’m here for the second time I want to make use of those choices.

Interest, as an affect, may facilitate openings for dancers, but it reciprocally fosters witness/audience engagement. 8 Did allowing the witness/audience to choose or even create the terms of their engagement as a participatory premise, generate a more ‘interested’ level of watching and noticing? Again, this is impossible to adequately answer. But in the quote above, the member describes an interest in creatively assessing and embodying witness/audience engagement by implicating him/herself in the active zone of performance. But participation by the witness/audience might also involve a less spatially active engagement. Activation was achieved in multiple ways, by multiple strategies, partly because this is always what an audience will invest in, partly because it was impossible to avoid in the open-plan room, but also partly because this was being specifically invited by the Watching Scores. At the close of the third night, one participant reflected on how she noticed her involvement:

Tonight…what I noticed was the permission to move or be roving, like allowing myself to attend to my physicality, not just be sitting there going…[if] I end up sitting very, very still for a very, very long time I can disassociate from my body very well…so it was it was really nice tonight to go ‘I need to move‘. And in keeping alive to my own physical state, it made me notice a lot more where I was adding my attending, where I was adding my noticing, when had I left my own body. When my body asked that it needed something…because of…what I was watching…To just be more alive to so much more of myself as a viewer because I had permission to go beyond sitting in a chair.

audience watching a participatory performance

The sense of witness/audience activation was possible, at least for some members. But multiple, other issues were also alive. Prompted by one of the watching scores, one member asked whether watching with a non-judgmental disposition was ever entirely possible, saying:

Tonight I picked a card right at the start that says ‘you are invited to witness without judgment‘ and that…gave me something for the entire duration. The first night I came and I was going through a few cards and my attention was really on you guys, not so much the other people in the room. And I was using the cards to kind of feed what I was watching…the movers. And then last time I got a card that said ‘everyone in the room is in this fucking dance‘ 9 and that made me watch everybody else in the room and I kind of wasn’t as interested in you guys. I was kind of watching people in the audience. And then tonight I found myself not really paying…I was paying a lot of attention just not really paying attention at all because I was trying to think about how I would watch something without judgment. Like it’s kind of impossible…so I found that tonight was not actually about you guys, and not about the audience but about myself. And I found myself just trying to figure out whether maybe I could not have a judgment, whether that’s possible to do…and just trying to be with my own thoughts.

Different witness/audience members raised the question of whether this event actually constituted a performance (or choreography). Performance itself was in question, or perhaps more acutely the question of a performance of a question, but in which by the third night the respective roles had become more clearly defined. The event took on a more clearly delineated character by this point, despite still sitting between identifiable performance and mode of therapeutic questioning. One witness/audience member articulates this experience of liminality:

And I was thinking that any work that has… detachment…it’s seeking a non-performance or a non-attractiveness. It’s not seeking to attract me. Nobody seems to be seeking to attract each other. Or get attached to anything or anybody, therefore detachment…has as much need in it as works of, you know, attachment and attractiveness. And perhaps they need as much hard work, craft, in the run up before and as much during the performances because between the first day and today there’s a world of difference. And one of the differences [is] that everybody seems to [know] their joy…And therefore what was my craft, as a witness? What did I, even in these two days, move to? …The difference between the first and the 3rd day was enormous for me. In terms of craft and in terms of being and in terms of freedom…the amount of freedom you could all breathe in and experience. And that brought me to one of the cards which said ‘what’s going on here?‘ 10 …[it] is a question we aren’t able to ask of survival in our families. And that’s such a critical question, because I said, ‘oh, I can ask that here,…now‘. Not only can I ask this here, now, also I can just get up and change my position and find a way to get closer to it. And then I thought, you know, the performance itself feels like a question. The performance, the work itself, is the framing of a question. And therefore maybe the answer is maybe another performance. That itself was exciting to come to.

By the third iteration then, more clarity about the ‘job’ of all participants, with associated ‘work’, was in evidence. Witness/audience members seemed more willing to utilise the malleability and reflexivity of the event in personally determined ways and satisfy their own interests or pursue their own experiments. They also seemed cognisant that their interests in this situation, the activeness or disposition with which they attended to these or towards the dancing, became direct contributions and relations to the whole. In a sense, through exercising these choices as watchers, they also shared in authoring the event. Accordingly this was a more communally creative experience, within a specific set of rules, but which invited a shared creation of meaning. Any such meanings were aired and debated in the discussion component, which emerged as a critical to bringing into critical or emotional perspective, how the various participants responded, related to or understood the experience. Participation became an accumulating force directed towards both the immanent unfolding of the event and its future re-engagement; to find out how the next iteration would be different, and consequently towards a reformulation as prompted by this difference.

a participatory performance with performers and audience members sitting, standing and moving in the performance space

Uncertainly balanced on a line between performance and private practice, this event’s primary allegiance was to the experimentalism at the heart of the MWD. The content and character of each of the iterations were systematically generated only through the considered mutuality between performers and witness/audience. Definition of what this system produced—its identity—was reflexively and contestably brought into being through the organised negotiations of the group. Thus the group discerned, identified or emphasised particular aspects of the event, shaping these into a joint envisaging of its defining features: its behavior, energetics, meanings, values and difficulties. Certainly the private, therapeutically oriented context of the MWD was inevitably reconfigured by this experiment. Yet in attempting to maintain the ethos of the MWD as much as possible, a particular kind of artistic discipline emerged which emphasised the ontological engagement of the witness/audience and the dancers and leading to an adjusted dynamic between them. Rather than merely being self-gratifying for the dancers, it was enriching and enabling for all concerned in a real, palpable sense. It enabled all participants, dancers and witness/audience, to discover things for themselves, and to an extent on their own terms, yet within the experimental sensibilities of the group. Experimentation informed by certain principles is a potential discipline, a practice. If we are to continue to expose ourselves to life’s capacities then perhaps we must practice this. For us to realise more of life’s diversity and invite fresh experiences of it—for life to open to us—we experiment with practices for liveliness, appropriate to all of life’s everyday permutations.


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