Vahri McKenzie is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Arts and Humanities at Edith Cowan University. She engages in practice-led research, and publishes traditional research with a creative arts focus. Vahri’s Early Career Researcher study of WA choreographers explored how complex dance vocabularies offer new ways of considering knowledge, informing perspectives on the links between memory, music and movement. Her article in Brolga—an Australian journal about dance #41, adds to the chapter that will appear in Pil Hansen (ed.), Performing the Remembered Present: the Cognition of Memory in Dance, Theatre, and Music, part of Bloomsbury’s ‘Performance and Science: Interdisciplinary Dialogues’ series. Vahri’s recent creative projects include Only the Envelope, a live art installation that combines research methodologies to investigate the ways we share personal information in the public sphere; and the forthcoming work of short fiction ‘Beer-n-Bubs’, which will appear in MidnightSun’sCrush: Stories About Love.
This research investigates the studio processes of seven Western Australian choreographers to develop case studies that unpack the memories, emotions, and sensations that illuminate creative decision making in experts. These dance professionals participated in Natalie Cursio’s With A Bullet: The Album Project (2006-7; 2013–4) that invites them to recall the first song to which they ever ‘made up a dance’, and to use this piece of music as a springboard for, and soundtrack to, a new piece of choreography.
The study uses qualitative measures of phenomenological and somatic modes of attention to examine choreographic cognition, with a focus on ‘knowing how’, and other manifestations of ‘feeling’ that a decision is ‘right’, in order to illuminate creative decision making in choreography. I use the choreographers’ memories, emotions, and sensations to interpret their strategies for problem solving in the complex physical, emotional and social space of the studio. Memories and knowledge can take the form of tacit understandings performed during the process of transmission from choreographers to dancers, offering alternative ways of knowing and articulating creative processes.
Cursio’s With A Bullet offered a unique opportunity for choreographers to reflect on their own development as artists, and the research presented here makes a contribution to the ongoing task of placing embodied knowledge on a par with that expressed through linguistic propositions.
Vahri MacKenzie takes the framework of Nancy Stark Smith’s Underscore—a contact improvisation program developed in the US to promote a “deepening/releasing and sensitising to gravity and support” in bodies that pass and meet each other—to a multi-disciplinary gathering of artists.