Concepts are wonderful. They are, for me, what makes dance more than just pretty shapes and fluid gymnastics. Thus, they can bring art to action and actions to art.
On several occasions over the past two weeks in Vienna I have entered into discussions about viewed work and choreographic process. The result of these conversations is that nobody can teach you choreography! I have tried to attend as many workshops as possible to challenge my methods and be 'taught' by a wide variety of highly respected artists but the conclusion is the same; they can only ask you to create something and then offer a judgement on this. Every workshop claims that it will propose 'different ways on developing work' but by this they truly only mean that you have to bring the cake and they will tell you what's missing, in their opinion.
This does not really surprise me as the whole subject of choreography is so subjective anyway. However I am a little disappointed with the lack of coherence of some of these great artists (They really are great, I saw their shows and loved every second!). When I asked them to discuss their process for developing material with me they could not respond, or worse chose not to. They did not think it was relevant to understand the workings of another.
One of them admitted that he would never try to work in the intense environment he had created for us to work in and therefore could not assist with any choreographic block we were having, he only works when he is inspired - thanks for that mate!
What struck me most in this particular workshop is that when faced with a respected artist a group of sixteen skilled performers returned to being at primary school and instead of exploring their creative desires they adopted a 'must please the teacher' approach. At times they were demonstrating concepts you could see they had complete and utter faith in and if he did not like them they then agreed they were terrible and should be thrown out.
Opinion is great. It is what makes our profession so exciting but surely we need to take it all with a pinch of salt. Not everyone loves peanut butter but it tastes like heaven to me so I'm not going to stop eating it.
I am not claiming that I am correct all of the time as well. I just feel that as an artist you will doubt material. This is the material that should be shared and discussion raised about in order that you can clarify your own thoughts on the matter. From there you can make a judgement call, otherwise we could just all create work, do a massive survey of a huge audience and then go with what people like the most.
For example, one criticism I received about all of the elements I produced is that I was too physical. I should try to work with just text and my voice. Does this mean that I am going to stop moving? NO... hate to state the obvious but I am a dancer!!!
Needless to say I explore quiet moments and still moments in my work and I will contemplate the removal of some physicality to attain a different effect but to work without movement completely? For a whole piece? Even my Mum would be asking for her money back if she came to see the work of my 'dance theatre' company and we didn't move!
But what is dance theatre?
This brings me to how I started. For me dance theatre combines elements of dance and concept to humanise movement and give an access point to work. It uses movement to compliment the concept and vice versa. The scale would look a little as below:
|-------------------------------------------|--------------------|-----------------------------------------------------| Pure Dance Dance Theatre Performance/ Visual Art
Really, I know, the words are irrelevant and could be argued over forevermore. However, something which is beginning to annoy me a little is the lack of movement focus in 'dance' work I have seen. Call it something else and stop showing it at dance festivals if the performers are simply objects in your concepts.
For example, Benoit Lachambre's latest work '----o oui---' was beautiful and I would go to see it again BUT it was literally a collection of concepts. Afterwards I described it to my friend as it had felt as if I was at a photography exhibition but someone else was dictating how long I looked at each of the images. Each image was stunning in its own right but many audience members left as they were bored and I understand this. Although I was not bored I was not engaged with the work, it just happened and that was all.
This is great in many respects, it is art and it poses questions but since when was it so frowned upon to dance. I have heard so many peers and so many 'experts' degrade movement and physicality of late and it is really distressing me.
Danshous Station Zuid showed a work for free in Amsterdam's Vondelpark in July and it was amazing. Clearly a concept but produced only through movement (I do love text and props it must be said but it is nice to see achievements without it all!) and completely captivating. It was pretty in moments where required, but not when not necessary. Transitions were flawless and at times you couldn't believe how you had ended up in such a different place without realising it. It spoke to you without someone having to literally tell you anything.
Perhaps I am old fashioned or just don't get it. It is a delight to be in Europe, not only to see all of the amazing work going on, but also to realise where my interest lies. Also to realise, if I am to seek mentorship it is to assist me in clearly saying what I want to say and not to learn then replicate the opinion of other artists. I must stop trying to please people and simply produce what I produce in the hope someone gets it. If not it is not my work but a poor replica of someone else's notions.
On the eternal quest to find my own language I am now off to read Jonathan Burrows new book 'A Choreographers Handbooks' to see if it can lend any insight. However, at the book launch he did openly admit that it has not helped him in his choreographic work whatsoever!