Reflection of Active Participation in Performance Experience in Research and Development Creative Process
“Choreographers need to hear the critical opinions of their peers to understand how their dances might be improved.” (Lavender, L. Dancers Talking Dance: Critical Evaluation In the Choreography Class. P.85)
I recently worked as part of an ensemble, to carry out the role of performer within a public sharing of our collaborative research and development process for the co-directors to critically evaluate the outcomes and material that came from three weeks of studio time to create sections of the work. We worked together as a team of artists to explore a choreographic playbook co - created by co-directors. The cast consisted of 2 professional dance artists, a storyteller and myself, in the role of physical story teller. We had decided to share the work in the form of an audience to test and refine the performance of the material with the target audience, which also included games and activities that required audience participation. The aim of the evening was to see which parts of the show resonate with the audience, which elements of the work need more consideration and audience care. The sharing consisted of collection of audience stories, drinking tea and coffee, and an informal presentation of various scenes of the symbiotic dance and storytelling work. The visible properties of the work offered scope for rhythm with props, exploration with furniture and set, audience participation, Irish folk dance, and spoken word and storytelling, and bringing stories to life through dance.
“It also requires participants to seek clarification of others' reflections and to draw attention to details of the dance that may have been overlooked.” P.57
After the event there were opportunities to engage in informal discussions and conversations for audience members to reflect upon the evening and the intrinsic features within the work, with feedback forms given to promote a less self censored approach to delivering critical feedback. As cast members we were given opportunities to chat with audience members to provoke conversation that allowed audience members to articulate interpretations, meaning or relevance or significance of the work. This will feed our recommendations for development of the future iteration of the work. As cast members we were present in the audience in the scenes that we were not actively a part of as performers, this allowed us to observe audience’s responses, and behaviours throughout the experience, to weak our approaches to exchange and interact as we go. There was a real sense of learning as we go, with a live audience present as it felt very different from rehearsal to a live performance with an audience present. As a performer this opened up scope and possibilities for deeper connections, more freedom to play, and for application of learning as the evening took place. As a performer, I became aware that I had the agency to reconsider delivery techniques in the moment, to deliver a more ‘audience centred’ and ‘present’ performance delivery.
All of the performers in the cast became unwell the week of the sharing. I feel this did have an impact on the performance, particularly the possibilities of the explorations of voice and song work and therefore it felt that it diminished the potential for collective play and freedom within the improvised elements of the songs. On the other hand the performer’s skills and attributes to show resilience and to reframe the notion of the work from we are singers that share human stories to we are humans that sing. This shift in perspective allowed for imperfections, and limitations within the voice work due to illness and sore throats amongst the cast.
The evening was received well by the audience, there was some resistance to join in, but in general the audience were open and willing to participate upon invitation from the performers. The story circle nature of the event, sharing scenes with context delivered by co-directors meant that the evening offered a different rhythm and pace to the experience, with more stops and starts and clear introductions to each scene with context and meaning given to the audience. To keep the creative team safe the directors considered their delivery of information, in an ethical, sensitive and careful manner. This is something I will carry in to future choreographic processes that I lead. As someone that often leads inter-disciplinary teams, exposing personal stories and my own lived experience, I feel that through participating in this experience I will develop my own practice to ensure that very personal work is shared in a way that keeps all involved in the work safe.
I feel that transitions from scene to scene could have been considered more to tighten up the scenes, setting up for the scenes and the costume changes could have been more efficient and slick to respect audience’s time. The event had a long running time, but due to the nature of testing, we were not aware of how long the experience would be and this was not communicated to the audience. As an artist, I have a deep appreciation of audience and feel that they deserve to know how much time they are committing to before the event starts. I feel that in my own future performances, I will time the event in a dress run, and make it explicit that it could run over, but have a rough idea to manage audience expectations. This kind of audience care will happen in future iterations of the work, and it is felt that it only happened as it was the first sharing and with rehearsal, the event running time would be significantly reduced.
I feel that each cast member was mindful of the audience and held them in mind and with care throughout the performance, applying their meta- critical skills in each moment to engage the audience members. At times it was felt that the introductions to audience participation and scenes were apologetic, and placed the performance experience on the back foot, and the fears of audiences not enjoying themselves came through the invitations. In the evaluation I will highlight the need for greater consideration of language to enable a receptive audience experience, with more opportunities for critical discourse embedded in to the event and in follow up evaluation to further understand each audience’s perceptions and to compare and contrast and to see if we had reached a common consensus within each scene of the work and to notice any areas that we might have over looked. As a performer our work is so closely aligned with ensuring our intentions marry up with the director’s vision and objectives for the work. This evening offered ample opportunity to figure this out.
“If knowledge of the choreographer's intention is ever relevant to critical evaluation, it is when such intentions are visible in the work itself. Thus, choreographers who, following a performance of their work, volunteer accounts of their intentions or interpretations must direct the critical attention of others to specific features of the work itself. And viewers should keep in mind that interpreting a dance solely on the basis of the choreographer's explanation of it or judging it solely by whether the viewers understood the choreographer's presumed intended meaning is not really evaluating the dance at all.” (Lavender, L. Dancers Talking Dance: Critical Evaluation In the Choreography Class. P.32)
“Different critics often interpret dances (and other works of art) in varied ways. This occurs because properties of a work – phrasing or spatial patterns, for example – might receive more or less emphasis in different critics' interpretations. And even when two critics emphasize the same features of a work in their respective interpretations, the meaning each critic finds in those features may differ greatly. Such cases call attention to the importance of the persuasive, or argumentative, nature of interpretive discourse. Critics must make as strong a case as possible to others that the work should be understood their way. Sometimes more than one interpretation will be plausible — that is, supported by the visible properties of the work. This does not mean that there has been an error in interpretation or that the work under review is a poor one. It means simply that the work is ambiguous, or capable of supporting multiple interpretations.” P. 59
The evening was curated with a clear explanation of the stage of development and audience expectation was managed. They were invited to co- create with us, to share their perspectives of the scenes and to allow the audience members to feel part of a creative process. The evening was delivered in a process oriented way. To make the evening flow better, more consideration could have been given to audience care, transitions between scenes and clarity. Some of the language used was slightly apologetic. I feel like a bold delivery to introduce the scenes might have helped the audience to buy in to an idea. The evening was received well, and the audience seemed engaged, however I feel that there were improvements to be made to the evening. Next time, I deliver my own research and development sharing, I will rehearse the flow of the evening, the introductions in a clear, emotive and succinct way, and ensure everyone is clear of their roles within the piece. I would factor in more time for rehearsals to prepare for the execution of the research and development sharing. This piece of work was curated in such a way to support the directors to learn about how their work was received by the audience. Audiences are so smart, so I would play with the amount of context that is communicated to the audiences, so that what is shared is succinct and needed. As a performer, I felt the construction of scenes could have been cleaner, however the intention within the scenes were clear, informed by wider research and context, and highly considered by both directors and performers.
“Despite the hazards involved in looking for artist's intentions, the notion persists that dance should inevitably be seen as communication. And somehow, the composer of a work is generally considered the best person to explain to others the work's true "message." Philosopher David Best (1978) explores this concept of communication and makes a distinction that helps dispel the notion that dance is a mode of communication. Best distinguishes between two kinds of communication, what he calls linguistic and perceptual communication.” (Lavender, L. Dancers Talking Dance: Critical Evaluation In the Choreography Class, pp. 138 — 139). P.33)
It was a pleasure to perform in this work, and to analyse the dramaturgy and craft of this emerging piece of work, and to embody the practice through the performance experience and creative process.
This section of the website will include reflections for Lauren's MA Study. This page is linked to Lauren Tucker's studies and creative practice which is broader than the work of Tuckshop Dance Theatre. Please enjoy my reflections in this learning journey.