For the meeting in Luleå, I was asked to make a presentation of my work, and some thoughts on what are the strategies that I follow when I make. These notes gives an insight to what happened:
WHO AM I?
I am a Norwegian (danish based) dance artist. I graduated from the Danish National School of Performing Arts in 2013, and have since worked for a number of choreographers/companies mainly in Europe. Creating my own pieces and experiments have been running on the side from the beginning, but the last year or so, I have wished for and allowed it to take up a bigger part of my time. I have mostly made solos on myself (the most toured being «dans, for Satan») , but recently started experimenting with also creating on others, for instance in the context of making «Mother» for Corpus at The Royal Theatre in Copenhagen.
After this short introduction we did an example of one of the physical practices I have been using in the process of creating «mother», and that I will use also in my new piece «GRÅTT» . It was about presenting our bodies through naming them, choosing parts of them to name and show, and then show each other what we can do with that part of our body. The practice is simple and childish, but has the potential of creating intricate physical material with awareness of the vastness of possibilities in the body. It also has the potential of connecting the reality of the body, the meat itself, to different discourses and the imaginary universe of our thoughts.
To give a further idea of from who the following directives are coming, I mentioned two of my main ways into choreography:
«I find that we live in a very exciting time, dance-historically. I never studied dance history in detail, so what I am about to say might be fake news and a product of my imagination or ability to mis-understand. However, my feeling is that some time ago, there was a war happening between the so called «dancing choreographers» and «thinking choreographers». The ones that give value and attention to the skills that something is performed with, and those who put more importance on the act of choosing the action that will be presented. My observations tell me, that the younger generation now, is less occupied with this conflict, and more occupied pulling knowledge from both camps. To find how the two connects and intertwines, is where my main passion lies.»
I like to imagine choreography as something that happens in three spheres:
THE SMALL choreography
THE MEDIUM SIZE choreography
THE BIG choreography.
The big choreography would be the context the product of your work (could be a «piece») happens in. «The Society» would be an example of big choreography.
The medium size choreography, is the overall dramaturgy of your piece, the format you have chosen and/or the general ingredients. (the specific vocabulary to describe it, might be different depending on what kind of art-work you are making).
The small size, is the details, or whats happening in each moment or area. In my case, who is working with movement of the body as the main medium, it means looking at the exact movements. Looking at how the breath is used, the gaze etc.
I get most excited when I manage to work in a way where information can pass from one sphere to the other, where all of these spheres are actively involved and considered.
Tools to make creating possible
WHEN YOU MAKE YOU MUST:
1: FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU WANT TO DO.
2: DO THAT.
3: FIGURE OUT WHAT CONDITIONS YOU NEED IN ORDER TO WORK.
4: CREATE THOSE.
This seems simple and obvious. However, often when getting lost or failing to do the work, going back to the simplicity and obviousness of these statements, helps me go further.
Seeing the choreographer/artist as someone who needs to take the role of THE SENSITIVE PLANT. The sensitive plant checks up on itself regularly and have a clear understanding on what it needs in order to grow the best kind of leaves. It listens for the light and water.
5: ALWAYS KEEP A SENSE OF ANARCHY
At the end of my talk there was a question about what I mean with that. I`ll refer to it again, so why not explain a little: Clarification number 1 = I do believe in the fruitfulness of respecting others and believing in their reasons for suggesting different activities, structures for work etc. The anarchist that I am talking about is therefore not one that does not listen. However, I also believe strongly in the importance of MOTIVATION and genuine INTEREST. I believe in the importance of creating and holding on to your own agenda, even if the proposed structure does not obviously contain the ingredients you are looking for. It will keep you being a good worker, with the energy and ability to continue, and deliver products with depth and confidence. Many times, a collaborators suggestion with your own interest included will be stronger and better for all than a collaborators suggestion lacking your interest. Clear? – keep the sense of being the sensitive plant. Keep questioning what you want to do, and do that.
To give some further examples, I decided to talk about the relation to:
THE NOTION OF WHETHER OR NOT SOMETHING «WORKS».
is knowledge and possibilities. It gives access to communication through shared understanding of material. It exists in the scale of small groups and large groups, there are new and old ones. Some traditions however, can bring with them a lot of «it has to be like this».
Remember that: ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE (to change).
This goes both when you are setting up the working conditions, and in the material itself.
To make a simple example, the tradition might be (this is an old idea, that I think most people are aware of is possible to change, but I am using it because of it`s clarity..) that to make a dance piece, you need full days in a dance studio. Maybe what you are about to make requires a different set-up. Remember the role as the sensitive plant, and the continuous feeling of anarchy.
RELATION TO THE OUTSIDE EYE:
When I was asked to make this, it was specified that many of the listeners would be making alone. When making alone I find it helpful to remember that:
1: You are never making alone. I do not believe in the artist as a channel directly to God, where ideas arrive without touching anyone else on the way. I believe we function as filters, and information pass through us. Whatever you are making, even if you go into the forest alone to make it, is a product of the thoughts and actions of whoever or whatever you have had around you . Remembering that you do not have the FULL OWNERSHIP to your own material, can for me help me avoid creative constipation due to some kind of anxiety from some heightened sense of responsibility and uniqueness. Even if you stay alone, you are not making alone.
2: However, it can still sometimes me helpful to:
A: try material on others (make someone do what you planned to do, and see it for yourself from the outside. Learn from their understanding of «your» material).
B: Have others experience your material and/or process, and leave their comments and response on what they see/experience. This is the more traditional (in my experience) way of involving the «outside eye».
If you choose strategy B:
1: Place feedback carefully.
Keep in mind where the people who are feeding back to you are coming from, and question how that relates to and inform what it is that you want.
2: Always return to what you want.
This brings me to thoughts on the notion of
WHETHER OR NOT SOMETHING WORKS:
I think many people now (most actually), are aware of the possibility and potential power in talking about what something is doing, and how that relates to what you want to do, rather than speaking of «good» or «bad». Still, I often meet the sentence «it doesnt work» or «it does work» in different situations through my work. If how it was supposed to work was apparent, clear and agreed upon for everyone involved, this language might be possible to use. My experience is that this is often not the case. I have created one quite bold statement (it is not the full truth and can be discussed), that helps me get back to what I want in certain situations:
«IF SOMEONE/SOMETHING IS DOING SOMETHING IT BY DEFINITION WORKS. ALL THE REST IS PREFERENCE».
Remember anarchy, and that anything is possible.
If it happens that you are doing work, and valuing work, that your immediate surroundings are not seing the potentials or value of, keep in mind that YOU ARE NOT UNIQUE. Nothing appears in a vacuum. It might sound negative, but the positive aspect of it is that if you find something interesting/valuable, it would be highly unlikely that you are so special that no-one else will think the same.
Therefore, TRUST YOUR OWN ABILITY TO DECIDE ON VALUE.
The ones agreeing with your placement of value might not be in your immediate surroundings, but do not worry, they do exist you might just have to look further.
However, again, do not confuse this sense of anarchy with «not listening». Information from others can serve important perspective and help you go forward, just remember to always return to what you want.
While working, there are a few ways of tradition that I personally like to be aware of:
In which way is the idea best represented? Ask yourself who it is for, and what the chore interest is. For instance, I might be working on a dance work for stage because that is the tradition, but if my interest is making people feel their bodies, something like a class-format could be more efficient for reaching the goal.
PACE OF THE WORK:
One tradition could be the idea that you start slow, and go faster and faster as the premiere or moment of sharing is approaching. My rule for myself is:
«WORK WHEN THERE IS WORK TO DO, AT THE PACE WHICH THE WORK REQUIRES»
For instance, when doing research, the initial response is often that it`s an open and floaty state to work in, but it can also happen like a bulldoser with blinders on.
For me it is helpful to think of that research (which I see as present in different ways at all levels of a process) is something that can happen on or in between the axes of:
VERTICAL or HORISONTAL.
In short, vertical research is the one where you look deeper and deeper at one way, material, spot. Horisontal research is when you attempt to solve a problem through looking at a wide range of possibilities. For instance, if I am not fully happy with a movement, I can either look at the one I already have, to see how it can be modified, or I can try an altogether different movement, or fully change activity. Personally, I do not put any different value to the two ways of researching, they will just produce different results, and only you can know how one or the other is supporting your interest or not. The awareness of which choice you are making can however in my experience help me realize if I have chosen the one that is most helpful in the context.
This is a statement that lacks nuance, but generally a tip could be:
WHEN YOU ARE STUCK, CHANGE APPROACH.
In relation to this, I like to be aware of the relation between:
DOING and THINKING.
«If I am not thinking what I want to be thinking, I might need to change what I am doing. If I am not doing what I want to be doing, I might need to change what I am thinking.»
There are several contexts to understand this statement through. For instance, if you are stuck while writing a grant application, changing your working-position might release your thoughts. If you are practicing a movement that you are not managing to do well, it might help you to change the way you analyze or think about it, more than just continue doing it. These are just two examples, and I find the sentence helpful to pull out, and applicable in many different situations where I am stuck.
Another option is to:
CHANGE THE SCENERY.
Sometimes, when your thinking and doing gets stuck, giving new input to yourself through the simple act of changing scenery might release the plug. I think many of us have experienced how, after many hours of struggling in the studio, the answer comes while in the supermarket. Do not however, fall for the temptation of believing that one should never struggle in the studio. Every choice produces something. Consider what you want to produce.
Related to this, is the idea of:
THIS and THAT.
«This» would be the thing itself, the product that you plan to share. For instance, working "this" would in my case often mean working on a piece directly - it`s format and materials. «That» would be the activities that you do or need to do, around the piece, that informs and supports it, gives it depth. Examples of "thats" could be training, reading about related topics, having a snack. Try to have a good balance between this and that. Again: be sensitive to what is needed. However:
DO NOT FOOL YOURSELF.
To explain what I mean with that, and why I am saying it, I would like to start with the statement/sentence «The art, not the artist». Believing that the two are infinitely intertwined, it is hard to fully stand by a statement that makes such a clear distinction, but: Be aware if you are making choices just to feel good, or if you are making choices to feel good so that you can create the best possible work. My personal opinion is that everybody has the right to decide how central their works in art should be in their lives, but to make choices, be aware of for what you are making them. Sometimes for instance, doing «thatS» can be a simple escape from the sometimes excruciating task of practicing «this». Learn to distinguish between when you are using «thats» to support the work and when you are using it to avoid working.
BE AWARE AND ATTENTIVE TO YOUR RELATION TO WHAT ITCHES.
What itches are the things that you have in your work, but that every time you get to that point or somehow have to look at or encounter, sort of gives you an itch. An intuitive feeling of it being somehow wrong, not good enough, not quite what you wanted it to be. There are many things to be said about it, for me, one place I often find the explanation is when I have failed to follow my initial interest. For instance:
CONSIDER WHAT MEDIUM YOU TRANSMIT YOUR IDEA THROUGH.
If it itches it might be because you are getting lost in complicated routes. There are no shortcuts in art I believe, everyone can taste the difference between a microwave burger and one with homemade buns, but unnecessarily long and complicated routes do exist. A general rule that it has helped me to remember many times when being stuck is:
SAY WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY IN THE LANGUAGE YOU CAN SAY IT MOST CLEARLY.
My experience is, that that language is often the one that you first formulated or found the idea through. For instance, if your point of interest and the message you first intended to communicate, was initially formed as a sentence, it might be that you need to say that sentence. If your interest was sparked by a way of moving, you might need to share it through movement. I tell myself to avoid the situations where I anxiously attempt making movement tell something like «I think USA chose a strange president». It is hard to make the clarity of that sentence appear in movement. In the same way, it is hard to describe what a movement can give through words. Often when it itches, I have for different reasons, forgot my source and swapped medium away from where my initial intentions and interest laid.
As a last point, I would like to point out that:
YOU DON`T NEED TO SEE YOUR ARTISTRY AS A WHOLE IN ONE PIECE
YOU ARE NOT THE WORK, YOU ARE DOING THE WORK.
I say this because of having done some rookie mistakes relating to this myself. Sometimes when I get a chance to make something or share something, I feel I have to show everything I find important, everything I can do, and all the perspectives in each and every single product or point of sharing. 1: this is not possible. 2: when attempting it, my experience is that it creates a sort of chaos which makes all the somethings cancel each other out. You cannot say everything at the same time. For me it helps to imagine that I will continue creating for a long time. Throughout the years of making, my potentials, thoughts and perspectives will slowly unfold. Furthermore, I enjoy thinking about the «products» as units with their own life. Like things that are like I said, not me, but things that I do that can teach me things, start discussions and have different value for different people. I have heard also, that some people see their artistry as a garden, consisting of both seasonal plants, a life-long-growing tree, weeds and grass. You attend to and enjoy different things at different moments.