My perspective on choreography is a constantly developing enquiry. Beginning when I was 12 years old, my mentor Elsie Salomons challenged us, as she would adults, to create dances that would lure our audiences into the depths of our imaginations. Studies particularly with Juliana Lau, Alwin Nikolai, Ruth Zaporah and Gusmiati Suid have deeply influenced my approaches to creation as have over 25 years working across oceans from North America to Europe, Australia and particularly with extraordinary contemporary artists of SouthEast Asia. 8 years teaching choreography at Concordia University in Montreal provided me the opportunity to formulate a vocabulary and viewpoint. Then of course there is an evolving practice through my own creations and as mentor and dramaturge for colleagues and students in Canada and internationally, who challenge my aesthetic and cultural perceptions daily. My associates in the CM's are some of these most valuable colleagues. Particular thanks to Susan Lee for our conversations that help clarify thoughts and actions into principles and to Takako Segawa. The Choreographic Marathons and other trainings are based on the following principles. I invite you into our world and explorations.
in dance-making ©
6 principles ©
These days I group my approach into 6 principles:
Place, Action, Perception, Duration, Syntax, Realization.
1. PRINCIPLES of PLACE
I refer to every performance work as being it’s own specific “world” or “environment”.
We begin with 4 aspects of Environment
the world of the piece,
the world shared by the performers,
the world inside each performer,
the world shared by the piece and the audience
No matter what ideas we have in our minds (creator & interpreter), at the beginning we begin with an unidentified world, the unaltered actual place. (Be it an empty stage or a non-theatrical site.)
Every action, object, sound, etc. made visible in this environment adds to the identification of the world we are creating for our audience. Once you have put something in the space (or altered it) even if it’s removed it remains in our perception/memory, nothing can be erased.
As soon as we begin to alter and identify the world, we are creating the basic laws of operation that determine the internal logic of the piece. I call this the “syntax” of the piece.
2. PRINCIPLES of ACTION
Within each of these “worlds” are:
ENERGY (includes tension, density, tone)
FORM (includes edges, shapes, planes, space)
TIME (includes duration, pulse)
FORCE (includes pressure)
ACTION (includes sensation of the performer)
I call these PRINCIPLES of ACTION
Some aspects of movement such as direction, speed, texture are outcomes of the Principles in Action.
3. PRINCIPLES of PERCEPTION
In dance as a (watch-it) (show) (live) art, the major sense that is operating is vision, the second is visceral-kinesthetic (e.g. “I was right on stage with them”, “it took me to another place”, “it moved me”, “enervating”, “energizing”, “I could taste it”.) Some of these things are actually visible.
The other senses feed these first two.
Principles of Action exist in different perceivable ways:
visible / invisible (we perceive the invisible through our other senses and intellect)
internal / external
circular / linear
In every World the principles exist in relationship to each other. We must understand these internal relationships to become intimate with that world’s deep syntax, i.e. it’s internal structures and how those structures convey meaning. The relationships and syntax are different one world from the other (one dance from the other).
I talk about Action (not movement) and Sensation (not feeling, nor emotion).
4. PRINCIPLES of DURATION
Energy creates impulse: Impulse creates action: action has a form; the natural duration of the action is how long it takes to complete the action. Every action has a natural duration from the moment of impulse to completion.
Primary Moment: everything in the piece moves towards, supports the primary moment. The primary moment can be 1 second, 2 seconds, 10 minutes, 64 hours…
A show itself is always in linear real time. There is a beginning (when the audience begins to watch it) and an end (when the audience stops watching it). The Audience only sees things in a linear fashion- beginning to end).
However, the Unfolding of Information can be
Linear or non-linear.
Linear – the way it happens in real life
Non-linear – impossible to happen in real life
5. PRINCIPLES of SYNTAX
YOUR WORLD (the dance you have made) has CONVENTIONS.
They are not necessarily universal nor even cross-cultural nor even cross-communal. i.e. not understood or even perceived by all people in your audience. If you want the majority of your audience to be able to enter your world, you have to know who the audience is and know what conventions they bring with them into the theatre.
It is possible to create conventions singular to just one piece but one must always ask “why” as this is a very delicate task demanding great care, time and discipline (even when the piece is anarchic).
6. PRINCIPLES of REALIZATION
Avoid emotion at all costs. ONLY SENSATION. Leave emotion to the audience.
Emotion-Feelings are what is read by the audience not emitted by the performer nor by the material itself.
Find how to physicalize the ideas. Our Material is Action. Action is created by manipulating our bones, breath, muscles, skin, energy in space and in relation to each other and the environment.
The performer’s Sensation of Action conveys the Content.
Clarity of content depends on how well we use our material in relation to our audience.
If the concept has an “emotional” base (e.g. anger) note: “Emotions” are the names we give to complex physical sensations.
Movement/dance is the combinations of the sensations themselves.
These evolving notes were first compiled after the 2010 Choreographic Marathon and in conversation with Susan Lee.
copyright Maxine Heppner December 2010
Seduction, Love and Infatuation
in dance-making ©
Intellect, heart and spirit lead the choices we make as dance creators and interpreters.
Too much of one and not enough of another lead to extraordinary art, or work that is just not good enough.
Let's consider the Delicious Temptations of ideas, people, movement, image, senses, and so much of life.
leads us down paths we would not regularly take
> on the best paths: we take risks, because, only part of our reasoning self functions
> on the worst paths: seduction often completely clouds reason therefore loss of useful judgement
1. Seduced by what we know
> by habit > patterns we always use
> by default > not a lot of consciousness in using what we know
2. Seduced by what we don’t know, fascinated purely
> by the unknown
> by the mystery of “it”
> by the challenge of “it”
3. Seduced by inspiration from Outer-Space.
> “outer space”, as in, inspirations from outside the workspace, that are not directly related to nor from the work (theme, vocabulary, elements of the work in progress.) Hopefully, as we are imaginative and creative people, we are always being inspired. An example: reading a book > last night there was a passage so compelling that I find myself adding it as image in the studio work and even considering to add text, when text was never part of the piece before.
> Always ask: “Is this inspiration directly relevant to this work?”
> “Is this the time to pay attention to the inspiration, or best to put it aside as catalyst for another work?”
4. Seduced by the Power of One (the clarity of one issue)
> one performer does one thing exceptionally well. It becomes the lead image / gesture / thought of the work. Is this simplicity or leading to 1 or 2 dimensional work? (3 & 4 dimensions are always better! )
> one dancer does one thing exceptionally well and we try to make everyone just like her. Do those movements performed by another dancer read the same way? Unison and sameness has a particular power and message that is effective only in certain circumstances. Consider what the originator of the motif is actually “doing” that is compelling, rather than repeat or copy actual gestures and postures.
> one movement motif is very strong and appropriate to the piece. Choreographer tries repeating the same actual movement in several sections. Consider that what the choreographer really wants is its “affect” several times in the piece. What aspects of the motif are most important in the 2nd or 3rd times it shows up in order to advance the work?
Falling in love with an idea, a movement, a sound, a person, an image, an impulse
> can stimulate extreme creativity and/or happiness
> can stimulate deadly inertia of the imagination and inaction
We want to love the outcome of the work, but there are pitfalls to premature love.
1. complete acceptance
> consciously choosing to accept the person/material/theme/motif, etc. in ALL its facets, positive and negative and neutral.
2. keeping it alive
> ultimately needing and doing anything or nothing, to keep the love object/person healthy and nurtured so it will not die.
3. relinquishing autonomy
> adjusting even the most fundamentally important aspects of thought, of beliefs, of action to accommodate the nurturing of the love object/person
can happen at any moment. and is almost always Good ! however it doesn't last long.
One is drawn deeply into the object of infatuation, to know it completely, then the infatuation is over, we carry the experience with us always and particularly because it’s short-lived, the knowledge tends to enrich what we’re up to.
Beware of infatuation that seduces !
Every creative action/thought/desire etc exists on a continuum of labour.
It is easiest to choose mid-points.
Easy can be good but is usually not good enough. Ease is better.
THE ULTIMATE CONSIDERATION
DOES THIS SERVE THE WORK? or is “it” best put aside for this moment?
THE ULTIMATE QUESTION
To do the work, ask not what is needed but,
WHAT IS NECESSARY, NOW?
copyright Maxine Heppner December 2012.
Participants of the 2012 CM were creating their dances from very different motivations.
The basic impulses to communicate through dance shape the processes to create the work, and the dance that the audience eventually experiences.
developed from internal sensations, states, moving experience
> Drive for self-discovery > group support
> Ability to recognize the difference between sensation and expression
> Ability to recall sensation and formalize it into expression
Challenge: making the richness of the experience perceivable by the audience
MOVEMENT FOR ITSELF (pure movement)
> Form Time Place Action (ftpa)
> Internal aspects & Detail in
musicality & shapes & interaction of “essentials” (ftpa)
rhythm & directions within each dancer
pulse & levels between/shared by all dancers
> Interactions of dancers and non-human elements including the performance site
Challenge : audience’s tendency to relate to dancers as people, not abstractions
> Place: People in Place
> Ordering of Action over Time
Challenge: using appropriate movement genres and conventions to advance and reveal story to specific audience. One must work within storytelling conventions known by the audience or set such clear conventions that the audience perceives and understands them with ease as the story unfolds.
Relationship and Interaction are Not the same
>Relationship implies social responses
>Interaction implies formal/technical responses
Some Approaches to building a piece
>working from blank space and filling it
>working from action and/or image and/or idea
>working with patches that will eventually connect together
>working from start to finish? From last to first? inside out?
>preconception of the piece/world as it will be when the piece is “finished” and working to fulfill that vision.
>no preconception of the finished piece
Often one approach rules the entire creative process. Sometimes within the process, problem-solving or moments of inspiration demand working with other approaches.
copyright Maxine Heppner December 2012.
Proximity and creativity
by Shokoufeh Sakhi
Presented at the Choreographic Marathon 2018
The artist and the audience are two singularities with no direct access to the other one’s experience.
The artist and the audience are housed in a space-time of communication; they are the definers/signifiers of that space, like the walls of a house if you remove one of them there is no house, without either of them there is no communication. I call this space proximity.
- Proximity is the space-time of the encounter between the two singularities, the artist and the audience: the possibility for receiving and responding.
- Proximity then is the space of creativity, the creation comes to life.
- To conceive the notion of proximity as the milieu of creation, I will first distinguish creation from its process and the inner workings of the creator.
Let’s look at a writer –because I am more of a writer. As a writer my world and my imagination come to life fully when my text speaks to my reader and invokes a response. This moment of invocation is when and where my works can become a creation. At this moment I enter a dialogue: through my words, I open up, offer my world, make it possible for the others to enter into that world and get actively engaged. Here, if they enter my world they have opened their own world: through their own, they participate in the dialogue. I say if because I can write in an obscure language, contour a world completely inaccessible to anybody, or my reader can live in a world padlocked tight.
Only in the space-time of communication, years after I conceived my ideas, lived in it, gave it body and put the last dot on the ‘i’, gone through the windmill of publication and distribution, etc. etc., only then, when my reader responds to me, I am creating, have created, and will-be-creating.
For a choreographer/dancer/performance artist this time-lapse between the process of creating and the manifestation of the creation is different and can be less disjointed. Still as creation one goes through the inner workings of imagination, developing a concept, creating its vocabulary, embodying the movements, mastering them, etc. etc., till the moment of actively communicating that piece of world to a body of interlocuters in a theater, on a dance floor.
The writer cannot accompany her text into her readers home. The writer is not in the immediate space of communication, but the performance artist is.
Now how does this immediacy affect the processes of creating, and the act of performing?
What is being created and performed?
What is the role of the audience, observer? Participants? Collaborators?
The same dynamics apply to the group of the dancers/artists in one piece:
The living-active proximity among the dancers, between every individual dancer and the audience, between the dance troop and the audience and the living-active proximity created by the relating among the choreographer, the dancers and the audience. The Venn diagram among all the singularities participating in the act of communication is the milieu where something is being created.