Burroughs, List making and Dramaturgy

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Led by Martin Hargreaves, Guest Dramaturg at South East Dance TEST took place over two consecutive days at Pavilion Dance South West, Bournemouth. The aim of the intensive was to explore dramaturgical practice with a small group of selected artists. I have very little previous experience of working with a dramaturg per se however I have enjoyed working with theatre directors and collaborators that share and tap into modes of dramaturgical thinking. Martin facilitated a rich and varied 2-days that provoked manifestos and channelled mysticism (we were casting spells by the end of day 2)! The workshop offered space and time to challenge habits whilst considering the role of dramaturgy in dance making. I’ve chosen to write a blog post here on The Red line that picks out a handful of tasks and ideas that struck a cord and look forward to reading other participants responses and posts in the coming weeks.

“…a practical introduction to dramaturgy as a process and performance making practice.”

On arrival Martin avoided formal introductions and instead, after a quick round of names, instructed the group to partake in a co-lecture. This co-lecture (collaborative lecture) technique meant that we collectively took responsibility for all that was said. This framing designed to unpack what dramaturgy is, proved insightful and rich as the playing cards (‘re-tell’, ‘example’, ‘zoom’, ‘transpose’) offered opportunities to check in on assumptions and ideas around dramaturgy in a fun fictional lecture format. Triggered by Martin’s mention of desire in relation to making work, I referenced William Burroughs and his adoption of cut up technique – see below an article link on the subject by The Funambulist editor Leopold Lambert. I proposed dramaturgy or dramatical processes could offer a similar freeing from in-built desires / impulses within the realm of choreographic decision making. Dramaturgy as a mechanism in which insight is teased out of both the conscious and unconscious decision making process was one idea that arose from the co-lecture. Gaining ownership over assumptions and working through recurring themes also gave food for thought.

My Desire is Someone else’s Fiction: William Burroughs & Control as seen by Frédéric Claisse in Multitudes 48 by Léopold Lambert

In the afternoon Richard Serra’s Verb List (1967-68) offered a refreshing practical example of an artist sharing their process and in doing so revealing their intentions for its consumption. Serra would like us to consider what his work does to the viewer as oppose to what the work should say. I’m currently spending a lot of time in the studio with the work of contemporary composer and electronic pioneer Elaine Radigue. Her 1998 composition ‘Trilogie de la Mort’ could be described as a score designed to be felt more than it is heard by its listener. Serra’s verb list implies a series of instructions that could impose as much on the body of the viewer as they do on the artists choice of material. Vernon Lee came to mind at this point in the day. Lee, who is best known for her work on aesthetics at the turn of the 20th century, described how ‘the subjective inside us can turn into the objective outside’. Lee’s ‘Beauty and Ugliness’ (1897) noted physical changes in the body when looking upon art and architecture.

We were invited to create our own list. I used this as an opportunity to pick out key phrases or words from my current research and subject matter for Neon Dance company’s next production Puzzle Creature (the work of Artist-Architect duo Arakawa and Madeline Gins), Martin’s proposition of a list allowed me to see through the hours of reading and starkly lay out what was really at stake in terms of my interest in Arakawa and Gins. We returned to our lists; shared and remixed their content with each other and… how liberating! Words I held dear were given away, reworked and reimagined. Perception of course is a slippery notion and this task felt like a healthy reminder to peak around the edges of worked material or work patterns; perhaps dramaturgy as a disrupting tool can prove game changing in suppling artists with the ability to step outside their sense of now.

“…now lasts on average between 2 and 3 seconds. This is the now you are aware of – the window within which your brain fuses what you are experiencing into a “psychological now”. …There is also evidence that the now you experience is made up of a jumble of mini subconscious nows and that your brain is choosy about what events it admits into your nows. Different parts of the brain measure now in different ways. What’s more, the window of perceived now can expand in some circumstances and contract in others” – Laura Spinney (excerpt from ‘The Time Illusion: How Your Brain Creates Now’

Adrienne Hart is the Artistic Director of Neon Dance. For more info: neondance.org

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