two simple examples of practice

These are two things I am currently doing regularly, and I think they both constitute a practice that could become a project of some kind (although that isn’t why I started them):

  1. love letters
  2. improvising

Love Letters

This involves writing a brief (although sometimes they aren’t so brief) love letter – or reflection on love – every day (without fail). It takes 5 to 15 minutes. It doesn’t have an end goal, and is not directed towards anything. However, it is very direct. In other words, I understand what the activity entails, but not where it might end up. It is both i) internal: considering and practicing how my understanding of the nature of love might be articulated and felt; and ii) external: in dialogue with one key text: Badiou’s In Praise of Love.


This involves a brief improvised dance each day (although I am not as strict as with the love letter writing). It feels less clear, although it is very clear to me when I am doing the practice, and when I am not. Again, it takes 5 to 15 minutes each day. The external references are less clear but some key practitioners include: Meg Stuart, Eva Recacha, Kirstie Simson, and Deborah Hay.

In both examples this is what I think is important in terms of understanding practice-as-research:

  • the activity is clear (or has become increasingly clear through doing)
  • the activity is regular
  • the activity is done and not simply imagined (this would apply to philosophical, conceptual or written practices as well)
  • how they might be articulated/shared/performed/treated is open (that is, the endpoint is not yet clear), but possibilities are emerging
  • there is a sense or understanding of my interest in relation to how others consider or have discussed/practiced the ideas and practice

As with sitting cross-legged in Zen meditation, this kind of experience doesn’t happen through intellection. It won’t happen, in fact, without you being there. You are either there or you aren’t. And if you aren’t all you have is ideas. Showing up makes the difference. You give yourself to the experience and see what happens. You see what changes.

– Kay Larson. 2013. Where the Heart Beats. Penguin Paperbacks, p.342

a question about writing

From one of you:

What do you mean by writing critically about our practice in a paragraph? Should we cover sets of questions, concerns or ideas? And by practice, are you referring to choreographic practice only? Or should we write a historical timeline of past and present conceptual engagements?

And my response:

By your ‘practice’ I mean what you are doing as part of DPaR (either continued from before the module, or something you’ve begun just this week). “Critical” would mean to reflect on it, to articulate things that ‘came up’ for you, or that seemed important. To perhaps discuss what you might do differently, or what you’d like to do next, or what opens up as a result of the work.

There are no hard and fast rules – just make a small effort to do some writing about your practice – just brief brief writing. In a way then the critical thinking/reflection can become part of your practice (if it wasn’t already).

Also, I’ve updated this page to indicate that you should email me the writing in the body of an email:

Husemann, Hay, process and practice

Just thinking a little bit about process and outcomes:

Their aim is not to repeatedly improve a work until it has reached its final state and to defend an unfinished work against possible critique. On the contrary, these projects call for thinking in different categories, which does not focus on the aesthetics of a full-length evening programme, but which considers the working process as an integral part or even as the essence of the performance.

— Pirkko Husemann, The Absent Presence of Artistic Working Processes. The Lecture as Format of Performance. Here it is instead: f14_husemann_engl

And these were Deborah Hay’s precise words:

what I am learning is that my choreography is 90 percent the practice

research and assumptions

I understand that processes of research (and indeed learning) are fundamentally tied to how we reflect on, recognise, and challenge our assumptions.

If others tell us something we make assumptions, and if they don’t tell us something we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know and to replace the need to communicate. Even if we hear something and we don’t understand we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions.

– Miguel Ruiz

I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.

— Abraham Maslow

definition of practice-as-research

This is a definition of practice-as-research that I wrote a while back (and that I posted in class on Monday). What makes sense to you? What is less certain? What have I missed? How might it be more clear?

Practice as research is a hybrid research method that artists (who are often — but not necessarily — working in Universities) use to develop understanding of the role and significance of their artistic practices. It places artistic work at the centre of research, during which artists examine their practice in relation to the work of other practitioners and philosophical and critical thinking. This balance — between deep internal reflection and engaging ‘outwardly’ with the world as artists and humans — is vital. Practice as research generates projects that challenge our assumptions about the nature of artistic processes and work. Its outcomes are often multi-modal including moving and still images, web-based formats, and alternative forms of writing.

— Simon Ellis

meg stuart on assumptions

I hate assumptions in choreographic practice. Around 2000 there was a schism among choreographers, in Europe anyway, of those performing ideas and of others working with dance and theater concerns. With this conceptual approach there seemed to be an assumption that to articulate one’s ideas, one had to adopt a neutral pedestrian behavior, reject theatricality, and even resist movement all together. I completely support the ongoing re-examination of the performative contract of dance-making, but at a certain moment I felt like screaming. A lot has happened since the ’60s and Judson Church. It must be possible to acknowledge this research. What about bodies in crisis? Bodies that are not in control? What about complex physical and emotional states? Is it possible to give these irrational bodies a platform to address contemporary issues while embracing a theatrical context? I created ALIBI (2001) with these questions in mind. Dance for me is not analytical or rational, and it doesn’t need to be, but that doesn’t mean it is simply intuitive or free flowing either.

– Meg Stuart

The entire conversation between Stuart and Catherine Sullivan is a treasure-trove of ideas about choreographic practice.

thinking more on assumptions

Just read this in Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything:

Yale law professor Dan Kahan, the lead author on this study, attributes the tight correlation between “worldview” and acceptance of climate science to “cultural cognition,” the process by which all of us—regardless of political leanings—filter new information in ways that will protect our “preferred vision of the good society.”

– Klein, Naomi. 2014. This Changes Everything. New York: Simon and Schuster. p.72

Perhaps it’s a stretch to go from climate change to practice-as-research[1], but it seems relevant to recognise that assumptions (and cognitive biases) run deep. We want to “protect” our vision of the world and profoundly human processes like confirmation bias demand we adopt a skeptical and perhaps even vigilant stance to our expectations, hopes, interests, desires and work as practitioners and choreographers.

[1] And I certainly don’t intend to trivialise the seriousness of the climate change problem.