Dance & writing at SoloDuo Festival NRW + friends 2022

I announced my workshop at this year’s SoloDuo Festival with the following text:

“Dance is ephemeral, scurries by, is difficult to convert into words and writing. Bodies turn, jump, fall, shake… what more could one say or write about movement? Together we will explore exercises from creative writing for the use of dance descriptions in production processes and as a linguistic, artistic approach to movement.”

I am interested in this, because I have been working as a dance critic and read critics about pieces in which I was part of the team. Since dance science is a rather new discipline and theory only started making its way into dance in the 1990s, it is still the exception that professionals from the field of dance write about it. Performances are often judged by critics, rather then it is tried to describe properly what is going on and what the bodies do. A critic is always only one member of the audience and still personal opinions about witnessed art are often being generalized. As part of a production team I find it always helpful to find as many ways as possible to talk about the things you produce, use language to describe, but also use poetry, language as an artistic tool to find other ways to address what it is, that is moving us.

We met on the second day of the festival in a studio at Barnes Crossing in Cologne, there were eight participants who joined the workshop. One of them was especially interested in the theme, because he has been writing dance critics himself. They all had tried exercises like the first one I did with them. It always makes me nervous to prepare something for SoloDuo, because I never know who will be there and in which stage of their professional career they are. The group this year really wanted to try out things, it was a very good atmosphere.

Here are the exercises we did after a short introduction round:

1st exercise:

5 nouns – write for 1 minute about each noun, without thinking, do not take the pen off the paper, write nonsense, make words up, but write!!! Nouns can be out of your projects, something that you are interested in, do not have to be about dance. Please write in your mother tongue.

One dancer told me afterwards that she had the noun “Ego” and wrote “Ako” (which means “I” in her mother tongue Filipino) for one minute.

2nd exercise:

Talk about movement. 10 minutes. One person moves, one talks. Describe what you see. Do it in your mother tongue. Try to find different ways to talk about the moving body you witness. Change your habits, find several approaches. What else?? What else??

Then change roles for another 10 minutes.

What I have seen witnessing them doing this exercise was, that most talking people decided to follow “their” moving body, they seldomly chose distance. The ones talking sometimes mirrored the ones moving, as if they needed to feel the movement themselves. They quickly grew together as teams of two, although they had not been working together before. They started to own the space – they used things that were there, opened a window, nearly climbed out of it, used their humor, started to play around together. It was fun to watch them.

After the exercise they reflected in teams of two. Then we had a last group talk and what they shared was: As a mover they somehow felt obliged to fulfill what was said about their movements. They thought it was interesting how the movement was influenced by the talking, or sometimes just words that you hear.

In the last reflection round I was asked, how I would continue from this exercise on? I think there are different options to work further after these exercises, it depends on the group. It would be interesting to listen to someone talking, so that only two people do the exercise, and the others listen and then the whole group can reflect on what has been said.

If one is interested in playing with language or sounds, then you could go on with this exercise:

3rd exercise:

Create words/ sounds to movement. One moves and one tries to make or write down sounds that fit to the movement. What does a turn or a jump sound like? Later you take the sounds that you have created, and you create movement to these sounds. The second part will be easier, if you write down immediately while watching the movement in the first part of the exercise, otherwise you will have to record your talking and write it down or use the recording to create new movement.  

Movement research – how to talk about movement

I met five participants of SoloDuo festival 2021 for an online workshop to talk about movement research. They had very different backgrounds and approaches, so we started talking about things that are importend to them, slightly connected to the theme. The question we started off with, was „What´s first, when you start creating?“

Let me introduce the participants:

Julia Monschau started dancing pretty late, she was a rollerskater before. She told us about her work #29828993 with Sherise Strang, for which she investigated on serial killers and found out a lot about the dark sides that live in each of us. Her research starts with knowledge, understanding and the connection of her own feelings and body to her theme. Her contribution to the festival was the piece “Pluto” [Choreography: Julia Monschau / dance: Asuka Julia Riedl & Julia Monschau].

Veruschka Bohn (V3) has a degree in film, she works a lot with performance, but also with media and images. She told us about her travels and how she got stuck in Taiwan due to Corona, and about the project „Code Act“, that she did with a bar chair. The chair was her partner, she took it with her everywhere she went. Material was created whereever she went with it, pictures were taken and she made films. In the festival she showed her work “L-DNA reflected” [Choreography & dance: Veruschka Bohn/ won the audience award for best solo].

Jason Martin also started dancing pretty late and has started to work as a choreographer in Canada. He shared questions and thoughts about working with dancers as a choreographer.He contributed his piece “Study nO.1/ Etude nO1.” to the festival [Choreography & dance: Jason Martin/ was awarded as best performer].

Etienne Sarti studied at Folkwang university in Germany and still lives here, he worked with several choreographers, for example VA Wölfl. He told us, that he often improvises and makes little choreographies for himself, but he doesn´t use a lot of the created material in pieces. He showed his piece ,,._‘:.!,.-^.?‘ (Komma, Punkt)“ in the festival [Choreography & dance: Etienne Sarti, Komposition: Kaspar Kuoppamaki und Clarissa Ray Porst/ was awarded as Newcomer – best Solo]

Anat Oz from Israel worked as a dancer in Kibbutz contemporary dance company and started choreographing pieces two years ago. She shared questions about sharing visions and ideas with dancers. Her contribution to the festival was the piece “Introtention Coda” [Choreography: Anat Oz / dance: Shani Licht & Anat Oz/ was awarded as Newcomer – best Duo].

Here are some insights in our further conversation, I put in some quotes I found relevant while writing it down:

When movement is created, we do not only look for physical abbilities, but for the quality of the movement. Julia said: „It´s about HOW you do things… how do you lift your arm?“ With which intention do you move? What is your thought behind the movement?

So the quality of movement is directly related to the thought you perform it with, but how it is read can still be arbitrary, because it can be a feeling the movement creates or something else that the choreographer/ creator is looking for, it is not necessarily something he/ she could express with words.

It may now be less figurative, less lucidly realistic. But it is still assumed that a work of art is its content. Or, as it’s usually put today, that a work of art by definition says something. (“What X is saying is…,”“What X is trying to say is…,” “What X said is…” etc., etc.) [Susan Sontag: „Against interpretation“]

„What is the artist trying to say?“ is an example for a question that does not lead anywhere. It is a wrong question. The artist did not want to say anything, he/ she could have talked, but instead he/ she made this piece of art. [Angeli Janhsen: „Kunst selbst sehen – ein Fragenbuch“]

We started talking about being a choreographer and working with dancers, trying to transfer your ideas into other heads, onto other bodies. Jason Martin told us, that it was a real eye opener for him when he stopped trying to force ideas onto dancers, but started listening to them and that his choreographic work has improved since he started to make space/ room for every individual in it.

„I always look for people that I get along but disagree with.“ (Jason Martin)

When he started choreographing he learned that things can be read in pieces that you did not intend to talk about, because art is open for various readings. He made a duett in which the female dancer was on her knees a lot, while the male dancer stood on his feet. Afterwards he got the feedback, that the work was misogynistic and that made him want to stop choreographing immediately.

The difficult thing is that art touches every theme and aspect of life and we have to constantly question and educate ourselves. This is how we get to know ourselves better and how our work grows up. In the beginning it is hard to feel free in your artistic expression and choices despite all the critic and all the comments you receive.

Anat Oz started working as a choreographer two years ago and is now starting to learn what her movement is and what kind of pieces she wants to create. Now she is struggeling with finding a language to communicate about her ideas. She always dances and shows a lot of material on her own body, but her dancers demand of her to talk and explain more. She is now struggeling to find a language to talk about the movement she creates and wants to put on stage. What is the idea of a movement? How to adress physical quality? A feeling that movement can create?

How choreographers and dancers communicate about movement is a very interesting field of research. A lot of choreographers have „their“ dancers and I think a big part of finding those is that they learned how to communicate with one another in different processes.

Interesting reasearch is being done by Bram Vreeswijk, who does artistic „conversation based research“ on dance: Talking about physical experiences is not easy. Physical experiences are partly unconscious and difficult to put in words. It seems that our language is much more suited for talking about goals, plans and objects outside our bodies, than about our own experiences, sensations and feelings. […] How can we create the conditions for articulating and sharing physical experiences? How to find the relevant words? Words that might be vague, poetic or metaphoric… How to build conditions of trust necessary to share information that is often intimate? How to create conversations in which the different ‘truths’ of different people are respected? How to deal with the physicality of talking (gestures, pace, posture etc.)?

[Bram Vreeswijk: „Let´s talk about dance“ on]