Dance practices = social practices.

The following writing is based on an ethnographic reflection and goes through my development first as a dance student, then as a professional dancer and finally in my university training as a dance educator. It is worth mentioning that to articulate such a discourse I have as a central axis the Didactic-Democratic framework model of Jo Butterworth where she classifies 5 levels, being the first level the most didactic, up to the fifth as the most democratic. Within such a model we can find specificities attributed to the role of the choreographer and the dancers, as well as skills derived from such interaction, but in this reflection I seek to go a little further, when in the development of this model Butterworth contemplates social interactions, teaching models and approaches to learning; It is through the use of two concepts, such as the microphysics1 and the subjectivation of2 individuals that Michel Foucault proposes in his studies on power relations which help me to understand the interactions that I have experienced through this brief timeline in the cited dance practices.

Background.

During my training at the Colegio Nacional de Danza Contemporánea3, I learned during the dance class that my main task was to memorize the exercises, I remember well, that in class the teacher said “this is a regular sequence of the Graham technique” and therefore in order to pass the students we had to be able to memorize it and execute it correctly. There was no option to get out of these movement patterns or propose any adaptation without the teacher’s supervision, and in the institution when there was a creative space, all my classmates reproduced such learned patterns without contributing something of their own.

Currently I observe how the classroom reproduced at microphysical levels the logics and policies in which the institution was regulated, its methods of transmission were completely through direct instruction, and a didactic model to follow; since one of its main bases was to develop everything around the mastery of technique as an indoctrination proper to modern dance.

When I started working professionally in the first Independent Ballet Company1, it was based on the repertoire of the founding choreographer, the methodologies were to copy and memorize patterns made by others. It was taken for granted that it was our duty as dancers to be trained to be able to do everything that was demanded of us, we had no opportunity to give our opinion or collaborate in the creative process, because everything was said by the répétiteur2 who had the legality and authority of the director.

I remember that the logic of the company instrumentalized our bodies, our subjectivities were only important if we were capable of representing some particular character, otherwise there was a great organizational division at the technical, artistic and hierarchical levels among all the members of the company.

This led me to work in a second and final dance company called La Cebra Danza Gay3, the system was the same, a repertoire in which the current director was also a choreographer who dictated absolutely everything. I remember commenting on the work of other choreographic colleagues and saying: “There are no choreographers these days, choreographers use dancers to do their work for them“. The infrastructure was very hierarchical and pyramidal in which I gradually climbed but in which any hint of subjectivity was censored.

Instruction vs. Education.

Now, from a distance, I understand how that system, in which I was trained and in which I professionally developed, worked. It is here that I relate Butterworth’s studio to the activity where the teachers-choreographers-directors are the experts and the student-dancers are the instruments. Butterworth tries to be benevolent in defining this type of creative interaction as a Didactic Process, but in reality I have experienced it on many occasions almost as an Indoctrination Process, touching on levels of fascism and authoritarianism when it is executed. I don’t remember any interaction between the experts and the instruments, no matter how we felt, no matter what we thought. Communication was almost non-existent, based solely on musicality, memorization and perfection of body coding. Our subjectivity was not being fed. Then, when I decide to practice the choreography, I begin to be aware of the didactic strategies employed, which had been learned from the previous experts. I studied all the material and was very strict about the faithful copy of the model, I set goals about the amount of dance and not quality in the creation process. When everything was going well it was because I had obtained what I wanted, when it was not, it was because the performance of the dancers was low or because, according to me, they did not understand me. Obviously this didactic model was easily consumed and I was aware when a piece had been repertoire of two companies and after replacing the piece with different casts I noticed that this process did not lead to anything, only to repetition.

At what point did this didactic interaction invade everything that is involved in training and working as a dancer? Was I brought up to be subordinate or subordinate?

These questions return when I find myself in a highly codified dance class (Ballet, Flamenco, Graham) where the same coding demands a high degree of discipline of the dancer’s body, and that this effort is only recognized under the approval of the expert.

So are we educating or instructing in dance practice?

The hegemony of coding.

In my current training, a partner in the speciality of choreography at the Institut del Teatre, asked me to work on her project La Doble Hélice. This project was a duet, she as a choreographer and we had Aimar Pérez Galí as a mentor. The interaction that happened was more towards the pilot-taxpayer interaction, which is what Butterworth situates in Process 3, and which I interpret as a midway point between the didactic and the democratic.

Within this process my artistic experience in contrast to Batet’s experience in urban dance allowed a more horizontal interaction between us and with Pérez Galí. The communication between us in the rehearsals was more intimate about what worked and what didn’t, even going so far as to propose certain didactic strategies so that Batet could manipulate the material we worked with, which resulted in a complex and interesting piece. Batet herself worked on what I proposed and during the trials we tested and communicated what was happening, but in the end we were subject to the reproduction of precise and coded material with little margin of freedom. In this period of time, I already had post-modern composition tools, with which we shared a common language, so by contributing to didactic solutions, she could make the translation to the material on which she was researching. Much of the choreographed material was not discarded, on the contrary it served to give it a complexity about repetition, decostruction and movement variation.

Les Empiricxs: betting on democracy.

Hence, my last choreographic experience, which I consider to be one of the most beautiful and interesting in a personal way, is the work developed with Les Empiricxs by a group of colleagues from the Insitut del Teatre. The group coincided in the class called “Repertory Practice”, which is part of the training program of that institution. The meeting could not have taken place without Juan Carlos Lérida as a teacher of the subject, where what drove all the time was a critical thought towards what was being done.

This thought was articulated during the development of the course in a horizontal way, him as a choreographer and us as dancers, according to Butterworth this experience is within Process 4 where Lérida was a facilitator and the students were creators. Thanks to the fact that the choreographic material that was worked on did not have a coded movement pattern, but rather a series of detonators that configured the piece. Lérida’s work is in the abstract based on the geometric, the rhythmic and the spatial beyond aesthetic formalism. The environment within this microphysical state was what Google Maps classifies as an exceptional space, since on the one hand he fulfilled his objectives of knowledge transmission and we had the freedom to deepen our process of subjectivization.

This led to a personal concern to continue with what had happened in the study and take it out. Therefore I called Les Empiricxs to continue this work, but from the collective form. This way of working had a quite interesting derivation that managed to materialize by means of a project that we titled Saca el cuerpo a pasear, the project is based on the deconstruction of the movement patterns of the flamenco repertoire. But beyond the choreographic material, what I find interesting is the interaction that developed between us, it is what Butterworth would call the Democratic Process.

Our way of working in an empirical way does not contemplate any author-director-choreographer since we all debate and discuss what happens. During the months of June and July 2019 we carried out a couple of artistic residencies in the city of Barcelona, where we tested how to organize a work system in which no one is an expert, no one is an instrument. The communication that we develop is totally open during the sessions and with a great respect for the work of each one, there is a listening to the proposals which are put into action and we allow them to change, there is a consensus.

As the initiator of the project, I push for feedback with material, criticism and analysis, because I am interested in this kind of collective and democratic interactions where what I can observe is the implication of a degree of maturity in the work and a great commitment when working. The result is a project that makes us happy to carry it out, we do not feel it as work and every opportunity to do it we can express great admiration for each one of us.

After reflection, I wish to think that teaching and creation are not divided; rather I contemplate them as practices that happen in dance, social practices with artistic purposes. When recovering this series of experiences, it is remarkable the importance in the intention with which the dancers, choreographers and teachers wish to use the choreography; as well as when they make the selection of the material to transmit; either highly codified or abstract. This will impact on the use of different creative and didactic processes, defining the framework of rights and freedoms for all participants.

Reading Butterworth, offers us a wide range of processes in which we can currently move, our duty as dance educators is to be able to give a good use of each of them, either in its defined or mixed form. Combining the levels depending on the moment in which our practice is; Butterworth although it gives us the opportunity to know what type of level is the most adequate to our objectives and material; it allows us above all, to contemplate the students and our dance practice partners with the pertinence of experiencing them all and letting the individuals decide in which of them they feel more rewarded in their work.

1The term microphysics will indicate the capillary reach that power relations acquire in the social field and, therefore, the daily struggles, those that challenge and answer, for example, the forms of love, the way in which sexuality is repressed or the prohibition of abortion, are explicitly political (Foucault, 1973: 428).

2The term “subjectivation” designates in Foucault a process by which the constitution of a subject is obtained or, to be more exact, of a subjectivity.

3It is an institution that emerged as a result of the artistic and teaching experience of the Ballet Nacional de México, founded in 1948 by Maestra Guillermina Bravo, who at the head of this company undertook an intense creative activity, for more than 65 years, which produced the birth and development of Mexican contemporary dance. Since the College was established, it has worked under the Graham technique, and is to this day the only school specializing in this technique.

1Dance company founded in 1966 by Raúl Flores Canelo and concluded in 2017. The experience has given the company a name and style of its own, wide acceptance and great recognition from the public and specialized critics. It had the objective of offering a dance in promoting the experimental work of contemporary dance in the technical and conceptual aspects with the purpose of conserving the roots that unite it to the historical and artistic reality of Mexico.

2The repeater is authorized to teach and rehearse a choreography when the choreographer is absent. Occasionally, the repeater is invited to teach or rehearse in a company on behalf of or instead of the choreographer, if the repeater is unavailable or has died.

3La Cebra Danza Gay is a dance troupe founded in 1996 by José Rivera Moya in Mexico City. It is the first in Mexico to focus nearly exclusively on gay community and the issues it faces.

Bibliography.

  • Butterworth, j. (2018). Too many things to cook?. A framework for dance making and devising. In: J. Butterworth and L. Wildschut (eds.), Contemporary choreography: a critical reader., 2nd ed. New York, NY.: Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, Routledge., pp.177-194.
  • Foucault, M. (1988). Les techniques de soi. In Daniel Defert & François Ewald (Eds.), Says and writings, Vol. Paris: Gallimard, 1994., pp. 783-813.

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