How did emerging choreographers create work in the age before residencies? Actually, let us rephrase that – how do most emerging choreographers continue to create work? If they are lucky, they can bar their families from the living room and push the furniture to the walls. Perhaps even balance a shred of mirror against one wall. Maybe there’s a terrace that’s not overrun by the junk that doesn’t fit inside the house. Or they find a patch of the building garden, and try to work unobserved. Perhaps, there is an opportunity to go away and find inspiration on a farm. And if they are extremely fortunate, they have access to a studio space, either lent by considerate friends or an arrangement that is bleeding them dry.
Let us, in the interest of furthering this argument, concur that there is space, however unsuitable, negligible or expensive it may be. What’s next? Does the choreographer need a collaborator – a dramaturg, a set designer, dance production support, a composer? An opportunity to perform? Or perhaps, no pressure to perform, only three meals a day and the space and time to think?
Contemporary dance residencies, to a certain extent, were formulated to address these concerns. As formal structures that facilitate dance-making, they are a recent phenomenon. In the subcontinent, most often, they are organised by groups of artists who have felt the absence of such spaces in their own practice. Over a short period of time, they offer the maker rehearsal space, mentoring, design inputs, production support (and budgets) and sometimes a small stipend and accommodation. They could culminate in a work-in-progress showcase or in premieres of full-grown performance.
After a residency, the choreographer could continue working on a piece, should they find the means to do so, try to perform it in its present form, or bury it. A piece of dance created at a residency is going to be influenced by the support, or conversely, tensions that emerge from making work in a facilitated environment. In our time at the Writing on Dance Lab, we have touched on some of these factors, without always finding clear answers to our questions. How can a mentor support a fledgling choreographer, for instance? Should they step in and direct the work from the wings, or let the choreographer notch up a few bruises in trying things out? More importantly, whose aesthetic should the work reflect? Is it the aesthetic that organisers and mentors think the work should reflect, or is it an aesthetic that the choreographer squarely and comfortably inhabits, even if it is not on the same plane as the former?
Why aren’t there residencies that do not expect artists to show a finished product? Perhaps it is because dance-makers, organisations and funding agencies are all implicated in an ecosystem that expects visible results. And public performance is that deliverable. Whether you call it a work-in-progress showcase or a mega performance, the hierarchy of the viewer-performer relationship is hard to ignore in a public or semi-public presentation or sharing, regardless of its scale.
We must consider what we could do to pave the way for research-based residencies that give the artist time and resources to think, but without the looming fear of a final presentation. However, one finds it important to continue engaging with the artist through that period. Not to cater to funding goals, but to visibilise an extremely valuable facet of creation – the process. This article is an invitation to devise new formats that allow emerging choreographers to engage with an audience, beyond performance as we know it.
To stretch the imagination a little further, let’s think beyond residencies. How can choreographers simulate a supportive and facilitated environment that allows them to research, make and show work? I believe that the answers are to be found within the dance community.
Ligament, the online dance journal, has been launched to reflect the keen rise in the interest to contextualise, reflect and voice the goings-on around contemporary dance practices in the South Asian region. It has been envisioned as an avenue that is aimed at prompting and encouraging a sustained engagement between contemporary dance practitioners, thinkers, writers, artistic practitioners from other mediums, stakeholders and the wider public. Over the past editions of the Attakkalari Dance Biennial, there has been a continuous effort to create a space for writing on dance; and with this squarely in mind, Ligament has been conceived as a platform to facilitate the much-needed articulation and thinking through this evolving language. We hope to accomplish this by looking at this artistic practice through the perspective of historical threads that helped shape, through practice and creation of work, which is adding and solidifying the ever-changing lexicon and its presentation, or even through research and scholarship. The endeavour is to make this an open, creative and vibrant forum that invites ideas, contributions and suggestions allowing for the collective development of this artistic practice in the South Asian context; as well as mapping its links and impacts on contemporary dance as a whole. On one hand, it is about looking at contemporary dance as a growing repository of our present realities and on the other hand delving into our rich heritage of physical and performative traditions in an attempt to seek continuum and elucidate the now. In an attempt to ravel the medium of contemporary dance, We aren’t simply interested in text as a mode of expressing, reading, examining and looking at contemporary dance but to reflect the dynamic and interactive nature of the movement arts, we are also looking towards image, sound and video and the practitioners of these mediums to create and catalyse conversations. We hope that dialogue and discourse enabled through Ligament opens various entry points into the ongoing shifts in contemporary dance for its lovers, practitioners, enablers and its future.
- Jayachandran Palazhy
Artistic Director, Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts