This collaborative project developed through a five-session workshop creation process. At the end of the five workshops we had an informal showing of the work. The piece involved eight individuals of varying backgrounds and ages and one non-performing collaborator. The oldest participant was in her fifties and the youngest was in her teens. Most of the participants came from a movement or performance background. I chose to situate myself outside of the work so that I could see it with an objective eye and support the development of the piece through outside direction. With the short timeline I felt my outside eye was vital.
Within the structure of the workshops I provided opportunities for participant reflection. Following movement exercises I frequently questions such as, “What did you observe?” and “What were your impressions of what we just did?” The reactions from participants guided the structure of the creation workshops.
This project was highly successful in that it was a stretch of my artistic practice and it will continue to influence the way that I work and the elements that I integrate into my work. Because of the community engaged nature of this work it led me to further consider and explore issues of power and privilege and connect to the possible interpretations of the work by the participants and the audience.
I had not previously taken on collaborative work to this extent. Collaboration has always come into my practice as a choreographer in developing partnering sections and in creating movement that works for the dancers. In this project my role was different and I did not incorporate any of my own movement but instead served as a director and outside eye focused on the structure of the work.
In order to build this piece I utilized and built on many of Liz Lerman’s tools for creating collaborative work. I worked heavily with Lerman’s prompts to create movement from words that held meaning for individuals. We used the prompts “I come from” (Developed by Lerman), “My body” and “I am”. Participants were asked to free write using these prompts on various occasions and then were asked to develop movement. The movement was then paired down or further developed by participants in small groups. I found Lerman’s tools accessible and user-friendly. Translating words to movement seemed to help newer movers create phrases and participants commented on the usefulness of these prompts a number of times in follow up interviews.
Initially, I had hoped to use the prompt work to strengthen the group and develop a short section of the piece that would tell the story of who each individual is outside of her relationship to health and illness. Because of limited time, the piece ended up being heavily built around these prompts.
To support the original intention of the piece (a focus on health and loss of health), I incorporated individual participant stories through sound recording, text, and movement. Oral history practices informed the ways in which I supported participants in telling their stories. I then recorded the stories related to health with three of the participants and edited them down to 45 second sound clips from which the participants created solo work. Initially I had hoped to record sound clips with each of the participants and develop solos, duets, and trios based on those clips and stories. In this project time ran short so I picked three participants to do this with.
In the future when developing collaborative work, I plan to experiment with Open Space Technology and other focused small group activities in order to determine what is most important about a theme or topic to the participants and to develop movement phrases based on this work. If we had started this piece more firmly grounded in what brought individuals to want to participate in it and what was important to them about health or illness, then the piece might have looked quite different and participants might have felt more connected to it and to its intention.
Integrating sound and voice was new for me and I tried my hand at sound editing for the first time in making the sound score for this piece. In retrospect, I realize that creating the sound score myself and editing three interviews into sound clips for solos gave me more of a role in the meaning an arc of the work as a whole. Because one of the questions I asked the interviewees was related to health insurance, a portion of each of the solos was then about health insurance which made that topic have stronger positioning within the work as a whole. While this was one of the directions I had hoped the work would go, I didn’t make that as clear to the participants as I might have in describing my intention for the piece.
Collaboration presents challenges as individuals have very different definitions of what collaborative work means. It can be challenging to find the ‘right amount’ of collaboration. In follow up interviews that I conducted with participants regarding their experiences with this piece I found that some wanted more control over the work and the process of creation and some wanted less control.
In order to make this piece successful for each individual involved in a short period of time, I had to find middle ground where people new to movement, movers, and other experienced performers could create something together. In so doing, some people were left wanting more or feeling disconnected to the work in its final form. Overall, I wish I had more time and more consistent participants. Commitment on the part of the participants was a big problem in this work.
Because this was a community engaged collaborative process, I felt it necessary to leave the door open to people coming and going as they needed to. In general, I don’t work this way. I usually ask for a solid commitment from participants and if they aren’t able to do that than they are asked to step out of the piece. Because this process was so time sensitive and different from my usual way of making work, I did not ask anyone to step out of the process.
I feel that the result of continuing the project with an inconsistent group of people was that the group didn’t ‘gel’ as well as it could have and the collaboration and outcome of the work did not go as deep as I had hoped which can be seen in the informal showing of the work. Some of the ‘meat’ is missing. There was a level of creation and exploration related to health and illness that I had planned and wanted to include but the reality of this project didn’t allow for that level of exploration.
Much of the time in workshops was spent remembering and teaching what had happened the week before rather than digging deeper. I felt that lack of depth was a shortcoming of this project that only time would have remedied. In addition to wanting more time, I would spend the first weeks of the process on group work, finding ways to support the group in gelling, talking about what is important about the topic to each of the individuals involved, and developing the piece more slowly.
The informal showing of this piece was an important part of this process. The showing was the first time that all the participants were there (minus one who had to step out two weeks before the showing due to personal reasons) and it was the first time the work was done in its entirety. Some of the participants commented that this was the first time they felt fully connected to the work. The other important piece of the informal showing was that it allowed for outside feedback and allowed for the participants to interact with the audience. The participant-audience interaction provided the opportunity for participants to feel more ownership over the work, as they were able to ask questions of the audience.
In the audience question and answer session I was pleasantly surprised to discover the depth of audience questions, feedback, and interpretations. I also appreciated the questions that participants asked the audience. I firmly believe that question and answer sessions help everyone connected to the work (as participant or viewer) further process and develop his or her own interpretations and it helps the work take on a life of its own. The feedback process also helps me to see where the work met its intention and where it fell short.
Moving forward, this work already has a second phase. My main collaborator and I plan to do a series of movement workshops in nursing/respite homes. I will conduct oral history interviews with the workshop participants and the interviews and movement developed by the workshop participants will then support the development of choreography and a full-length piece. The work will be further developed and performed by a small group of dancers. Some of the movement and sound from the first phase of the project will carry into the next phase of the work but we will take more time to build on it and develop it. This segment of the process will move slowly with the development of the work centering on what happens in the creative movement workshops and individual stories that we gather from this process.