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AEP Artists' Conversations on tour

This year the AEP is growing, seeing regional collaborations developing with DanceEast and Yorkshire Dance, and new connections with Pavilion Dance South West, and BEEE Creative Dance Re:Ignite Programme in Hertfordshire.

Around the country the AEP is brining you Artists’ Conversations - a chance to engage with like minded artists, interrogate your values and beliefs, establish peer mentoring and support systems, and talk about the things on your mind that are challenging you in your work / life balance.

Join the Conversation!

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playful creativity

Skills Exchange Day 3

Breaking habits, evolving creative thinking

Jo Rhodes

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Jo has been an independent dance artist for fifteen years and is passionate about creativity, dance, health, education and partnership working. She has received funding to create and tour issue based work, been commissioned by various youth dance companies and produced a dance and health film project screened nationally and internationally. Jo has developed bespoke training for teachers in school settings, in addition to facilitating and devising professional development courses across the UK, for both specialist and non-specialist practitioners. These include at the Royal Ballet School for Young Creatives (Youth Dance England) and for The Place. She has authored national publications, such as ‘Commissioning Dance for Health and Well-Being’ and spoken at multi-sector conferences about dance as a vehicle for learning. Currently Jo teaches for Children and Youth Dance and the adult programme at The Place, for Siobhan Davies Dance (primary programme), and is an Animateur for Essential Alston. Jo is supported by Dance Enterprise Ideas Fund and Arts Council England in directing a collaborative dance and film project (co-produced by East London Dance), that puts young people at the heart of healthy messages.

To warm-up on day three, Jo shared a number of tasks which demonstrated her thinking around how we might foster creativity in choreography in a playful way whilst connecting things we already know and solving problems.

We explored multiple tasks that encourage listening, observing and responding to a partner by offering a number of choices in improvisation and through game play.

Initially we explored the simple instruction initiated by the words ‘Beside, Beneath, Between, Beyond’. We extended our choices further by layering the conversation with more voices, differing textures and tones of voice, a change in the rate and pace of the conversation and considering deliberate choices to use or not use contact. We discussed playing with the extremes of whole body action and small gestural movement, as well as literal and more abstract material.

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Secondly, we developed this into static contact work making shapes in pairs, thinking about the offering of contact from different body parts, and whether it was weight bearing or not. By playing the game and trying out multiple possible ways of creating contact, we naturally changed from known contact to unknown and less habitual material. Pairs were tasked with choosing to ‘stick’ or ‘twist’ with their shape in limited time constraints; asking each other – ‘What Else?’

Stages of layering in this task:

The space in between the shapes - fill the transitions by considering why the shape changes. What initiates the change - asking collaborators to consider afterwards if the duet felt different now? Did it lend itself to a semi-narrative - supportive, hostile, comical, hold tension, reciprocal etc.

Define the focus - make deliberate choices as to where the gaze is directed. What does this add, change, bring to the table?

In order to disrupt the predictability of the duet, pairs were to set the pace of the duet. Joining another pair, they had to respond to a simple stop and go command. In this way the rate of the duet was manipulated in ways that were not natural or anticipated.

the role of the artist

Skills Exchange Day 1

Holding the space

Danielle Teale

Danielle Teale is the initiator of the Artists' Exchange Programme.

To begin the Skills' Exchange, I delivered a workshop which illuminated some of the concepts and thoughts that have led to this week. Most importantly, to highlight the different roles that are held by the artist in a creative situation, and how and why these roles are important.

By taking away the leadership figure, I set up a workshop environment in which boundaryless play could evolve, and the dancers were free to interpret their environment as they choose. The resources, the space, the music, the text based instructions and the other bodys in the space were available as markers to hold the space and provide inspiration but fundamentally the creative interpretation of the dancers was unstructured and unguided.

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The workshop generated conversations with the following threads:

  • The impact of the resources we draw on - the sense of choice and freedom with lots of options, versus the feeling of being lost in endless possibility and the overstimulation of choice leading to an obsession with finding order
  • The use of the voice or lack of voice, the tone of voice and sound, as well as the actual language we use, all have an impact on the way instruction is received
  • How we set up the space - not just setting up the tasks and content of the session, but the work that goes on before we enter the room, and the positioning of ourselves in the space, determines how we represent ourselves in the process and our position of power as a leader
  • The value of unstructured play as a way to overcome the need for outcome focused work
  • The value of structure as a way to consolidate learning 

The closing thoughts of the group were centred around the notion of holding the space. 'Letting the party happen' involves us as artists 'hosting' the space, reading what is happening, making choices based on what is working, and choosing where to go next. This involves a combination of structured safety and unstructured freedom which can be easily interchangeable.

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Where it started...

As I excitedly prepare for the first day of the AEP Skills Exchange beginning tomorrow, I thought I would kick off by sharing the journey that I have been which led me to develop this programme.

Starting with my practice as a community dance artist and continuing with my academic research in community practice, I've always been interested in how we discover and foster equality and co-ownership in dance settings. Through an inquiry drawing on evidence from multiple community dance contexts from integrated projects to older people dancing, to youth dance and dance in hospitals, I summarised that it is in an artistic setting rather than a pedagogic one; in a relationship of artists and dancers, rather than participants and teachers; that co-ownership of dancing experience is possible.

However, this theory was only the start of my continued interest in co-ownership as I finished my MA but continually found myself considering the notion of artists and dancers, and how it is that some dance artists situate themselves in the role of artist, and others find it difficult to envisage themselves with that title. If so many dance artists working in community dance have not had the opportunity to position themselves in their own minds as artists, and instead are working with pedagogic frameworks and principles but without a creative vision or message, the experience for the dancers they work with is less likely to reach a place of equality and co-ownership, which are concepts at the heart of community dance.

And so, the Artists' Exchange Programme began informally with Artists' Conversations. I spoke one-to-one with a handful of dance artists whose practice sits in the valley between two mountains - community and choreography. Two things that are indistinguishable in my opinion, but which seem to be becoming further and further removed. These artists believe that their work emerges from a close connection with the community dancers they engage with, but firmly delivers an artistic vision or intention that is their own. I was keen to discover what the artists shared, what they had in common - whether it be their values, practices or challenges - and what I found was that it was all three. These artists had a common belief in people, play, joy and communication; they had all considered the multi-faceted roles they hold as directors, choreographers, mentors and teachers; they were all feeling the challenge of building resilience, expressing their value as individuals, and positioning their work in an industry with existing hierarchic structures that they all aspire to break down...

What I began to understand was that the things that all these artists shared were vital to the success of their work. Their ability to create true co-ownership and foster equality in their work, stemmed from their artistic vision, their ability to communicate it, and their belief that all people could access it. The AEP Skills' Exchange this week brings together artists with this vision, experience and with something to say, so that they can share in the values, beliefs and ambitions of one another, and understand the power of the collective when you have a message to deliver. As part of the week's exploration, they will contribute to a body of knowledge that Danielle Teale Dance will take forward to develop the AEP Professional Development workshops, enabling further community dance artists to access peer learning and tailored support to develop their artistic practice. This further development of the AEP workshops is supported by Yorkshire Dance, DanceEast and Theatre Bristol, in order to bring tailored professional development to regional artists.

Please follow the content on the Artists' Conversations Blog to find out what we are sharing, discussing and exploring throughout this week.