Analysing research conversations
For the performers, the film clips sparked reflection and conversation around what is involved in multi-focus events. The performers expressed that the improvisations were exciting and contained varied and good meetings between themselves and the children. They highlighted the concentrated attention activated as improvising artists, preferring to use the terms multi-listening and in-depth attention rather than the term multi-focus, which they associated more with superficial and unconcentrated attention. Instead, they placed emphasis on the balance between multi listening and a deeply centred focus on their own actions, whether prepared and the spontaneously improvised. This suggests a necessity to listen simultaneously to themselves and to the totality of everything in the room. Both the dancers and the musician represented central focal points for the audience in the production. The performers also described their own experiences as deeply focused, even though many things were happening at the same time. The dancer, who moved around freely in the installation room, had a sense of moving in and out of her own focus. She said:
In the beginning, when I’m standing and turning around on my own, I gather quite a lot of information from the room and from what happens when the children come in. I get a feel for how they are […] I notice several different things that are happening but nevertheless I choose to focus on the one thing or the other […] I have an overview of what’s going on in the room but I have a strong focus on what I’m doing. There and then I could not tell you everything that happened along the way. Absolutely not.
(The quotes are taken from a research interview with Tone Pernille Østern and Tor Haugerud in October 2011.)
The room and the installation also provide impulses for the dancer. She can, for instance, suddenly break off a sequence in order to fill up an empty space in the installation. This action is a physically and spatially intuitive impulse, which creates balance and dynamic movement in the whole performance space. The musician functions more as a fixed part of the installation, surrounded by his drums and percussion instruments. From his perspective, he experiences a type of overview and says:
I have a very clear focus on two things: primarily on what I am doing and what the dancers are doing. And then I have a kind of supplementary focus on everything that is going on with the kids and the rest of the public. If I am to manage to create something with artistic content, it is a good thing to have a focus on what she [the dancer] is doing: that is the best impulse for me.
He experiences his contribution to the whole as a sort of counterbalance: as someone who can gather the threads together. The musician shapes a rhythm, and in collaboration with the dancers he creates strong and explicit figures in the room. He can also relax and make room for other impulses; allowing other events to have full focus. He can choose to keep his focus on the dancer, both giving and receiving impulses, or switch focus to the actions of a group of children, to whom he may musically respond. In one video clip we can see some children who are standing and swaying to the rhythms. The swaying rhythm can be caught up and reinforced by the musician, but he can also shape the activity by increasing or decreasing the tempo.
All performers are able to control the audience’s focus in the room with the help of sounds and actions. They assume a loaded bodily mode; they put out feelers in all directions and have an intense sense of presence. The dance is characterised and led by impulses given in the room: the rhythm, the children, and the objects. During performances that develop in a chaotic direction the performers make use of various strategies:
a) Selecting. They select a cross-section (personal focus) of what is happening: a child, a group of children, or each other (dancer, musician) and hold their focus there.
b) Listening. They direct their focus inwards towards the artistic expression itself and maintain a focused attention towards their own work (personal focus).
c) Giving. They intervene in the situation and provide some clear impulses that gather attention, creating a common focus.
Both the dancer and the musician express a dramaturgic awareness when they consciously and in collaboration direct a series of events. This often begins cautiously with the children and develops during the course of the performance towards a number of different energetic breaks or high-points. A physical sense of space, time, rhythm, tempo, and repetition plays a leading role during the improvisation. The improvisational artists have trained their intuitive sense of dramaturgy and develop an improvised physical narrative or composition for the scene. As this becomes the performers’ focal point, so too does it also capture the children’s awareness. Mastering this form of artistic improvisation requires skill, awareness, and a great aesthetic sensibility.
This performative knowledge can be appreciated both artistically and theoretically, and does not preclude interpretative and instrumental research perspectives. I believe, rather, that this performative knowledge paradigm opens up new artistic knowledge.