The Red Shoes Project


The author addresses various approaches to artistic research on the basis of her own artistic research project, The Red Shoes Project (2008-14), which consists of three closely related theatre performances for young children (0-3 years). The project was concerned with the development of dance theatre for the youngest children, in which opportunity was given for the children to participate actively and bodily in the performances.

As a PhD project The Red Shoes Project (Hovik, 2014) explored the theatre event through three different art settings, following theories on performative aesthetics and methods and research design from the field of artistic research. The Red Shoes [De Røde Skoene] (2008) was a dance theatre performance for 1-year olds, Red Shoe Missing [Rød Sko Savnet] (2011) was an art installation, and Mum´s Dancing [Mamma Danser] (2011) was an improvised dance concert, both for 0-3 year-olds. All of these productions had red shoes as a connecting theme and playful artistic material. The research methodology changes during the 6 years of artistic research and theoretical studies. Henk Borgdorff’s division into an interpretative, an instrumental and a performative research perspective (Borgdorff, 2012) provides a comprehensive theory for the development of this research process. These research perspectives together are helpful methodologies in the artistic process of creating art for the very young, and the artworks demonstrates the possibility of creating common artistic experiences between performers and children, in which both can take part in reciprocal interaction and improvisation.

This presentation aims to give a summary of the artistic research process as a whole, leaving out the more theoretical discussions from the PhD thesis. As the initial research questions from 2008 seems outdated today (there are a multitude of interactive performances for babies in 2017), it will focus on the progress of the practical aspects of the artistic research, and open some internal reflections on the research questions along the way. The shifts in methodological perspectives will be highlighted as it seems this still can be fruitful in further artistic research on the topic.

Phase 1: The Red Shoes

The Red Shoes Project was designed as an artistic and theoretical examination of children’s theatre as a playground and connecting space between relational art and drama-based pedagogy within the field of performative aesthetics. Erika Fisher-Lichte´s theories on co-presence and feedback-loop (Fischer-Lichte, 2008) between the actors and the audience, was my theoretical starting point. I developed an understanding of the “musical communication” (Bjørkvold, 2007, Hovik 2011c, Trevarthen & Malloch, 2009) that arises in the mutual exchange of sensory impulses between the artists and the children.  The term musical is used in the sense of the Greek notion of the fine arts (dance, music, song)

My first research question was:

What happens when we invite small children (1-2 year-olds) to freely participate on stage during the performance? How can performative aesthetics inform this kind of art practice?

The Red Shoes production, created and presented by Teater Fot, in which I was the artistic director, formed the empirical basis for an investigation of interaction and improvisation in children’s theatre.  The non-verbal performance, which lasted for approximately 45 minutes, also included a session of free playing with a collection of red shoes. The play itself was based on Hans Christian Andersen´s fairy tale and explored the movement from bare feet to dancing with red shoes (from nature to culture). The red shoes made the dancers move and dance, and the children were invited to participate whenever they wanted to.

The most exciting part of the project [The Red Shoes] is the way the performance welcomes participation without coercing its audience. Babies feel a freedom to explore the space and the action rather than being accused of ‘stage invasion’; equally, they are perfectly welcome to sit and enjoy the audio-visual elements of the performance if they wish. This is both refreshing and remarkable.

(Fletcher-Watson, 25.09.13)

A presentation of The Red Shoes can be watched in the window at the right. 


The performances were thoroughly documented in split screen, allover views and in details. Through films, logs and interviews the research applied a phenomenological hermeneutic approach. By analysing data from the film files and the research conversations with the artists, I was able to categorize different modes of interaction between children and artists.  Stated briefly, our experiences from the production process might suggest that many children enjoy and have a need to interact bodily with the performers and in the room. In this regard the performance succeeded. On the other hand, the theatrical conventions of precisely repeating the event day by day would restrict the opportunities of the artists for free expression. The artistic need for precision in their scenic work, timing in choreography and progression in dramaturgy, works against the open and improvised expression. The long touring period with approximately 120 performances from 2008 to 2010 led the production to develop away from an improvisatory framework into a more prescribed and precise form. As the performers became more secure and more precise during this process, they also increased their awareness of the children, including both those children who chose to remain seated as quiet spectators and those who chose to participate in on-stage dance, music or play. The production thus found a form that worked well in relation to both children and adults at the same time as providing sufficient flexibility for improvised events.

Nevertheless, the project had in a sense departed from its original artistic concept in which improvisation was the mainstay, in favour of a fixed plan. The open, listening communication between the artists was also partly overshadowed by the social interaction of the children with each other on stage. It was artistically interesting to observe the drummer interact with the small, responsive participants at the same time as maintaining contact with the dancers and driving the intensity on the stage. On the other hand it was not altogether as artistically interesting (while perhaps entertaining) to see how he, almost unobserved, prevented small and over-enthusiastic participants from taking over the drum kit. In research conversation with the performers it became obvious that the improvisations had been directed more towards the interaction with the children and less towards interaction with each other. Improvisation had developed from artistic interaction to a more problem-solving function, rising new questions: To what extent was this development desirable, or serving the performance? How could the performers better maintain the art of improvisation within this type of interactive and improvised performance, and how could it be achieved?

It seemed necessary to search for a form that enabled active participation from the audience at the same time as maintaining the structural sensitivity of the performers, both in relation to each other and to their own artistic expressions. In this research phase, my intentions as artist researcher about an open and listening interaction with the children were put to the test. 

Phase 3: Mum´s Dancing

The last version, Mum´s Dancing [Mamma Danser], which I would like to describe as an improvised dance concert, was dramaturgically shaped through experiences with moving the installation into different spaces. In collaboration with a big church festival in Trondheim, Olavsfestdagene, we got an invitation to perform in the Nidaros cathedral and later in the big church Bergstadens Ziir in Røros – each of which in different ways provided new and overwhelming frameworks for the improvisations. The formal, restrained, tradition-bound and religious framing was a great contrast to the free, improvisational and loosely structured performance. The church is in itself a contradiction to the multi-focused event. The central altar, pulpit or crucifix invites the audience to this specific focus, questioning the art experiment on the function of art in itself, and the meaning of context. The feeling that the open form was not strong enough for this strict room called for strengthening some formal elements in the improvised performance. Our experiences in the religious rooms also reinforced my attention to dramaturgical frameworks. In the preparations for the final version of Mum´s Dancing my research questions were about the performative experiences of the multi-focused event:

What is involved in providing a space for decentred multi-focus experiences in theatre and art for the very young? How can artistic research methodology inform this research process?

By decentred multi-focus I mean a kind of artistic expression which is not constrained by a linear succession of events but is divided into many simultaneous occurrences and areas of focus between which the spectators can freely choose. The spectator´s experience of being decentred is thus incorporated in the art form (Bishop, 2005). This kind of artistic expression belongs to a tradition of installation art and interactive exhibition forms. But what does this mean for the youngest children? What does it involve for the artists? And not least, what does it entail for the art researcher and the research focus?

The final version of Mum´s Dancing was performed in a more clearly defined artistic space: a black box at Dansens Hus in Oslo [Oslo Dance Hall]. The dramaturgical structure was now established as choreographic elements following the Mamma Danser film (Finborud Nøren, 2011) with introduction, order and timing. The intention of when to interact and when not to interact with the children, was sharpened. This version of Mum´s Dancing followed the dramatic structure of the film which was projected from overhead onto a duvet spread out on the floor so that the children could move around on the duvet and experience their own and each other´s bodies in the film light. This dance film was about two busy, dancing mothers and their ambivalent relationships with their two small children (one and two years old), who are also present together with their dancing mothers. The film gradually shifts focus and perspective from the mothers to the children. The content of the film was directed to the adult audience, while the sensory experiences of film light were made for the children.

A presentation of Mamma Danser – a dance film by Mali Finborud Nøren.

At the improvised dance concert events at Dansens Hus, the free improvisations in the performance space, was interrupted three times by a fixed, choreographed dance. This dance was performed almost exactly in the same way as the dancers on the film Mamma Danser, and it was exactly timed with the film music. The dancers on the film was thus reflected and repeated by the live dancers in the room. The live dance followed the film’s form and content in both a choreographic and thematic sense.  The interruption was repeated three times with varying focus during the course of the performance, each time followed by free improvisational sequences. The dancers coming together with the drummer in an improvised final act rounded up the performance. The audience was both kindergarten groups and children accompanied by parents. 

Mum´s dancing - NRK news report from Dansens Hus 2.10.2011

Methodologically I worked with changing perspectives and focuses, and became aware of my own position as an artist, director and researcher. I made some film recordings during the performances, and I tried to reveal how my research interests and questions discovered or covered the real event and the participant´s different experiences. I had moved from an interpretive to a performative position, and this re-positioning had required theories on artistic research. Taking a performative research approach means that the research takes form as an event involving both the artists, the audience and the researcher in mutual interaction, and that the researcher also can be the artist or the opposite way around (Borgdorff, 2006, p. 13). My research questions had changed along the way during this process, and thus became stages in the performative research approach.

Phase 2: Red Shoe Missing

The next version, Red Shoe Missing [Rød Sko Savnet] (Hovik, 2011d), was an answer to the question of improvisation and became an art installation for the very young.

My new research questions, was about the significance of free playing:

What happens when we invite small children (0-3 year-olds) to play in an art installation of red shoes, films and old children´s toys and furniture?

What is the function and role of playing in children´s relation to art?

Will installation art provide a better art experience for young children? How will improvising artists affect the children´s playing?

The installation was co-produced with Sverresborg Trøndelag Folk Museum, in a large exhibition room. It was possible to move around freely, touch everything, use and play with objects and shoes. Red Shoe Missing was shaped for the audience of 0-3-year-olds and their accompanying adults: nursery schools during the week and parents and children at weekends.  The multi-modal character of the installation (red shoes, rocking horses, old children’s furniture, tableaux, films, dresses to creep into) could in itself function as a room of experiences, without a defined dramaturgy or performing artists.

Rød Sko Savnet was all about memories, childhood, playing and nostalgia. It was inspired by my own childhood, my parents´ and grand-parents´ childhood and was created to bridge the adults’ often nostalgic childhood memories with children’s concrete, sensory world of discovery.

A TV presentation of the exhibition Red Shoe Missing: Exhibition vernissage 

Kindergarten toddlers were invited, playing with shoes and rocking horses and to a great extent directing their own experiences during the weekdays. The pre-arranged improvised artistic events were performed by altogether eleven improvisation artists distributed across four Sundays over the course of six weeks in the spring of 2011. Here the improvisations, which could last about 30 minutes, were entirely open, without any pre-determined direction, choreography or composition. In resemblance with children’s play, the improvisation artists were given no other framework than the space, the installations, the children and the audience.  We developed some opening and concluding strategies, but otherwise there were no formal regular, choreographic, compositional or text-based guidelines. In the research interviews with the performers, in which I asked questions about their experiences, it was evident that they experienced positive contact with the children and parents and felt that it was exciting to throw themselves into this free, improvised form of expression.

On the other side, as an artist researcher I experienced problems with both perspective and focus in my double role as a director and researcher, something that I will expand on later. I collaborated, however, with a film photographer in making a documentary film, which proved to be a decisive methodological factor in the research process.

The documentary is presented in the window to the right.

During the collaboration with the film maker I discovered that this work also became a kind of analysis, and that film making could provide a good research method. The research was mainly conducted to investigate how the open structure worked as an artistic space or a playground for the children. On a methodological level this applies an instrumental perspective, and my role as researcher was colored by my eager wish to make the performance better for the children and the artists.


In terms of research methodology, this study has shown that it is not only possible, but also interesting to use both an applied instrumental approach (the development of an improvisational, interactive theatre form for small children), a traditional interpretative approach (analysis of data material) and a performative approach (creative and practical experience and knowledge) in the development of new knowledge about theatre for the very young. The different methodological approaches have been helpful in sorting out the many different perspectives of artistic research.

From the broader perspective of art and theatre history, interest in an open, multi-focused form may be related both to the historical avant-gardist experiments with live installations, performance and happenings and to post-modern trends which today are often termed relational or interactive art. When these art forms are applied to children’s theatre they are confronted both by a more educationally shaped tradition in which the interests of child learning and development are important and on the other side by an entertainment tradition in which it is expected that the children will have fun and enjoy themselves (Helander, 1998). The open and decentred art-form that has been explored in this project, do not fit well into neither the educational nor the entertainment tradition, but hopefully contribute to the field of art for the very young, and the knowledge production in this field. The project demonstrates and reflects the possibility of creating common artistic experiences between adults and children, in which both can take part in reciprocal interaction and improvisation.

The text fragments in this exposition was originally
written in
a whole piece of academic text within a scientific genre, as a part of my Ph.D dissertation (2014). To deconstruct and visualize the project in a web exposition has been a long and demanding process. Never the less it has been a wish and a neccessity to present a selection of the rich visual data material of my research project in a more appropriate format than the written thesis.


The performance The Red Shoes was based on the idea of free and voluntary participation of the children during the performance. The research questions examined through the first part of the project was: 
Is it possible to make a theatre performance for children 1 year of age, allowing them to participate by moving freely in, around and about the performance space during performance? If it is possible, how will this interaction work, what is required and what happens to the actors and children in this kind of communication?

No surprise these participatory events appeared to happen when the one and two year olds wanted to explore or play, and the actors often inspired them:

The tempo rises, the musician runs the drumsticks in teasing rhythms and whirls and the actors starts to run fast from wall to wall. This is play! A small body rises from the sitting mat and starts jumping and laughing out loud. In a short time a little gang of jumpers join in. One of them dares to jump into the performance space, he runs to the drummer, and very soon gets a small stick to play with. The actors start dancing a choreographic part. A few small children are crawling between the legs of the dancers. They want to take part.
(Log from the performance period in March 2008)

In the first research phase, based on the work The Red Shoes I focused on the concepts of presence, borders, thresholds and playing, through experimenting with different interactive approaches. Through open, improvised, participating, multi focal and affective dramaturgical strategies, the performance developed into a multi perspective and multi focal event, dealing with many different levels of experience. The differing interests between children, adults and artists have been most challenging. On an analytic level this has called for new methodology. Starting the research process with a phenomenological hermeneutic approach, analysing data from film files and interviews, the categories of interaction was identified. The impact of the artistic experiences became more important as the project developed into several artistic experiments. In the second research phase I focused more on the performative aspects of improvisation and playing in the theatre events. The last research phase questioned the role, perspectives and focus of the artist researcher.  Artistic research methodology answered to my questions on the significance of practical knowledge (Borgdorff, 2012; Hannula et. al., 2005; Nyrnes, 2006).

Art practice qualifies as research when its purpose is to broaden our knowledge and understanding through an original investigation. It begins with questions that are pertinent to the research context and the art world, and employs methods that are appropriate to the study. The process and the outcomes of the research are appropriately documented and disseminated to the research community and to the wider public. (Borgdorff, 2012, p. 43)

Henk Borgdorff’s artistic research perspectives are divided into the interpretative, the instrumental and the performative / immanent (Ibid, p. 17). All of them can be applied to provide a more comprehensive picture of the research process involved in creating art for the very young. In this article I will show how the combination of perspectives have been useful in the research process, and how this can be a methodological contribution to further developments in research on (and in) art for early years.

2008 The Red Shoes (performance trailer)


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2011 Red Shoe Missing (documentary)

2011 Mum´s Dancing (event)

On documentation

External, internal and performative acts.

A theatre performance is in principle not a material object, but a production or event that is repeated a certain number of times. The events differ slightly from one occasion to the next, and as such form a kind of “floating object” which is difficult to document as an entity, but possible to describe both through text, pictures and video. As a means of framing a floating research object, visual documentation is very significant. Video film is more of a concrete research object than the production itself, which is live, ephemeral, relational and multifocused. It can be difficult to nail down a floating research object in the research process. It thus rapidly becomes the case that research is carried out on the documentation, in other words, on a representation of the object rather than on the live work of art (Latour, 1999). This, however, is a premise for performance research and almost impossible to avoid if one takes an interpretative perspective. The filmed performance would be a good start for making an interpretation of The Red Shoes performance. In 2008 I engaged a film photographer, Mette Valle Sannes (Sannes, 2008) to make a documentary on the project and also to edit three performances into split-screen research material.

Documentary on the making of The Red Shoes (2008) (Norwegian language)

Example of split-screen research documentation,Tereses Dans.

Baz Kershaw distinguishes between extrinsic and integral documentation, in which the integral documentation is internal and accumulated around the artistic process whilst the extrinsic documentation comes as external result of the public event (Kershaw, 2006, p. 145). In this project there was both internal and external documentation. The external documentation was helpful in terms of remembering, but it was not so interesting as material for analysing. As my research interest focused on specific significant events, the external documentation did not emphasize anything particular, and thus missed out on this aspect. As Mette Valle Sannes made the documentary film as a part of her MA in film production at NTNU in 2008 (Sannes, 2008) additional external documents, the Norwegian television corporation NRK broadcast reports from all three productions:

De Røde Skoene

Rød Sko Savnet 

Mamma Danser

Internal documentation, such as video made by myself during rehearsals and performances, became the most important research material. While working with Red Shoe Missing, I also engaged a film photographer, Mari Lunden Nilsen, to document the installation, the playing and one improvised event, but this time I involved myself in the making of the documentary, both during film shooting and in discussing and reflecting on the material together with the photographer in the editing process. In this process I also reflected on the significance of video making as performative research, activating the documentation in dialogue both with external viewers and with theory (Osten, 2009; Parekh-Gaihede, 2010).

Documentary on Rød Sko Savnet 

The internal documentation material that I created myself along the road was even more useful for the purpose of analysing. Even when I did not focus on particular events, my own films assumed a greater significance than I had predicted. The documentation of data on the video clips highlighted individual events, children and situations as being of significance on the basis of obvious visual signs of communication. My own research dialogue with the camera lens became a methodological tool for analytical work in the process. With this material it was evident that the camera lens worked as a more focused observer than I did myself (Mohn, 2006). Throughout the research project I had filmed and photographed actively during the productions. There were many serendipitous occurrences; and interesting events took place whilst I was filming. Going on a treasure hunt through this material was like re-discovering moments and events that I had overlooked in the stream of events in the performance context. In the course of my work with The Red Shoes Project I have regularly conducted research interviews with performers about their experiences of interaction with the young children (Hovik, 2011a; Kershaw, 2006; Ledger, Ellis, & Wright, 2011; Mohn, 2006; Parekh-Gaihede, 2010). Methodologically these clips were an excellent springboard for a dialogue with the performers about how they experienced and interpreted their actual interaction with the children. I collected these dialogues as sound recordings and by allowing the performers to comment on the documentation, it was possible to bring to life some of the effect of the live performance.


With background as a drama teacher in early childhood education and a children´s theatre director, my presumptions for working with small children and art was based on the knowledge of their capacity to engage and enjoy in performances made especially for their own age groups (Dunlope, 2011; Guss, 2000; Hernes, Os & Selmer.Olsen, 2010; Selmer-Olsen, 2006). Child participation can be said to be an important issue and educational goal in kindergartens and nursery schools in Norway. Ideas concerning participation are relevant in several respects to the field of art and children (Bae, 2012; Bakken & Hommersand, 2013; Johannesen & Sandvik, 2008; Kunnskapsbasen 2011; Lehmann & Reich, 2007; SceSam, 2012-16). In the field of art and performance the questions regarding the value of child participation can represent a greater challenge. Performing artists are not usually trained to interact with their audience. They would somehow need to have special interests, knowledge or skills to be able to handle this kind of improvised interaction with the youngest.

Small children, who do not have a strongly developed verbal language, express themselves physically and intuitively, meaning that adults who wish to communicate with the very young must assume an open, listening and less directed attitude. This open, listening attitude is also a characteristic of improvisation and especially well developed with improvising performers in music and dance (Liset, Myrstad & Sverdrup, 2011; Steinsholt & Sommero, 2006). During the entire course of the research project I have thus assumed that improvising artists possess prerequisites for creating good artistic contact with very young children.

In the following sections I will give a brief description of the project and the three phases of artistic research practice. All of them form part of the project’s artistic and theoretical reflection around theatre for the very young and the children´s need for participation in the artistic event. Each phase of the project contains a number of unique events and meetings between different spaces, installations, performing improvising artists, small children and adult spectators. Methodology follows and changes with each research phase, and in the end my own participation, as artistic director and researcher, had to be included in the analysis of events.

Dance, music and theatre performance for 1-year olds experimenting with the borders and thresholds in the theatre space. Festningen, Trondheim, 2008.

Art installation with red shoes, becoming a playground for children and improvisational space for artists.

Sverresborg Trøndelag Folkemuseum, May 2011

Improvised dance concert researching changing perspectives and focuses: The traditional common focus from spectators towards stage,
each spectator´s individual focus and
the affective multi focus of the whole event.

Dansens Hus, Oslo, September 2011.

Analysing the event

This reflection on analysis is based on the video clip example from the improvised dance concert Mum´s Dancing.presented in the window on the left.

Using the film camera as a tool I tried to investigate how I constantly shift focus and perspective. The camera is able to make an overview without a specific focus, and with a lot of information included. The camera eye can also choose a very specific moment of musical communication, and it is possible to move the camera eye in direction of the unexpected events.  Making my research with the camera, became a method of investigation and of different and changing positions between:

  • The critical dramaturgical eye
  • The creative directing eye
  • Focus on the sensous experience of one child
  • Affective sensation and ambiance in the room
  • Observation of social life in a group of children
  • Intensity of rhythmic music
  • My own bodily response

.... and so forth.


Looking at the film makes another level of investigation: What do I look for? What do I see? And what do I not see?


The event

Through my description of this film clip I search for possible intentions and communicative events. I observe children in deep involvement and play, not just the more general picture of decentred chaotic activity:


The room is full of adults and children – about 20 persons within the picture frame – an adult is crouching on the floor and filming, children are crawling, darting or running around, the music is rhythmic, playful, insistent or eventually a little hesitant.  Two children are rocking on their respective rocking horses.  One child stands facing the camera with a borrowed white tulle skirt in one hand, a red shoe in the other hand and a red shoe on her foot. She is standing and rocking to the rhythms. The “white dancer” who is wearing a white tulle skirt is moving around the room, circling around the installation of “the black dress” and suddenly lies down on the floor (I cannot see on the film what actually happened, but the dancer was later able to tell me that she had seen a child who lay down in the same way). She remains lying down and watches from there. A child comes over and bends over her. The dancer gets up, moves towards “the white dress” and shows her foot. The “black dancer” moves towards the white.

A break: the musician bangs the gong and a big sound spreads out through the room. The two dancers drop what they have in their hands and suddenly move quickly around the room. Several children and adults watch their progress. (Internal video transcription)

In the study of this video clip, which on the face of it may seem fairly confusing, I discovered on closer examination that the great majority of the children seem to be deeply focused.  The children are concentrating on their own personal interests and fascinations. They come into the room and “inhabit” it in a more exploratory, sensory and physical way than the accompanying adults (Løkken, 2000; Merleau-Ponty, 1994 [1945], p. 3). The installation has been created with the small children’s physical approach in mind. Objects and installations are size-appropriate. The investigation to which they are invited is a kind of play in which they have the opportunity to try things out, inspect things from different angles, crawl in and out of the installations, move back and forth and place themselves in different parts of the room. Even though it does not emerge so clearly on the video, the atmosphere in the room was thoroughly attentive and concentrated. Some of the children are very active with the film projections, rocking horses or shoes, whilst others restrict themselves to one or few things, and some children hold back, and watch from an adult’s knee.

Installation art works on activation and decentring of the spectator (Bishop, 2005). It gives the children opportunities for free exploration of new things, space and relationships. An example could be children bathing in the film projection on the duvet. They crawl around, roll about and watch curiously as their own and others’ bodies vanish in the film light.  Claire Bishop terms this form of installation experience “mimetic engulfment”, in other words, a form of decentring in which the spectators loses their own physical boundaries and becomes one with the surroundings (Bishop, 2005, p. 82). As I have interpreted the video clips, most of the children concentrate deeply upon the things on which they choose to focus. They switch between a personal focus and a common focus on the dancers or the music. Some children interact with each other regarding the things under exploration, and some children seem to be affected by the event in a less directed way. They appear decentred and captivated by sensory impulses. In the next section I will show that also the performers´ perspective is highly focused and centred, but at the same time aware about what is happening in the performance space as a whole.






1963 Red Boots (film)

Improvisational Strategies:

  • 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.
  • Listening. They direct their focus inwards towards the artistic expression itself and maintain a focused attention towards their own work (personal focus).
  • Giving. They intervene in the situation and provide some clear impulses that gather attention creating a common focus.

Analysing research conversations

In conversation with the performers around what is involved in multi-focus events using the film clips as an outset for reflection, the performers clearly express that the improvisations were exciting and contained varied and good meetings between themselves and the children.They highlight the concentrated attention they activate as improvising artist and prefer to use the terms multi listening and in-depth attention rather than the term multi-focus, which for the performers is resonant of superficial and un-concentrated attention. Instead, they place emphasis on the balance between a form of multi listening and a deep centred focus on their own actions, both the prepared and the spontaneously improvised ones. This is a question of the necessity to listen simultaneously towards them-selves and towards the totality of everything that happens in the room. Both the dancers and the musician represent centred focal points for the public in the production. The performers also describe their own experiences as deeply focused, even though many things are happening at the same time. The dancer, who is moving around freely in the installation room, has a sense of moving in and out of her own focus. She says:


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 physical and spatial intuitive impulse, which creates a balance and dynamic in the whole performance space. The musician functions more as a fixed part of the installation, surrounded by his drums and percussion instruments. He experiences a type of overview from his perspective 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 to the spread focus: as someone who can gather the threads together and offer a focus. The musician can shape a clear voice and in collaboration with the dancers can create strong and explicit figures in the room. He can also relax and make room for other impulses; allow other events to receive a full focus. He can choose to maintain his focus on the dancer, both giving and receiving impulses, or in other sequences he can play in relation to something that a group of children are playing. 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 calming down the tempo.

All the performers are able to control the audience focus in the room with the help of sounds and actions. They assume a loaded “physical mode”; they put out feelers in all directions and have an intense sense of presence. The dance will easily be 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 which often begins cautiously in their contact with the children and which develops during the course of the performance towards a number of different breaks or high-points in terms of energy. 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 use a kind of improvised physical “narrative” or composition in the development of the scene. They focus fully on this, and it is in this respect that they also often capture the children’s awareness. Mastering this form of artistic improvisation requires skills, awareness and a great aesthetic sensibility. This knowledge can be appreciated and highlighted both artistically and theoretically and does not preclude an interpretative and instrumental research perspective. I believe rather that the performative knowledge paradigm opens the possibility of uncovering new artistic knowledge.

Analysing the levels of performance events

Even though the audio-visual documentation in the above example functions as a fairly objective descriptive narrative, there is no doubt that I have made an interpretative selection on several (sometimes contradictory) levels. During my own filming I chose to follow the movements of the dancers in the room. I was experiencing a high degree of decentred attention, searching for a focus, and the choreography offered this focus in the seemingly chaotic and playful event. It was also interesting to observe how the dancers´ choreographic pattern managed to adapt to the crowded room.

Working on the description of the video clip I chose to follow the actions of the little girl with the tulle skirt, as I realized that she was in “musical” contact with the event. When I describe her involvement, I interpret only what I see in the picture. I have thus focused on some events and missed out a great many other perspectives. I have selected one child and one performer for my description, all though there are maybe 20 children inside the picture frame. What I choose is of course the interaction that I am especially interested in examining. My interpretation has elements of a phenomenological approach, in which perceptual elements predominate. I interpret the interaction as “musical” in the sense that the girl relates rhythmically, swaying to the music and the movement, and that the tactile qualities of the tulle skirt and the red shoes stimulate her attention. Turning my attention to the social presence of the little girl´s parents or caretakers I also see that she is located in a social tension between her adults, who are paying her full attention, the performers who are in contact with her through movement and glances, and the other children who are playing round her and at whom she is looking.

The levels of performance events can be identified as follows: The improvised event in the room, the fixed event caught inside the film square, the creative event of looking and electing what is significant in the event, writing the narrative, and in the end the event of looking at the film and reflecting (even theoretically) on how the represented event can be understood.


Model on levels of analysis:


  • Discourse and theory (on event, presence and affect)
  • Description / written event 
  • Looking at and repeated reflectin on the film event
  • Film event
  • Performance event


As a framed and fixed event, the small video clip experience was a fragment which gave me the opportunity to focus and deepen my understanding. The opportunity to compare and correct my interpretation in relation to other perspectives has been possible to realize in dialogue with the performers. In these dialogues my own decentred experiences in the observation of the actual event turned out to be more of a problem for myself as artist researcher than for the performers, and the children. The confusing experience of multi-focus is a question of being in the midst of action or being an outsider and observer. Being an academic researcher requires this kind of distance, but I will argue that important knowledge about the art experience is missed out when focusing exclusively from an outside perspective. Being an artist researcher must eventually allow for placing oneself in the midst of action, and trust that this is also a valid perspective. Focusing and de-focusing in different stages of the process and the performance event can be useful strategies in performative research.


Analytical levels of the event:

  • Discourse and theory (on event, presence and affect)
  • Description / written event 
  • Looking at and repeated reflectin on the film event
  • Film event
  • Performance event