The experiences from two pre-project interactive performances and a brain storming seminar were used to search for and select methods to be tested in experiments on performer audience interactions with traditional dance. The project did not plan a final performance, but the possibility to test the developed methods arose for the participants because of an international conference Dance ACTions, the joint conference of the Nordic Forum for Dance Research (NOFOD) and the Society of Dance History Scholars (SDHS) in Trondheim. The performance was titled “Together” and was given at 20:00-21:00 and 21:30-22:30, Monday 10th June, 2013 (Hotel Gildevangen dance hall).
The choreographer, dancers and musician researched practically for four days in February and one day before the performance in June. In addition Nils Boberg’s light design added an affective mood in the dance hall. Most of the dances/ ideas tried out were kept, but some suggestions were left behind for different reasons. Some ideas did not fit with the numerous conference members and needed adjustments. To prepare the dancers for all possible audience reactions, a big part of the exploring was by role-playing games. Some dancers got tasks to act like an intrusive person, a person who resist joining, a person who have another distinct way of dancing, a person more busy with chatting and looking at other couples etc. The dancers got some experience in how to be attentive to the reactions and tried different ways to deal with them. To practice dancing among the audience placed at the dance floor, chairs were placed to represent the volume of people. The separate pieces of dances were tried on voluntary dancers and non-dancers (students, researchers, folk dancers, old and young persons) after the first four days. This gave the dancers important experience in trying the techniques on new audience.
Here follows some theoretically grounded reflections on the underlying structure and perceptions in the Suite “Together”. Reflections are illustrated by video clips on the right side of the text.
An audience of 30 individuals are waiting in the foyer, next to the entrance door for the performance hall. At the announced starting time the choreographer addresses the audience and gives an introduction to what will happen during the performance. He explains the contract he want them to accept, the rules that will be followed. They can leave the performance at any time. They will be invited to participate in moving or dancing. Nothing will be demanding and, no particular skill is expected from them, and they can decline any invitation. The audience will not be addressed as a group throughout the performance, each member of the audience will be treated and addressed only individually.
Intro – “A Hand to Hold” and Tante Knute (Traditional Norwegian game)
– A choreographer must always ask him/herself how to start a dance
performance. Should performers appear from the backstage? Should they be
already in place? As the main idea of this performance is closeness between
performers and audience, the choreographer choses a tactile introduction.
Performers literally come to the audience, take them by hand and lead to the
space of performance. It is performed in a very gentle way. Each performer
invites two audience members at the time, takes one in each hand and leads
them calmly into the hall and on to the dance floor, placing them in groups starting them off in the game. In this way everybody is participating and no one is only watching. The audience recognizes thew game as a widespread folk dance motive. Nevertheless, the folk dance is framed in the consciousness of the audience anticipating the performance. Hence comes the feeling of the difference: it is not a folk dance party, but rather strictly framed artistic event. On one hand it promises the audience certain qualities of experience and on the other hand challenges participants by offering them to step out of the state of passive observation. This start also allows them to experience themselves as being a part of the whole performance – the action.
Halling – they kick close to my nose!
– The dancers in gentle wordless movements reorganise the audience into
smaller groups across the dance floor. They perform movements very close,
nearly touching audience members. The choreographic idea behind can be
connected to neuroscientific research which shows that tactile and visual
systems of human brain are not completely separate. Certain spaces very close
to the body are “represented by bimodal, visual-tactile neurons....The visual
receptive fields are usually adjacent to the tactile ones and extend outward
from the skin about 20 cm” (Graziano & Gross 1995, 1021). Therefore when
a dancer approaches an audience member within this range, then the member experiences a different feeling of the dance rather than just observing it from a longer distance. An audience member is not expected to dance, but find her/himself in a position between an actively involved dancer and a safely distanced passive observer.
Suldal springar – Try it in couples!
– Professional dancers perform Norwegian traditional old couple dance in a
simplified playful version with improvisations. Then gradually they pick up
members from audience and facilitate both learning and enjoying dance. The
step patterns are only a totally free mixture of simple running and skipping
which even untrained people grasp and master immediately. Still the patterns
are not simple in a way that make them monotonous and boring. Great
importance is given to softness of relationship between leading dancers and
following audience members. For a professional to lead means also in a certain
sense to follow, since those for whom this dance is totally new need more time and space in getting the ideas, patterns and in realising themselves. However, eventually even these roles can be switched and some of audience members might forget that cautious initial phase of adjustment and trial. Everybody can enjoy svikt and curves of Springar. Gender roles are downplayed, although one should admit that it may not always happen very easily. After trying the dance together with a performer, the audience members are paired and left on their own to continue playing and improvising together. A dance most of them did not know a few minutes ago is working out for them with a lot of fun. This allows the performers to invite new audience into trying the dance, and in the end almost the whole audience is activated into dancing. The overall aesthetic aim of the dance is perception of shared movement and trust.
The Waltz – Flight or Fight!
- This is perhaps the most interesting, exciting and funny part of the Suite.
The dancers first show audience the idea and later invite audience members
one by one to try out the choreographic idea themselves. The idea is the
following. The couples dance to the music of the waltz with a low point of
gravity. Suddenly the partners on the initiative from one of them change their
bodily interaction from the “flight” of a peaceful and circular waltz into a
tense, wrestling “fight” and resistance (the choreographer refers to the
traditional Norwegian wrestling). When the audience observes the dance
suddenly changing from flight to fight it evokes reactions of surprise and
amusement. And this is precisely because (1) wrestling is very much out of place in the stereotype of the waltz (2) the image of wrestling gives the dancers as well as the audiences associations to their experiences of bodily misunderstandings.It could be seen as a metaphore for the negotiations of power in social dancing as well as in life in general. The dance thematises fluent as opposed to resisting co-corporeality. Finally, audience members can try how it works themselves. The mood slightly changes between shared fun to kinesthetic work. An important consequence of this piece is the realisation of common and simple folk dance in such a way that the dance brings to the fore the most meaningful life issues and holds the sway of closeness and interaction between perfomers and audience at the same time. Also in this dance the audience are paired with each other after trying the dance with a performer for a short time.
“Lying on the floor”
– Audience is guided wordlessly to lie of the floor. The changed perspective
again thematises tactile and auditive experience particularly for those who
chose to closed their eyes. Like in the second dance of the Suite, dancers
haptically (Graziano & Gross 1995) feels so close as to give an almost tactile
experience of the air moved by their bodies. It could be quite scary if one has
the eyes closed and did not trust the dancer’s precision. Acoustic experience
also changes: the musician is moving among audience members and one can
hear the music approaching or moving away. Last, but not least, if one opens
one‘s eyes, one has an angle of visual observation completely different from
a usual one: the floor is not visible, shadow details on ceiling appear inviting to
explore them, other audience members „vanish“ from the horizon, dancers
appear incredibly big and non-proportional in presentation of the part of their bodies (i.e. big foot, small head – the reverse of how one sees one‘s own body). However, to experience these adumbrations one needs to change an attitude and focus from previous knowledge of how things are to given appearances. The dancers amplify the impression of being big by stretching out arms horizontally. It is important not to stamp on the floor (a traditional way of marking the rhythm in Norwegian traditional dance) since this sound is disturbingly loud for the audience. [When exploring the possibilities, the dancers were improvising more, but later in discussions it was claimed that the improvising should be kept within traditional dance frames. Another idea was that each dancer should communicate orally with a single audience member; to give a choice to close eyes/ watch, to be danced for personally, to get a short story of e.g. the best dance memory of the performer, sing a song for the single audience, etc. Although it was not selected for the performance, this was an interesting idea, and dancers felt good getting in touch with the audience member.]
"The volunteered body"
– Audience are again guided without words into small clusters, sitting on the
floor back to back. Dancers perform Norwegian traditional couple dances
(bygdedans). Each couple dances their own type of dance (usually not danced
at the same floor to the same music). Then a performer approaches an audience
member and ask how he or she would like a specific dance couple, that is
pointed out, to perform – faster or slower, higher or lower etc. There is a lot of
fun in seeing how the audience member manipulates the dancers. Looking into
the genesis of this experience, one could realise that this piece of performance
thematises „the volunteered body“ – experience of another‘s body as „organ
submitted to my will“ or my body submitted to someone else’s will. Additionally,
aesthetic qualities are thematised: what is style? What is „how“ of the dance?
Finale – the closure repeats Intro in reverse
- As the main idea of this performance was close interaction between the
performers and the audience, it could hardly be closed up as a climax picture.
Like in the start, in order to stress fragility of the interaction, the choreographer
choses a tactile closure. Performers literally take the audience members by hand
and lead them out from the space of performance, into the neighbouring room.