Bente Alice Westgård is currently a master student in choreography at Oslo National Academy of the arts and will graduate in june 2017.

SCORES AND POWER DISTRIBUTION

SCORES AND POWER DISTRIBUTION

During the past two months, I have been planning the making of a group piece that I am going to make as part of my Master´s project. I have been going back and forth with myself, discussing whether I want to write a score for the piece or not.

I have realized that a score can be almost anything and it can be manifested in endless ways. A score can also be used for several purposes. A score can be used to generate material, to make a dramaturgy that you will fill with something. A score can be a way to document what you have been doing, and then you can use it to remember. A score is notation, also a way to remember or to make other reproduce it. A score can be written as an algorithm, as a drawing of spatial movements, a score can be a manuscript and a puzzle. It can also be a way to explain what you have been working with and a way to explain what you are going to do.

I think the reason why I thought it was a good idea with writing a score has to do with power relations in a creative process. I come from a dance education that, when I was a student, educated dancers and dance makers in a spirit similar to the way they worked during Judsen Church era. So, for me, it is hard to put myself in the position of making all the decisions. I was then thinking that a score could be a way for me to choreograph without choreographing. If I wrote a score, this would be a choreography that the performers would translate in to their own. I would put something on the table that came from me and then I would trust the performers to make something out of it. But wouldn’t my job be more or less done after I had written the score? And do I really want this?

If we think of the 60s in New York, especially the Judson Church community something interesting happened when it comes to re-distributing power. Dancers where making their own work and started to rebel against conventional ways of making dance pieces where the choreographer was in charge. They started to work more and more as a collective where the dancer contributed with ideas and material and was a part of the decision making. During a talk with the choreographer Mårten Spångberg he explained to me that this happened in a society that was deeply homogenous and disciplined. It was a society dominated by industrial production which engaged workers that were anonymous, gendered, raced etc. At this moment score was a political issue and this was a means to liberate the dancer.

Another thing that Spångberg made me aware of was that scores might end up to distribute power in a way that puts the responsibility on the individual, same as neo-liberalism. And then we have Deborah Hay, in my eyes, the queen of scores. I have been very excited about her project Solo Dance Commissioning Project that I have heard of for so many years. But then I read the text “Between practice and therapy” by Bojana Cvejić and Ana Vujanović, and I got aware of the business around this practice, which in many ways are brilliant if you need to make money. But what about responsibility? The problem with this, I find, is that Hay is selling a score for a dancer to adapt, she learns and coach the dancer for eleven days and then the performer is on her own. If the performance fail, there is no one other than the performer to blame. The work of the choreographer is already done. All the responsibility lays on the performer. But if it turns out to be a great outcome, that Hay is perfectly satisfied with, she is entitled to take credit for it. She is the one who made the choreography, but she did not do the work. And even though she might not mean to avoid taking responsibility for the outcome, I will claim that this is what she is doing even though it might be an attempt to liberate the performer.

To liberate the process from the tyranny of control

I think my desire of using a score came from my lack of experience of being the choreographer from the outside. I have always danced in my own work, so I have had to trust my capacity as a performer to try to see myself from the outside. I have been choreographing from the inside. The desire came also from my lack of experience of working within structures that are unfamiliar for me. I have always been working in collaboration with others, the power has always been distributed equally between us and now for the first time, I am going to be the boss. I have invited other people to join in my project. So, now I am in a new situation, in a different power situation. And I have been thinking a lot on what kind of relation I want it to be between me, the choreographer and the performers.

I want the performers to be activated so that we can work in a collaboration on my project. And for making this happen I need to set some kind of frames. (This can also be called a score, but I want another connotation to it.) But these frames should not be there to control the process, they should be there in order to make something happen and I want this something to happen because we are in a process together. But I am in charge and I see my most important job is to frame what we are doing, both the process and the product of the process.

For me it is important that everyone in the process is taking responsibility for the job they are assigned to do. And I think responsibility is highly connected to power because through taking responsibility, you also gain power. But of course, this is within the frames that I am defining, it is my project so I need to create frames that allows the performers to take the responsibility I need them to take.

“I like to hear the sound of form, and I like to hear the sound of it breaking.”

Poet Frederick Seidel, The Paris Review, 2009

This quote I found the text Rebelling against limit which is written by Jonathan Burrows. I really like this quote and now I will try to explain what it does to me, reading it.

I wanted to give the performers something to grab on to in case I was unclear, I wanted us to feel safe when I am doubting my ability to make decisions. But I also wanted us to have frames to push against, to move around in and to bang our head against. I wanted us to be activated by something outside ourselves, to avoid only doing stuff that was known and comfortable. But maybe most of all, I wanted to make decisions before I started to avoid feeling lost and to avoid confrontations during the process. But, then again I think it is important to also feel lost, to swirl around in something you don’t know what is. But we need to be the agent of this, we need to embrace it and trust that this is also a part of the work.

We have to be faithful to the limits/frames/scores we work with in, but just to a certain extent. It doesn’t help us to go to work every day and just stand there with our head against the wall and think that something great will come out of it in the end. Then maybe it is time to change something and not to change our selves but to change the conditions we are working under. No frames will certainly produce frustration, so we need to find this golden mean. And I think that maybe it is not very big shifts that need to happen, maybe it is just to ask us a new question, maybe it is just to call the frames a painting instead of frames. And this is what this is all about, isn’t it? To define frames that will feed us and activate us to make choices and decisions. To make us move and create, to produce meaning or lack of meaning.

We have to make our self the agents of the frames and not the other way around. I think this is also connected to the relation choreographer and performer. How can I as a choreographer give the performer agency and by this a feeling of responsibility so that we together can be faithful or unfaithful to the frames we are working with. It is us against/together with the frames. The frames also need agency, but just to a certain extent, they are there to help us work, they are not the work.

 

 

Two hundred and thirty questions