Choreology Project, January-March 2003
The idea for this project comes from a class where I tried to analyse the sequences we were learning differently and realised that it became much harder to remember the exercise. I became interested in the strength of our "analytic habits", i.e. the aspects of movement that we are used to look for when learning.
To memorise a choreography one has to break it down into individual movements, then analyse each movement to find something to remember about it while preserving the connections through the whole sequence.
For many dancers, this analysis of the singular movements is intuitive and habitual. The learning situation analysis is aimed at quickly picking up movement for further refinement and analysis later, a first step in a continuous process of physicalising and visualising intention and awareness. Dancers will obviously try to capture and remember something that is essential to every movement, but as the analysis is usually not funded on conscious and analytic methods they may be habitually remembering aspects or structures of movement that they pick up more easily, and consequently habitually ignoring or not paying attention to other aspects. For instance, a dancer who usually concentrates on timing and dynamics may find it harder to remember a movement when trying to focus on spatial structures, and may therefore habitually ignore spatial information. This may influence the types of vocabulary a dancer can pick up quickly as well as the range of qualities they can easily embody.
Through choreological analysis it is possible to study the structures of movement in greater detail and describe movement more specifically than one usually does in a learning situation. With this more detailed understanding of the movement it may be possible to see what each individual focuses on. In this project I aim to make the dancers themselves aware of what structures of a given movement they memorise better, and ask how different forms of analytic input from a teacher works for different individuals in a learning situation.
Through this project I want to find out
This project will consist of a class where participating volunteers are introduced to a few short, unknown phrases of movement. During the learning process, I will try to direct the volunteers towards analysis of particular aspects of the movement and try to encourage enhanced awareness of individual analysis while learning material. By videoing the class I will be able to document what they remember and how they perform what they remember. By interviewing them I will learn whether they found that the learning process was different from what they were used to, whether movement material was harder or easier to pick up and remember, and other comments or ideas they have about the process and their memory.
in a group of three, person one does a simple, short movement, two describes it to three who is not looking but has to try to copy the movement. After one go, participants change roles. It is important to keep up a pace because we want to capture a sort of initial analysis.
to make participants start thinking about what they see and how they analyse when picking up movement.
several participants later stated they found the exercise interesting. I believe it worked as an informal way to start focusing on what you analyse, although of course this had a strong verbal element and movement analysis during a learning process will not usually be verbalised in such a way.
The number of participating volunteers (5) meant that I had to be a member of one of the groups myself, which made it harder to observe what happened and means I rely more on the video to see what worked or not.
as above but with the additional rule that the person talking must use certain words, for instance
to make participants think differently, apply a different analysis from what they are used to, and reflect on the difference.
depending on the phrases participants were required to use this part was sometimes considerably harder than the first. Line and curve seemed the easiest and accelerate and decelerate the hardest words to use. It was interesting that some of the words came with "baggage" - curve was alway used as in a Cunningham or Graham technique class, always applied to the bent spine and never to pathways or shapes created by other body parts. "Accelerate" and "decelerate" seemed hard to use correctly as "fast" and "faster" were sometimes interchanged and there was a tendency to use the generic "fast" rather than seeing a change of speed. Change of speed was also visualised and analysed by repetition of same movement at different speed rather than applied to the parts of the movement. It was possibly slightly easier to see that a movement slows down than to see an acceleration.
The difficulties in being aware of the changes of speed underlines how intrinsic to movement and how intuitive such changes are. Possibly the more intuitive a structure of movement is, the more awareness a performer needs to be able to analyse and recreate related aspects.
Teach excerpt of "Dolorosa" solo by Philippe deCoufle.
DeCoufle is often very specific about the shapes and lines he wants. During this exercise we attempted to be very specific about analysing shapes, using analytic tools but not vocabulary from structural analysis - spatial manners of materialisation.
the participants were encouraged to see the movement as a sequence of shapes. Some later said this meant they found it hard to connect the whole exercise, while one found it easy to remember the sequence. This helped them reflect on to what extent they usually consider shapes in their habitual analysis of movement.
Lauren's floor sequences use weight and changes of speed and direction. They are often connected in the sense that the end of one movement often helps initiate the next, and it is interesting to work on maintaining the momentum through the exercise.
as this was a floor-based exercise with frequent changes of direction, I chose this sequence to focus on how we move our kinesphere through the space one is moving within, paying attention to our spacing and use of directions.
doing a sequence on the floor can be somewhat disorienting. Where possible, the teaching emphasized the direction in space by using external references ("towards the door, the mirror etc."). This made participants more aware of the wider space they were moving within and helped them overcome the initial disorientation. Several participants found this helpful and some stated that they usually paid less attention to directions in their initial analysis. One participant pointed out that even though she usually picked up directions when doing a standing exercise she would often loose the sense of direction on the floor. Many classes and traditions of dance technique focus almost exclusively on movement performed standing up and thus many dancers are much more used to analysing directions from a vertical position.
teach a short, fast solo from Wayne McGregor's "PhaseSpace".
try to think about acceleration and deceleration while learning material.
this was maybe the least successful part of the class. McGregor's sequence was too fast - even in the slowed-down version I taught - and complicated to really be able to focus on changes of speed, and since this was near the end of the session the participants were getting tired.. Again this demonstrates how much awareness you need to really focus on something as subtle as intuitive changes of speed. The participants did not comment much on this exercise during the interview after the lesson, which I take as an indication that the purpose of the exercise was not made clear enough and the learning experience was no different from a "normal" class situation.
The interview was conducted in a group. The participants were asked questions about what they had experienced during the class, whether the learning processes had been different from how they usually learn movement, and whether this had made them more aware of their habits.
The participants came up with interesting perspectives on ways this session had been experienced in a different way compared to a class. One participant stated that she usually in class would focus on the shape of the whole movement and that breaking it down to one body part at a time during the first exercise was interesting. Another said she usually focused more on details in a class and in this session had tried to capture a bigger picture of the movement.
The participants clearly experienced Philippe deCoufle's material and Lauren Potter's floor exercise as very different learning experiences. I find it very interesting that there were divided opinions on which of those were easier to pick up, and one of the participants stated while reflecting on this that she possibly found the former easier because she may be focusing on shapes rather than dynamics. Some moments on the video show that she sometimes uses less swing and tends to have a more bound flow of movements than those participants who found Lauren Potter's floorwork easier. I think this observation strengthens my initial theory about how what you focus on while learning influences the range of qualities you easily embody.
The participants seemed to have been able to pay attention to and make observations about how they learn, which was one of the key goals of the project.
The video is a documentary of what the project was about and my observations. A few notes about the editing choices may be helpful: I have chosen cuts from the source tapes in some instances because that particular piece of video illustrates one of my observations, sometimes just to give an impression of what we did. Some of the cuts thus correspond to a particular statement or observation from this essay. All the exercises are documented in different sections, followed by excerpts from the interviews.
A special overlay effect has been applied to exercise 3 which makes it possible to compare moment-by-moment how two different persons have picked up the material.
Something that emerged as an important limitation for the project was my lack of teaching experience. While I had prepared for the session by doing structural analysis of the sequences I wanted to teach and thought through the language I wanted to use I had forgotten to practise a mirrored version of the sequence to be able to teach facing the participants. This was a serious limitation on to what extent I could observe them while working, particularly as I didn't insist on them doing the exercise alone without me marking it in front of them. I was trying to keep the class very calm and not stressful but it would have been interesting to push their memory somewhat more to a point where we could actually have begun to see when it would fail them. Talking slowly was meant to be another technique to keep a calm atmosphere but in fact I ended up talking so slowly it may have been annoying to some.
The research may be valuable to individual performers who may become more aware of and learn to break their analytic habits in learning situations. This could let them find more ways to pick up and understand different types of movement quickly, enabling them to work more thoroughly on qualities and performance of each choreography.
The research has made me more alert in a learning situation because I'm paying attention to my own learning process in a different way. Although I am not yet sure if I have managed to identify and break my learning habits, the research process has developed me as a dancer because my focus on my learning process has opened up different ways of seeking and memorising information about a choreography or exercise. Based on the feedback in the interviews I believe that the participants were stimulated to observe their own learning processes and sometimes brought to experience and reflect on their habits.