At the end of November last year, Dr Samuel Wilson, Lecturer in Contextual Studies at London Contemporary Dance School, launched The Place’s new "Research Café", a regular space in which staff from across the organisation can share their current research and thoughts about their practice. Raising the profile of research that is happening in the building, the Research Café will open up more opportunities for collaboration, allow people to present their work and ideas, get input from other creatives and maybe also help to ease some of the fears and reservations about academic practice.
For the first session on 28 November, Rick Nodine, Lecturer in Choreography and Improvisation, lead a discussion looking at questions stemming from his current practice-research and also questioned what research within a dance context could be:
“I think because this term ‘research’ is coming from academia, there are quite established languages, and protocols. There’s the scientific method, you come up with a theory, you test it in a certain way, there are control groups – there’s an established way of carrying out and presenting scientific research.” When your practice is dance, things get a bit more difficult. “It’s not such an easy thing to be dancing around and then someone says, in the academic sense, “Present your research!” If you want to place your movement-based research into an academic setting, of course you could do a video of what we’ve done - if that can be accepted as academic research, great - , but ultimately, at some point you’ve got to write! The whole culture around academic research is about the written word.”
But it’s difficult to write about dance… Putting movement and movement-based findings into words is always going to be an act of translation.
“The more I thought about it though, I realised I am actually translating all the time: If you’re working in any kind of dance that isn’t based on looking and copying – teaching choreography, teaching improvisation – then you’re often using words to describe systems or ways of behaving. You are already translating! You’re giving people images and metaphors to help them transform them into a movement quality or a task or a relationship to another person, essentially to make their own acts of translation.”
A starting point for Rick’s research was the creation of a movement based installation which he later took the chore material from to put it on stage and create a dance piece with a beginning, a middle and an end, that was watched from the front like a traditional dance piece.
“Plenty of chorographers have placed their work in a museum or a different context but for me it was certainly new. Timeframe is a huge difference, space, dramaturgy, not having to deal with issues of climax or diminuendo. I learned even more when I translated this new material back to the stage because I ended up with material I would never have conceived of if I had started from making a piece for the stage. It never would have occurred for me. In some ways I felt there was something about this new material that was stronger on stage than in its original form.”
So for the first session of the Research Café, Rick presented musings on this idea of translation and the feedback from the session led him further down that path, towards some philosophical works about translation and an understanding that there are similar problems even from text to text, one language to another – you can’t actually translate a word meaning for meaning, it’s an illusion, words have their cultural context.
“I feel that as the person in front of this group pretending to be a researcher - which in the strictest sense of the word I really am not - I was translating myself, saying ok, here is a version of me that is going to just talk. We’re not going to do any dance exercises, we’re not going to look at a video, we’re not going to move - we’re going to work with words. It’s a little bit like researching yourself: What would I be like if I pretended to be someone else – like an academic lecturer! I was a bit nervous, not feeling I was in my area of expertise. Sam Wilson or Martin Hargreaves who have PhDs, their relationship to that kind of discourse is at a much higher level than mine but I thought maybe it was good for people to see a dance teacher or dancer essentially trying to engage with this, just giving it a go.”
The next Research Café session will take place on Tuesday 29th January 4-5pm and all staff and students, particularly PG students, are very welcome to join, listen and partake in the discussions!