e-PAIVirtuosity and Performance Mastery issue, 2003/04

Kate Flatt and Bernadette Iglich

Copyright © the participants 2003.

(No part of this text may be reproduced without the written permission of the authors.)

roll6-08.jpg roll6-09.jpg roll6-12.jpg This material was presented live at the Virtuosity and Performance Mastery symposium for postgraduate/research degree students and academic staff over two days by Performing Arts at Middlesex University on 31st May and 1st June 2003.

roll5-31.jpg An attempt to reveal the experienced dancer's skill at interpreting the Choreo­grapher's suggestions, half-formed ideas, instructions and requests. The relationship between dancer and choreo­grapher takes many forms. In the generation of new solo dance material two imaginations are at work in arriving at a result which often reflects the choices of both. Working from imagery the presentation attempts to reveal the experienced dancers skill at interpreting the choreographers suggestions, half formed ideas, instructions or requests and providing what may be missing.

Kate: I was talking with theatre director Katie Mitchell earlier this year about practice - we were talking about how she works with actors and how I work with dancers. Largely this was an enquiry into how we might be able to work together, in terms of collaboration between dance and theatre. The project we undertook roll5-32.jpgwas that we had a group of actors and a group of dancers, one of whom was Bernadette Iglich. Bernadette and I are long-term collaborators and I asked her because of what we have already discovered which is that she works with images - and don't ask me to define the term, because the definition will happen in the work you're about to see. The research process involved use of a text - which Katie Mitchell chose - The Waves by Virginia Woolf. Anyone who knows The Waves will know certainly that the descriptive language Virginia Woolf uses is extremely rich and very beautiful. I started work with this - we decided just to work on the opening section. Katie's work was with the actors on psychological realism. I was working with Bernadette and Fumi to find a language which worked for the 'nature' elements that were in the text.

roll5-33.jpgSo that was our source - literally a source. We were not trying to 'represent Virginia Woolf in dance' - this is something really important. The other point is about sharing our process of working here: this is probably not uncommon to choreographers - many choreographers and dancers have different ways of working together, and actually 'cracking the nut' and getting the material out there. This is about generating material, beginning to structure, and getting material out, not about 'making a piece' - it's about churning material out, segments of material, getting it out there from these images as starting place.

roll5-35.jpgThe remarkable thing I discovered in working with Bernadette is that I can give her a tiny scrap of information, and her imagination and sets of choices start to fill this out and make it become action that is evident and real. The other thing to note is that this is an everyday event for us - I wish that we could do it all the time, but we can't because of funding. I'm not putting it forward as any kind of choreographic example. The point I wanted to make about performance mastery is that what is important is what is between us, how Bernadette as a dancer makes the material come through. That really is something that we have to show you.

roll5-36.jpgto Bernadette: Would you like to add anything - I don't want to silence my dancer -

Kate: The sections we're going to show you first are some we made earlier yesterday - some that came directly out of the research - there are three or four of those; and then there are a couple that I'm going to throw at Bernadette, and we're going to see what happens - this is sharing a process of rehearsal, and it could be quite messy. We give ourselves permission, as Mary Nunan said yesterday, to not know.

It's about the space between us. Bernadette, if we start with this one, which we decided was the most narrative of what we have done. The text is "I am green as a yew tree in the shade of a hedge. My hair is made of leaves. I am rooted to the middle of the earth, my body is a stalk. I press the stalk. A drop oozes from the hole in the mouth, slowly, thickly, grows larger and larger."

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Kate: (to Bernadette) Can we go back to that pair again? Can we start from smaller - take it bigger, and then bring it down again - Yes! OK. Yes. OK, we can move on. OK - spider's web.

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(to the audience) All of these pieces of writing are about children's discovery in the garden and this one is "Look at the spider's web in the corner of the balcony..."

I read this to Bernadette. I said "Where would you start?"

Bernadette: You just read the actual sentence. It's a difficult thing - wherever you're trying to make movement that depicts nature, it's very hard. We're human, we have certain boundaries. I just imagined that sense of where a web comes from - which is here - and I didn't think, I just felt myself going here with my hand. Then I did something else that didn't quite work. Kate then offered up another sense of where the turn came in - she gave me the sense of a long line. I had in my mind a web like this [ample, rounded, containing movement, arms extended], and then Kate threw up the idea of a long, extended web with a line, which then gave us the sense of a movement going across the space -

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Kate: Yes, we were trying to get the image of the quality of what cobweb is, that it has this incredible tensile strength, with the quality of the material that it is... But also we did some work on sharpening the bits in the sequence - the latter part should make it clearer what I'm trying to do.

OK - go back and do it again... When you get to this one, get it more horizontal - he's talking about the balcony, so you get a railing, here, it's a bit lower...

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Umm - like fibres - can you get something that is still and is going to take you -


OK. Good - thank you very much. What I would suggest, to draw this to a conclusion, is that what's going on in Bernadette is still mysterious to me to a certain extent, but I understand her ability to give form to the ideas, and this is something I have enormous trust in. Also we can go into a dialogue which is not working, and she will bounce it straight back at me. That dialogue is very special but the element of performance mastery I want to draw attention to is her ability to interpret quite sketchy material and to pitch in with her ideas. Her ideas are also there as each of these segments develops.

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Susan: I was very interested in the contrast between this work and the work Mary Nunan and Kim Brandstrup, in their different ways, were producing. Working with a pre-written prose text seems to me to have set up a number of possibilities and a number of parameters which have to come together in the quality of the movement, and the way in which is it internally segmented. But more importantly, perhaps, is the question of the thematics of the written material, and how thematics might be brought into play in the movement work. My sense is that Bernadette is looking for an embodied, metaphoric relation to what she senses, from what Kate selects from the poetic prose text.

What is sensed, by Bernadette, who is working to identify - by producing it - a poetic equivalence in terms of 'contemporary dance', is a complex action or complex of actions, governed a second time by what Kate is calling 'image'. My sense, once again, is that Bernadette is working very tightly between at least two 'sense-worlds'. I am eternally curious as to where these 'sense-worlds' are held, by the expert practitioners; and I am perfectly aware that I infer their existence - which I can't otherwise 'prove' - from the sorts of choices made, from their regularity. Secondly I sense that they are held differently by choreographer and dancer, but will be brought to coincide, through this sort of process of exploration, in 'material' produced which will eventually - if retained - constitute 'the show' at a micro-actional level.

So, I'm feeling that both Bernadette and Kate retain something multi-dimensional-schematic relating to different positionings and different outlooks (looking out at) within 'contemporary dance'; that these are also overlaid a number of times over in terms of evaluative structures and mechanisms - Bernadette's sense that something 'doesn't work' is related to the operation of these. Some of these schematic frames relate quite tightly and specifically to a pragmatics of space, both fictional and performance space; a similarly double poetics of space; an orientation of some kind within that space to an imagined spectator; an orientation to a notion of 'the event'; and orientation to the notion of disciplinary mastery coupled with an aspiration to innovation, singularity, and signature.

Kate's aspiration, with regard to the work being generated, is already-determined to an important extent, by her own grasp of and response to textual thematics and the textual poetic more generally. But it is simultaneously not pre-determined in the sense of what Bernadette herself will discover and provide to Kate, in the session, and how Kate will take up and work with what is provided. This ongoing discovery process provides a second aspirational framework, but it's one concerned with the future tenses of performance-making and the event, whereas the former provides the past tenses; and what Bernadette produces will articulate both of these simultaneously, as a kind of poetic interface. I want to insist here that aspirational frameworks are 'normativising' in these different directions, without being conventional: the work produced and agreed upon is not random, but teleologically-driven, by which I mean that one explicit objective relates to an affirmation of the poetic text, and its author, while another relates to 'making new work' which is innovative but within established disciplinary registers of dance practice. Yet another relates to the balancing 'in the work', of at least three different instances of signature practice, in at least three different modes - writing, dance, choreography.

But one of the most important things that I felt that this session showed was a matter of composition, in disciplinary-specific terms: the music composers present at the symposium - improvisational jazz musicians excepted - may well never have seen this sort of collaborative invention on its feet. The delicacy and slowness of discovery when it is collaborative; the vital live-interactivity of the compositional choices, which doesn't apply, or at least not to this extent, to the composition of music or to many instances of visual art practice. And the resource implications, which apply to this delicate process of collaborative discovery.

Bernadette, who is co-producer within Kate's choreographic project, seems to me to be looking for qualitative equivalence (at the level of multiple schematics specific to discipline, and at the level of felt-experience) - we can see this when Kate talks about the tensile strength of the cobweb as material - rather than a more conventional sense of thematic reproduction. The 'transfer' from textual poetic to dance poetic (organising expert bodywork in defined spaces) requires the intervention of an expert practitioner or practitioners in the dance poetic, in exactly the same measure that the prose writer, herself, was expert in the discipline of poetic writing. My final words here are simple: it would be foolish, in this complex context, to identify the dance material emerging as 'text', as some dance-writers do; secondly, it would be foolish, in the case of any of the dance-processes we have had access to in the context of the symposium, to use the anonymising and de-professionalising term 'the body' to refer to them.

roll5-29.jpg Kate Flatt studied at the Royal Ballet School, and at the London School of Contemporary Dance with Nina Fonaroff, she began her career as assistant choreographer to Leonide Massine. Created the original musical staging for Les Miserables (1985) at the RSC and the choreography for Turandot (1984). Other work includes Benjamin Britten's Gloriana for Opera North and the Emmy award winning film of it for BBC 2 (2000); The Dancing Room a full length dance work with traditional Hungarian music 1994, later a dance film for BBC2. Feature films include choreography for Chaplin, Restoration, and The Avengers. Other recent work includes The Carmelites (1999), and the staging of the Verdi Requiem for ENO (2000); Ends of the Earth (1996) and Albert Speer (2000) at the RNT.T'is Pity She's a Whore (1998) and Dr. Faustus at the Young Vic (2002),She currently teaches choreography at Middlesex University, and at the Royal Ballet School and is engaged in mentoring initiatives to help emerging choreographers to develop their careers. Ongoing research is into into dance choroegraphy and movement direction. This summer she is working with director Katie Mitchell on The Three Sisters at the RNT.

roll6-03.jpg Bernadette Iglich trained at The London School of Contemporary Dance 1978-1981. She worked as a demonstrator and assistant to Jane Dudley, head of Contemporary Dance at LSCD, before continuing her career as a professional dancer. Bernadette has worked with a number of companies including ARC Dance Company, Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal, Siobhan Davies, London Contemporary Dance Theatre, Aletta Collins Dance Company and Fabulous Beasts Dance Theatre in Ireland. Performing has included films for Channel 4 and BBC as well as a number of opera's at Royal Opera House, English National Opera, Opera North and Antwerp Opera. Choreography: pieces for second year students of Northern School of Contemporary Dance 2001, London Studio Centre 2002. She also choreographed for Northern Ballet School's end of year show 2001. Choreographer and assistant director for the award winning production of The Cunning Little Vixen 2002 Opera Theatre Company Ireland. Ariodante 2003 Opera Theatre Company (OTC) Ireland. Theatre work: Crocodiles Looking at Bird's 1995 Director: Sheila Hill. Research and Development for Moving Shakespeare 2002, director: Titania Krimpas. Revival director of The Cunning Little Vixen with English Touring Opera, original production with OTC. Research and Development for The Wave 2003, director: Katie Mitchell.

Photography, web-design and rolling gifs copyright © John Robinson 2003.

Video images by Hannah Bruce and John Robinson.

Last updated, 30th August 2004.