SeattleDances recently hosted its second Dance CHAT on November 17, with the assistance of Alia Swerksy as our facilitator. Many thanks to all who attended! The purpose of Dance CHAT is to create a space to have conversations about dance in Seattle, specifically the performances that have been onstage in the previous month. We hope that Dance CHAT opens up another avenue to engage with dance and perhaps helps us find new or different ways to talk about what we see.
To begin the conversation, Alia led us in an exercise where we recalled images from performances we had seen, and tried to detach these descriptions from our opinions. The process went like this:
1. Describe what you saw—an image, a vivid moment—from any piece you went to in the last month. The idea here is to leave out any value statement, evaluation, or interpretation, and to simply describe the moment. We are avoiding things like “I loved that” or “I hated that.” You may have liked the moment you say or it may be standing out to you because you really didn’t like it, but for now we are leaving out the opinion part of this description.
2. Next, share your thoughts on specific works you saw. How can we follow up on our descriptions of particular moments and elaborate with interpretation and opinion. The idea is to not to quickly revert to “like” or “dislike,” but to use description as the base of our analysis.
3. How did it make you feel? This is connecting to your own experience and where it settles in your being/heart/mind. We only have our own experience of what we saw. How do we connect to our feelings and how do we access them when watching work (sometimes we stay in a thinking/analysis place and don’t actually get to our feelings). What is the kind of tuning in or somatic sensibilities we must acquire to access this part of our viewing experience?
4. How does what you saw connect to your own values and artistic interests/passions?
5. If you had a question to ask of the choreographer, what would it be? How would you answer that question?
The conversation led us elsewhere after steps 1-3, but many different ideas arose from the first few steps of the exercise. Several of the performances we discussed specifically included PNB’s Emergence, Inner Galactic, A Glimmer of Hope or Skin or Light, Anatomy of an Accident, SHORE, and Made in Seattle. Some of the topics that came up from the descriptions are listed here:
The idea of dissociation, or the level of remove a viewer feels from a performance, even when the piece is built to be an immersive experience. We discussed this idea in the context of Glimmer.
The many relationships present within a single piece. For example, in Kiyon Gaines’ piece Sum Stravinsky in PNB’s Emergence program, we discussed the relationships between dancers as well as the intricately linked relationship between the choreography and the music.
We discussed the contemporary ballet spectrum in relation to PNB’s Emergence program.
How do you express big ideas or “big feelings” and reactions to a work while only using description? Is that possible?
At this point in the conversation, Alia further clarified the process we were utilizing. She emphasized that use of description does not remove passion, and isn’t meant to be repressive. We are never without our aesthetic or our opinion, but we can end up closing the conversation on ourselves when we think about opinion alone.
We discussed the utility of description, as a tool for education, writing, and analysis. We also acknowledged that conversationally, pure description often feels dry or stifling.
Where does a piece exist once it is performed or presented? Is it in my personal experience as a viewer or the space in between the piece itself and my experience?
Do we need to feel a “big feeling” from every show?
We discussed what shows or components of recent performances induced “big feelings” from us this past month?
The idea that the more you see, the less often you get a “big feeling” from a performance. Or how often that feeling is only linked to a personal connection or history to the performers or choreographers.
Also, conversely, the idea of being overwhelmed by having big reactions to everything.
Alia offered us some closing questions: How are we choosing to watch performance? Why do we go see shows? To support friends, to be moved, to learn something about ourselves? On the other hand, why don’t we go see shows? When there are so many performances happening, how do we choose what to see and what to skip?
These questions wrapped up our conversation and will keep us thinking until the next event. We will not hold Dance CHAT in December, but keep your eyes out for announcements about a Dance CHAT in the new year.