- An Act of Rendering:Dance and Movement Dramaturgy
How does the dramaturg engage with and help develop paths of artistic inquiry? Why is dance and movement dramaturgy sometimes distributed among collaborators? How are sources of choreographic archives or personal and cultural landscapes used to generate new movement material? What do dancers and performers need, as a minimum, to be able to create while being challenged to leave their comfort zones? What are the components, qualities, or factors of movement that the dramaturg compartmentalizes as such in rehearsal? Why are the questions of how these components affect each other, and the effort involved, more important than coherence? What kind of experience are we trying to facilitate for audience members, and how does their embodied perception participate? Who is dancing, experiencing, witnessing, and writing within and outside the performance? Do you wish to refine or exceed existing approaches? Do you want your dramaturg to mirror you, challenge you, or join you in your process—close at hand or at some distance? These questions mark selected journeys of discovery that our authors invite CTR's readership to engage with and become inspired by.
Routledge's comprehensive critical reader on Contemporary Choreography from 2009 includes only one article on dance dramaturgy, positioned in a section called "Relationships with Other Disciplines" at the end of the book. Authored by Liesbeth Wildshut, the article is set up as a comparison of theatre and dance dramaturgical practices. Initially Wildshut names theatre dramaturgical tasks that she believes apply directly to dance, such as clarification and [End Page 3] research of themes and staging concept. Then she advances to present tasks and components that she categorizes as specific to dance dramaturgy and includes the following observation: "In a dance performance, a character, in his various degrees of abstraction, is directly related to his movement" (392). The article seems to be built upon an assumption that dramaturgy in the context of dance is mostly a question of transferring conventional theatre dramaturgical tools. It implies that character and relationship remain at the centre of the work— although these elements are understood through movement and in space. It also shifts from the development of an idea to the determination of a staging concept as "front end" tasks and does not acknowledge that ideas often evolve and change over the process of creating dance and that concepts can derive from simple principles coming out of a dancer's response to task-based creation. Looking at the reports from dance and movement dramaturgs included in this issue, it becomes clear that this understanding of dance dramaturgy does not generally reflect Canadian practices.
Many of the included authors work exclusively in dance and some have participated in the ongoing development of approaches and tools from within the discipline for decades. Others work in both dance and theatrical devising and are reflecting upon the difference and interdisciplinary connections between these fields—often with an emphasis on the insights and approaches learned from dance that can be used to complicate and advance their theatre practice. These authors do not stand alone when choosing to remain grounded in disciplinary specificities or aware of the differences that enrich cross-sections. Synne Berhndt's overview article on international dance dramaturgs' and choreographers' discussions of dramaturgy from the mid-nineties through to 2009 and most of the perspectives shared at the Society of Dance History Scholars (SDHS) conference in Toronto in 2011 on the topic of Dance Dramaturgy reveal a wide spectrum of comparable practices.
Our intention—in this introduction and the issue as a whole—is not to establish a reverse hierarchy between theatre and dance. What we propose, rather, is a shift in orientation that allows us to build vocabulary through exchanges of past, present, and future practices—a vocabulary that is not limited by terminology with a conceptual anchor in conventional theatre. In so doing we gain the ability to articulate and direct our attention toward the range of components that fall outside concerns such as theatrical universe, character, narrative, semantic meaning, and dramaturgical models. We also become able to discuss the role and position of the dramaturg from within the...