DIPTIK Documentary Evidence
- Notes taken throughout the project

The Commission

DIPTIK commissioned a choreographer and composer to create a work for two instrumentalists with dance training and four dancers with music training. These co-directors were highly experienced and award winning up-and-coming artists, thus were given free rein so to not hinder their creativity and vision for the work. Their methodology for the R&D and the creation of the piece was not discussed with the performers so to not disrupt their natural problem solving and reactive skills, or pollute their minds with end-games during improvisations. Myself and co-founder of DIPTIK were involved in initial planning meetings and the following aims were derived:

  • to tear down the wall between musicians and dancers in the performance space,
  • to provide a platform for an up-and-coming choreographer and composer to create a high quality cross-art performance work,
  • to work with dancers and musicians who were trained in both fields, including two performers using clarinet/bass clarinet and harp.
  • to develop a language for communicating a performance piece where dancer-musicians can create sound while moving at the same time,
  • to create a work lead by the co-directors, also in collaboration with the dancer-musicians, that pushes the boundaries of dance and music,
  • to utilise dancer-musicians but not be restricted by this practice – each performer could vary the music and dance, either alternating roles or performing both simultaneously.
  • to explore the relationship between performer and instrument and the scope of possibilities for creating sound and movement simultaneously.
  • to include both improvised and choreographed sections for the work
  • to provide an audience an entirely new experience of a work where one could not tell the difference between dancers and musicians,
  • to perform this piece in the Resolution! 2015 festival at The Place.

What follows comes from my documentation of events having taken part in the process.

 

Audition Day 21st July 2014

DIPTIK advertised an audition day on a number of UK and London based, international dance notice boards. I have anonymously collected information about dancers’ musical instruments and level of music training, if any, from their applications. I included myself and co-founder of DIPTIK so to take a measure of performers who can identify as dancer-musicians, who were interested in being a part of this project. We had 86 respondents including myself and the co-founder of DIPITK. 53 of these had musical training of varying degrees.

Appendix 5 - Graphs

We invited 10 applicants to audition and the decision on this short-list was ultimately up to our directors. The auditions were for the whole project including the R&D, creation period and performance. Our directors wanted performers who could command a space and an audience’s attention just by being present and still. The directors also were looking for well developed improvising skills with lots of imagination and who were not afraid of taking risks. The four strongest applicants were chosen based on their performance in the auditions, three professional dancers highly trained in music and one professional dancer who had little to no music training but had proven a high musical aptitude.

 

DIPTIK R&D 22nd – 25th July 2014

The first exercises we undertook were in body awareness. We would start with a Yoga warm up then move to exercises such as Deborah Hay’s  “take inspiration from what you see” “forget your training” and “turn your fucking head”. This was in an attempt to challenge our preconceptions of movement and how we create it and to in turn make us more aware of our immediate natural impulses. Personally it left my mind clear and focused solely on the ‘here and now’. I felt like I was experiencing my surroundings and sensations as if I had never seen, heard or felt them before. 

The directors decided that two concepts needed to be established at the outset of the R&D. The first of these concepts was an aesthetic. The aesthetic needed to consist of a movement style and soundscape. They decided on a minimal, functional movement style as the aesthetic and explained that to achieve this, small, natural movements were key - every movement needed a purpose rather than being choreographed, exaggerated or based in dance technique. The soundscape the directors had decided on was utilising the clarinet/bass clarinet harp, voices and body percussion, so to allow all performers the ability of creating sound.

The second concept required was a new language to enable us to express ourselves in both music and dance simultaneously. There are parallels in how music and dance can be expressed in notation. Mason’s paper Music, dance and the total art work: choreomusicology in theory and practice provides many parallels in terms for music and dance that can be used in describing the art forms. It is not known if the directors used any recourses such as this as a base for creating our language for the project.

The co-directors wanted to develop their own notation that could be interpreted with both sound and movement for this project. First we tried graphic notations for sound and movement. While this was somewhat effective, each performer’s interpretation of the same graphic was too dissimilar and the directors wanted more consistency between performers. We settled on music notation fragments that referred to characters and intensities of sound rather than actual pitches, rhythms and dynamics. This is presumably because all performers aside from one could read music. We tried interpreting these same musical fragments with movement as well. We found that durations of notes could denote durations of movement, pitch could mean height in the space, and dynamics could translate to the size or intensity of movements. This practice used the musical fragments by translating the music notation to dancewriting. We then looked at movement instructions which were phrases of words such as “as slowly as possible” which in turn could be interpreted with sound. We attempted the various musical fragments and phrases of words to see which were most effective. We did this by having 6 music stands with 6 scores that had different instructions. The process we used was as follows:

 

  1. We would enter the space one at a time and find a stand. First we would interpret the musical fragments with sound using our voices and body percussion (the two musicians’ instruments were placed at two stands and they had the choice of playing them or not).
  2. Once everyone had entered the space the composer would tell us to “change” and we would move to another music stand.
  3. From this point on the composer could move or remove any music stand at any point. There could be more than one performer at a music stand at any time. Any performer could leave the space for a period of time and re-enter.
  4. After a few changes the composer would say “words” and we would switch to interpreting the words with sound.
  5. After a few more changes the composer would say “dance” and we would interpret the music fragment with movement.
  6. After a more changes again the composer would say “both” and we would interpret the music fragment with both sound and movement.
  7. Slowly more and more stands would be removed until everyone had reached the final stand. After a time, we would all leave the space.

 

We repeated this exercise and experimented with point 4 by changing it to incorporating the words as an instruction to the sound. With point 5 we changed to interpreting the words as dance. With point 6 we changed interpreting the words with both sound and movement.

We repeated this exercise once more and with point 4 we changed to interpreting the words with movement. With 6 we changed to interpreting the music fragment with movement but included the words as an additional movement instruction.

On the final repetition of this exercise we changed point 6 to interpreting anything or everything on the page with both sound and movement

We also noticed that some people were taking longer than others to move to the net music stand. As the directors wanted a level of urgency we were given the instruction to choose the next stand we would move to before the next “change” was said.

At one point the choreographer tried incorporating a movement motif. We came up with two gestures that the performers could use at any point throughout the process; first, running a hand across the side of the face, then to the back of the neck then dropping the arm down to the side; second raising both hands to cover the face, sliding the hands to the back of the head while opening the elbows to the sides, then dropping both arms to sides. We discovered that these gestures humanised the process, however it appeared to be a quotation of _____ and it was questionable how this would fit in with what we were setting out to achieve.

The directors had also decided on using the music stands we had used before as props and set. We experimented with making structures out of the music stands although after a risk assessment we decided to keep the stands in their correct positions, in various arrangements, rather than upending and stacking them on each other.

Video: 1

DIPTIK R&D Day 2

Through this process we observed that some notations were demonstrated more clearly with movement than sound and vice-versa. For example, a specific rhythm was clearer in sound and the phrase “The Queen’s tea party” was demonstrated more clearly with movement. We observed that our vocal techniques were not as strong as they could be. The directors suggested employing a vocal coach to help us use our voices more effectively however we had no extra budget to allow for this so we have noted it for the next project. We also observed that even though the two founders of DIPTIK had trained to a high standard in dance, having not formally trained for a number of years their body awareness had diminished - despite the alexander technique, yoga and other movement work they may have done relating to their instrumental training. Due to reduced awareness these performers were slightly more rigid and or subconsciously overcompensating by somewhat exaggerating movements where they could have been more natural. We noticed again with the founders of DIPTIK that since they were trained a number of years prior, their practice was more in the choreographed styles of ballet and contemporary dance with less emphasis on improvisation. Therefore their movements were less free and imaginative during the improvisation exercises.

Video: 2

DIPTIK R&D Day 4-1

By the last two days we had worked out which musical notations were most effective for the musical instruments and placed the instruments at those music stands for the remainder of the R&D. This is due to the fact that the harp and bass clarinet are traditionally immovable and unfortunately had the effect of hindering any further development of creating movement while playing these instruments.

By the final day we had deduced which notations worked best for both sound and movement, and those that were also very convincing for either sound or movement. We narrowed them down to a collection that was most entertaining. For the next attempts we finally gave performers control of the changes and control of the music stands so the performers could move to another stand and or move the music stands in and out of the space in their own time. The final process is as follows:

  1. One person entered the space first and followed the musical pause notation.
  2. After a length of time we would then continue entering the space one at a time and find a stand.
  3. In our own time we would first interpret the musical fragments with sound using our voices and body percussion (the two musicians’ instruments remained placed at two stands as before)
  4. In our own time, when changing music stands, we had the option of moving our current music stand or taking it out of the space. We also had the option of leaving the space for a period of time.
  5. Once everyone had entered the space in our own time we would move to another music stand and continue interpreting either or both of the instructions with sound.
  6. After a few changes, in our own time we would switch to interpreting either or both of the instructions with movement.
  7. After a more changes, again in our own time, we would interpret either or both of the instructions with sound and movement.
  8. Slowly throughout this section more and more stands would be removed until there was only one left
  9. Once everyone had reached the last stand, after a time, one person would take the stand and everyone would follow, exiting the space.

We observed that having given all performers full control, the element of spontaneity had diminished as well as some of the energy in moving to the next music stand. We ran through with the composer giving the changes one last time to compare. We observed that the ideas and interpretations of the score were clearer and more convincing when we had more freedom. In an attempt to achieve both freedom and spontaneity, we ran through the process two more times while trying to make our changes more surprising and just as urgent as when we weren’t to expect it.

Videos 3-5

DIPTIK Video 4 clips 1-3

By the end of this R&D we had discovered that if we were to use a score and notation in for this project, the language for this needed to be clear. To obtain this clarity the language needed to be effective in both sound and movement, thereby being consistently understandable for performers and onlookers. If each performer were to interpret the same score, the only way for the audience to understand that each performer was reading the same notation was if the language was clear in the first place. To gain this clear language we followed the process above to draw parallels with the way we understand music and dance in our notation. If our interpretations were clear the instructions were clear, thus we were able to define this language it to create a piece for performance.

We noticed that due to all performers having not been trained in vocal techniques meant that this part of the music making was less convincing. Equally that the founders of DIPTIK were less convincing with their movement than the professional dancers due to their time away from dance training. As the majority of the time was spent developing the language and aesthetic there was little development of new dancer-musician skills. More time would be needed to take this language further and develop new dancer-musician skills. Therefore the training all performers possessed by the end of the R&D was not enough to achieve a high standard in both music and dance simultaneously. More development and training would be needed to put forward convincing dancer-musicians that were indistinguishable from standard dancers and musicians.

 

Creation Period – 15th-18th December 2014

Using the language and aesthetic established from the R&D, the directors had subsequent meetings. They further developed their ideas for the Resolution piece resulting in a score. This score consisted of cells connected by lines which indicated how to get from one cell to another. Some cells were for harp and clarinet only, one was for bells, others were more open for voice, body percussion and breath. There was one piece of text which could be read aloud.

Appendix 4: Score

We began a process of familiarising ourselves with this score. First all performers started from the same cell and moved in different directions. We then set an end point which we all had to reach after a certain amount of time. We tried various combinations of cells and individual cells.

We discovered that too much freedom with all six performers moving around the score was chaos. We also found that with all constructed material there was enough for a piece that could be much longer. Thus there was the potential for the exercises to be quite long in duration. As we had limited time we identified the cells that were most effectively performed by all six performers simultaneously and decided on start and end points.

There was one cell of the score that involved bass clarinet and feet. This was the only cell of its kind and it did not seem to go with the rest of the material that was being produced. While this was practiced to a reasonable standard it was not included in any of the run-throughs or the final work.

We also conducted improvisation exercises. These exercises were to give those with less experience more practice, to help us relate to the music stands, the space, each other and the score. We found material though these improvisations that we later refined to include in the piece. Having created some usable material by experimenting with the score and with the improvisation exercises we collated sections together to create a narrative and refined this narrative down to a 18 minute work.

One of the founders of DIPTIK did not have the acting experience the other performers had. To work around this the directors gave her the opportunity to work individually with the harp. She experimented with interspersing different movements around playing the harp and moving the harp itself. Again as we had limited time - also due to the minimal, functional aesthetic - this kind of practice was not expanded to its full potential. The most developed concept derived from this practice was having another performer move the harp slowly across the space and the harpist gradually built up her pace to running between it and the music stand in order to play her notes.