Little ease creates agile beasts: training dance professionals of the future

By Dr Steph Hutchison

An ongoing state of wonderful “little ease”[1]might be the best way to sum up 2017. What that ongoing state of “little ease” continued to reveal and what is exciting moving forwards is the very extraordinary ways in which dance training produces truly ‘agile beasts’ – capable, intelligent, resilient, adaptable and inspiring collaborators and artistic leaders. We think through and with our body, and naturally we collaborate and engage diverse ideas, practices and contexts.

Consider the practice of sampling in music, specifically in hip hop culture, and now apply that to dance. Sampling enables and engages with the current climate for dance practice whereby many dance artists will be multi-talented, and hybrid in practice, identity and title. It enables individuals to construct and re-construct many times over their professional identity, practice and body in dance.

At points in time, one can recall it being said “either you’ll make it as a dancer or you’ll teach.” Well, nowadays that you’re a dancer often also means that you’re a teacher and you’re a co-creator, if not, choreographer, and in some sense entrepreneur. But, it doesn’t end there for professionals in the making who choose dance as the lens for their professional practice. Dance has a vital and highly unique role to play across many terrains and it is in its very nature highly collaborative, agile and a great physical puzzle solver. Trends in dance research and dance practice have enabled reconsideration of the value of dance practice and what role it may play in a wide range of “real world” puzzles. Puzzles, not problems, seem to enable dance, as the most embodied way of thinking through complex puzzles, to be a super-collaborator.

Consider the practice of sampling in music, specifically in hip hop culture, and now apply that to dance. Sampling enables and engages with the current climate for dance practice whereby many dance artists will be multi-talented, and hybrid in practice, identity and title. It enables individuals to construct and reconstruct many times over their professional identity, practice and body in dance. This perspective follows what Louppe (1996), Foster (1992) and Davida (1992) saw as a turn in the 1980s towards a more hybrid body and what Foster (1992) and Card (2006) refer to as “the body for hire”. While the body for hire typically refers to dancers working ad hoc, it is a useful way to think about the kinds of portfolio careers and dynamic agency to adapt to whatever professional opportunity may arise and apply dance practice in new milieus. In this way, we can view dance artists as co-creators and recognise that a career in dance may not include working with a single company, choreographer, repertoire, and technique. Instead, what is required for our dance artists of the future is very different. Moreover, if dance fully realises its power as a co-creator in a vast landscape of potentiality, this is where the world opens up and becomes incredibly rich – working within the interstices opens up a field of pure potentiality.

Pure potentiality is enlivened in new curriculum where discipline depth is supported by the breadth of transdisciplinary and collaborative practice that further enable our students to “sample” and define themselves as artists. For dance students, we shift the perception of dance and dancing beyond technique, the stage, the studio and beyond the understanding that dance is taught face-to-face by a dance teacher. We do so by sharing, discussing, experiencing, and experimenting with our young people in a way that invites a new imagining and great self-building of the futures they seek to create for themselves. Not only are we altering the way we teach but we are engaged in an ongoing exchange where ideas and values are placed at the core. It is empowering for them, and dynamic and exciting for us as educators – challenging and requiring us to think broadly and share a wider perspective of dance practice as we mentor them towards the professionals they seek to be. And, we recognise that all graduates would benefit from Work Integrated Learning experiences that sit alongside project-based units and invite the possibility to engage in transdisciplinary collaborative projects.

And, the best part was the statement: “We left as students and returned as artists.”

An example of this was observed in 2017 with students self-selecting into a community of practice that was established as the Ars Electronica Futurelab Academy QUT 2017[2]. The Academy consisted of a weekly laboratory for a diverse community of practice to experiment, prototype and create works in response to questions arising from discussions on artificial intelligence at the 2016 Future Innovators Summit. The physical ‘puzzle-solving’ for these artists meant a process of embodied learning and physical thinking, in addition to learning how to work as collaborators – with each other but also entangled in a much larger collaborative practice that included staff, researchers, industry professionals, and artists in residence. And, the best part was the statement: “We left as students and returned as artists.” This is the future and we have a responsibility to enable this within the next generation – a richly-rewarding goal to work towards where they take forward an informed and confident professional practice ready and able to take on any new challenge with “little ease”.


Dr Steph Hutchison is a choreographer, performer, and artist-researcher. At the Queensland University of Technology, Steph is a dance academic and a co-leader for the Experimental Creative Practice research theme and the Ars Electronica Futurelab Academy. Her practice is driven by dance with a focus on endurance, extreme physicality and improvisation, and collaborations with motion capture, animation, robotics, haptics, and artificially intelligent performance agents. She has collaborated extensively on art, research, and industry projects with Deakin Motion.lab and John McCormick. Steph recently completed her PhD: meta: discourses from dancers inside action machines. http://stephhutchison.com


References

[1] See Elizabeth Streb’s Little Ease (1985) http://vimeo.com/44814611

[2] See http://www.aec.at/ai/en/ars-electronica-futurelab-academy-qut-2017/

 

Card, Amanda 2006 ‘Body for Hire?: The state of Dance in Australia’, Platform Papers, No. 8: April, Currency House, Sydney

Davida, Dena 1992 ‘Dancing the Body Eclectic a dance curator reflects on culture and the new dance’, Contact Quarterly, Vol. 17 No. 2, Summer/Fall

Foster, Susan Leigh 1992 ‘Dancing Bodies’, in Incorporations, Crary, J. and Kwinter, S., eds., Zone Books, New York

Louppe, Laurence 1996 ‘Hybrid Bodies’, Writings on Dance, Volume 15 (Winter), trans. Penwarden, C.

Streb, Elizabeth 1985 Little Ease http://vimeo.com/44814611 Accessed 22nd January 2018