The UK development organisation and membership
body for community and participatory dance
Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
The thinking body
Animated, Summer 1998. Rivca Rubin and Steve Purcell challenge current thinking about arts training creating new possibilities for a dynamic and influential performance praxis
Take a shared space, ask questions about the self and how we communicate - how we believe we position ourselves, or are positioned, as individuals and artists, how we approach choreography as an artform and practice, and how we might enter into a debate about the culture of dance making and viewing. Practically explore, celebrate and critique. Structure into three principal working arenas, each designed to impact upon the content and processes of learning in the others and you have The Changing Room, a choreographic artists development forum conceived by Kaizen and piloted by Dance Northwest.

The Business of Art Making
The organisation Kaizen, borrows its name and the philosophy attached to it - continuous improvement - from Japan. As a term it can, and is applied, to any context where an individual or group will look for the most productive and harmonious way/s to set and achieve an objective/s. Globally, the continuous improvement concept has been principally applied to corporate development and business, where the equation is predominantly read in a Westernised translation as - continuous improvement equals more profit.

The notion of setting objectives, searching for appropriate processes to achieve them is not new. What is significant here though is the inflection to be always conscious of thinking about new and or more appropriate ways of creating and delivering objectives so that the product finds its market and the two are matched via a considered process of making - a process that is constantly scrutinised.

Of course, this may be considered anti-thetical by sections of the arts community where value takes on a different meaning. However, it is timely to consider what is informing our decision making as artists and how do our processes of making, diverse as they may be, relate to contemporary notions of performance training and techniques and how does this impact on our relationship to the art works produced and importantly to our relationship to the audience?

In attempting to deal with these pedagogical issues it was necessary to ask some fundamental yet difficult questions, ones that would be very familiar to a whole range of questioning people including artists, arts workers and educators. These were: 'Who are we?' 'What are we doing and why are we doing it?' And: 'Where do we go from here?' Of course, there can be no single answer to these questions because the questions themselves are always in transition. What was clear however, was the increasingly shared perception from colleagues from very different sectors of the arts world that the business of making, funding, critically reviewing and assessing the value of art making and the marketing of the art that emerges is a creative enterprise that takes place within a complex and dynamic discursive space where multiple perspectives desires and vocabularies circulate and compete for validation. As American Doctor of Philosophy Wyatt Woodsmall states: 'Complexity is growing exponentially. Information in the world is doubling every 20 months. The question is: 'What is the scope and quality of your perceptions? What is needed is not just skills but paradigm shifts..."(1)

Our daily lived experience of the world seems to demand that we deal with this multiplicity to survive. A person moves between the positions of self-individual-subject-author-spectator sometimes with phenomenal speed. The investment in any one of these positions may be extremely diverse, contradictory, fragmentary and oppositional. Our interests as seemingly self-determining individuals, similar to the environment which we inhabit, are neither static, nor are they necessarily common. As American academic Honi Haber remarks: 'We always find ourselves a member of some community though we are many 'selves' and members of many 'communities'."(2)

Haber's insistence that we need to move away from the notion that a subject is singular and autonomous and might productively be described as a 'subject-in-community' is timely in the face of post-modern politics that might be read as universalising difference and thereby denying an individual or community a temporary place from which to speak. If we accept this scenario, then the central question must be how do artists and people working within the arts, education and the cultural industries and their audiences deal with this constantly shifting and developing situation, responding quickly, imaginatively and co-operatively to new situations. The management of innovation and change, whilst being 90s buzz words, are frighteningly present and pertinent, and need to be responded to.

The pilot forums developed by Kaizen are a direct response to this situation, informed by our current knowledge of performing arts training models, the wide range of professional work that we continue to experience and our desire to think ever more clearly about the nature and formation of audiences and their role in the process of seeing the work that we continue to make.

This acknowledgement of a context driven plurality works well in The Changing Room forum because of the way in which the three different components have their own specific 'languages', processes and modes of operation. The participant-choreographer at various points in the day had to negotiate between seminars and workshop classes looking at and practising how we communicate, developing models for effective communication, exploring ways of setting outcomes which result in action, working in the dance studio spaces on choreographic explorations playing with ideas relating to the body as geography, composing with social actions and abstractions, then moving back into seminars, taking part in formal and informal seminar groups debating the relationships between


and how this impacts on and situates the


The principal outcome of the forum was to enable the choreographic artists to become more articulate and flexible in their thinking and interactions with themselves and other people and to see how this translated experientially into their artistic practice and other life situations. The participants were asked to take time to review the effectiveness of their own current operational systems working at their own pace in a responsible and responsive environment. This was done as group work but with individual diagnostic and development activity being undertaken as well. As such the choreographers were challenged to be more aware of a whole range of concerns, some examples being what preparation for going into the studio might mean as well as taking time to check that the working methods being initiated in the studio were appropriate to the desired outcomes for that particular session in relation to making a choreographic work. Being more aware of how external behaviour (words and actions), internal emotions (emotions and values) and internal processes (thoughts and beliefs) inform and affect our being and movement through the world, and our openness to the notion that all these elements can be worked with and changed to produce remarkable and achievable outcomes is challenging and rewarding in equal measure. As Victoria Marks, who was responsible for delivering the choreographic classes in The Changing Room states: "The piece that I find utterly brilliant is to have some information about learning and communication along side of the process of learning about choreography and of looking at choreographic work as a means of communication." Siobhan O'Neill, Associate Director of the Taking Risks Festival and former Artistic Director of Chisenhale Dance Space agrees: "This is the environment in which I've experienced dance artists being most articulate ..."

Kaizen came into being as an organisation to consider and challenge the thinking behind much contemporary arts practice and training, to challenge the individual's conceptual frame that informs that practice. A 'hothouse' as an environment could just as easily be thought of as a mind-set, a way of seeing rather than another building, event, funding policy or organisation. Informing the thinking can lead to changing the thinking can lead to the creation of physical environments where that thinking is turned into actual making - the creation of spaces, performers, companies, organisations and funding structures that will work from the inside out, not the other way round. This might lead us to reconsider the relationship between the idea of risk houses and safe houses in light of concerns for multiplying and diversifying arts audiences. The risk house ought to be the place where new ideas are played out and open for debate amongst an invited informed audience. The work should proceed to safe house status when the problems have been resolved and clarified for the audience and appropriate strategies are in place to allow audience access to the complexity of much contemporary performance. This means that artist and spectator might begin to share and debate visions of the world as represented in an array of artistic works. This outcome can be achieved by providing training models that put the artist in the position of informed, articulate, skilful, flexible creator capable of formulating and creating massive action. The 'thoughtful body' is worth dreaming about.

Rivca Rubin and Steve Purcell, Co-Directors, Kaizen. Contact +44 (0)161 3742353. Rivca Rubin is currently Research Fellow in Performance at the Manchester Metropolitan University whilst Steve Purrell is Senior Lecturer in Performance Praxis at the same institution.

1 Woodsmall, Wyatt, The Management of Change Manual - a new domain for understanding The Graves Levels of Existence Values Model, 1998.
2 Haber, Honi, Beyond Post-modern Politics, Routledge, London, 1994.

The content of this site is proprietary to the Foundation for Community Dance and any access to this site or the use of any content made by any person is expressly subject to these terms:

Unauthorised copying of any material (including artwork) on this site and the reproduction, storage, transmission or the distribution of any content, either in whole or in part and in any medium or format, without the prior written consent of the Foundation for Community Dance and, where appropriate, the author or artist, is not permitted.

Please read our website terms & conditions by clicking here

Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001