Generating co-presence: dancers’ ways of knowing and discoveries in improvisation choreography

  • Marisa Godoy

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Through an investigation into collaborative making processes in contemporary dance, and the myriad expert artistic skills this requires, this study amplifies the dance artists’ voices in order to help grasp arguably indispensable competences in the creation of what I will name ‘improvisation choreography’. Among these skills are the generation of original movement material and dancers’ engagement with ways of knowing and states that are often tacit, and thus challenging to articulate and document. In improvisational work in particular, specific modes of being, thinking and moving, as well as an enhanced perception of self, other and environment – which foster creative modes of working – are crucial components of process and performance. I address questions related to the acquisition and maintenance of skills, as well as to the factors shaping an appropriate environment for performers to tap at will into the desired modes of being and operating. In order to investigate the progression of enskillment, my research is rooted in and informed and shaped by practice, both artistic and ethnographic. Adopting a constructivist paradigm and a practitioner-researcher stance, I conducted fieldwork on the choreographic practices of dancer and choreographer Thomas Hauert with his company ZOO, and the creation of Flot (2018), which he realised in collaboration with the Centre Chorégraphique National Ballet de Lorraine. By means of an autoethnographic perspective, I carried out ongoing movement practices whose insights inspired reflective inquiries and poetic musings. What I gathered was analysed using Grounded Theory methods. This study was part of the Research Video project, which is aimed at developing a video annotation platform. By engaging in annotation practices, I examined the affordances and probed the utility of this prototype software for the analysis and publication of research materials.

    The voices of dance practitioners, including myself, and those of dance researchers and anthropologists, along with the modes of writing I engaged in, are the ‘amplifiers’ that co-constructed the insights arrived at here. I propose that developing and sustaining skills in ‘improvisation choreography’ in group settings is a collective undertaking, with accountability distributed across the performers, the materiality and actuality of the place of practice, and the time substance manifesting as duration and periodicity. Sustaining skilled performance, which involves expert intuitive operation, is an attribute of practitioners’ co-presence and co-action in favourable conditions of space-time, where the volatility of these factors is a determining factor to be considered. A greater awareness of the implications explored here may be key in informing the way in which dance professionals both design and implement models of practice, production and performance. For that, the focus would lie on knowing not only what the required and indispensable skills may be, but in inquiring into how the dimensions of skilful improvisation in dance-making may be more widely contemplated. Such inquiry would also consider how the environment can be crafted for practice and performance by dancers, choreographers and their collaborators, taking into account the suitability of dimensions of people, time and place, for the flourishing of dance artists in and through the dance works they co-create, and bring to life.
    Date of Award2021
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorKaren Wood (Supervisor) & Scott Delahunta (Supervisor)

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