In the coming days I will be receiving the proofs for my book, Shakespeare, Theatre, and Time, about to be published in early summer.  I am not making an attempt here at shameless self-promotion (ok, maybe a little), but the fact that a major project like this is nearing its end has me reflecting on how we do our work in higher education.  In particular, as the University enters its four-week Easter break, I am thinking about the amount of time we allow ourselves – staff and students – for genuine, productive reflection on the tasks we undertake.  It is no new news that we live in a culture that often demands multi-tasking and rapid movement from one set task/outcome to the next.  But it is equally important – especially in higher education, where we engage in study and in detailed interrogations of complex ideas and practices – to stretch and deepen our time as well.  We strive where we can to include as a significant part of our process focused reflection: a kind of ‘slow’ time wherein we can absorb, and thereby further, the learning that is associated with individual tasks. 

When classes resume in May, our Theatre students will be remarkably busy with a great deal of exciting work; they are preparing for major productions (the first years for a staging of Hamlet, the second years for a devised production of one-on-one theatre called 21 Tables), and undertaking the technical support for these and other shows in DFT.  They are also preparing for final presentations in academic modules, and the second-years in particular are working on plans for next year, be that a placement year or the progression through to the third year of the degree.  Both before and during this busy period, I encourage them to find some slow time, and to use it productively, and the same can, and should, be said for staff.  It is, after all, vital that while we move from achievement to achievement, we take such time to allow our activities to sink in, and become a part of us.  A great deal of learning takes place in such reflective processes, and while I’m immensely proud of all the work being done in Theatre this year, I’ll be even prouder, and happier, to see that work filled out with the fullness of considered, thoughtful reflection.

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During week three in my HE1 Cultural Approaches to Theatre, Vernacular and Media Dance module, I was engaged in a discussion with my students about the socially constructed antagonism between so-called “high” versus “low” art. In this tug of war, dance in a theatrical setting where one pays money, sits quietly, watches intently and then applauds at the end, is considered “high art.” Dancing in social settings—home, park, public halls—gets relegated to “low” or popular art. Fortunately, the field of critical dance studies has scholars working to dismantle this unproductive hierarchy and open up the possibility for all types of dancing and dance making to function as “art.”

A fan of dance in music videos since the 1980s (I am the original MTV generation), I like to bring them into lecture especially when they feature unconventional choreography. Thus that day, my students “met” Wayne McGregor and a dancing Thom Yorke from Radiohead. Wayne McGregor is Resident Choreographer for the Royal Ballet and Artistic Director of his own company, Random Dance. His choreography tends to feature fast, restless, asymmetrical balletic lines. Critics have called it “relentlessly inventive” and full of “shimmering possibility.” Radiohead are a British alternative rock group known for their experimental sound. For the first single, Lotus Flower, off of their new album, The King of Limbs, Wayne McGregor choreographed Thom Yorke in a black and white video directed by Garth Jennings. Yorke dances alone, wearing a black bowler hat, crooning to the camera while stylishly flailing his own limbs around. My favourite part is when he lifts his arms slowly to remove his hat and you can see his underarm sweat stains and his matted, damp hair. Yes, dancing is work and requires physical effort; it need not just be pretty to watch.

My students had mixed reactions to the video. Some said it wasn’t “dance-y” enough, others thought it was “cool,” while others recognised a compositional structure. In the end, I wanted them to think about how this artistic collaboration through the medium of music video sets into motion a discussion of popular culture, “high art,” and choreographic practice.

See what you think here.

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