London to New York: two movies, a bit of sleep and one article read.
New York to Philadelphia: trying to figure out how to post in the blog, reviewing the paper for the presentation and thinking how nervous I will be tomorrow.

I landed yesterday in New York, and now I am in the train to Philadelphia. I was invited to present my paper at the annual Congress On Research in Dance (CORD) Conference, that this year is going to be held in Philadelphia, 17th to 20th of November 2011. My paper titled “Dancing Nationhood in Spain” address the problems of gender and national construction in contemporary Spain through a close reading of a contemporary dance piece, Bésame el Cactus, by Catalan choreographer Sol Pico.

Like Woody Allen when discovering the murder in Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), just before a conference, I enter in a state of excitement where I feel “I have adrenaline coming out of my ears”. I love academic conferences. And maybe, this is the paradoxical feeling of excitement and nervousness that drives me crazy until the end of my presentation.

The opportunity to meet renowned scholars and socialize with other researchers is a great chance to check the actual status quo of the profession. However, at the end of the conference, safely back home I normally need five days of forced repose to restore the normal function of my brain, after such research presentations overdose.

Now, while getting ready for my talk, I leave you with the Mission Statement of CORD: “(CORD) promotes a globally inclusive respectful dialogue around embodied and discursive approaches to dance research. Building on the rich legacy of dance scholarship, CORD advances innovative and creative understandings of dance. Through mentorship, advocacy, and outreach, CORD fosters an international community of current and future dance leaders.”

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In the end of June the Postgraduate students and staff from the DFT department were invited to share a collaboration experience guided by the Map Consortium crew. The workshop was part of the Research Skills through Collaboration project of the department and supported by the University of Surrey. Curated by the Dance Lecture Jennifer Jackson, since 2009 the series has been providing different opportunities for the current postgraduate scholars and practitioners in performance from the University of Surrey to explore interdisciplinary collaborative skills and develop creative and innovative approaches to research. The second edition of “Point: Counterpoint”  was a day of experiments aiming to investigate the creative dialogue between movement, sound and film.

The group of collaborators was composed of dance, film and music staff and students including external guests. Inside the brand new Ivy Performing Arts Centre the hands-in workshop was divided into morning and afternoon sessions. It started off with an introduction to the work leaving each participant with the curious thoughts of what was really going to happen. We were invited to understand and explore different approaches into collaborative composition of interdisciplinary art pieces.

Going through the exercises proposed by the facilitators, it was interesting to notice the way in which the gaze and imagination of each one transformed the view and imagination of the other in a constant feedback process. Together we realized how each person can change and influence on what the other is thinking and doing and how collaboration can change the pathways of the work and can reach unexpected results.

Different than most (and usual) collaborations in which one person has an idea and selects other disciplinary experts to join in with their know-how, all activities proposed in the workshop involved the beginning of a new idea by each team. Although this approach is seldom explored it provides the collaborative partners an enhanced fertile ground on which to work on.

The afternoon was set for a single exercise where we were to create a collaborative performance from the scratch. There was no fixed style to be followed. The only requirement was that the whole group should be involved in all stages of the process.  We worked together with enthusiasm till the performance time. In the end of the day we were able to discuss the process and results of each work presented.

Although my current PhD research does not involve collaboration, this workshop was extremely important to enlighten creative approaches into my own thinking. Regardless that it was only a small taste of the numberless possibilities of collaboration, it was interesting to learn (and live through) that many times we anticipate and struggle to know everything that is going to happen from the start of a process. However this can kill opportunities, creative methods and possible outcomes. On this workshop we were given a chance to ease our anxiety and let ourselves take the risk and discover the beauty and richness of the unknown, something that we tend to instantly rush through in our daily research lives.

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This week, I am pressing pause on my dance PhD research and heading off to the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts. While I am looking forward to Mumford and Sons, U2 and Beyonce, I am also excited about immersing myself in other aspects of the festival, including dance, circus, cabaret, comedy, theatre, poetry and even bingo.

Dance performance has become more and more apparent at UK summer festivals, and below are some of the best dance finds of the 2011 season.

Latitude 2011
14th-17th July 2011
Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk

Latitude festival celebrates the performing arts and prides itself in being ‘more than just a festival’. This year, Sadler’s Wells hosts its own programme on the Waterfront Stage, which includes FELA, Rambert Dance Company, Zoo Nation, Tommi Kitti, the English National Ballet and more

Guilfest
15th-17th July 2011
Stoke Park, Guildford

Guilfest is the University’s local festival, and will feature a Ceroc dance tent and barn dancing.

The Big Chill
4th-7th August
Eastnor Castle, Ledbury, Herefordshire

The Big Chill offers an all-round experience for 30,000 people including a wide variety of music and performance, art, spaces for kids, comedy, dance and film. For a full line-up, check out the Big Chill Arts trail.

Bestival 2011
8th-11th September 2011
Robin Hill Country Park, Isle of Wight

Founded in 1995, Bestival is the last festival of the season, and has a fancy dress theme every year (this year it’s Rock Stars, Pop stars and Divas). In 2011, the ‘Time for Tease’ tent offers a delightful selection of burlesque and cabaret, while the Come Dancing tent teaches styles from the Lindy Hop and Viennese Waltz to Hip Hop, Tango and Breakdance.

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Over the last week Dance, Film and Theatre hosted the Research Week. The department organizes twice a year five intensive days of lectures, conferences and workshops where PhD students and professors present the status of their research.

As it was my first Research Week I was excited to attend the expositions of my colleagues and to learn from their processes. I benefited as well from the feedback received on my presentation. Moreover I would say the Research Week is important to connect us, the researchers, to identify us as part of the same community of academics. Since there is no necessity to attend modules and classes, PhD students are often reading and writing alone. Each one has her/his own research, her/his own bibliography and her/his own outline for study; we all have different lives that bring us different choices. Nonetheless researchers of similar fields will have similar problems and different ways of resolving them. It is always worthy to see how other researchers have found a solution for a problem that can be yours in the future.

The Research Week is the place where all of this can happen. This is the moment to connect with our colleagues and share our knowledge. It is an opportunity to create a network of future academics that can make a difference to our PhD experience.

Over the last week I have enjoyed meeting other researchers in my field, and overall sharing our experiences. After this, I think the Research Week has been a successful encounter for all of us.

I am looking forward to attend the next one in November!

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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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I Don’t believe in Outer Space was William Forsythe’s recent dance piece brought to Sadller’s Wells in London in the end of February. The North American artist is known for his career of twenty years  (1984-2004) in the Frankfurt Ballet, where he established what could be called his (unique) choreographic language. Today Forsythe has his own dance company based in Frankfurt – The Forsythe Company – where he has been developing his artistic and choreographic practices.

Most of the post graduates from the DFT witnessed this exceptional dance performance of 1 hour and 20 minutes on the 22nd or 23rd of February. One week after the performance the community of researchers was engaged in a Choreographic Forum, organized by the Society for Dance Research and curated by two DFT researchers: Efrosini Protopapa and Lise Uytterhoeven. The Forum was kindly hosted by The Place on the evening of the  2nd of March which received as guests speakers Dr. Helena Hammond, Lecturer from the DFT and Tamara Tomic-Vajagic from Roehampton University.
After an introduction from a social-historical point of view presented by Hammond and a body perspective given by Tomic-Vajagic, all of the present researchers were invited to compose smaller groups according to each one’s subject of interest.

In the discussion group that I joined we shifted between different topics such as Forsythe’s uses of Rudolf Laban’s movement principles as a guide and foundation to his choreographic language; Forsythe not as a simple choreographer, but as an institution; his uses of contemporary popular culture as a choreographic motif; the presence of a dramaturg in Forsythe’s choreographic process; and his generosity as an artist – as he reveals his creative process on the public conversations he offers before his company’s performances.

The evening ended with a positive engagement between  DFT’s Lecturers, Postgraduate Researchers and the community of Dance Researchers based in UK,  having an opportunity to exchange and debate different views on Forsythe’s choreographic practice.

*Dance Film and Theatre Department of the University of Surrey
**Society for Dance Research

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