Thursday, 18 February 2016

Mdx Dance Lecture Series

Dance at Middlesex
Professor Joanne Butterworth
University of Malta
What are the considerations and conditions for the creation of new narrative ballets in the classical genre? Northern Ballet, based in Leeds, has a constitution which specifies that the company should create, produce and perform such ballets. This paper investigates the creative and rehearsal processes of one ballet, David Nixon’s Hamlet (2008). The work was set in 1940s occupied Paris, and challenged the company to explore and create a tragedy, in ballet, where believable characters play out their lives under extraordinary and fearful conditions. How was a Shakespearian text transformed into dance?  What influences were pertinent and how were the interdisciplinary elements perceived?

Jo Butterworth is Professor of Dance Studies at the University of Malta, where she set up a new Dance department in 2010 and was founding Director of the School of Performing Arts. Formerly Head of Dance at Bretton Hall College/University of Leeds, she initiated the BA Hons Dance and MA in Performance Studies programmes. Her research interests focus on dance making and its applications; she co-edited Contemporary Choreography: a critical reader with Liesbeth Wilschut in 2009, and published Dance Studies: the Basics in 2012.
Tuesday 23rd February
Grove Dance Theatre

All interested members of staff, faculty and students are welcome.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Opening doors...Allowing space...

Letting things simmer before they change.
Finding comfort in the uncomfortable.
Accepting uncertainty before expecting transformation.

These were all themes that emerged for me from our last groups Skype on Sunday Feb 7th.

Tara shared with us an experience of a past teacher who would pose questions and leave (what felt like a very long, uncomfortable) amount of time before a response was offered.  I felt as though many of us have had this, or a similar experience.  Allowing space in teaching I believe is crucial to nurturing independent thinking, learning and growth.  It is in that 'time' which can feel like hours, that  'space' which can feel like a barrier in the distance between student/teacher or students and each other, that we reach a real state of not-knowing.  In the process of learning (seeking new knowledge) we need first to recognise what we know of ourselves (module one - reflection).  We need space to do this.  Time to reflect.  The uncomfortable space Tara recounted offers that space for growth through self-regonition, time to think and feel a little lost, rather than being fed with an answer to move on.   It is perhaps our expectation of teaching/learning and being 'fed' that makes this space uncomfortable.  It does not meet with our expectations.  It offers an alternative and we need to take time to consider this in the context of the MA.

The role of the teacher (I would argue in any capacity) is not to feed but to open and hold spaces for independent learning.  In the context of teaching dance, whilst there may be a codified language in the movement, a vocabulary of steps, a discipline of the body to be learnt by the student dancer, I would still suggest that this learning is most valuable when it is owned by the student.

In posing questions, and allowing space for responses (not answers) to emerge the teacher is opening what can feel like an uncomfortable space where the student is faced with uncertainty, a need to 'know', a sense of their own response to openness in learning.  Much learning takes place in this space.  The student may or may not attend to, but will likely notice thoughts that come into their mind, notice the space around them, others in it, notice reactions in their body.  This noticing offers the ground for reflection later on in their journey.

Accepting uncertainty, being unfamiliar with something in order to get to know it better is all part of learning.  I will share here an excerpt from a previous blog I have written on this theme as it seems relevant here also.

In teaching dance technique I draw on the work of Irmgard Bartenieff, and use her language of the body, the system she has developed (referred to as Fundamentals) as a frame for improvisation and a structure for building classes (Hackney, 2002) .  The improvisation I guide by using anatomical reference points, an articulation in language of specific body patterns, allowing for/encouraging individual interpretation of these through movement.  I do not consider that I am ‘teaching’ these body patterns in a traditional sense, rather my intention is to facilitate the autonomous learning of others of, (from within) their own bodies.  Bartenieff Fundamentals offer a frame to this learning experience, points of knowing or points to connect with to explore the unknown. 

Not knowing, being uncertain, feeling lost, I believe are all positive states of being, as a dancer/artist/researcher.  They are the states that I feel need to be inhabited during any process of creation; be that choreographing new work, planning a research project, writing a paper, teaching a class.  Life is largely unpredictable and that it is within the complexity of our capacity as humans that we are able to respond to change and accept it as a necessary condition of growth and progression.  In teaching dance we are putting ourselves constantly in places of uncertainty.  When we meet a new class of dancers for the first time (or even subsequently down the line) we cannot know entirely how they will respond to our teaching.  We have to offer something (plan exercises, choreography) and wait (in the unknown) to see and sense their response…then we react.  Our reactions, I would suggest, are largely intuitive (Atkinson and Claxton 2008), based on prior experience, in response to what we see and feel happening in that moment.    We don’t know everything that will happen in that class until we are in it, but we know enough about our selves, our practice, our art form to be able to be responsive to the environment at any given moment and we trust ourselves in this.

Planning and conducting research isn’t that different.  We have some knowledge (within us, our experiences…think module one), we are interested in and engaged with dance (embodied experiences), and we are curious about things we are seeing and sensing in our lives (professional practice).  There are areas of the known and the unknown, a mutual requirement for us to be curious, to have questions and to be open to and responsive to change as a process of learning.  What is needed perhaps is trust in ourselves as researchers in the same way as we trust in our teaching?

Being ‘lost’ in the unknown is not a place of fear but of possibility.  It does not mean you have no idea, but that you are open to other ideas.  How you navigate your way through this journey relies on you, your sense of yourself, your practice, your feelings on learning, experiencing and knowing.  So you already have a frame of reference – you. 

As you enter each new module you are never completely lost, you have your sense of self, constructed here through your portfolio claims and ROL from module one, you have the module handbook as a reader/guide for the next phase of your journey, you have your professional practice.  You feel/sense, you read, you observe and do.  Each one of these trees (if you like – thinking live, slow growing, complex roots and many branches) talks to the others.  You know because you experience things.    If you rely only on one of these trees your journey may feel unstable, vulnerable, unclear.  If you rely solely on intuitive knowing, you may feel quite content but perhaps a little removed from others, from a wider context of being with, for and of others (Sartre 1958).  If you rely only on your observations and actions in your daily practice without analysis or evaluation of these within a wider context, you may feel stunted in your growth, restricted from moving forwards in your knowledge.  Similarly, there is a tendency because you are enrolled on a module and because that module comes with a handbook, to seek your knowing from this source primarily, at this stage.  Whilst the handbooks for each module are there to support your learning journeys they are not intended to define it…only you can do this.  The handbooks, your advisor, your community as learners/practitioners on this programme at this time can offer you support, guidance, a critical eye/ear, a probe of thinking, reflecting but they do not carry the answers or contain a direct map to ‘knowing’.

Allow space...see/feel/sense what you think.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

New term...

Welcome back all returning students continuing on their MAPP journeys this term and warm welcome those joining us this week too!

So, just a short post from me to check-in on the first week of term.  First week back, getting yourselves into study mode again...whether that's after the winter break or after a long break from studying in any formal sense...trying to find space, physically and metaphorically for the MA in your lives, re-adjusting patterns, finding your grove again with all the elements that make up you, your practice, your home-life, your study.  Taking some time this week to read through the handbook for the module you're starting, checking in on blogs, setting one up if you're joining us now this term (have a look round at others to get a feel for them), requesting to join our Linked-In discussion group (MAPP Dance Pedagogy) if you're not on there already...maybe posting something of your research interests those of you on Module Three now, to share with others...

Check-in with Adesola's blog -

she has posted times for our first monthly Group Skype back - It's this coming SUNDAY FEB 7!  Please do comment on her blog to indicate which call you would like to join (AM / PM) and make sure you've connected with us on Skype before then also!


Any queries around enrolment / re-enrolment please do contact our admissions team <> new starters or student achievement team <> returning students.  For finance please email <> let us know if you experience any problems though, we don't want administrative issues to delay you getting going on the programme!

Looking forward to hearing from you all on Sunday!