Dilettant documents: Introduction

Of a lab with Jennifer Lacey, June 2012

By Jack Hauser, Satu Herrala, Sabina Holzer and Jeroen Peeters

In June 2012, Sarma@WorkspaceBrussels invited the choreographer Jennifer Lacey for a project around dilettantism in relation to dramaturgy. After the workshop Playing dilettant dramaturge - What Criteria for What Purpose? (18-22 June) followed a lab with a smaller group, confronting Lacey’s ‘dilettant’ working principles in dialogue with an actual creation process (25-29 June). The performance artists Jack Hauser, Satu Herrala, Sabina Holzer and Jeroen Peeters, who are working on Die Unbändigen, documented these two weeks of exchange with Jennifer Lacey. Not so much the ‘what’ but the ‘how’ is the focus of this documentation: sharing principles and strategies so they might find a wider resonance.

Though the workshop and lab had different questions (‘what’) as a point of departure, they had the same constitutive elements for structuring the day and the process (‘how’). They are treated here in continuity. Morning sessions were devoted to variations on Authentic Movement. In the afternoons these were extended into trios of artists and dramaturges. These different activities were furthermore embedded in a rehearsal score borrowed from the piece Les assistantes (2008) by Jennifer Lacey and Nadia Lauro.

Authentic Movement variations


  • One person moves with eyes closed, in whatever way and dynamic s/he feels. It can be very little movement or a lot, include the use voice, language or stay silent.
  • One person is the witness - viewing without judging. The witness takes care that the person moving with eyes closed is safe and does not run into walls, objects or other people.
  • One person is the ‘second witness’ and creates a filter through which s/he watches the person moving.

After the authentic moving session (for instance 12 minutes) the mover talks first and describes her/his experience or what ever s/he feels like sharing. Then the first witness describes to the mover what s/he has seen in an non-judgemental way. If the mover is interested in what the second witness saw, s/he can share the filter s/he used to read the movement.

Central in this score are ‘reading behaviour’ and the documentation of it, both of which are processes of naming the initial impulses. They are tools to clarify intentions or tasks rather than form or shape. Even when they fail, it’s important for the second witness to take decisions and name the strategy.

Further developments of the score: two people take on the role of second witness; one of them intervenes and engages in a duet after 6 minutes (by way of touching, dancing along, providing a soundtrack, etc.). You can also make use of images or other materials as a filter to frame, read and document (as a map) your experience and the dialogue between mover and witnesses.

Examples of filters for the second witness:

[The dance is…] a news reading
The play-list of a record
A book, given as a present to me
An archetypical scene: The man is called to the king and asked to speak…
A therapy session
Looking at the scene, as if it has nothing at all to do with dance.
Identify with all the emotions of the mover
Everything is a symptom
Watch the dance through the eyes of someone else, for instance your grandmother.
Everything comes from the Middle Ages
The dance is a fable/haiku/poem/…. [How to make use of literary tropes to produce a document?]

Examples of narratives produced by the second witness

‘Art therapy without pathology’
Caressing the worldly energies and holding onto them, she creates an aura like a backpack. She defines her kinesphere by sensing the vibrations at hip level. With frenetic, agitated movements she throws out her inner tensions to then revisit the foetus position, as a melancholic trip back into the womb. Flying with with a light breath and light arms now, she becomes a swan in a ballet, liberated from her life. Abstract dancing is a basic human need. Non-abstract dancing is also a basic human need. Blossoming like a tea pearl, afloat in a glass pot. Yet the inner idiosyncrasies do not totally yield to the environment, no, a sea devil with a horn on its head manifests itself in the water. The horn distributes itself over the body, which turns into a warrior, fighting, spiralling, jumping, rolling, stomping and slapping its way free.

‘What would an ideal childhood look like?’
A child has a very good and deep connection with the earth. Her feet and her body are rooted in the ground. If this being rooted is too strong and inhibits movement, the child looks at tiny animals and imitates them (like for instance a spider). The child needs to dance once in a while to enjoy her body with no reason and function. To have fun the child imitates military marching movements and engages in the strict and stiff protocol of the movement. The child needs time to listen to the birds. The child dreams about flying and falling. The child needs to fight with the wolves in order to define her territory. Be aware that the child always knows about the future, even if she decides not wanting to know and closes her eyes. For a girl it is good to know that there is a strong male figure at her side, supporting her actions and decisions. The child needs time to talk to the spirits.

‘Instruction manual for a children’s puppet’
- Searching for the wind
- Carrying bags
- Becoming an animal
- Conducting flowers
- Judging falling leaves
- Walking through the open green
- Following the smell
- Dreaming the traffic policeman
- Self-conscious rock
- Bird with new wings
- A flat elephant
- A horse with two legs on an old ritual-feet dance track
- A ghost finder
- Twin maker (who can touch strange invisible materials)

‘How to treasure life’
Let go. Spin. Laugh. Roll. Make sounds. Take risks. Trust other people. Take moments to sit and breathe. Hang your upper body. Rock it! Spin your head from side to side. Stop. Take off your hood. Be guided. Step to a new direction. Repeat what you did before but more gently. Lean on your support. Smile. Fall. Make sounds. Reach upwards. Fall. Laugh. Pause. Rest your head on the knee of the person that supports you. Be shaken. Enjoy things. Quiet down. Wave your arms. Dance. Dance together. Re-make classics (and then wild animals appear). Be unconventional. Accept support. Accept comfort. Hum. Stand on your own feet. Walk backwards. Move towards the light. Connect with nature. Use your senses. Make up songs. Join someone else’s song.

Some visual maps produced by the second witness

Dramaturgy Trios

In discussions, many questions pertaining to dramaturgy and other fundamental questions came up. How does your work relate to the world? What are the ethical positions of your work? What would happen if you’d undo them? Why do you make the work you do? What is the space in which you imagine your work? For which kind of space do you design your work? When is your feeling of the understanding of the work satisfied? What does it mean to be a dramaturge? Which kind of dramaturge you would invite into your process? How to create different relationships of making?

Out of sessions of automatic writing of AFT (‘aimless fictional talking’), different criteria and types of dramaturgy were established and written down on cards. They formed the basis for trio sessions in which two dramaturges designed and ‘staged’ a treatment for one artist with a specific question or project in mind. These projects and questions can also be written on third stack stack of ‘what’ cards.

Everyone needed to be specific and serious about their approach, even if it seemed far-fetched at first. The matter was to try out impossible expectations and relations rather than ‘negotiating one’s way out of it.’ The strategy to arrive at that is not role play, but ‘pretending’: moving into unfamiliar terrain but pretending that you know, at some point you will actually gain knowledge about a certain activity and start embodying it - which will lead to decisiveness and precision. (Compare it to pretending to be an animal and sustaining this for a very long time.) At the end of the day, you will always be dancing, working, thinking and taking decisions as yourself anyway…

Examples of criteria cards:
A performance is a place
Everyone should understand
Art making is a part of private life
A performance is between one and two hours long
This space is the real space
A performance is an endangered object
This space is a fake space
A performance follows its own logic
The stage is the final destination
The audience possesses body sympathy
A performance is finished when it has no more doubts or questions
Dance/performance is impractical and special
The way things go: idea - rehearsal - performance
The fourth wall is a wonderful and necessary thing
The process is the product

Examples of dramaturgy cards:
Fearless challenger
Dowser (in tune with the underlying structure)
Gardener (cultivate the original seed)
The psychic reader of past, present and future
Map-reader (co-pilot)
You are/you provide the good husband or the good wife
You are/you provide the reference
You are/you provide the digestive system
Fusional with the work (totally inside the body of the work)
You are the anticipated audience
The organizer
The explainer
The fictional space of service
The fictional space of disturbance
You are digging up the content
The fearless wilderness of intellectual exchange
You co-exist in the space
You complicate things
You simplify things
Efficiency consultant
The eyes
The connector

Rehearsal score after Les assistantes

How to create a process and an environment that produces you, so that you can make the work? One answer to that question was formulated by Jennifer Lacey and Nadia Lauro in their piece Les assistantes (2008). In order to avoid boredom, in rehearsals for that piece, activities were organized in time slots of 15 minutes. From a list of activities, an order of eight was decided upon in advance, which then constituted a two-hour time schedule. Some activities are individual, some are done with everyone, some in smaller grouping that emerge ad hoc or are arranged in advance. A similar principle was used in the workshop, but with a different list of activities (which are dependant on the nature of the project).

Making these decisions in advance (time slots, order of activities, groupings) in a somewhat quick and arbitrary way relieves you of the endless pondering and debating decisions. And it helps you to go against the grain of habit or following the inner timing of a certain activity, task or material. Furthermore, the limited amount of time for each activity creates a clear frame that opens up alternatives for interaction. As ‘temporary frames of generosity’, you might devote yourself (as assistant or dramaturge or so) fully to an activity defined by someone else’s desire. (Compare it with the SM contract: it is clearly framed and limited in time, so it can become pleasurable, though in the regular from of the everyday world it might be unacceptable.)

Since the score is collective, there is also a shared responsibility to observe it is being used in a proper way. Sharing the space means sharing the activity: sometimes half of the group is ‘doing’ and the other half is ‘observing’, which places both groups in an active state with heightened awareness. Interaction in the score might be difficult at first; small meetings and soliciting them are helpful tools to make efficient use of the score. You can also plan a pause halfway and insert a moment of ‘show and tell’, so people can relate better to one another’s activities. Time slots are strict, though some negotiation or spill-over between the time slots can become productive by sticking to the score. For instance, you continue a certain activity, but with a different task or mind-frame, a different focus.

Examples of activities:
- developing or rehearsing a dance/text/song
- a collective movement practice
- bodywork or ‘restorative yoga’
- resting (something important that needs to planned as well!)
- arranging the space (a way of framing the activity)
- conducting the different activities
- an observation/interpretation practice
- reading
- writing (for instance about the conditions and criteria of this situation; or about fundamental questions)
- making cards or images
- be an assistant or dramaturge for someone