A few weeks after the first round of Critical Response Process ended, here at respond_, Robbie Synge is back in the Highlands, working on ‘Douglas’ with all your feedback and questions in his head. He’s preparing to share his work-in-progress with you during our second round of CRP, from Friday 14 – Friday 21 November.
He’s found time to reflect on why respond_ has proved already to be such a useful tool for him. Here he is…
We’re building it to test how a digital platform might advance audience engagement, artistic development, co-production, individual and group critical enquiry, and artistic learning.
For a week in September, users from around the world logged on and contributed to the creative process of two new dance works. A ‘closed group’ of participants, guided by researchers from University of Leeds, watched a film by Hagit Yakira which showcased her new-work-in-progress, ‘Air Hunger’, and then undertook the four steps of CRP. They interacted directly with Hagit, answering her questions to them about the work, and asking their own questions of her in turn.
Dr Brighid Webster was one of them. Our ‘closed group’ includes people who self-identified as ‘Frequent Attenders’ at contemporary dance performances, ‘Infrequent Attenders’ and ‘Non-Attenders’. Brighid, a ‘Frequent Attender’, said of the experience, “being a part of this innovative, exciting and perplexing project has affected me profoundly. I love and have loved being a part of it all… I love the way in which it has been organized and recognize the enormous work, preparation and thought, which has been put into it by everyone concerned. I am invigorated by it all and actually feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to peek for a time into another creative discipline.”
When the week was over, Hagit wrote to all the participants in the ‘closed group’, saying, “Let me first say how inspired I feel reading your comments. Some echoing my thoughts and some challenging my ideas. I have been reading them all and sometimes more than once. It gives me a lot to think about! You all have your own individual way to respond and write and still you are all doing it with so much respect. Thank you and more soon, Hagit X”
A film of ‘Douglas’ by Robbie Synge was made available to anyone, anywhere in the world, who wanted to join in, and participants from around the world engaged with him and his work through CRP.
Nearly 4000 people have so far visited the website, almost 900 of whom took part in the initial public vote which resulted in Hagit and Robbie being commissioned to make new dance works for respond_
The ‘closed group’ comprises 30 participants, each selected by the University of Leeds using a variety of research criteria. The ‘open group’, working with Robbie, was recruited by a variety of methods – call-outs through social media, targeting the audiences of other dance agencies and companies, haranguing our friends and neighbours, collaring other parents in school playgrounds… and, in the end, 55 people registered as participants in that ‘open group’.
Not all of those participants made it to the end of the process, and we’re evaluating the reasons for that at the moment. We remind ourselves that respond_ is an experiment – a research and development project. One of our big challenges is to find ways to increase the number of active participants, and to maintain their engagement with the site and the process over quite a long span of time.
And it’s a very complicated thing that we’ve built. We experienced a few technical hitches, and we discovered how difficult it can be to moderate the process of CRP between two artists and scores of online participants. Since this first step of the process finished on Friday 26 September, Team respond_ has been back together, refining the website and the way we use it to make it more user-friendly, more helpful to the artists, and more rewarding for the participants to engage with.
We’ve been to Manchester this month, to take part in a ‘Learning Day’ organised by Nesta, at which we swapped stories, experiences and questions with some of the other 60+ partnerships who’ve been funded to develop new projects by the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts, and gave a presentation about respond_ and what it’s taught us so far. There was quite a lot to say, and it was exciting to talk to members of other projets who quickly identified ways in which respond_ might be able to help them in their own work. So there also quite a lot of potentially fruitful conversations to come as respond_ develops.
In the meanwhile, Hagit and Robbie are going back into the studio, developing their respective pieces of dance with all the feedback and ideas from the Critical Response Process fresh in their minds. From Friday 14 – Friday 21 November, they’ll present new films which show how their works-in-progress have developed, and you’ll be invited again, at that point, to contribute to Robbie’s process. Again, Hagit will work with the ‘closed group’ and University of Leeds.
Then it’s back into the studio for the last time, to finish working on the pieces before their world premieres, here at Yorkshire Dance in Leeds, on Friday 5 and Saturday 6 December.
Dr. Brighid Webster is a member of our ‘Closed Research Group’, and took part in the first round of the Critical Response Process with Hagit Yakira in September. Here’s how she got on…
From initial guarded bewilderment to a gathering sense of involvement, CRP has made me question my ingrained habits of response and received opinion – especially in this (postmodern) society where sound bite ‘fixits’ are the staple of every politician, media and self-appointed pundit – their words forever hammering upon ears and brain; and the events, upon which they pontificate, disappearing in a plethora of annoying verbiage.
This was my initial fear – dance is dance after all. Talk is talk and I was apprehensive that, in the way I have experienced with art, writing etc. the creative act would either become secondary to verbal dissection or become obscured by the latter.
Thus it was with interest but with a certain amount of trepidation that I attended the launch of the online platform respond_ on Sept 17th. I had always loved dance but felt a lot of it was inaccessible to me because I didn’t have ‘the knowledge’ and vocabulary to appreciate it fully. Now there were two artists and two groups – a closed one with the artist Hagit Yakira and an open one with Robbie Synge. I had been placed in the former. With clarity and a certain amount of gentleness the respond_ team took us through the various steps of the project. My anxiety was replaced by interest and enthusiasm. Having not heard of Liz Lerman’s work previously, I realized that it was possible to engage in dialogue with an artist/artistic work without opinionated, and often received, judgment playing a huge part in the process.
The evening was well devised and tremendously exciting. As each step was explained I felt a deepening connection to the artists concerned and to the project. This was strengthened further when I had the opportunity to talk informally with both Robin and Hagit. (We didn’t talk about dance and their forthcoming work but about the looming Scottish vote for independence (Robbie) and about our love for the life and people of the Middle East (Hagit)). It was fun and there was definitely a connection. As we laughed together and chatted they stopped being just names and became exceptionally lovely human beings. Creating, especially initial creation, is scary and I, therefore, also felt great respect and admiration for them – that they were actually prepared to offer up their creative works in progress and share/question that work in a dialogue with us.
The evening was truly scintillating and I was determined to find out as much as I could about Liz Lerman and CRP.
Later a sense of apprehension crept in; I do have Luddite tendencies and would communicating through my computer place a barrier between the work and myself? But the site proved to be utterly user friendly and, after a couple of initial hitches, I was aware of the site creators taking me by the hand and leading me through the whole process. (I later realized that the site team was also incredibly efficient and that, whenever I had to get in touch with them, they responded to me immediately.)
The Four Steps:
To actually see the work was wonderful and it was thought provoking to realize that my palette of choices contained questions arising out of old thoughts and prejudices. To respond in a general but also specific way was difficult because this was a completely new vocabulary. It was so positive, though, and brilliant when Hagit questioned me. This compounded my sense of being truly involved in the creation of a dance work – a new and surprisingly invigorating sensation.
In a strange and unexpected manner this also served to further humanize my digital platform. Notice the word ‘my’ instead of ‘the’ – for this was the manner in which I now regarded the digital adaptation of CRP – the technological interface, between myself and Hagit’s work, gradually disappearing throughout the whole process.
To respond in a specific but also a general way to the work – writing about what ‘got me’ about it and being mindful of supporting Hagit in solving any pertinent issues on her own and made me even more aware of my thought processes. As I stated in my opening paragraph my societal and cultural conditioning made me want to ‘fixit’ into MY version of Hagit’s dance work.
To form neutral questions was surprisingly difficult. I realized that the initial comments I came up with involved my ego to a great extent. This certainly challenged my previous concept of being a rather (wise?) non-judgmental person. Food for thought here… and extremely ironic!!!!!
And the ‘fixit’ – a thing that has preoccupied me for years – but not actually possessing that name, rather existing in a nebulous, unspoken form. Of course everything – including us – is composed of shifting, sliding ‘smoke and mirrors’. How narrow we are in our own disciplines. Use of creative writing and humour, rather than mostly factual, verbose pontification in academic writing, is one way of trying to prevent oneself joining the ranks of the ‘self-appointed’ pundits mentioned earlier. Now I realize there are also other ways – other disciplines. Who would have expected this whole experiment to have aspects of such profundity?!
I look forward to our next meeting and I look forward to being present at the finished dance work. But is anything ever ‘finished’? All I know is that being a part of this innovative, exciting and perplexing project has affected me profoundly. I love and have loved being a part of it all… I love the way in which it has been organized and recognize the enormous work, preparation and thought, which has been put into it by everyone concerned. I am invigorated by it all and actually feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to peek for a time into another creative discipline.
So thank you to all who have made this possible.
Now I’m off to delve into my books and read some more about dance, Liz Lerman, and CRP…