Taking north west dance company 12 Degrees North as their subject matter, two Performing Arts lecturers at Edge Hill University attempt to capture the thrill and vitality of live performance on film.
Class-Rehearsal-Performance: photography by Helen Newall
Photographs of performance, representing as they do, fractions of a second in a longer live event, edit the flow of an ongoing timeline in live performance distilling a full length piece into fractured moments. These fragments are sometimes the only documentation we have of a live event which is finished. Any subsequent viewer must then construe what might have been danced in the time spaces between each image. In this sense, photography can never truly document the live event since a viewer will in all likelihood extrapolate out to make a performance which did not actually happen. Looking at a long past dance performance via photography is therefore like watching by lightning.
And performance photographs, as commentators such as Auslander and Sontag have noted, become not representative of the work, but works of art in their own right. The photographer has choreographed via the framing and cropping and editing process. Nevertheless, there is information in each image. And different agencies select images depending on the function to which they put a chosen image. A marketing image will be different from the one selected by a dancer for a portfolio. These images will mean different things to each viewer. The accompanying film details how the subjects of the image perceive themselves in the photographs. For the viewer who has not seen the dance performances they are glimpses, by lightning, of ephemeral performances which may or may not offer a sense of what the original live performance was like.
Do you see what I see? Film by Karen Jaundrill-Scott
Can images support the emerging dancer to self-reflect? This documentary follows six artists as they respond to a series of images captured by Dr Helen Newall during working processes and in significant moments of contemplation. The ACE funded 12°North Company exists to strengthen dance provision in the North West, supported by a culture of collaborative working alongside regional partners, to maximise existing and emerging opportunities. Engaging national choreographers and key practitioners enhances employability by recognising a hybrid diversity of dance (Hall, 2007), and advocating an entrepreneurial approach in preparation for employment (Burns, 2007).
In Mapping Dance, Burns suggests that an emphasis on self-management, career management and market placement is essential for a successful career within the dance world. Project Director Karen Jaundrill-Scott directs the film as the dancers self-reflect upon their technical development and key skills which reveal their current understanding, efficacy, beliefs and metacognition during their first year of professional training. Karen explores the notion of documentary as a research tool to measure the effectiveness of the project and the power of storytelling (Nicholls, 2002). She explores the basic question of whose story this is. Is it the filmmaker’s in empowering realisation and change within the subjects? Or the subjects of change having an embedded presence in the regional dance ecology to inform both pedagogy and practice? Within the narrative, the dancers frame ideas of self-perception in relation to a series of research questions, which measure artistic growth in relation to employability. As the dialogue progresses, dancers acknowledge that this is very much the beginning of their personal journey and begin to view the images through the eyes of potential employers by selecting photographs which maximise their versatility and employment potential.
This footage creates a window for discussion for practitioners in higher education to consider the role of universities in creating a learning environment which is consistent in developing arts professionals.