Choreographing the question: a dramaturg and choreographer in dialogue

item doc

Contextual note
First published in 'Dance theatre: an Internatinoal investigation. Proceedings from the first MoMentUm conference, September 9-12 1999, Crewe+Alsager Faculty, the Manchester Metropolitan University, pp. 23-38.
For this Sarma version, the original layout was copied.


What’s a dramaturg

and can I have one?



How will I cope with

the instability,

the dispersement,

the ephemerality,

the erasure




s p a c  e





Space, inescapable and all-sustaining Space, is our unrecognised god! (Walker 1998:63)


Diana: The first gesture or moment in the studio is like an announcement in the space - “I am here.” “And this is what it feels like.” Then I begin to work in one of two ways. Sometimes I begin with a gesture. It is the impetus of the gesture which launches and shapes the feeling tone of what follows. I usually let that opening gesture lead me wherever it wants to go and do not stop until a certain amount of time has elapsed. This unconscious “sketching” can drive itself in silence or to the sound of my own voice talking to myself or humming or singing or sounding, or it can be aligned to music. Very quickly some sort of inner narrative starts to take root. I am left with an after image of certain movements and certain locations in the space that linger and which I can find again. A sequencing of material begins right away. Throughout all this physical work I often stop to write notes, notations, pictures, bits of text, numbered sequences. Other times, I begin with a “framed” image. In frame 1, for example, I see a woman, sitting, stroking her dress or slumped over the top of a piano. I start to visualise this picture in duplicate or start to visualise where the image might appear in the space, how it might be paced and so on. Then I begin a fast and constant narrative - a verbal choreography “She gathers up her dress. She suddenly sees something in the distance. She leaves her chair only to sit down again....” and so on. The frame is a loaded space in which anything can happen. More often than not I work with these “set-ups” as I like to call them (because I expect things to happen from them) to the sound of my own voice and later experiment with different music or sound to see what happens. I am always fascinated to see how one image starts to live in a space and how that space starts to establish a dialogue with the image. Weight, attack, tension, scale, volume, line, intensity, drive… these are the working vocabularies for me... where I locate narratives and meaning.


Space (chora)... is eternal and indestructible... it provides a position for everything that comes to be. (Plato)










Tea for Two

(the warm-up)


Diana (hereafter identified as “D”): Why is the choreographer working with the dramaturg?

Synne (hereafter identified as “S”): Why do I find it interesting to work with dance?

D: I read that Meg Stuart felt paralysed for a year having reflected on her ways of making. I came to you in that state, paralysed.

Paralysis of the choreographer.

S: Paralysis of the dramaturg.

D: We paralyse each other.

S: What causes paralysis?

D: Expectations?

S: Is it because I can’t answer your questions?

D: Is it because I don’t know what I want?

S: Is it because they are the wrong questions?

D: Does the dramaturg serve the choreographer best when she is not needed?

S: Perhaps new terms can be found for dramaturg.

D: Like choreoturg?

S: What does choreographer mean literally?

D: Literally the writing of dance (graphia). Non-literally, take your pick

“(E)motional writing of the body intimespace (Theodores), “or “the syntactic logic of organising movements within time” (Lepecki, “Conversations on Choreography”, Amsterdam, March 27,

1999). What does dramaturg mean literally?

S: It sterns from the Greek word dramatourgos which translated means playwright. Non-literally, take your pick “the questions of how, what, where, when and why something happens... the making manifest of a concept into a form (Behrndt:1997)” or “the task of imaginative organisation in order to communicate; the ensuring that after a long process there is a visible and cohesive “something” (Lepecki, “Conversations on Choreography”, Amsterdam, March 27, 1999).

D: Can the dramaturg read and write the body as text?

S: The body is a puzzle. The body is a text of contradiction. The body is a text of chaos. The body is a text of ambiguity. The body is the domain of the irrational.

D: The body as the domain of the irrational?

S: When it comes to the body, it is irrational to me. I find it difficult to read.

D: Are you looking for a moment-to-moment translation of verbal-based logic into the body?

S: You can’t do that with the body which is why it interests me. It doesn’t work on that premise. It forces me to redefine reading.

D: Perhaps dance speaks of the things you cannot say?

S: When people write about dance the writing itself becomes poetic. When you write words about dance your language changes.

D: It is active, descriptive, filled with the sensation of seeing movement.

S: Writing about something always involves extracting, extending, analysing.

D: Your primary business as a dramaturg is about looking not about writing, isn’t it?

S: But I have to write down what I see.

D: So how does writing help you to see?

S: It helps me to remember what I see and it helps me to extract the particular. logic of the work. It’s a tool for clarifying my looking.

D: How to see is primary.

S: And how to express it. Seeing alone is not enough.


...if he could dance what he says (the dramaturg) and if the choreographer could speak what he sees... (Sturm, 98:25)


Diana: Recently, I attended an “Introduction to Dramaturgy” lecture by Synne Behrndt who was addressing a group of second year Theatre students at Dartington. As I listened I wrote the following key phrases (a choreographer writes phrases) Seeing What’s There: Writing Everything Why? (the Core Question that drives and rationalises the process ); What is the Potential of This Choice?; Keeping the Process Alive; Keeping the Performance Alive; Looking at Rehearsal in a More Relevant Way; Do You Know What You Want? Why Don’t You Know What You Want? These were the provocations which sent me, a dormant choreographer in crisis, in pursuit of Synne after her lecture like a New York neurotic waving her cheque book at a recommended therapist. I had wanted to revisit, perhaps even resurrect a practice of choreography for some time but had been immobilised by teaching and riddled with not knowing what I wanted. Reassured that “uncertainty itself is the subject and focus of (choreographers’) work” (Gilpin, 1997:84), I desired an opportunity to explore this very “subject.” Working with a dramaturg offered a way to start things shifting for me - practically, instinctively, contextually - and offered an opportunity to invest in a new currency. It seems that choreographers and their dramaturgs are positing a bustling trade in Euro-commerce.


Synne: The dialogue was born out of a genuine collaboration between a maker and a dramaturg but during the process an added layer occurred, a meta-dialogue, a dialogue about the dialogue taking place. The question of how one reads choreography and the body became central and thus mapped out a direction for the collaboration. It became dear that there was a form of sub-text occurring, a sub-text of two different sensibilities - perhaps a dramaturgical one and a choreographic one. The discovery that dance leaves a huge space where an assigned meaning or a translation becomes difficult or irrelevant forces me to find a new approach to reading the work. Rather than asking what it “means” or what it “does” it seems to me that I need to look at what is at work in my activity of looking (at dance). What am I looking for? What am I looking at? This idea of never knowing exactly what it is I am supposed to get out of this, what I have to contribute, what is expected. This is the dramaturg “why don’t I know what I want?” question. At the centre of my questions is the word negotiation. What I am essentially doing is negotiating a way to look at this work (dance). From the outset, I was not sure how I could contribute to a choreography context and Diana was not sure if she could benefit from me. This seemed to be a good place to start.






Diana: By the start of the following week I had contrived a passion for “ranting body parts” and with Synne in the studio, along with a group of serious playing students who were hungry for non-assessable exploration, we began a lunch-time workshop project called Rant Dances. These were daily improvisation sessions during lunch hour, over several weeks that built upon the previous day’s material and gradually splintered off into a series of short etudes for performing, recording and discussing together as a group. The motivational starting point for me in Rant Dances was the notion of an unrepetitive outpouring, an ongoingness, a relentlessness. This project essentially provided myself and Synne with a live laboratory (or “physical sketchbook” as I called it at the time) as a starting point for a dialogue on ways of looking that choreographer and dramaturg bring to a making process. A dialogue about difference.


I was revisiting choreography after years of writing dance criticism; Synne was visiting choreography from a history of text-based theatre dramaturgy. Like the ranting body parts in our workshop, we were/are bodies under pressure in this dialogue. Physical and mental pressures build up in us in this process. .Just as we had to keep the notion of rant alive as a motivation at all times in the studio, here we keep up a relentlessness of ongoing dialogue. Like a rant, which takes as long as it takes in time, our dialogue takes its time and takes up real time, a lot of it. It needs its space, its room. Like a rant this dialogue is a driven journey, with a life of its own - a transaction of time, space, energy: - on paper, into microphones, in front of camera, over e-mails, faxes, phones, via letters, on walks, in whispers during performances viewed together, in intervals, during drives, riding horses, sipping tea, over lunch, over dinner, over coffee and doughnuts.


Synne: My interest in movement and choreography is summed up very well by Heidi Gilpin when she says “its not the movement per se but the different questions movement performance seems to be asking of its audience.” (Gilpin 1997:85) I need to reconsider the ways in which I read meaning and intention in work. I need to consider much more abstract principles of composition. How will I cope? Is what I see as dramaturg interesting to Diana as choreographer? As Gilpin writes “unlike dramatic theatre where text is at the centre of interpretational strategies for the audience, movement performance confronts the audience with a multi-discipline set of vocabularies, none of which play a central role” (Gilpin 199 7:85). The body is at the centre but it is not necessarily a descriptive body. It is, rather, an uncertain, complex, and contradictory object to read. When Diana would develop a phrase with the performers during the Rant Dance rehearsals she would “set it” by notating it on paper, and by having the performers repeat it several times. Then the phrase would change as Diana watched it and made alterations or revisions or as the performers suggested departures of their own. The questions that kept coming back to me were: “What are their criteria for knowing how a particular movement works better than another?” “What is movement to them and how do they read/perceive it in that moment of creation, in choosing one thing over another?” As I observed I became clearer to me that instead of one governing principle (structural unity) Diana’s approach applied a contextual or ever-changing ‘centre’. No wonder she couldn‘t ‘justify’ decisions, because the ‘centre’ was constantly moving.


Diana: That “poly-logic space of articulation” as Lehmann describes it. (Lehmann 1997:57) Anyway,

Kerkhoven proposes that there is no essential difference between theatre and dance dramaturgy in that its main concerns are “the mastering of structures, the achievement of a global view, and the gaining of insight into how to deal with the material.” (van Kerkhoven 1992:146).


Synne: But it is within the material that differences (in insight, in strategies) are encountered. And in observing dance the body seems to be dispersing the interpretative centre which, in dramatic theatre, the text ensures. The body is at the centre of investigation, but a body which might not describe but which might leave traces and empty frames to fill. This has widely been described as the erasure of dance.


Diana: In “Dramaturgy of the Spectator” Marco De Marinis talks about “the dense signifying surface” (De Marinis 1999:107) of performance text being characterised by instability (in that it is variable) and impermanence (in that it is ephemeral). Perhaps these are the factors that are promoting your sense of ephemerality in dance, Synne.


Synne: And it is also an ephemerality of meaning in movement. “The unthinkable presence of the body... undermining the Logos.” (Lehmann 1997:57) So we’re back to the domain of the irrational. We have to redefine logic within this poly-logic space of articulation. The body, dance and movement do not resist ‘reading’, ‘analysis’ or ‘deciphering’. But it all calls for a different approach to the understanding of reading. A traditional understanding of reading is essentially about creating meaning, coherence, and structure. Everything possesses these qualities. The critical redefinition lies in understanding these terms not according to a mono- or linear logic but according to a poly-logic.


Synne and Diana

Read to Bach Other

From Their Notebooks

Over The Phone

On the Night of a Full Moon


From Synne’s Notebook: I do not approach a process thinking that something has to be rectified or done differently. The starting point is that someone invites me in on the project or their work as a sparring partner or collaborator. I assume that the choreographer would be able to make a piece of work without my presence or input. The dramaturg does not become indispensable but becomes integrated in the process. In the initial phase the material for the dramaturg is the maker herself? What does she want? What does she keep coming back to? Why is this material important to her? Where are the dilemmas or problems? I have to start somewhere else other than the content of the work. I have to start with the choreographer. Who is Diana as a choreographer? She seems to know so much but an understanding of her motivation seems lacking. It is this “why don’t I know what I want?” that seems to be the bane of her practice and is becoming the revolving point around our collaboration. Critical information hides in her monologues. Like Chekhov’s characters so much is revealed in monologues in the shape of absurd ramblings, angry and frustrated proclamations, positive manifestos, lectures, silent confessions concealed as rational self-analysis, opinionated observations and descriptions, tired outcries and anecdotes, self inflicted psychological torture, self ironical humorous punctures and a tendency to a longing towards an ideal state of being and practice.


From Diana’s Notebook: The monologue can be, literally, an opportunity to talk and talk and talk about the work - unabashedly, selfishly - and be listened to. What makes it a monologue is that it is being listened to, watched, read, observed unconditionally and uninterruptedly….for a while. Peter Sellars, talking about a rehearsal of Beckett’s Ohio Impromptu (which is about a character‘s uninterrupted reading of a book aloud) says something like “the interrupted reading of a text about uninterrupted reading encodes rehearsal’s relation to performance.” The interrupted reading - the work of the dramaturg and choreographer in collaboration - happens next, after the monologue, that uninterrupted vista of dreams, those quirks and improbable preoccupations that you surprise yourself with while someone listens, watches, record. This is the monologue moment and it is at once a luxury and a necessity.


during the interval of a Jerome Bel


in Bristol


Synne: Diana, you talked about finding another term for the dramaturg.


Diana: It seems to me that working with you as a dramaturg invites a deeply personal thing - being partnered in the process of clarifying, of creating a rigour in one’s intuition and instinct by a process of sympathetic clarification. The words “theatre therapist” or “choreoanalyst” emerge here playfully but perhaps not inappropriately?


Synne: This understanding of the dramaturg as a person who helps the maker articulate perhaps subconscious motivations is what leads to your referring to this “therapeutic” role of the dramaturg. I have a problem with this premise of therapist, or the sense that the dramaturg should fulfil a lack or need in the choreographer to be “solved” or “saved.”


Diana: We can drop the term therapist but it points up things that I think are relevant, certainly fascinating. I’m hoping in that rehearsal space or in our discussions outside rehearsal that you will say something that will answer all my fears, worries, questions. That you will solve me and rescue me. Of course it is a misguided premise upon which to engage with a therapist or with any kind of relationship. When you go to a therapist you give yourself permission to have your moment, have your monologue. And even though the therapist will always say “I am not going to tell you what to do, the answer is within you, you’ll know,” we still hope the therapist will say “this is what you should do and everything will be clear” (you will have a happier life). The constant question “Why don’t I know what i want?” is what drives me to make this piece. All the drives in the moment of making become very heightened because of the dialogue we’re in. So I use the term therapist.


Synne: But the dramaturg is also about other things. Sometimes I wonder if the dramaturg has slightly voyeuristic tendencies to sit and look at people doing and saying things and discovering things about them as they work, as they observe, as they rest, as they live in the process... there is something fascinating about the job of looking, observing, and transforming this seeing into concepts, themes, structures, frameworks - material. In fact, one reason why I write things down, even though van Kerkhoven suggests that one should look without pencil in hand is that I consider everything potential material. This is not only what the director says or focuses on in the moment, but the often interesting stuff that goes on in the periphery, metaphorically and literally, off centre stage or off centre.


Diana: Yes, an uninterrupted view of the making of the work and therefore the living of lives within that, the “living theatre” of the material (performers, choreographer, environments, events, etc.) It is a potent activity - being in a position of “intimate distance,” of “suggesting order to the chaos of creating without being remote from that chaos as force and energy.” (van Kerkhoven 1992: 14).


Synne: I guess I like to be the Apollo in the temple of Dionysus, as Joe Orton once said.


Diana: But you also seem to perform in another, essential way, in helping to create a safe space for doubt.


Synne: Creating a space for doubt also means having the time and space to look al work, not to “correct it” or want to change it or read something into it, but to extract something from it... to see what drives it. To make a safe space for doubt is to make more space to manoeuvre in because someone is there to pick up the pieces or open up the material even more or just leave it open for doubt even more. If you are working off an idea or a certain inspiration, my main preoccupation is always to

probe this idea for its organising principle, the thinking which binds together the various activities which come from your exploration. This does not mean that I am trying to create a linear narrative from what I see. But I am trying to create consistency, continuity and consequence. I am creating a framework wherein decisions about something can be made. This framework occurs when we can find the particular thinking and intention which drives the material. Intention is important and critical. Even if decisions about an image or movement are made solely because of your fascination with them, there are consequences in those decisions. In pursuing fascinations we are probing the impulse or desire to use something. The dramaturg helps the choreographer in organising those points of fascination which might have no immediate relation to each other. The dramaturg is responsible for challenging the choreographer’s “privilege” not to consider meaning. Meaning is everywhere and meaning is important in understanding one’s own material. Not to look for meaning is not to want to pursue ones own fascination.


Diana: But as Calvino says, perhaps a gesture is enough. Perhaps “it is enough for someone to do something for the sheer pleasure of doing it... at that moment, all spaces change...” (Calvino 1997: 155)


Synne: We can rethink meaning. Meaning can be understood as what it means to the choreographer. We are not talking about a general or objective meaning. We are talking about the meaning it has for the choreographer and in relation to the material. It is this function, this “clarifying as we go” that you called it, that the dramaturg occupies. The dramaturg is therefore a reader of process, and a reader of rehearsal. I will insist that you have to understand the quality and nature of the logic you’re in the process of creating. Remember we talked about dance having dispersed, multiple “centres”. Well, there can be several compositional principles operating in the same piece of work Movements can be generated from various centres. Therefore, there can be multiple “logic” at work which might include that “gesture.”


Diana: In her wonderful book “Directors in Rehearsal” Susan Letzler Cole talks about the delicate undertaking of being present in the rehearsal space, of having to learn techniques of being present that are unlikely to disrupt or betray the special conditions of rehearsal work (Cole, 1992:3). To be seen to be writing almost continuously, the writing of everything that you speak of, Synne, becomes a behaviour that choreographer and performers become familiar with, comfortable with even. The physical act of this ongoing writing creates a kind of “background energy” that is palpable in the space - a dispersed focus unlike a videocamera and yet a more heightened focus because you are looking through many different lenses, through a “perceptive doing,” (De Marinis 1999:107) passively seeing and actively watching.


Synne: Gilpin talks about how choreographers have forced her to consider “the processes and tactics of memory” (Gilpin 1997:87) and for me writing is the central tactic of memory. One can consider the idea of memory in two ways. Firstly, gathering the “physical facts” of the material - the protocol of rehearsal. Secondly, uncovering the logic that is present but hidden under heaps of material, unsure as to what we are looking for. Writing down everything is away to penetrate all this material and get to a centre. We cannot structure and make decisions if we don’t keep asking the question: What is this material? What do we keep coming back to? This will be revealed if you are as rigorous in reading and extracting from the notes as you are in taking them. Writing down everything can sometimes mean literally every detail, but often the writing is also a reflection on the spot. In my notes I have two steps. 1. What do I see? 2. What is the potential of this?


This is where the practice in space needs the theory of the page. At this moment an act of speculation occurs. In this moment “memory” can be understood as a dynamic dialogue between something done in the space and the articulation of that something moment-to-moment as it emerges.


Diana: There is a lot being written about revisiting the writing of dance performance. Much of this is addressing dance criticism or relationships between acts of moving and acts of writing in themselves.

But in your own ongoingness of writing everything as a dramaturg in the space of choreography, perhaps these vocabularies are relevant as “strategies.” Chronicling our ways of looking, of seeing, of watching - both with and without pencil in hand - seems to be an ongoing “outcome” of our dialogue.


Synne: One of our tasks has been how to chronicle or ‘capture’ our dialogue. And here our differences have come out. Typically, your responses have been of a performative or practical nature, where my responses have been more didactic or literary. These two strategies have enabled each other. Typically, one of my favourite strategies is to record the conversations, transcribe them and extract the essentials, whereas your favourite strategy has been to show me things (in the space or on paper) and expect a response. I have noticed that in much dance criticism the writer’s struggle or desire to capture movement or make visible the invisible demands that one make up one’s own rules to negotiate what one sees. This seems to be a general strategy. There are always frameworks one can refer to, e.g. historical and aesthetic codes. But essentially, the writing seems to be a form of meta-writing, a heightened consciousness of having to actively negotiate what one sees. This makes the audience and the writer active negotiators in the moment of watching. Gilles Deleuze asks for the presupposition of “the new,” presenting an audience with material which stretches their imagination beyond their point of recognition to the point of sensation (Deleuze, 1996: ) forcing the audience to actively create meanings for themselves. This is not special to dance performance. But this kind of performance provokes writing that in itself reflects on the activity of seeing. The writing is a document, an extension of the performance. The dialogue that we are having here, Diana, is indeed born out of the desire to capture, to make visible the invisible, to “understand” and extract meaning.


Synne discovers this

in Diana’s notebook


Diana’s Notebook: There are 3 things that motivate me and fascinate me when I start to make a work in the studio 1. attack 2. the feeling contained within a shape 3. a framed image inhabiting the space. Overall I tend to work very fast and then luxuriate in a process of draft, redraft, draft, etc. looking to see what sticks, what gets left behind, what changes and why. In the act of repeating I always find out what and why something is important to me. Hopefully, a rigorous intuition is operating. Sometimes the material gets so distilled and pared away in this drafting and redrafting process that all that’s left is one image or instinct and it is so potent to me that it may be the subject for many starting points and even find its way into other media like my writing or in my dreams.


Diana discovers this

in Synne’s notebook


Synne’s notebook: Diana seems willing to throw herself into a situation of uncertainty but it is a new thing for her and very bewildering. She seems to think she should have the answers to my questions. When I saw her work in the studio it became clear to me that she works very fast and can put things together incredibly quickly. She can usually see the final structure or score in her head the moment she observes an image or action that fascinates her. ...But she tries to create meaning and structure too soon. I would like to challenge this urge of Diana’s to want to create a finished performance too soon.




Diana: So back to the irrational body you see when you are looking at choreography.

Synne: it’s a fascination and a fear of looking at dance. Again, it has to do with the negotiation of the ephemeral and the ambiguous.

Diana: So when looking at choreography you‘ve got to reorient yourself put yourself in the space differently, rethink how you look.


Synne: Our partnership is based on different perceptions of the material. And my perceptions of the material then need channelling into strategies for extracting new strands and organising the work - not necessarily into a “running order” but into the context of an inner logic.

Diana: When I’m choreographing there’s a kind of urgency in this drive to make - the physical drive to keep going - the unstoppable physical present...(even if you’re stuck it unstoppable)...

Synne: My motivation for being in that space is different. It’s a particular interest in process. As urgency about discerning patterns, organisations of material I have to go back to the idea of what it is about a moving body, a physicality on stage that I find interesting. But not only that, I have to ask what it is about this process of looking at bodies, watching physicality, watching ‘something at work’ in a space, which leaves me out on a ledge. I need to trace my method of seeing. Perhaps I can’t tell the choreographer what the work is really about but I can ask: What is in this structure that could be pushed even further? Structures and strategies change from context to context and are even inconsistent within the same context. Look for what those changes and inconsistencies are. They could turn out to be great material!


10 Things I Want

From My Dramaturg


Synne: Well ok, certainly, there is no reason to have one for the sake of it. But remember one also has to leave space for a situation of surprise and discovery. The dramaturg can fulfil functions one didn’t expect.


1. Diana: I want my dramaturg to listen to my monologues.


Synne: But there is a very specific reason for the listening. The listening is research. The listening is the initial part of the working process. For the dramaturg the material is also the choreographer.


2. Diana: I want my dramaturg to protect my original inspiration against the “monstrousness of transformation,” (Alexander 1998:81) from finding myself further and further removed from the original moment of inspiration.


Synne: I can keep reminding you of where we started. I can keep reminding you the initial drive behind the project once you’re lost. But I will not protect you from the monstrousness of transformation. Transformation is a necessity and is the process where inspiration starts materializing. Initial inspiration is important but it is what is hiding behind it that is essential.


3. Diana: I want my dramaturg to research the space for me.


Synne: To do the dramaturgical work; to find strategies and ways of “researching” the space I must observe how you relate to and work with the concept of space in order to use this for material. Are we talking about the fictional space? the scenography? the actual, functional space? Each “space” creates very different strategies for the dramaturg to consider. Anyway, I would prefer that you phrase this ‘with you’ rather than ‘for you’, please.


4. Diana: I want the dramaturg to observe qualities of the performers and dynamics between them for material.


Synne: This is a very specific function of the dramaturg to be able to look at something and extract something as potential material. And that “something” is most importantly the performers’ relationship to the material. Sometimes you use what I call a ‘filmic’ imagination which tends to focus on images and effects instead of the tactile, and therefore the complex, chaotic, messy, vulnerable body is in danger of being ignored. I do miss the tactile in your work. When performers move in space they let things happen, their physique is material. And in letting things happen they can risk and stretch the material beyond the rational form and structure. In a rehearsal situation one rarely knows what really has to be done or achieved... something which seemed to paralyse you was the fact that you would feel that ‘nothing happened’ during certain rehearsals and you felt under pressure because you thought I was expecting finished work at the end of a session. Well, on the contrary, I was looking for more mess to work from.


5. Diana: I want the dramaturg to offer ways in which to score the work.


Synne: A dramaturg’s task is always to find new ways of scoring work. Scoring instigates making. Think of how William Forsythe used Heidi Gilpin’s literary strategies to develop and organise his choreography. I notice that you abandon scoring quite quickly and work off memory. That would be something I’d like to challenge. It is so integrated in my process... notes and going over notes and looking at material from a different view than the purely practical. Work also happens between the

rehearsals. You are very good at working in the here and now. It could be interesting to look at the material with a different set of eyes, lifted out of the studio. The idea would be to move it from an initial fascination or first impulse to a deeper reflection and probing of this impulse. The point is also always to understand the initial or first impulse.


6. Diana: I want the dramaturg to research visual imagery that may enrich my working vocabulary.


Synne: How easily one can forget that research is not synonymous with literary texts and libraries. Thank you for reminding me.


7. Diana: I want the dramaturg to sometimes offer up texts (their own writing or found) that embody or mirror or respond in some way to the movement imagery inhabiting the space.


Synne: Robert Wilson once said that the best dramaturgs are also writers in their own right. They have a way with words, they are translators, they have to be precise - and they have to be creative. Writing is not only a question of notes and description. Notes can be creative too. The way a dramaturg can phrase something in her notes can make the critical difference for the director or choreographer.


8. Diana: I want the dramaturg to respond to the musical “graph” of the choreography.


Synne: I would call this a final analysis, where one is trying to find the right rhythm and to observe strengths and problems in relation to the structure.


9. Diana: I want the dramaturg to critically feedback on the whole of each day’s material.


Synne: Summing up each day is a way of ‘discovering’ the logic and structure, but also a way of pulling the emergency break in order to change direction before it’s too late. This summing up I must admit, I do prefer to do in collaboration with the maker. There is a danger in what I see observe or think becomes a form of credo for the maker because the dramaturg is trusted with a form of ‘last words’. The maker should be careful how the dramaturg’s observations are used. To be able to extract critically from the dramaturg’s observations and work with these is a huge and very important responsibility of the maker.


10. Diana: I want the dramaturg to have a good sense of timing.


Synne: Timing is vital. There are times watching your process when I knew I was not needed. The task then is to discover how to make myself needed again. I believe the dramaturg cannot be “objective” but has to take responsibility for the quality of the material and the work. There is a constant struggle to perform something of interest and relevance... but sometimes you have to know when to let go. This is an entrance the dramaturg enters the process with material research. Why now? why this? what about it? Good or bad timing. Any material could be good, if one has an understanding of the right time and way to introduce it. To prompt at the right time and the place in the right way. Do you have any idea how difficult that is?


Diana: I want the dramaturg to reveal things to me about myself through my work.


Synne: Well that’s 11 things so there’s no time left to answer you.


10 Things I Hate

About My Dramaturg


1. I hate it when she asks too many questions.


2. I hate it that I have to stay in the space and make sure the piece gets done while she can come and go.


3. I hate it when her observations are so precise and relevant that they become my nagging conscience because I secretly agree with the problems she has pointed out.


4. I hate it when she gets pedantic.


5. I hate it when she looks detached while observing a rehearsal when I want her to look engaged.


6. I hate it when she links theory and practice.


7. I hate it when I can’t answer her questions.


8. I hate it when she has longer monologues than mine.


9. I hate it when she problematises everything. Is it possible that there is no problem?


10. I hate it when she won’t answer my question what should I do now?


10 Dilemmas

of the Dramaturg

1. There is always a struggle for territory: what is mine, what is yours. At the end of day, there is no ownership of material - only material exchanged and transformed between ourselves.


2. I was once accused of occupying “a parasitical function”, living off others’ creativity. How false these accusations might be in the bigger picture, I use this metaphor to bring me down to earth if I ever forget about the territory - it makes me remain humble and understand the problematics of the dramaturg.


3. Having to facilitate and remain humble when I clearly feel it would all work out if I took over.


4. Suffering from a misguided notion of having to be an ‘Übermensch’, the last bastion to crack. Surely, with this attitude I would be the first to crack.


5. Realising that I do have a personal preference, enquiry and aesthetic and having to put a lid on it when working with others. Should I only commit to certain types of work? How do I keep my own line of enquiry and still work with other forms of enquiry. The fear of ending as a relativist.


6. Understanding the impossibility of the dramaturg as the “objective eye”.


7. Finding the delicate balance between being a therapist and enquiring into the choreographer’s personality and fascinations.


8. Having to bear the question: What is it you do?


9. Always to remember that you are and can be “disposed of”. You are the one person that the process can in fact do without. If you have a performer, a space, other materials you can make a piece of work. The dramaturg is the icing on the cake. The humbling experience is never to forget this and still keep up a sense of urgency. The task is always to make oneself needed and understand when one is dispensable. The entrance and exits of the dramaturg as a critical understanding of timing.


10. Understanding that being a interesting dramaturg is not a question of fulfilling a defined function, but of asking fulfilling questions.


Synne: This dialogue is a result of a first encounter between a choreographer and a dramaturg. One of the critical outcomes of working on Rant Dance Project was not the material itself but the conditions under which the material was developed. Paradoxically, the choreographer’s meeting with the dramaturg didn‘t lead to a complete and finished piece of work, but it led to the all important exploration of methods, ways of approaching, ways of seeing and generating material. The dialogue is still on-going constantly throwing up new questions about ways of making and ways of reading and perceiving work. The first encounter led to a deconstruction of both of our previous working methods and has materialised as a written document in the attempt to articulate this process. The next encounter will bring these experiences into the making of a piece of work and will hopefully challenge many of our ‘conclusions’ so far.


Diana: In March 1999, I chaired the first of a three-part session of Conversations on Choreography which met in Amsterdam to begin an ongoing discussion of current and future practices of contemporary dance-making with a focus on European contexts. The main theme for the next session, in Barcelona at the La Caldera space, will be the relationship between choreography and dramaturgy. Extracting, transcribing, and writing from our ongoing dialogue in preparation for these proceedings (Dance Theatre: An International Investigation, Manchester Metropolitan University, September 9-12, 1999) has helped both Synne and I to make a clearer space in which to consider the issues that are emerging at the start of this collaboration. The dialogue will continue for us in Barcelona, responding to developments in our own work and to the work of other choreographer-dramaturg relationships we observe there. The questions are many. Here, in Manchester, in our first encounter as dramaturg and choreographer, we speak of a starting point of difference not as a boundary between dance / theatre or movement / text, but as a recognition of new and different questions each of us offers to the other in relation to our strategies for making work. Ultimately, our dialogue and indeed our relationship is framed by a desire to clarify and enrich our methods of making.


There is a conflict between what one perceives from the outside, when looking at work, and what one sees within oneself. (Adolphe, 98:26)


the mobius strip as metaphor for our relationship in rehearsal:

it calls into question what is “inside”


what is “outside”

(Cole, 1992: 8)



Adolphe, Jean-Marc, ‘The Dramaturgy of Movement’, in Ballet International, 6/98.

Alexander, Elena, ed., Footnotes: Six Choreographers Inscribe the Page, Gordon & Breach 1998.

Calvino, Italo, Invisible Cities, London: Vintage, 1997.

Cole, Susan Letzier, Directors in Rehearsal, Lndon: Routledge, 1992.

De Marinis, Marco, ‘Dramaturgy of the Spectator’, in The Drama Review vol.31, no.2, 1987, pp.100-104.

Gilpin, Heidi, ‘Shaping Critical Spaces: Issues in the Dramaturgy of Movement Performance’ in

Jonas, Susan, Proehi, Geoff, Lupu, Michael, eds. Dramaturgy in American Theatre A Source

Book, Harcourt: Brace College Publishers, 1997.

Lepecki, Andre, ‘As 1f Dance Was Visible’, in Performance Research, vol. 1, no. 3, 1996.

Lehmann, Hans-Thies, ‘From Logos to Landscape Text in Contemporary Dramaturgy’, in Performance Research vol. 2, no. 1, 1997.

Patton ed., Deleuze: A Critical Reader, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996.

Sturm, Oliver, ‘Dance and the Dramaturg’, in Ballett International 6/98.

Van Kerkhoven, Marianne, ‘Looking without Pencil in Hand’, in Theaterschrift, no. 5-6, 1992.

Van Kerkhoven, Marianne, ‘The Written Space’, in Theaterschrift, no. 5-6, 1992.

Walker, Linda Marie, ‘In the Midst of Many the Butcher, his Lover, her Husband, and the Hit Man’, in Performance Research, vol. 3, no. 2, 1998.