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A Space to Ask Hard Questions

Inside adelheid’s re·research program By Elizabeth Emond-Stevenson
  • Program participants / Photo by Francesca Chudnoff
  • Program participants / Photo by Francesca Chudnoff

re·research is a program that provides emerging dance artists with space, time and infrastructure to explore non-product-oriented creation and process. Within its structure artists are encouraged to share thoughts and ideas with peers, communicate with collaborators and receive audience feedback in a supportive environment that encourages experimentation. Created by adelheid Artistic Director Heidi Strauss, its first iteration took place in January 2018 and supported three emerging choreographers, nine dancers/collaborators and a rapporteur (this author). With access to curated reading materials and mentorship from guest artists, participants expanded their boundaries of artistic development.

During its two-week span, strong relationships grew between creators and collaborators as the process and trust between them developed. “Communication deepened and challenges arose but in relation to the deeper choreographic investigations and proposals,” Strauss explains. “Then [came] surprises. Realizations. A new level of the process. And then the cycle began again because arriving at that new level brought a new set of questions. As a result, there was a listening to what the process was giving.”

A sense of reciprocal trust allowed creators and collaborators to learn from and listen to each other and contributed significantly to the choreographic process. One collaborator shared: “I was pleasantly surprised with how much it pushed me to use my voice and share my ideas and opinions. I always struggled with sharing, so I am very pleased that re·research pushed me out of my comfort zone.” The same participant expressed that the environment, in which the pressure to produce was alleviated, gave them “the power to say yes to everything.”

For re·research choreographer Emma Kerson, the dynamics between creation and sharing were challenging but rewarding. She explains how there was “a delicate balance between having the time to evolve an idea without eyes and voices infiltrating … and yet not be so isolated that you’re making a precious little nugget … [one] too rigid to live outside of your closed studio.”

Each day participants joined together to share what choreographers had worked on with collaborators, pose questions and contribute feedback. These meetings accelerated the learning process and initiated swift changes and realizations. Kerson was surprised with how quickly she learned things about herself as a choreographer and, in her words, “how deeply I know what I want, even if I may not know how to pull it into existence yet.” 

“I think we learn less from success and more from failure,” furthers Strauss. “The hard part is that, in what we do, when we fail, it’s often publicly (and that carries a trauma all its own!). With re:research there was time to learn from what wasn’t working, understand why and make other decisions – with the support of the room and each person in it, … allowing it to go beyond producing something quickly, to creating something deeply.”

The program culminated in an informal showing with space for feedback from audience members. Collaborators and choreographers alike felt this element was extremely important. “It helped develop the work further with feedback from outside eyes [and] helped me learn how to talk about dance,” offers a collaborator.

Kerson agrees: “Having spent the week playing with audience perspectives and creating an active viewer who has choice and agency, I gained a lot of information from a dense room,” she says. “With an active audience, I had no way of knowing how they would react, where they would look [or] the quality … that would emerge in the atmosphere of the room.” 

In Strauss’s words, “Time is a gift, and to be entrusted with time is to be entrusted with a responsibility to ask yourself hard questions. re·research supports the roller coaster of questioning and understands the intrinsic value of examining how we make, because how we make (and who we make with) has everything to do with what we make. The participants often know what they need, and if they don’t know exactly they usually have a pretty distinct sense of what they don’t need. I believe they play an important role in how things can be shaped and/or reshaped in the evolution of a form. I see re·research as a vote of confidence to DO it.”   

Learn more >> adelheid.ca


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