Dance and R&D

From August 13-16, 2009, a committed group of artists, presenters, dance departments, residency and retreat centers, and funders from across the country met at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography at Florida State University to advance the national dialogue about how to make research and development a more vital cornerstone of what “we value and achieve as a field.”  For more information on that gathering, with videos and background, visit the MANCC site here.

A colleague of mine who was at the gathering told me that Kristy Edmunds made a real barn-burner of a keynote.  I contacted Jennifer S.B. Calienes, director of MANCC, who was kind enough to provide a PDF of Kristy’s speech, which can be downloaded here.  But I wanted to give you a sense of what Kristy said:

What does research and development (in dance) actually mean, and why is it so vital?

At the risk of oversimplification ‐‐ I think of research as an active avoidance of complacency. I think it’s about being interested in something, and doing something with that interest. Directing it somewhere. Frankly, I think it’s about seeking. And I think development is about doing something with the various findings. Some form of offering from what we were journeying to discover ‐‐ which is, and begins, another process of seeking: creating.

In the arts, our seeking centers on some possible relationship with truth ‐ the pursuit of an expressive truth. This is our core motivator, our primary purpose behind our research and our development.

If that resonates in some way, logic could follow that diminished support for research and development diminishes our capacity to seek expressive truth, and by extension our expressive offering, our art, begins to atrophy. Seeking gets a bit stunted and truths go underexplored.

This is by no means to say we are inactive – in fact, I think we become somewhat hyperactive. And under the climate of pressure that we face in this field, we often then turn to our sheer talent as the exploitable resource. We use our talents, our training, efforts, passion and drive in order to make a SHOW, or to present a SHOW, or to just show (whatever we have). Or worse, just show up in our respective roles. Not to denigrate the importance of the show (the project) here, either in its creation by artists or its presentation by organizations – this is vital – but my point is that without adequate R&D, (seeking) ‐ the show itself is what invariably becomes all‐important.

This notion of Research and Development in the arts is a vital one. Not just because R&D in the arts is so necessary but because the arts, in and of themselves, can be considered R&D for culture-writ-large.  But more on that later, in a different post.

I was also particularly taken by this statement of Kristy’s:

I hear repeatedly about an “Arts Industry.” We are not an industry. We are not inherently engaged in mass export, mass production, manufacturing nor involved in efforts to trigger mass consensus. We are interested in nuance, in expressive and aesthetic truths, in mining the depths and surfaces of what it means to be human. Different truths often than we see represented to us but ones that we can excavate. We are a profession. Art itself doesn’t seek a ‘market’ and it is rarely profitable in an economic sense.

In this profession we are made up of individuals who have emerged, for whatever reason, with our curiosity and our originality intact. We provoke society to ensure that there is a framework in which art and its research and development, its lasting contributions, and its momentary impulses are supported ‐‐‐ in education, in our venues and organizations, through other materials, and in cultivating an audience. Without doing so, we simply stifle what it means to be human.

Great stuff. What do you think? Download the speech, give it a read and let me know. Kudos to all at MANCC  for what appears to have been a really engaging and fruitful gathering.

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