Blog pro tanečníky, choreografy, kritiky, pedagogy

14.12.2018, 23:28:38   |  Foto: Zuzana Žabková  |   Kategorie: Čas
What is the role of the coach during the process of coaching ?

What is the role of the coach during the process of coaching ?


A question of terminology

Regarding the english term “coach1”, it is useful to point out immediately that in the context that is relevant to us - that of guidance in the process of choreographic invention - its use is unsatisfactory. Other terms have been used elsewhere, by artists in various situations seeking to define this unique figure, such as: “mentor”, “tutor”, “guide”, “companion”,… In addition, we will be suggesting that they do not refer, from one culture to another, to the same representations and connotations. Nevertheless, it is indeed “coach” that I will use here as, from a pragmatic point of vue, it is the one that currently appears to be the most evocative for the greatest number of people, especially in the context of a residency with European dimensions like the one at SE.S.TA.


I furthermore suggest that these labels also lack the association of other expressions that would better explain the position, the mission and the nature of the presence of the coach beside the artist. We can say, for instance, that it is a question of a “person in interrelation” with another, himself involved in a unique being that summons his author’s spirit from deep within. It is also possible to perceive this person as a partner associated to the choreographer during the internship. If we think of the coach as an observer-advisor bound to the side of the artist to deepen his knowledge of choreographic writing, then we will see a person meant to provide a more technical assistance. Interpretations of what the figure of coach and his action can be are numerous.


Various notions of coaching coexist at SE.S.TA


With the support of the director Marie Kinsky, every coach leads the exchanges within the project she/ he is supporting according to her/his own observational clues. He brings his own personal experiences, his relationship to the dance, to choreographic writing. He recalls his sources of interest, especially the extra-choreographic ones, and his general culture.  In short, everything from his personal existence that can be useful is welcome.  Although the principle of coaching is revealed from the beginning of the residency and regularly revisited during it’s time, there is no “fixed” concept of the processes in question and of the people in charge of them.  Among the coaches, this freedom of action leads, in turn, to the need to be very attentive to other points of view during the discussions about the projects - particularly during the open sessions where all the other participants are present. During these sessions, the choreographers naturally discover other methods of writing.  They find themselves facing issues singling out their particular approaches as authors, or in others that are, on the contrary, common to all. Thus, conditions are met so that a kind of a detachment from their own inspiration2 as authors is born, a form of “oxygenation” of the spirit. In these moments of sharing, sometimes similar to the dynamics of an artistic collective,  I also see a prototype of a school of creation.


Before everything else, it remains essential to consider that each tandem choreographer-coach is the starting point of a unique adventure. The choreographer is waiting for a support at his side while he tackles the aspects of his writing process, the paths of which are yet to be discovered. For his part, the coach adjusts his mode of intervention and his strategies by discovering his terrain of action: the profile of the choreographer, her/his personal conceptual tools, the progress of her/his project, the know-how she/he engages in.  Going from simple advice to methodological illuminations, from the stimulation of artistic enquiry through dialogue to recollection or transmission of composition styles, there is a potential for many paths to open.


Thus to state what would be essential for forming a creative artist can not be definite, so numerous are the ways of learning and questioning. Below, for instance, I focus on three of these. They are omnipresent in studio work. They relate 1) to the style of the choreographer, 2) to what we call choreographic writing, 3) to the relationship that the artist maintains with meaning.


The style of a choreographer -  it’s the corporeality of her/his authorship


As a dancer, I particularly liked observing the choreographers when they were not performing the action that’s most familiar to them: in the most basic day to day life where the movement is functional, in a very strict meaning of the term, where she/he simply responds to a need to move hers/himself in space. I was curious to see how they move outside of the choreographic code (walking, taking a seat, grab an object, sketching a movement), how they engaged in speech. All the little bursts of life that I could seize helped me to better understand how they gradually introduced themselves into the very matter of their dance in order to create their choreographic text3.


The common idea to all these movements of the moment is that they reveal, if not the body of the choreographer, then, in any case, his physical signature. This body that participates in the decision or its abandonment, in the will or the uncertainty, the desire and the rejection, tells us something about the artist at work. The place of the germination of the danced movement of the choreographer - the “style” of the author, R.Barthes tells us4 - is his body. I have discovered this informal gesture through functional analysis of the body in the danced movement. There are many keys to use in its decoding.  This level of analysis reveals a choreographer\'s phrasé: his musicality, breath, temporality, spatiality, his relationship to the force of gravity, his states of tension and the pattern of his energetic flow. This “interior chant”5, this musicality of acts is the best indicator of the choreographer\'s story and, most certainly, of her/his way of grasping the world, of extracting from it that what concerns her/him, of abstracting himself from it in style, by writing her/his own narrative.


To enter into writing is to name the dance. In return, they say something to us.

As a young dancer I only understood a few aspects of the creative process through dialogues with the choreographers about my interpretations. But there was still not enough clarity. Confused, I observed that they did not proceed the same way in the invention of their dance. I needed to know more. That is how I gradually focused my attention on their methods6. Curiously, I also knew that when dancing, being free of the elements of meaning provided by the choreographers left me free to do my movements and did not prevent them at all from seeing in my actions what interested them. On the other hand, I remember that the states of my body were filled with the palette of sensations chiseled by the transposition of their requests. What makes sense, for the interpreter and the choreographer, is not necessarily in correlation. Meaning is not an existing entity. It’s a product7.


Since then I’ve discovered just how much one of the big pitfalls of choreographic writing lies in escaping the impossibility of seeing the elements of the “raw material”. In fact, the movement of a dance that is still “glued” to the envelope of reality is too fugitive, too complex to decipher in the very moment of its projection into space and time. The adventure of the writing of movement is played by numerous reiterations of it, but above all by the shifting of intentions and sensations that we bring into it. These shifts are a reinvestment. The matter is reinvested by a look that transforms it, look and words placed between the perceptible and the comprehensible.


I direct my attention more significantly onto the various levels of experience where choreographers produce speech: production of phrasing, organic micro-compositions, macro-composition, writing methods … The words distinguish and allow to isolate the components of the danced material. They are manipulations, the games in and around the meaning. These games are useful because the subject of dance is paradoxical: it disappears. The choreographer is thus confronted with the necessity to design protocols of production of movement. In fact, to not pre/contemplate anything about the movement to be born will not make it possible for it to find its true semantic volume when it materialises. A contrario, mulling it over excessively produces the risk of getting lost in a forest of directions of meaning. The choreographer must therefore seek the right distance between his desires, intuitions and reflections.


The movements delivered by the dancers are of very diverse nature. Some examples: in “open” improvisation, they are in a mode of first appearance/final disappearance; in repeated improvisation with progressive clarification of the motives of conduction of the movement: in appearance/disappearance/impressionist memorising mode; in structured improvisation that includes playing with spatial, temporal, gestural, relational constraints of action: in a mode of partial appearance / disappearance / partial memorization of the situations crossed. During the development of choreographic phrasing (juxtaposition of gestural flows incorporating the dynamics of impulses experienced in their energetical characteristics): in a mode of expected reappearance/completed memorization. Short of elaborating beyond these few temporary states of the movement, it should be noted that they are also conditions of a moving matter in transformation.  At this point, the choice of orientation of these transformations is clarified when the choreographer deploys his own color chart of qualifiers to name the substance of the matter. Thus he creates the crossings between the physical and mental forces8. The active transition of matter from one state to another offers a new potential for deployments of meaning and for syntactic manipulation. At this stage, dance becomes the generative material of combinatorial games to explore. The material thus continues its journey of transformation from invisibility to visibility and readability.


The imaginary travels, that’s the artist in the vicinity of nonsense


The appointment of the material is played out during a particular journey: that of the imaginary9. In fact, in its first reality, matter does not evoke and remains in its superficial appearances. This plane of interpretation is not enough for the choreographer to be intimately concerned. What is watching him?10  Here, subjectivity plays at full speed. The whole vibration of the author\'s inner world awakens. And, in the depths of self, the point of the pre-established logic too. When the choreographer at work remains silent, the acceleration of his thought shakes it, or passes from a descriptive word of the matter of the movement to his personal stories, moving through his critical discourse on world he floats on the foam of a world that remembers him. There is a reversal: it is the work that works him. By releasing words with different statuses: from the description of the matter through the stories he sees in it (narrativity) to his discourse in front of the world11 he gives himself the chance to thicken the semantic and expressive presence of the matter he is producing.  He connects between themselves the different registers of view and “anatomises” his thought (and not only the theme he is treating) by projecting it into the matter.  Thus, the author finds his profound values there, the ones he knows he can not depart from.


Another issue around the production of meaning, and not an insignificant one, is that in the end it is not the logical sense that interests the artist, but rather the displacement of meaning, its upheaval, its deconstruction. The steep slopes of nonsense12 are the biotop of the artist. Analysis of works reveals that there are always many registers of meaning. These directional lines, almost like an orchestral score, allows for nonsense to trespass into what seems logical. These other hypotheses of unfolding of meaning, of inverted meaning, opposite meaning, diverted meaning, are those which make it possible to re-imagine the real, to confront it. Meaning in movement, without an announced destination, is the most confident friend of a poet - the one who spends his life kneading the dough of the world through his metaphorical games.


Company, support the other on their interpretative journeys


What the choreographer and the coach/spectator have in common is that they can only advance in the study of choreography by embarking on interpretative paths13. That is where lies the most significant point of convergence of the two. Although the roles are different both are drawn by interpretative thought. The writing process is a path of rereading and reinterpretation. A necessary journey into the substance of the choreographic text where, for the author, rereading means self-interpretation. An earnest journey for the coach-spectator where rereading is a door to open to try to get a little closer to the story of the other. Yet, the passage from unsaid to say reveals the artist to himself. Here, there is no access for the coach. Here, the coach and the choreographer can not understand each other, otherness wins. On the other hand, the negotiation, the discussion, the languages games, the manipulation of the concepts are the many linguistic thresholds that open the horizon of the work’s meaning. The work of art exists only because it is interprete. This is where, without a doubt, the encounters between the choreographer and the coach take place: it creates the possibility of new interpretations.


My own (current) definition of the coach\'s actions emerges

Return to the field of action. The complexity of the exercise of creation leads to a need for great attention to not take over what the choreographer is living. The emotional currents that he goes through while he moves to action, his intuitive listening to the moment, his dives into his own thoughts, this state of a hypnotic wake in the face of matter, requires a great acuteness in recognising the moments when contact can be established. It is important for me to maintain a certain number of methodological references so as not to go beyond the frame of my intervention:

  • Find the right dosage of immersion into the situations of observing the everyday work
  • Be discreetly present
  • Not having a priori as to where the level of the artist’s experience lies (amateur practitioner, originally from a non-choreographic field, professional choreographer,..)
  • For each one, measure where is the place of the test, there where he has an effort to make; see how the author prepares and how he engages with the unknown,
  • Observe how the choreographer negotiates his ideas with the interpreters and, following the phases of co-production of meaning, see how he extracts, completely autonomously, his lines of attention, questioning, curiosity,
  • Refrain from any judgment on the value of the expressiveness produced while remaining demanding about the possible degrees of reading, coherence and interpretation within what is being developed.
  • Recall referents to share with the choreographer: bodies of works, texts, documents, reference works etc. belonging to fields of knowledge and practices that correspond with the content,
  • Be genuinely involved, concerned by the situations encountered without appropriating the project of the other14,
  • Listen to the moments when the choreographer is in demand for feedback, wait for the moments when he will be receptive, respect his autonomy.



An unresolved reflection, more than a conclusion


My personal vision of the coach tries to make coexist two natures of involvement: 1) being an immersed companion, by the choreographer, in the pragmatics of her/ his art: my mission is to propose, at the heart of the action, hypotheses of denouement, by reflexive effort, resistance to the emergence of meaning that I can identify. 2) being in the process of deepening of theoretical knowledge related to those of the art of dance:

my act of the observer thus integrates a process of verification of my new keys of reading in situ. We will never exhaust the subjects //////// the hyper-complexity of the creative process, particularly in dance. On the other hand, it seems essential to me never to forbid ourselves from proposing new routes of explanation. In this regard, the encounters with the choreographers often present to me the opportunity to discover work methods in making. They are also the teaching that I receive from them and that moves me forward.



Footnotes and references


  1. There are various definitions of the terms coach and coaching that corresponding to specific fields: psychology, the corporate world, sport… The specifics of intervention vary from one field to another. In the professional sphere “operational support” is also used. Outside of the strictly professional area, it can be a “personal support in change”. Different techniques can be involved, such as NLP, Transactional Analysis etc.
  2. M. Blanchot – Space of literature - The first characteristic of inspiration is infinity. (...) There is a point at which inspiration and the lack of inspiration fuse, an extreme point (...) that calls itself aridity (...) where inspiration becomes a norturnal state,  both wonderful and desperate.
  3. The notion of “text” gains considerable freedom at the end of the 20th century insofar as it results from a finite construction. It becomes an object in productivity, a process of producing any object that carries meaning.  This concerns literature and writing in all its forms as well as works of art. R. Barthes: Le bruissement de la langue – essais critiques IV (chapter : La guerre des langages) 
  4. R. Barthes – Writing Degree zero - chapter: What is writing?
  5. I am borrowing this expression from the american choreographer Simone Forti.
  6. Particularly the design of ateliers or creative work sessions of A. Degroat, M. Cunningham, L. Childs, F. Verret, D. Larrieu.
  7. G. Deleuze – Logic of sense: for a deeper understanding of the matter of the production of meaning.
  8. Bachelard – Earth and reveries of will  
  9. I am borrowing this expression from M. Blanchot - The book to come. There he describes the “the journey of the imaginary”, drawing on the journey of Ulysses and the moment where he tries to approach the sirens to hear them sing.
  10. Concerning the reversal of the relationship of the author and his text (the material linking the author with his autobiography): G. Didi-Huberman – What we see looks back at us.
  11. PA semiotic process described Greimas and picked up by J.J. BoutaudSémiotique et communication / du signe au sens.
  12. G. Deleuze – Logic of sens
  13. F. Rastier – Arts et Sciences du texte
  14. J.J. BoutaudSémiotique et communication / du signe au sens


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