Blog pro tanečníky, choreografy, kritiky, pedagogy

30.10.2019, 18:10:47   |  Foto: Zuzana Demlová  |   Kategorie: Čas, Prostor, Tělo, Tvůrčí proces, Vzdělávání
Pedagogical Seminar

Pedagogical Seminar


The theme of the seminar was the analysis of the choreographic process in educational work with children. The majority of the participants were educators in children’s art schools.[1]

Anna Sedlačková’s approach to the  seminar was informed by her longterm practice as a dancer, educator, theoretician and artist. It is important to describe her work’s primary themes and sources.

Sedlačková teaches modern dance (particularly Merce Cunningham technique) and in her teaching she focuses on the development of students’ creativity. As she herself says, she is always testing what it means to be an educator. She not only focuses on teaching technique, but also gives students compositional tasks, which they must solve themselves using the principles of Merce Cunningham’s work.

Cunningham really let dancers into his world and thus showed confidence in them. In his own approach to pedagogy, he held that a good teacher should not confuse their students, but instead focus their efforts on developing the students’ physical capacity and allowing them to discover their own style of movement (A Life in Dance, 2001: 159).

A deep theoretical and practical knowledge of Cunningham’s technique and approach to making, which led to the establishment of new aesthetic paradigms in the 1960s, is apparent in Sedlačková’s work and approach to the body. A turn towards the materiality of the body and the objectivity of movement was an essential element in these changes, together with an embrace of nature and chance, which gave those acting the freedom to act as they liked within the context of a given task. Thus, for Sedlačková, the body and references to it become logical sources of inspiration.

Cunningham pioneered a revolutionary shift away from representation (mimesis) towards the materiality of the body. Sedlačková also locals an effort to deeply comprehend the materiality of the body in the evolution of movement in the Body-Mind Centering System, which addresses underlying neurological patterns. This research can be applied to the processes of dance education. Through her knowledge of systems based on the unity of mind and body, she has been able to identify the relationship of these systems to dance techniques and principles, thus creating space for the mutual exchange of knowledge and experience.

Cunningham formulated a number of principles for his perception of dance:

1.     Any movement can be material for dance.

2.     Any procedure can be followed and used as a compositional method.

3.     We can use any part or parts of the body.

4.     Music, costumes, sets, lighting and dance have independent logic and identities.

5.     Any dancer in the company can be a soloist

6.     A dance can be performed in any place

7.     Dance doesn’t have to be about anything. In the first instance, it is about the human body and its movement, the foundation of which is walking

Cunningham began with physical actions, not theories from books or emotional experiences, and used random operations to create impersonal elements, which freed spectators from the tyranny of the artist’s vision in favour of a vision of their own. The subject of Cunningham’s dance is thus dance itself and any drama emerges from the intensity of the kinaesthetic and theatrical experience and the human situations occurring on stage.

It is important to mention that, while each of seminar’s leaders brought a distinct approach, their thinking is connected by its grounding in concepts originating in the second half of the twentieth century, specifically their knowledge of the avant-garde of the 1960s.

The philosophical and analytic orientation of their thinking, brought to bear on modern dance, highlighted its difference from the prevailing understanding of dance and choreographic practice in the Czech Republic, where modern dance is generally associated with free expression of the self, emerging from the choreographer or dancer’s internal impulses and is not considered to require deeper theoretical knowledge.

This pedagogical seminar, intended primarily for educators from children’s art schools, was thus extremely beneficial, as the training of dance educators in the Czech Republic does not include extensive reflections on the field of dance in an art-historical context. Instead, the school and teacher training systems have always emphasised the practical training of educators and the art-historical context (I’m referring here to the recent past) goes almost unnoticed, with a few exceptions. This is a great minus, however, as such contextual knowledge allows educators to:

1)     refute detracting attacks from supporters of classical (emphasising technique, discipline and interpretation, performance, the aesthetic function of dance, hierarchies and final product) and contemporary (emphasising creativity, experimentation, process, interdisciplinarity conceptual points of departure and equality among or alternation between roles) approaches to the training of dance educators, as well as those arising among artists themselves, and to respond to the constructive criticism that helps to move the field on; and

2)     use a wide variety of possible methods to work qualitatively, systematically, and methodologically with the body and movement, on the basis of the revelatory systems of thought developed by our predecessors.

Jean-Christophe Paré has long engaged with theory and possibilities for approaching the “reading of work.” As a dancer, choreographer and educator, he saw the need to analyse and conceptualise what happens during the creative practice. He approaches this task through the study of semiotics, the use of structuralist methodologies and the philosophy of phenomenological perception.

The phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty, emerging in the second half of the twentieth century, is an essential philosophical work for dancers, choreographers and theorists of dance or performance, who can orientate themselves in relation to it. Merleau-Ponty deconstructs the Cartesian dualism of soul (mind) and body with a seemingly obvious formulation: “through my body I see, I perceive the world.” Merleau-Ponty presents being in the world, that is, the phenomenal body, from a non-transcendental approach, emphasising the importance of the sensing body. It its very body-ness that connects the body to the world; all efforts to grasp the surrounding world happen through the body and have a bodily essence. Embodiment supersedes any instrumental or semiotic function: “We are rediscovering our interest in the space in which we are situated. Though we see it only from a limited perspective – our perspective – this space is nevertheless where we reside and we relate to it through our bodies. We are rediscovering in every object a certain style of being that makes it a mirror of human modes of behaviour” (Merleau-Ponty, The World of Perception, 2004: 69).

Seeing the space anew from our limited perspective was also emphasised in Anna Sedlačková’s work with the group. Her guidance on perceiving the body through its anatomical structure, andconsidering the relation of parts of the body to one another and of the body as a whole to the space, was essential. The senses played a key role in cognition - especially the visual, auditory and tactile senses, in relation to both self and other. For example, she focused on work with the gaze, which allowed us to zoom in and out of our awareness of objects, switching from perceiving them in great detail to taking in the space surrounding us as a whole.

Thus, structural analysis was the point of departure for both Sedlačková’s and Paré’s methodologies. For Sedlačková, this concerned anatomic relationships and the body’s relation to space, while for Paré, it amounted to structural analysis of dance composition and the processes that take place in choreographic work.

Another theme much discussed during the seminar was the sources of choreographers’ inspiration, whether or not movement must be somehow motivated or designed, and what role a child’s psychology and physical and cognitive abilities play in this.

In their pedagogical approaches, both Paré and Sedlačková demonstrated that’s what most important to is know on the basis of what principles the educator will work with the children; this will then provide a methodological anchor, resulting in a certain consistency of approach and a clear leadership direction.

By emphasising the materiality of the body, both Paré and Sedlačková tried to refute the opinion that it is necessary to begin with an external motivation or image in order to create dance. If we accept that position, we go back to the separation of mind and body, where we consider the body a means of expression for something created in the mind (an emotional state, idea, text, music, etc.) that we now wish to metaphorically or expressively create and transmit to the spectator. The body ceases to be a phenomenal body and becomes a semiotic body and gestures (movement) become semantic, carrying signs. Paré and Sedlačková favour the opposite approach, where material is created intuitively from the research of physical quantities and structural relationships. In this approach, any meaning, enjoyment or feeling that arises does so associatively, rather than through an active search for meanings that fit.

This issue, however, is extremely complex and the dichotomy of the phenomenal/semiotic body is confronted by all who work with the body as a medium. I will return to the desemanticization of gesture below.

Paré’s questions thus logically bend mainly towards methodology: I have a problem, I want to solve it, what questions do I ask?”

The methods and intellectual orientation of structuralism lend themselves to the study of choreographic processes. Structuralism studies the interconnected relationships and locations of individual elements in the context of language as a system. This approach can then be applied to different cultural systems, including choreographic systems. Semiotics is the study of signs and is related to the field of linguistics. It is divided into:

a)     semantics - the meaning of signs

b)     syntax - the reciprocal relationships between signs and

c)     pragmatics - the use of signs and the relationships between signs and users


Or, transposed to the choreographic process:

a)     what is the meaning of a given movement?

b)     what are the relationships between movements in the choreography?

c)     in what way are we using movement and how does it relate to the performers, choreographers or spectators?

In order to research the choreographic process through the structuralist method and on the basis of theories of language, it is import to understand that within the language system exists a dichotomy between langue (tongue) and parole (speech), which was first pointed out by Ferdinand de Saussure. Langue is the system and parole its practical use. There also exists the third, most common concept, language, which is the common capacity of language that allows us to speak. Without language as a social institution, speech would not be comprehensible. At the theoretical level, all of this is transferable to other fields within the cultural sector that work with signs and is thus important for the understanding, reading and sharing of choreographic processes and works.

When we take together the conceptual principles of semiotics, phenomenology and structuralism, which had an enormous influence on the twentieth century, we understand why the aesthetic paradigm of dance underwent significant changes in the 1960s, as theatrical instruments were unmoored from their usual contexts.

Performances are no longer subordinate to the psychology of characters or the casualty of actions, but, on the basis of given principles, reveal individual elements in space, which stabilise, transform and disappear without obvious motivation. All elements seem de-semanticised, in that spectators perceive their materiality, but do not regard them as carriers of meaning. However, paradoxically, the perceived phenomena evoke a number of associations, ideas, thoughts, memories and feelings through their materiality, which we can insert into any context and associate with any meaning, suggesting the possibility of a plurality of meanings.

Thus, what is at stake is less the entire desemanticization of gesture, than an accentuation of its autoreferentiality, whereby a gesture means exactly what it shows, and here we come back to the phenomenal being. Things mean what they are; something is perceived as what it appears to be. Thus, creation focused on materiality breaks down the dichotomy between the sensory perception of the object (understood as a physiological process) and the assignment of adequate meaning (understood as an act of thought). The association thus occurs to the perceiver spontaneously, without any effort on their part to call it forth. In this way, the associative formation of meaning radically differs from conscious processes of interpretation and meaning-formation, where meaning is sought to fit certain criteria.

In general, the focus of the seminar was on material: both the practical experience of it and its analysis and designation. As it turned out, the trouble for all participants lay in considering material objectively and non-judgementally. To only observe and describe what what we see. The highest value was placed on paying attention and being precise. Movement was perceived at its energetic level and not immediately discussed in terms of the ideas it subjectively evoked in us. It was analysed in relation to space and time. The qualitative and quantitative properties of these three elements - movement, time and space - then allowed for a better orientation in dealing with choreographic work.

In the making process of choreographic composition, we can go through different phases, from the analysis of material to the resulting work. Inspiration is chaos; creative practice begins, when something engages us and we choose it. Each artist already applies their subjective preference when making that choice, thus demonstrating their subjective relationship to the world.

If we go into detail, the creative process shows how we can move through it from micro-composition to macro-composition and from individual to collective material.

The analysis of movement in the choreographic process under the leadership of Jean-Christophe Paré consisted of several steps:

1)     Movement emerging from the intuitive 2’ phrase. Clear play. Phrases, objective observation of movement, description of material.  Basic material — the creation of the phrase.

2)     Transformation of material. A clear energetic form — the material can be endlessly regenerated.

3)     Micro-composition establishes the rules of play, which are always shifting; nothing is fixed, it only deepens. We can change the rules, such that we are always looking at the thing afresh. It is an event in the sense of emergence. In this way, meaning accrues through the material, meaning comes through the play.

4)     Macro-composition takes place when one element is exchanged for another and decision-making occurs, as if the work is being written.

In the seminar we also touched briefly on the important institutional questions and also how these are connected to the understanding of and distinction between the concepts of artist-choreographer and the educator as choreographer.

Paré briefly briefed us on the insights he gained on work at institutional level in France during his time at the Ministry of Culture, i.e., how education works there.

The fundamental vision of each institution (here focused on dance education) lies in qualifying the project  and thereby determining its identity.

Afterwards, the educational project is created in the context of this vision. The educator is responsible and follows the pedagogical direction that defines what they do. The distinction between and interconnection of political and methodological dimensions are also important. For example, how does the institution work? What opportunity is being offered to us as educators? How will we follow our own pedagogical direction in the context of these possibilities? At the same time, Paré warned that pedagogical work will always be subject to compromises and that it will not be possible to resolve all problems. We have to be pragmatists and work with what is.

Because it was unclear to many of the participants whether they should feel like educators, given that their work with children is primarily choreographic, or like artists, despite their sense that they were engaged in educational activities, rather than art-making per se, it was interesting to hear how Paré defines the positions of educator and artist-choreographer.

The educator has two missions:

1)     teach what dance is and awaken students to the creative process; and

2)     help them to see what is behind dance as it is created and thus to develop the students’ creativity and cultivate a love of art in them.

Educational work is thus also distinct from compulsory education, where we teach children with certain tools and establish the basis of knowledge, so that higher education can than follow, where the students can deconstruct existing rules and find new tools.

The artist-choreographer, as distinct from the educator, communicates existential, social, political and/or philosophical questions through their work. The work is a way of thinking and a way of making.

In conclusion, I would like to mention once more the most important thing that I took away from the seminar. If we want to understand artistic work and know how to analyse it, it is necessary to realise that the work itself is text, which is placed within a context and moves within an intertextual field. This means that we must be well-orientated in the historical-cultural context.

The seminar was very beneficial for intellectual reflection, clarification of concepts and methodologies and for the identification of problems. These are all things that tend to be understood more intuitively in the Czech dance education system.

Translated by Becka McFadden


[1] Translator’s note: A základní umělecké škola provides primary or elementary school aged children with accessible, extracurricular education in a range of artistic disciplines, including dance.


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