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meaning in performance - the audience connection (full work)

clare dyson


dance forum - national dance industry journal
dance research issue: vol.17 no.1 p. 14 Autumn 07 ISSN 1328-3308
published by australian dance council - ausdance national

   

Over the last ten years my practice has been influenced and shaped by the theoretical problems of constructing and deconstructing meaning in performance. Although I suspect all artists dwell on these issues, what interests me is how ideas and concepts can best be revealed or presented to an audience in terms of meaning and understanding. This focus on audience is central to my perception of artist and his role in society – one who constructs, deconstructs or communicates meaning.

My practice is integrally co-dependent with audience and one that allows the concept to reveal how the audience experiences it: Will the audience understand the concept of choice if I give them choice? Will the audience remember childhood fun if I place a swing on stage and ask them to play? Will an audience understand loss if I seperate them from their loved ones? Will an audience understand that they are voyeurs of grief by watching someone crying through a peephole?

I am interested in how we experience and deconstruct the world. As an art maker I am specifically interested in how we do so via the experience of art, and in particular, live art.

With the focus in Australia on diminishing audiences and a move by audiences away from contemporary dance, questions of relevance, experience and re-defining form become even more vital and urgent. Many suggest that taking an interest in audience and their experiences of contemporary art is pandering and produces popularist and commercial art. However I want to question the preconception that audiences are not interested in challenging or meaningful work and that conceptual art has no scope to speak or communicate widely. Without experience we inhabit a secondhand world, and although living vicariously has become the norm in the 21st Century, this research is focused on deconstructing reality via our own experiences, using performance as a catalyst or liminal provocateur.

Contemporary dance in Australia is rarely concerned with how it is perceived as an experience. This art form has removed itself from the viewer, from the experience, and has developed a self consciousness that, although attributable to a number of sources, can be seen as a by-product of living in the early 21st Century: currently it is not fashionable to feel, to experience, to be out of control or willingly step in the unknown unless those experiences are connected via the distancing tools of technology. Interactivity has replaced lived experiences, multiple options within strict paradigms have replaced actual choice. Whether these new frameworks are absolute, permanent or irreversible remains to be seen.

This research however, is looking at the starting points of connections and re-connections and the place they had once and may have again in society.

Currently there are researchers and artists looking generally at these ideas in theatre. There are, however very few dance researchers challenging the form and place of this genre in our society. Australia has several recognised researchers focusing on ‘audience experience’ - these processes, however, look at ways of modifying an audience’s experience of an existing work. What I am interested in is challenging and re-visioning the construction, process and development of the creative work from inception.

The latter is of prime interest to me as both researcher and as artist. It is the starting point of my current work and will focus on audience experience as the central aesthetic in the creative process.
There are several questions that need to be asked if we as art makers are to begin to re-connect to audience: What are the conventional demarcations between daily life and artistic practice? Can a blurring of these boundaries - a blurring of the objects of art and the objects of the everyday - re-engage the audience’s experience of performance and make them an active participant in the creation of meaning? Can we disengage the proscenium arch as a mechanism of passive viewing and re-define the theatre as a place where art is produced via the interaction of audience and performance? Can engaging in liminal and transitory events change our perceptions of ourselves and our place in the world?

Performance is, by rights, an experiential event. This work challenges the notion of the passive audience and a passive experience via the tools of liminality, variations of site and in working with phenomenological theories and processes. Liminality is a state of indeterminacy: a period of transition and can describe a place, a person or an experience. it is a time of ‘inbetween’ and so often codes and conventions between stages or phases can be ambiguous thus creating opportunities for the unexpected or something new. How, then, can the creator construct an environment of liminality to allow space for the audience to expand their ‘experience’ – to find a lived experience within the art construct?

To continue this play between the known and expected, and the liminal and experienced, this practice-led research is looking at creating new contemporary performance works that focus on issues of experience as a pathway to understanding and relevance. The first work created in this program was created at WAAPA and involved a row of swings hung along the back wall of the theatre with the audience onstage with the dancers – moving around and interacting with the dancers in close proximity. It was created in promenade form to heighten the audience’s experience and immersion in the performance. The next work looks at site as a provocateur and moves audiences to disused buildings throughout the city for a performance about absences and disappearances. The format of these works is not new – I myself have been constructing site, promenade and installation works for over ten years all with the intention of exploring various ways of revealing concepts to audiences. The research into how we experience the world via performance that is constructed to involve and immerse audience is hopefully where the novation and new ideas will be developed over the next three years.

 

photographs by
jon green