Taking my shoes off: dramaturgy by movement


I see movement in front of me, usually on a stage or studio floor. Sometimes on a screen. “The Space”.

It stops/the music stops/the dancer stops

Breaking the moment of performance, we might sit together. Or I might talk from my position on the floor (or a chair) while the performer stands on the stage in non-performance mode.

There might be a nose blown, a sip of water taken, a few scribbles made. A phone checked even.

I pause for a moment to let something settle and draw up lots of lines into a point where I can start.


There might be a question. Usually, there is not.


I respond in language, translating feelings and impressions, images, sounds and traces in my mind’s eye.

There is an impression of an image not just in three dimensions but in four, from beginning to end.

I pick out things that stick. When closing my eyes, what leaps to mind? It could be one static picture. It could a feeling permeating the whole thing


Speech flows from my mouth, fluently, usually, verbose, often. I use small words to give space around maybe big things I am saying. It cushions the big things and gives time as well as space for the other ear to hear it, to take it in and turn it around and wonder and ponder.

I can chop and change and go back and forth, I repeat myself a lot, I use words I’m not sure I understand or anyone else. Then I try to be clearer and realise I am saying something different.


I gesture and I move. Sometimes, I get up from my floor sitting position, and move into The Space of performance, I try to imitate movement qualities, illustrating my speech. I look around and up and down, I often use my hands to complete my sentences.

I have an odd relationship with writing things down. It feels like a permanent activity and one that can be seen but meaning cannot be derived from just seeing me writing. So it can feel judgmental. Also it can be a screen for giving the impression that I have lots of important and insightful things to say, immediately.


I don’t always. There is silence too. I try to make silence though it can feel uncomfortable for both. I try to lengthen pauses to open up a pool into which others can chuck a few pebbles to see what noise they might make, how far they might go.


My questions hang there, feeling in need of being answered. Even if I say, “you may not know right now. It’s something you will need to decide. It might be this OR this. Your decision. If it’s this, you’ll be heading off in that direction. It’s up to you.”

It doesn’t always feel ‘up to you’.


This is what my dramaturgy looks like (sometimes).


So how could I do all of this in movement, with no language, no words articulated by mouth and sound?

What is it that I see and that I reflect?

How might moving as a dramaturg, be different to moving as a choreographer or a dancer?

What would the other person see and how would they turn it over in their mind and how would they respond to it and how would I respond to that?


Well, I tried it.


It turns out that dramaturgical movement response IS choreography. It creates in me the possibility of opening up my own understanding of what I am doing. It strips back the real and turns it into myth. When dancing together, we can communicate as improvising performers, bouncing ideas back and forth more quickly than I could even think about words.

I let loose those inhibitions of moving my body and occupying The Space. Dancing around is ok. My talking is a dance, it’s just that the words I know I can use and the accent I know I have and the use of a language I know so well clothe the dancing in demure and formal attire. Real dancing doesn’t have so much of that, for me. I don’t have the same fluidity or familiarity with my body’s movement languages, as I do with words.

Collectively we make, dialogue, find out. That’s my role as a dramaturg, to help the other person find out things, move from one place to another. We generate a dramaturgy together, in the space improvising with movement, props and music. We laugh and interact as ourselves but in a different plane.

I make choices.
I think in words in my head
I let my body do some stuff that it wouldn’t habitually do
I let my body loose on a free flow of associations
I am playful, stupid, undecided
I am stilted, unoriginal, hesitant
I let chance take over, because it doesn’t matter
It matters – it makes matter, by mattering. The matter of that matter is probably ultimately the same kind of matter that is created through spoken language, but I got to it through a different path.

Somehow at the end, I know something, though I can’t quite put it into words, and I am scared I’ll lose sight of that knowledge because it wasn’t worded (until now).

While I move, small epiphanies explode around me. Ah, this is what it means to be afraid of The Space and this is what it looks like when I try and organise my thinking and this is how I can jumble it up and this is where I can make a difference and this is what I can offer.

There was something about how I can be in The Space and it’s fine. Something about spoken language- words- and how it’s fine for them to be in The space along with the movement. Doesn’t matter what it looks like from the outside, because the other person is within even if they are observing. Doesn’t matter what the movement is.


Now, we stop, and breathe and laugh, and sit and sip. It’s time to ask questions in words.


I have noticed that the power dynamics in our relationship have shifted, or rather they shift, they are in the process of shifting throughout our movement and now. As a co-mover I stepped away from the pen and paper and my eyes moved within my body moving so I saw things from within and around about.

How has this experience changed the way I understand my own practice of dramaturgy? Could it be a creative, generative one?

What would happen if the person I am working with is the watcher and I am the mover, instead of us both moving together?

What difference does my moving response make to the next steps of the other person? Because it’s their next steps which are what it’s all about.

Image: Cecilia Macfarlane


This piece describes an experiment made possible by a residency at Pavilion Dance South West in November 2017, together with Cecilia Macfarlane, as part of a professional development project supported using public funding by Arts Council England.

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