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.

From Votes for Women to Buddhist mythology, via Tango: two months in dramaturgy

One thing I love about my dramaturgy work is the privilege of being able to dip into so many artists’ making processes in quick succession. Each artist gives me the opportunity to learn new things, to get excited about their process and their ideas, and inspires me hugely as I go about my work.

Here are a few things I’ve been splashing about in over the last couple of months:


  • I’ve had a crash course in the history of women’s suffrage (courtesy of Reading University’s Dr Jacqui Turner), working alongside Jennifer Stokes and Reside Dance Company to create a new outdoor work. Funded by the Women’s Vote Centenary fund, the piece explores the story of the Representation of the People Act in 1918, which for the first time gave some women the vote. I didn’t ever think that I would be co-imagining ways of showing the so-called ‘Cat and Mouse Act’, which hounded hunger-striking suffrage activists, through the medium of contemporary dance! Jacqui wrote a very insightful write-up of her experience working with us.
reside dance 6 feb
Reside Dance. Photo by Brenda Sandilands
  • I was introduced to the world of storyboards, film stock, voiceovers, shoots and sound mixing when working with Kabecca Films on their short dance film. It tells the story of Lisa Sang’s life through dance, and how she dances through life, and will be released next month. Dramaturgically, I learned that the whole filming process from planning shots to editing footage could have a lot to offer the live performance-making process.
Who knew dramaturgy involved graphs? #lookslikescience
  • I’ve had the privilege of chairing a panel of extremely knowledgeable people sharing their insights and interests about The Mahajanaka Dance Drama, a collaborative project from composer Sebastian Reynolds‘ and Neon Dance. They are working with a team of dancers and musicians from the UK and Thailand, creating a re-telling of an ancient Buddhist myth through Western contemporary and classical Thai dance and music. Prof Fiona MacintoshProf Jas Elsner and Dr Sarah Shaw, all from Oxford University, wondered about the role of ritual and narrative through ancient and modern performance practice and spirituality at a talk at the Ashmolean museum, during the ‘Imagining the Divine’ exhibition. I’m really looking forward to getting into the studio with choreographer Adrienne Hart and Sebastian Reynolds later in March for the final rehearsals before the piece premieres at Wiltshire Music Centre on 2 April.


  • I learned a basic Tango step during my Dance & Academia seminar with Prof Nicky Clayton and Clive Wilkins, who spoke about mental time travel, memory and the ethics of partner dance, amongst other things, as part of the “What is Dance without an Audience?” series. The diverse group of attendees included people from the worlds of ballet, Morris dancing, Salsa, architecture, history of science and law, so we had a very lively discussion.
Nicky Clayton and Clive Wilkins

Coming up: lots more to learn and to be excited about! On 3 March, I’ve got the luxury of seven fantastic speakers coming for the ‘What is Dance without an Audience’ final conference event. We’ll be taking part in the Visual Matrix Method workshop, learning about Bharatanatyam and clay pot throwing, thinking about viewing dance on screen, asking what role the dance critic plays, and considering how audiences might transform in ritual or ceremonial performances. Still time to book tickets!

I’m hugely excited to have begun working with Johanna Nuutinen, a Helsinki-based dance artist, on a new work which explores ideas, emotions and experiences around waiting. Johanna received South East Dance’s Collaborate award through the Jerwood-funded Dramaturg in Residence scheme to enable her to work with me.

Also, I can’t wait to finally join Estela Merlos and Thomasin Gulgec for a couple of days playing in the studio, as part of their residency at Swindon Dance. I met Estela back in October when I was guest facilitator for the Hatch & Scratch performance at Pavilion Dance South West, and I’m really looking forward to getting to know this duo’s work better.

I have been stimulated in all my thinking through my new post at Reading University, where I have spent the last two months talking to a broad range of academics and professional staff, imagining how creative arts practice might enter the life of this diverse and sometimes overlooked institution. And naturally, creativity forms part of everyday life (especially during mealtimes) when you have a two-year-old running the show.


Goodbye 2017…

Alongside the ever-changing experience of parenting a toddler, with its daily doses of hilarity and tests of patience, I have been hugely fortunate this last year to have had some amazing times and met so many inspiring people.

View of Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki across the frozen Baltic. The old cable factory is now chock full of theatres, studios and arts organisation offices.
  • January began with a chilly arrival in Helsinki (in -24C) for a three-month stint while my partner undertook a research sabbatical at the University of Helsinki. I was able to meet with 20-odd dance artists and cultural professionals working in Finland; organised a pop-up artist residency at Annantalo cultural centre, working with Cecilia Macfarlane on an intergenerational exploration of dance and space; was a visiting dramaturg for the National Theatre of Finland’s community theatre commission Karavaani, with director Jemina Sillanpää; and (somewhat off-piste) I taught a three-day professional writing workshop to 15 molecular biologists at the Finnish Institute for Molecular Medicine!
Cecilia Macfarlane and Ruth Laurence, dancing together at Annantalo in Helsinki

In one outcome of my meetings in Finland, I can’t wait to work as a dramaturg with the incredibly exciting Finnish dance artist Johanna Nuutinen in 2018, supported by a Collaborate award by South East Dance.

  • In April I co-delivered the paper ‘Dance & Academia in Oxford: an egalitarian grass-roots model’ at the Dance Fields conference at Roehampton University, with Rachel Gildea, and later in the year curated two seminars on the theme ‘What is Dance without at Audience’ in Oxford, with a third seminar and a conference day yet to come in Spring 2018 as part of Dancin’ Oxford 2018.
Chloe Middleton Metcalfe leads a miniature ceilidh as part of her seminar on English social dancing for Dance & Academia in Oxford
  • I undertook the 8 day training course and achieved accreditation as a Relational Dynamics coach, meeting some amazing people along the way
  • As part of my ongoing dramaturgy training, I undertook observerships with Struan Leslie working with choreographer Stephen Pelton at a residency at DanceBase in Edinburgh, and with Peggy Olislaegers as part of a choregraphic development project with Rambert Dance at The Lowry, Manchester
  • The best news of the year was my successful application to Arts Council England’s grants for the arts programme (using public money through the National Lottery), for funding towards my further professional development as a dramaturg over a year until Autumn 2018. This includes a number of opportunities from working with new artists, to delivering and participating in workshops, culminating in a residency at AMATA (Falmouth University) to research ideas about dramaturgy within community dance practice with Dr Ruth Pethybridge.
On the train back from Norwich, where I worked with Hayley Matthews
  • In November, I was offered the position of Visual Arts Development Officer at the University of Reading, where from January 2018 I’ll be researching and writing an arts strategy for the whole university, alongside my freelance work.

What a year it’s been! I’ve met so many fantastic people along the way, and have been hugely supported in doing all this by family and friends. So I’ll be raising a glass (or seven) to friends old and new this new year’s eve, and looking with rosy-cheeked excitement to the opportunities and challenges of 2018. See you then!

Recent writing

Links to my recent writing (and videos) on dramaturgy and dance.

Follow the links below for some of my writing (and videos) about dramaturgy and dance.


A review of ‘Dance Dramaturgy’ (ed. Pil Hansen and Darcey Callison) published on Oxford Dance Writers in 2016

A review of ‘Pond’ by Kaaos dance company in Helsinki, published on Oxford Dance Writers in 2017

A review of ‘Table of Contents’ by Siobhan Davies Dance, published on The Learned Pig in 2013

A reflection on South East Dance’s ‘TEST’ dramaturgy weekend, published on The Red Line, 2017

A dialogue on beginning dramaturgy with Anja Meinhardt, of Justice In Motion, published on The Red Line in 2016

A reflection on a South East Dance Flourish Fund award for beginning dramaturgy practice, published in 2015