An Interdisciplinary and Participatory Conference on the Philosophical Issues Raised by Dance Improvisation
May 21st-22nd, 2015
University of Leeds
Dance Improvisation: A Philosophical Perspective took place at the University of Leeds’ Devonshire Hall on May 21-22, 2015. This conference, organized by Sara Protasi and Aaron Meskin, aimed to promote the philosophical study, research and discussion of an important aspect of a central but relatively underexplored fine art; namely, the role of improvisation in the art form of dance. A secondary aim was to explore a particular way of doing this: by integrating the scholarly and academic perspective (both in philosophy and dance studies) with the practitioners’ experience and viewpoint. To this end, the conference incorporated traditional academic talks along with practical and performance elements. Hence, the conference organizers collaborated with a number of independent dance artists who form the Leeds-based artists’ collective Improvisation Exchange.
Renee Conroy’s opening keynote address on the first day provided an overview of improvisation in dance and focused on the question of how to appreciate dance improvisation in a performance context. Conroy pointed to some intriguing ways in which dance improvisation calls for different sorts of treatment than does musical improvisation. Ian Heckman explored the status of dance improvisations as works of performing art and drew attention to a variety of ways in which improvisation is a distinctive artistic category. Just before lunch, Rachel Dean, one of the members of the Improvisation Exchange collective, led the conference attendees in an improvisatory movement workshop. After lunch, Donnchadh O’Conaill investigated the question of whether dance improvisation can count as intentional action, while Louise Douse argued for the centrality of flow in improvisatory dance performance. Closing the first day, Vida Midgelow’s electrifying participatory performance/lecture explored the undisciplined discipline of dance improvisation. Many attendees joined us for a delicious conference dinner at the Corner Cafe restaurant.
Barbara Montero started the second day off with a keynote lecture about the role of spontaneity and cognition in improvisatory dance. Sherri Irvin followed with a talk on the ontology of improvisatory performance largely based on research done as a philosopher-in-residence with a New York-based dance company. Two performance/presentations followed by members of Improvisation Exchange: Daliah Touré presented work on non-consensus in collaboration while Marie Andersen discussed and performed work focused on bodily knowing. This was followed by a performance by the Improv Exchange dancers of one of Touré’s score as well as a chance for some conference attendees to try out the score for themselves. Unfortunately, Carla Bagnoli and Rebecca Stancliffe were unable to present their talks.
Overall the conference was a great success and it wouldn’t have come off without the tireless work of postgraduate assistant, philosopher and dancer, Jade Fletcher.