Ruth Gibson & Jenny Roche in WAHAWAEAO, a moving image installation by Gibson/Martelli & Brown/Scoones. Hawkdun Ranges, 2017. Photograph by Bruno Martelli.

Field Notes for Wayfarers

field guide n. a book for the identification of animals, birds, flowers, or other things in their natural environment; (also in extended use) a book (often with many illustrations) used for the identification of non-natural objects; an explanatory or practical text on a particular topic. (Oxford English Dictionary online)

1 Rebecca Solnit’s The Field Guide for Getting Lost (2005, Penguin) provoked my thinking through choreography as research as a necessary art of becoming and getting lost.

The Field Guide to New Zealand Birds (Heather 2015), is a pocket guidebook that furnishes the reader with information for identifying the extraordinary and diverse characteristics of 374 ornithological species. What I like about this book is that it can fit in a backpack or parka pocket and be taken on walks, it comes with a waterproof cover and is on sturdy paper so can even be used in the rain. It is a book that invites reading in proximity to its referents, the birds, bush and air and is a reliable companion including in places where there is no internet connection. A ‘field guide’ conjoins place and person, ground and figure, it proposes proximity and ‘kinaesthetic topography’ (Schiller 2014), a coming to know through being in and through place.

This field guide augments customary definitions through being a tool for wayfaring a research praxis. Wayfaring is an intuitive process of sense-making through cues and cuts that are discovered when journeying in particular places or scapes. In the South West Pacific, from where I write, a wayfarer is also a navigator. Someone who sets off on a journey that tests one’s sensory capacities for orientation to the stars, the tides and the lay of the land. A wayfarer becomes a wayfinder when their travels reveal the invisible or hidden dimensions of their experiences. A practice-based researcher becomes a wayfarer when they take to the unknown places, exploring, wandering, falling into holes, gaps and finding places, breathing with every move they make, moving at once in the air and on the ground (Ingold 2010b). For a wayfarer, movement is a constant that does not presume a linear path. For a wayfinder, a pathway is learnt through coming to know the environment. Mobility, agile thinking and kinaesthetic perception are important for both.

1 Walking backwards into the future

We face the future with our backs and if we don’t know where we’ve come from, how will we know where we are going. (Tusitala-Marsh 2018)

I completed a PhD in Dance Studies through choreographic practice at the University of Surrey, Guildford UK in 1995. At the time, there were no protocols, guide notes or examples of how to do a non-traditional doctorate within a British University, let alone sustain one’s practice as a choreographer whilst doing so. I entered the process with blind faith. Walking backwards into an unknown future, I navigated my way through the institutional landscape of regulations, siloed disciplines and health and safety requirements. My guides, Professor Janet Lansdale (supervisor), and Liz Aggiss (co-supervisor/mentor) helped me to make it up as we went along, improvising solutions, developing pathways, veering off and on track. It was a process that had not yet been written or regulated. Moving beyond disciplinary regulations we designed our own field guide, laying down tracks for others to follow or redraw. Artistic research in the academy today continues to demand the mapping of dedicated pathways through radical intervention and invention, the cultivating of dynamic relationships, inter-play, conceptual agility and creative mobility (Brown and Longley 2018b).

I am writing this, but I am also being written. Research is always in some way citational. Being citational means that you are always referencing others, in particular those who have gone before you.

survey the field
analyse footprints
fall into and out of step with others
explore being out of time

In dance research citationality might involve embodying theory, moving concepts, or mobilising ideas as well as more traditional citational modes in relation to other texts. The body as a language is the same but different from how writing is, in wayfaring as a dance researcher citationality acknowledges the body as a living archive of artistic genealogies. It becomes important therefore to know one’s history, to be able to speak back to it and transform it.

My methodology for doctoral research convened a relationship between dance practice and feminist theory through performance strategies and a tactical appropriation of academic spaces as dance sites. A series of choreographies (group and solo works) sought to subvert and question representations of femininity on stage and activated lines of dialogue with feminist and queer thought. By actively embodying theory, choreographic figurations in space and time unfolded through a multiplicity of approaches including postmodern mimesis, deconstruction and anti-essentialist artifice (Bloodsongs; Anatomy of Reason; Mechanics of Fluids). I asked, ‘is reason sexed?’ as I stuck a doll called Plato down my pants and walked downstage to address the audience during Resolution! at The Place Theatre (Brown 1995).

Choreographic tactics emerged from readings and the metabolising of feminist and queer theory (principally Luce Irigaray, Elizabeth Grosz, Julia Kristeva, Judith Butler and Rosi Braidotti). I kept a pile of books by my bed and reached for them first thing in the morning, devouring as many references as I could before heading to the studio. Not forcing connection, holding ideas lightly, I allowed images, gestures and new species of spaces to emerge. I tracked a feminist choreographic turn, documenting a break with my practice, inventing a corporeal political pathway.

In Choreography as Research Practice, the traditional character of knowledge is usurped by a refusal to distance thinking from moving, knowing from being, thought from the material specificity of bodies. This work recognises that knowledge always has a material as well as conceptual reality. In posing problems through dance as aesthetic, ethico-political and intellectual enquiry, research is activated dialogically (Cvejić 2015). It holds in tension relationships between the idiosyncratic practices of a creative life and the often normative tendencies of institutional life. This choreo-philosophy involves a thinking through the mobilising and writing of bodies in relation to spaces and kinesthetic topographies.

Walking backwards on uneven ground you take the less often walked path. Toppling off the vertical, proprioceptors recalibrate, the eyes of the skin probe what lies out of reach, and discover, where next?

2 Navigating the institutional landscape

I remind myself that texts are as much about what is not written as what is. They can be a starting point, a place to jump off, to leap from. The institutional landscape is perhaps the first and one of the most persistent contexts you will need to both push against and yield towards, walking always in two directions at once. Since I completed my doctorate, the field of practice as research has developed as a distinct paradigm, both ontologically and methodologically. Though there are multiple pathways through a creative practice PhD, the milestones for the journey are prescribed by institutional regulations and international exemplars. It is important to read and know the rules of what your institution deems to be a PhD or Artistic Doctorate. Be particularly mindful of what the requirements are for submission. A thesis is a distinct genre of writing, whereas the artistic output or creative portfolio for an Artistic Doctorate can be its own species and experiment with the form that a thesis traditionally takes.

Whilst the pattern of scholarly research projects, and the expectations for these varies between countries, all Universities share the requirement that candidates at doctoral level are making a significant (original, innovative or new) contribution to knowledge and that they are able to present and ‘defend’ their research in a robust way (through performance, exhibition, installation and an oral ‘viva’). A Provisional Year Review (University of Auckland) or an RDB1 (Roehampton University) marks the first milestone in this process as PhD candidates have within their first year to evidence their ability to complete a practice-based doctorate through developing their research design, proposal and presenting material evidence of their project in development. Passing this milestone requires care in ensuring the integrity of a practitioner-led focus is maintained and foregrounded particularly in institutions where traditional modes of scholarship – qualitative or quantitative research disseminated through a written thesis – are dominant.

The research outcome may include live performance, exhibition, installation and digital resource and a written thesis or accompanying exegesis. The character of this multi-modal research outcome is developed across time (usually three plus years) and in collaboration with a supervisor or supervisory team. In designing the research, the destination needs to be articulated to some degree in advance, its creative-critical outcomes projected into a future which is unknown but which emerges across time as a deep pathway embedded with insights made and discoveries embodied. Depending on the context, the institutional landscape can be both an enabler and barrier for creative artists seeking to make their work known. As someone who set off with no map or manual, I have found it important at times to ‘play the game’, miming the operations of the academy in which questions surrounding the legitimacy of dance as an academic discipline persist. I play a paradoxical role as insider/outsider, institutional and ex-stitutional (Brown 2013). Navigating a rapidly changing institutional landscape today calls up skills that many will find innate such as agility, collaboration, coordination and interdisciplinarity. But it also requires the learning of new skills that may be unfamiliar such as the ability to read critically, to analyse movement from different perspectives and to lay bare the assumptions to which we may have become attached. It is important therefore to signal the process of making as a sustained, accumulative process in which you:

Seek out the people who inspire you and the critical bedfellows who enrich you
find the spaces that excite you and discover that which you hadn’t already known trouble and complexify assumptions about why you dance and for what and
activate spaces between the dance and cultural sector and academic institution.

3 The conceptual landscape

The conceptual landscape fashioned with critical rigour in which the choreographer as researcher performs is key to differentiating her work as being doctoral. A requirement of a PhD is that it is able to demonstrate its relevance and innovation within the field to which it both refers and in some instances makes. Choreographic research doctorates may make claims that their insights lead to new varieties of choreographic thinking and practice, or a new method or approach for making and/or a particular concept of dance and the subjectivity or agency it creates. These may or may not be true, depending upon your point of view, but it is the shaping of the conceptual landscape, the correspondences it makes, the what it draws attention to, the making of connections and the innovative way it is expressed that connotes doctorality. Demonstrating how new thinking or processes are enabled through choreographic experiments and performances becomes the culminating event of the doctoral journey. In performing research, candidates use a range of approaches in addressing their audience. An examiner will be looking to ascertain whether the performance or creative event embodies the research question/s. How does it make known the discoveries of the research journey? What ‘evidence’ is there that the work is making a significant contribution to the field of creative arts practice, research and theory? How original or novel the ideas and processes are? The stakes are high and the experience can be nerve-wracking.

Practice as Research emerges through both intellectual and corporeal labor. It involves an ‘exercising of thought’ (Protopapa 2014). The conceptual and corporeal, the critical and creative conjoin in the PhD performance event but they also carry the qualities of applied research, offering something back to the field that can be taken hold of, transmuted, sensorially perceived, and translated.

Below are two examples of PhD projects that produced new works and approaches to choreography as a way of knowing:

Suzanne Cowan’s, Choreographing Through an Expanded Corporeality (Dance Studies, The University of Auckland PhD 2017) led to the development of a choreo-philosophy that challenged the problematic binary of abled/disabled dancer. Informed by queer and crip theory as well as posthuman ethics, Suzanne created a series of group and solo works that sought to augment corporeality through the extended touch of prosthetic devices and choreographic objects (ropes, wheelchairs and apparati for suspension). What was unique about this research was its ability to make connections between Suzanne’s embodied experience as a dancer and choreographer in mixed ability companies (Candoco, Touch Compass) and through independent works (Knot Just Body), and recent conceptual and critical thinking on the posthuman. Her research developed a way of presenting dance that implicated audience in systems of support, readdressing hierarchies of uprightness through horizontal tensions using ropes and tactile stimuli and en-abling difference through augmented corporeality.

PhD performance, Suzanne Cowan’s Knot Just Body, December 2016, Kenneth Myers Centre, photograph by Bronwyn Evans.

Ariadne Mikou’s, Choreographing Events: Demolition, Trace and Encounter (University of Roehampton, London 2018) explored demolition as both a process of transformation and an artistic method; a choreographic strategy with multiple expressions for exploring the interface between dance, architecture and film. Her work culminated in a series of what she termed, ‘unstable archives’ (spatiocorporeal documents), choreographic environments and events (spatial conditions for corporeal and performance-based interactions). Through these interdisciplinary encounters, demolition appeared as a dynamic process that allowed movement in the liminal space between stability and mobility, trace and disappearance and permanence and ephemerality.

PhD research, Ariadne Mikou, Diagram in Space 2016, Michaelis Theatre, Roehampton University UK. Photograph by Ariadne Mikou.

What Cowan and Mikou’s ‘exercising of thought’ through the event of choreo-philosophy revealed is the primacy of practice in making potent the connections between discourses (posthuman, architectural), methodologies (of space, objects and movement) and performance frameworks in how the research met its audience. Both of these choreography as research doctoral scholars took a strongly integrative approach to theory and practice.

4 What the body knows

Navigating the conceptual landscape of the artistic doctorate involves incorporation, inscription and making impressions (through touch, shifts of weight, kinesthetic attunement and discord). It grows exponentially along unforeseen pathways rather than being built up from the ground. The wayfarer comes to know what they know in the passage from place to place, gesture to gesture, and the changing horizons along the way. This process of wayfaring is infinitely variegated, and potentially in continuous generation. A supervisor’s role is to provide guidance, feedback and waymarkers, including the significant milestones that must be passed towards completion. The supervisor’s oversight of the process and waymarking can provide sustenance for the wayfarer but can also constitute obstacles to be negotiated. Together, supervisor and student may engage in body-storming, suggesting and provoking with sources as well as tactics for bringing the insights of critical theory into an affective resonance with what happens in the studio. But the relationship is undeniably intensely inter-personal, in addition to the robustness of the intellectual rigour it demands, it draws upon skills of relating, listening and negotiating the way through.

In dance, we can think of wayfaring as a process for mapping sensory encounters in the relational spaces between bodies, and between bodies and environments (physical and conceptual). Such processes might involve improvisation, scores, orienteering, mapping, locating and spontaneous composing and the corollary of this, getting lost. In wayfinding, the wayfarer develops techniques and intuited know-how for discovering unmarked, unknown or mistaken places, moving through and moving on, beyond what they already know. Through the process of wayfaring it is possible to formulate singular maps that incorporate diverse coordinates and global positions. Knowledge, movement and environment rebound upon one another in methods of wayfaring as the inscriptions of the dancer are also corporeal impressions. Knowledge accrues in the folds of space and time, in the interstices of events and becomings and, in the creases of movement. We press upon the surface of the ground, through choreographed paths, and upon the skins of others through touch, kinaesthetically negotiating the way of knowledge. Bodily movement is continuous with this making. Knowledge-making is also a form of knowledge-growing, an emergent property through the cultivating of living relations.

Choreography as research involves intuitive, aesthetic, corporeal, somatic, philosophical, archival, systematic and sustained practices that solicit wayfaring behaviours when brought into the artistic research field of scholarly enquiry. Choreography as research takes place within diverse terrains and dimensions (as physical, virtual and augmented), and research practices are mutually implicated in the environments we live, breathe, swim, write, draw and move with. It is more than embodied knowledge, it is also situated knowledge within environments that are in flux. An ontology of choreographic practice as research emerges in the entwinement of materiality and ideality, the corporeal and the incorporeal. Research design involves an exploration of the incorporeal conditions of corporeality, the surplus potential beyond and within the choreography that frames, orients, and directs the process, and the possible meanings, significance and directions it takes.2

2 Elizabeth Grosz (2017, 5) identifies an ontology of the incorporeal as being latent within the history of Western thought. Following the Stoics she describes the incorporeal as the ‘immaterial conditions for the existence and functioning of matter’.

Ideas carry weight. We can think of them like beats or accents in a compositional process, or pauses along our pathways, those moments when forces gather in a nexus of meaning, intuition and impressions. Those moments when you notice something different. They might be held in our bones, released in our breaths, noted in our journals, captured in a video file or realised in a conversation. Field guides offer ways to attend to these moments as places; places of connection and woken-ness. In becoming a wayfarer, the ancient contingencies of geology, the immateriality of data flows and the immediate contingencies of our movement and kinesthetic perceptions of it, determines the path. We learn and are taught by the ground, both material and immaterial and the movement of air (both atmosphere and clouds of data), we look out for signposts for future potential spaces where we might dance differently, or strangely. Wayfaring recognises that there will always be impulses, diversions, stumbles, dead-ends and ramblings. It allows the logic of motion to be determined by the sudden disclosures of the place we are in, the scent, as well as the histories that such places embody. Wayfaring might work with or alongside other models of doctoral research we might encounter for instance in generic University doctoral research courses or handbooks such as How to Get a PhD (Phillips and Pugh 2005). But it is differentiated by an emphasis on the topographical landscape of the research. The fact that Practice as Research takes place somewhere and somehow and that it moves often between places suggests that it is also always a process of navigation and orienteering. It involves going on an adventure.

trip the wire in the mind
hush the static of routine
allow the hidden to surface
open inner vistas
get blissfully lost

The values we bring to our wayfaring might be underscored by a commitment to resist oppression, colonisation, coercion and prevailing social constraints, to enhance and produce performance cosmologies that expand artistic, social and collective existence and attune humans and the non-human, keeping the dancing real.

5 The Guidances

I need to discover where and who I am so we can discover where and who we are.

Becoming a dancer as a relearning of embodiment is a process of deep knowing through sensations experienced as material and immaterial becomings. Through moving, the body stages an intimate revolt against the enclosures of the logos. As a choreographer, I search for those moments when gestures take on a life of their own, when they, rather than ‘I’ become the performance. Identifying as an artist is a provisional and contingent process that is complex within PaR communities given the dialogical relations through which such work unfolds. The notion of a singular artist – as an originating, exceptional and isolated figure – is the residue of modernist ideologies of artistic genius. Yet, the individual named author-artist persists as the dominant figure in performing art markets and institutional frameworks including in the academy where the PhD student is required to assert their authorial drive.3 And yet identitarian economies are problematic for dance as they often obscure the labour of the many co-creators of the work (Heathfield in Jones and Heathfield 2012, 435). The nomination of a singular identity is often a stand-in for a complex set of entangled relations of encounter that occur throughout the research journey:

3 There are some exceptions to this, Bob Whalley and Lee Miller completed the first joint practice-as-research PhD to be undertaken within a UK arts discipline in 2004, “Motorway as Site of Performance: Space is a Practised Place” MMU, Cheshire, UK.

between self and other
between dancer and choreographer
between historical events and embodied processes
between mythology and everyday life
between the local and the global
between interior and exterior
between the distant and the near
between the material and the virtual
between personal events and political forces
between a hard and soft city
between inhabiting architecture and its inhabitation of us
(Brown and Hannah 2011).

Particular species of labour emerge through the sometimes loose and sometimes tricky conditions of collaborative co-creation in practice as research. As difficult, testing and converging conversations they shape a narrative of research development, storying it.

6 Wondering and wandering dialogues

Wayfaring through the doctoral process involves multiple forms of dialogue. These are important ways of checking in, testing, arguing, reflecting and discovering. In choreographic research, dialogues can be tactile-kinaesthetic walks, contact improvisation duets, staged interviews and spontaneous compositions. They can involve wandering together and wondering. How will it be like this? What if we tried it this way? Why is it so? Unlike ‘mesearch’4, creative research as practice involves subject and situation in entangled relation through dialogues and dialogical processes. The criticality of this however comes from the ability to see one thing through the lens or perspective of another, to open not so much distance but awareness to the possibility of moving otherwise through the mobility of thought. Such a dialogical process acknowledges diverse agencies involved in the construction of performance research, including the transient, intersubjective, inter-corporeal and affective.

4 ‘Mesearch’, is what author Mark Edwards (2018) describes as emerging from his ‘me/thodology.’ As both theoriser and theorised, his practice-led research delivers a personal, autobiographical narration that combines critical reflections and emotional experiences in the context of the ‘self’s’ and enactment through performance.

One of the primary dialogues you will have is with your supervisor. It is important therefore that supervision dialogues are coextensive with the plane of the research and take place as often as possible or are practical within the places it operates such as the studio, the outdoor environment, online, in the lab or the theatre. Long-distance dialogues via Skype, Zoom or Whatsapp bring distant places into dialogue too and provide a further framing, situating the research in the sphere of mediated relations and sometimes in trans-hemispherical and trans-temporal dimensions.

Transcontexts are increasingly the norm for practice as research as researchers travel for festivals, conferences and collaborations, and dialogues take place between multiple collaborators living in different places and time zones. Conversation, dialogue and dancing with others is a cumulative process through which the ideas, concepts, and threads or pathway of the research become known – one idea follows another, like walking, step by step – however these dialogues are seldom homologous events as they cross diverse terrains. A commitment to a practice of exchange is important to this dialogic process as it has the capacity to transform and metamorphose what we know. However it is important in these dialogues to listen to your own voice and be prepared to articulate what is coming to the surface. We metabolically repossess ideas, changing them and digesting them through dialogues between outside and inside. Such research is a form of catalytic agency, ‘transforming the material within, bringing nutrients to our digestion system and to our personal, individual and collective experiences’ (Lin Hixson in Bottoms and Goulish 2007, 401). As ecological thinking, choreography as research is capable of shifting through divergent pathways.


7 Take a walk

A foot of words, like a bar of music, marks the beat and gives out the rhythm of song and dance… But the steps taken between worlds are not always effortless or even… (Warner 2018, 126).

Dialogues between outside and inside happen when we go on walks. There is an intimate relationship between walking and thinking as thoughts are stimulated by the rhythmic pulse of movement, the changing vista and the inspiration of breath. Becca Wood’s PhD with Creative Practice (University of Auckland 2015) explored the potential of walking to bring attention to the politics of public places, somatically, architecturally, and socially. Participants in her research were invited to engage in a series of ‘choreoauratic test-events’, interventions in civic spaces that worked towards what she described as a ‘recovery’ of the imperceptible and the disappearing of the urbanscape. Such acts of repair align with performer Lin Hixson’s (in Bottoms and Goulish 2007) notion of research as that which occurs when we meet the other halfway through a metabolic process. Mapping pathways through public spaces and historic buildings, Wood developed a method, using headphonics, termed ‘choreographies for the ears’ that afforded the possibility to alter what we attend to, inhabit and incorporate in spaces that are shared. Coming together through walking on a prescribed route whilst listening and responding to a set of instructions and narratives, this practice as research orchestrated an emergent form of public activism. Participants engaged in dialogic exchange with the research: gesturing, semaphore-like in response to verbal cues that solicited engagement with place and each other; marking words and images with chalk on walls and ground; and writing on post-it notes that could be attached to walls and floors, they also contributed to the research their reflections and responses.

Fiona Graham in Becca Wood’s PhD research project, Listening for Disappearing , Auckland, May 2014. Photograph by Becca Wood.

Can you hear me? Adjust the volume on your MP3 player if you need to. Go and stand somewhere in the middle of the foyer of the gallery. Take a look around you. Above you. Beneath you. Outside of you. Inside of you. We arrive here in the middle together. We stand together, you and I.
What is it to stand on your own two feet? To make a stand?
Standing at the heart centre. Notice your own heartbeat, your rhythm, a rhythm that defines your own frequency – tuning you into the rhythm of an old radio station. Tuning into now and searching for the frequencies where time becomes space (Wood 2018).

Dialogic discourses open up critical, living relations. They emerge from ‘the space of relation between agents’ and reinforce the social agency of research (Jones and Heathfield 2012, 436). Dismantling the solipsism of studio practice, the egocentrism of ‘mesearch’, and the binary of performing artist and theorist / historian / dance critic, dialogues open critical spaces of engagement for relational production. Through dialogic processes, states of opening attend to genuine exchange as both planned and improvised exchanges. Such discourse can estrange us from habitual perceptions, disrupt flow and the comfort of the known and familiar, unpack our assumptions and reveal the possibility of ‘critical projections’ (Jones and Heathfield 2012, 436). In this way they can extend, augment and reconfigure existing narrations, choreographic figurations and histories of dance.

8 Trespassing thoughts

Open the door, go outside of where you are now, journey, in the air, on the ground, trespass disciplinary borders, cross thresholds of becoming, adopt an alternative personae, become a fugitive.

Something in the world forces us to think. (Deleuze 1994, 139)

The ‘trespass of thought’ is what confronts us from the outside, unexpectedly.

Take yourself and your dancer / reader / audience on a journey but take care that your crossings are ethical and reciprocal incursions.

A core text for my own becoming as a writer-researcher-dancer is feminist philosopher, Hélène Cixous’, Sorties5. Cixous famously insisted that woman must ‘write herself…put herself into the text…by her own movement’ (Cixous in Humm 1992, 196). Invoking the writerly dancer through gesture, motility and speaking, Cixous calls for a calibrating of difference through the ‘springing up of selves one didn’t know’ (Cixous 1986, 84). Coming to writing, for her, means arriving at authorship, experiencing the jouissance (pleasure, bliss) of activities, waking to them. Much like a wayfarer, she invokes agency by encouraging ‘sorties’. Etymologically understood as a type of military operation, a form of attack, a foray, a sortie is also a mode of going out. Going on forays outside and beyond the familiar and habitual spaces of dance as a dancer-researcher involves experiences of and experimentation with limits, taking risks, having a purpose, being courageous. Through moving with intent, it is possible to experience the unknowingness of the bodily realm and its eruptive potential in defying our expectations. For a sortie is also a discovery. In working in the gaps between discourses and between ideas and materials, the ‘body-writing’ of the choreographer-researcher takes place somewhere other than in the territories subordinated to logocentrism. This will be an illusion however as long as the choreographic aim coincides with the system denounced. In a context of competing discourses we become border runners going on sorties, resisting subjugation to disciplinary boundaries, ‘speaking’ the logic of our discourse through physical thinking, transgressing norms and becoming fugitive.

5 ‘Sorties’ is a key essay in La jeune née (Cixous 1986) provides a foundational myth of ‘A Woman’s Coming to Writing’ through key sites of Western philosophy, psychoanalysis, and classical literature. Reading history deconstructively, it offers a feminist projection of women’s relationship to culture.

Carol Brown in Mnemosyne, a site specific event for the Prague Quadrenniale of Performance Design and Space 2011 created by Carol Brown, Dorita Hannah and Russell Scoones. Photograph by Russell Scoones.

Thought arises from the provocation of an encounter. It confronts us from outside the concepts we already know, from outside the subjectivities we already are, from outside the corporeality we already inhabit. Thinking involves a wrenching of concepts away from their usual configurations, ‘thinking is never easy’ (Grosz 2001, 61).

Propose a route (where you are going and how you might get there?)
Make an itinerary, a schedule
Mobilise your thinking

9 Choreographing problems of knowledge

There is the nagging problem of how to add movement back into the picture. (Massumi 2002, 3)

Mostly we do not feel the scope of our corporeality when we are still. Yet the history of knowledge about the body in Western medicine and science has, since the age of enlightenment, been based upon the stilled life of a corpse. Through the history of the body as an object of science we have dissected, analysed and broken into parts the wisdom of the moving body. If, as post-Deleuzian philosopher Brian Massumi claims, traditional approaches to knowledge are ‘positional’, catching the body in freeze-frame, in stasis, how do we add movement back in? How might we begin with mobility, with moving our thinking?

I have all these bits and pieces, a left side and a right side, an upper body, middle body and lower body
A front and a back, a top and a bottom, and an inside and an outside
And when I was very young I imagined that I could fold all of these bits, and pieces into parts and that I could make myself into a work of origami
At other times I would imagine that I had a split through the middle, separating my upper body from my lower body, and that I could fold in half like a suitcase.
Are you following me?
(Brown 1994)

Movement, experienced as impulses, flows and forces, is the unifying bond between the mind and the body, and sensations are the substance of that bond (Juhan 2003). But kinaesthetic thinking does not happen in a void. In adopting a critical position in relation to dancing and embodiment it is necessary to unpack the assumptions that attend to our worlding of what dance is and the construction of dance subjects with particular inheritances, culturally, socially and racially. The choreographer as researcher engages in a re-worlding of dance through an openness to critical reflexivity. This may include recognising racial, class and gendered differences and how these are implicated in the work we make, the places it is performed and the power dynamic in relations of creative research.

10 Making scores for space & time

Planning Artistic Research means creating time to move, think, draw, capture, write and reflect. There are different ways to organise your time and plot your research trajectory.

develop an itinerary
identify your matrix

Practice research take place in multiple dimensions. This is the era of people movement and data flows. We navigate our way through tangled networks of flesh and data; we pathfind through intuitive somatic know-how; we wayfind through place responsiveness; we assess our positionality through GPS coordinates; we are tethered to satellite technologies and Wi-fi connectivity. We navigate kinaesthetic belongings through complex webs of identity. Fusions of human and technology, we are connected to physical and virtual dimensions. Susan Melrose describes practice as research as ‘multi-dimensional theorising’ (Melrose 2005). It is a definition which I find helpful in accommodating the many roles, spaces and media through which dance research practice takes place. However, a key question that is asked of doctorate degrees is what is your field? To what area of knowledge does your work contribute?

The word ‘field’ itself presupposes a ground, a place for your work. However it is possible that your field will exist in multiple dimensions of space and time. An image I find helpful to describe this and which avoids some of the colonial assumptions of ‘fields’ is a matrix.

Carol Brown, Kinesthetic Navigations / Kinesthetic Stories, performance research with Gibson/Martelli and Russell Scoones. Photograph by Bruno Martelli, Waitakere Forest, New Zealand, February 2016.

A matrix, like fascia, is a substance, situation or environment in which something has an origin, takes form and is enclosed. Matrixial connections shape performance systems through interconnecting elements. Choreography takes place in multiple dimensions of space and time, both actual and virtual, engaging a matrixial imagination and material histories. Choreographic research might involve composing relations between a multiplicity of sources including movements, architectures, digital agents, sounds, costumes, lighting and texts. The combining of these involves the elaboration of a matrix in which production elements are as important in their placings as critical-creative projections. The medium specificity of this work is usually movement and the sources of this movement are discovered through the inter-corporeal experience of dancing with each other and the nonhuman including digital agents, the weather, light, sound and place. The techniques and tactics of this process shape the corporeal and incorporeal experience of the research. Through a non-essential corporeality, different zones of dancers’ bodies join with concepts, things and others in a field of intense flows, a matrixial emergence. Performances negotiate these flows of connection, establishing relations between things that would otherwise be disconnected, remaking our image in and of the world.

identify your matrix of enquiry
note what you need
practise becoming matrixial by joining elements, making connections
plan your journey
go on field trips, sorties
work in multiple dimensions, simultaneously
explore fascia as connective tissue and organisational method6

6 PhD candidate Kerstin Kussmaul (University of Auckland) through her performance research event The Matter of Fascia (March 2019) explored fascia as a method for both integration of dancer knowledge and as a model for practice as research within a specific ecology, Lake Rototoa, South Head, Auckland New Zealand.

Create a place or space for regular practice such as a studio or physical landscape and carve out a dedicated amount of time to work.

Turn off all phones, computers, and anything that might distract you from your tasks, unless they are crucial to your practice.

Cultivate a ritual such as walking around the place or space clockwise before you begin, lying on the floor in constructive rest, putting on loud music and blasting out some moves.

After preparing yourself and your space to work, scan your body, witness any sensations. Notice any thought patterns. Identify an intention or start from an open-ended improvisation.

Here are some timed processes you can test:
3 minutes dancing
3 minutes writing
3 minutes talking

20 minutes walking or swimming
20 minutes dancing
20 minutes writing

1 hour eyes closed dancing

17 minutes turning

3 hours walking in silence
3 hours writing in movement

Walking and taking a photograph every 6 minutes

11 Field Notes for the sphere of dancing

Keep a daily practice diary of time spent doing what it is you are doing.

write / draw / capture. What am I witnessing? Reflect on what emerges in each session without judging or diagnosing. Playback, read and review the material you have captured in relation to your intention.

write down your intentions or tasks for the next practice session
look at the previous day’s thoughts
decide what this session is about
decide on your tasks and intentions
be particular and specific
make decisions about what you might do next
invite feedback and discussion from others including people outside your matrix7

7 See Bryon (2014) for a template of how to structure a practice research session through critical reflexivity.

12 Practice philosophy in the flesh

Deleuze’s fundamental legacy is the becoming-creative of philosophy. Through his writings the very image of thinking is reinvented to empower the active, positive forces of life, disengaging it from the reactive or negative passions.8 For “we do not know what a body can do” (Deleuze 1989, 189).9 In choreographing, it is in the physical doing of the work, that the architecture of thought becomes evident. To explore the architecture of thought you can develop tasks as physical questions. How do you want to work?. How do you want to frame the way you want to work within the demands of the University doctoral programme?

8 See Braidotti 2002 on the legacy of Deleuzian thought.

9 For Deleuze, categories of life are precisely the attitudes of the body, its postures: “We do not even know what a body can do’: in its sleep, in its drunkenness, in its efforts and resistances. To think is to learn what a non-thinking body is capable of, its capacity, its postures.” (Deleuze 1989, 189).

Keep momentum going with kinetic joy
Embrace tricky ground and tight places
Experiment with a plenitude of embodiments
Inhabit possible orientations
Stray and stumble about
Mark milestones
Make incremental shifts
Think on your feet
Flow with the circulation of ideas
Discover where you are – audit your responsibility to self, other, your community
Do things with words
Make words from things
Develop a lexicon of terms that are particular to your project
Name and rename

13 Get lost, lose yourself

My internal compass gives off confused readings. I get lost. (Brown 2003)

Nothing is lost but you yourself, wanderer in a terrain where even the most familiar places aren’t quite themselves and open to the impossible. (Solnit 2011)

Cultural historian Rebecca Solnit’s Field Guide for Getting Lost entwines autobiographical storytelling with critical reflection through a series of meditations and wanderings around interior and exterior landscapes. The book addresses a range of subjects from French artist Yves Klein’s leap into the void, to the rapid extinction of species and ‘The Blue of Distance’. Solnit connects each of these experiences back to the idea of consciously being lost. This choice involves losing any expectations, hopes or desires that enable us to control our reality or destination, surrendering to the universe. Woven in and out of her stories are testimonies: of immigrant ancestors, lost friends, former lovers, old movies, dreams, memories, animals verging on extinction and abandoned buildings. These experiences become material for explorations of the concept of loss, losing one’s way and being lost.

Take yourself back to a memory of being lost
Where were you?
What did it feel like?

14 Survival tips

Share your research
Make the most of opportunities to share what you know, and invite questioning and critique
Avoid a defensive stance in relation to this
Develop modes of presenting that align with your research endeavour
It is your responsibility to know what is going on around you and what has gone before
What is the historical-material context?
Can you be more knowledgeable about this and still move?
Cite your influences and check that you are representing a range of voices
Cite women, cite the subaltern, cite the invisibilised by the dominant canon
Keep track of performances seen, books and articles read, and practitioners engaged with
Do a practice survey
Consider literature and practice surveys as complementary reference sources

Edit your work
Enjoy polishing, refining, synthesising, recalibrating, revising, reiterating
Create multiple drafts and works in process, let these different modes of practice as research operate in tandem
Develop collaborative conversations that challenge habituated disciplinary terrains
Make the most of being in a scholarly environment to cultivate sustained relationships and collaborations with expert others
Leap into the transcontextual
Alternate actions and locations: between the studio, the library and the street; between dancing and writing
Make crossings from one mode of corporeality to another, through different kinds of cultural spaces
Tandem sequence different modes of research – dancing into writing, writing into dancing.

15 Going hunting

Stumble, trip, stumble, trip (Rosen 2000).

Being a choreographic researcher doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to make better work, be more successful at getting funding, or have more opportunities in the cultural sector to present your performances. It does assume that you are becoming more knowledgeable about what you do, how you make, the ethics and values that underpin emergent knowledge and why it is important to persist in creative acts of making. What you make becomes part of a wider discourse. It asserts its relevance through a pathway of knowledge making that engages the senses, kinaesthetic intelligence and conceptual rigour. In becoming a wayfarer one becomes knowledgeable through encounters and experiences that grow along myriad pathways, these pathways are made, shaped and designed as an intentional journey led by intuitive, corporeal and conceptual choices as well as through the serendipity of the creative process, chance, mistakes and the unforeseen. We traverse these pathways negotiating a way in the volatile air and across bumpy ground. We come to know as we go, over it, under it, through it.


  1. Rebecca Solnit’s The Field Guide for Getting Lost (2005, Penguin) provoked my thinking through choreography as research as a necessary art of becoming and getting lost.
  2. Elizabeth Grosz (2017, 5) identifies an ontology of the incorporeal as being latent within the history of Western thought. Following the Stoics she describes the incorporeal as the ‘immaterial conditions for the existence and functioning of matter’.
  3. There are some exceptions to this, Bob Whalley and Lee Miller completed the first joint practice-as-research PhD to be undertaken within a UK arts discipline in 2004, “Motorway as Site of Performance: Space is a Practised Place” MMU, Cheshire, UK.
  4. ‘Mesearch’, is what author Mark Edwards (2018) describes as emerging from his ‘me/thodology.’  As both theoriser and theorised, his practice-led research delivers a personal, autobiographical narration that combines critical reflections and emotional experiences in the context of the ‘self’s’ and enactment through performance.
  5. ‘Sorties’, a key essay in La jeune née (Cixous 1986) provides a foundational myth of ‘A Woman’s Coming to Writing’ through key sites of Western philosophy, psychoanalysis, and classical literature. Reading history deconstructively, it offers a feminist projection of women’s relationship to culture.
  6. PhD candidate Kerstin Kussmaul (University of Auckland) through her performance research event The Matter of Fascia (March 2019) explored fascia as a method for both integration of dancer knowledge and as a model for practice as research within a specific ecology, Lake Rototoa, South Head, Auckland New Zealand.
  7. See Bryon (2014) for a template of how to structure a practice research session through critical reflexivity.
  8. See Braidotti (2002) on the legacy of Deleuzian thought.
  9. For Deleuze, categories of life are precisely the attitudes of the body, its postures:  “We do not even know what a body can do: in its sleep, in its drunkenness, in its efforts and resistances.  To think is to learn what a non-thinking body is capable of, its capacity, its postures.” (Deleuze 1989, 189).


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Carol Brown

Carol Brown is a choreographer, performer, researcher and artistic director working on collaborative projects that draw upon place histories and body archives. Formerly Choreographer in Residence at the Place Theatre London, she has held residencies in the USA, Czech Republic, Malaysia, Spain, India, Germany and Chile and toured her work internationally. Major works include the durational performance Shelf Life commissioned by South East Dance, Tongues of Stone for STRUT Perth Dancing City, and the interactive dance-architecture The Changing Room made with Mette Ramsgard-Thomsen for Dance Umbrella. Carol won the Ludwig Forum International Art Prize and a Jerwood Choreography Prize. She has a PhD from the University of Surrey, UK. She publishes regularly in dance research journals and for edited collections on performance and supervises practice-led doctorates in the UK and New Zealand.