A study of the hidden choreographic properties of an object. Inspired by the philosophies of choreographers Merce Cunningham and William Forsythe the starting point of the project is the thought of creating an artefact that could choreograph a (contemporary dance) performance, in other words can we create an object that would direct the performer autonomously and what would the performance look like?

What does this proposition require from its elements? Moreover, what does it require from the object. (Music is not seen as a necessary element but could be inspired by and implemented on the performance afterwards. This independence from music is relative to Merce Cunningham’s ideas on contemporary dance.) Firstly, we believe, the object has to be able to communicate to the performer and trigger movements in his / her body. Secondly, the object should have such characteristics that it generates specific types of and recognizable gestures. Meaning, are the movements aggressive and fast or joyful and slow.

In a way the object is like a score (see below), offering general guidelines for movement thus giving space for interpretation by the performer. This leads to unpredicted outcomes since each performer will interpret the object differently. A performer from Finland might create a totally different performance using the object than a performer from Brazil.

The first objects created for the project are glass masks hand-blown in Leerdam, the Netherlands. Glass, when worn on the body, has already such characteristics as translucent, optic, brittle, heavy, potentially dangerous, glossy, fluid, cold etc. When given a shape the different characteristics of glass can be amplified and thus the gestures the performer will emit can be manipulated. Also the shape will dictate how the mask is used and what movements the performer can and will execute.

The three masks created are all different and therefore the performances created by the masks and the performer wearing them are different.

The first mask is black and semi-transparent so that the performer is able to see through it but the viewer cannot see the performer’s face. The shape is a reminiscent of a plague doctor’s mask with a hollow, protruding snout-like part. The performer can use this part to make sounds. The black colour together with animalistic appearance creates heavy, beast-like movements.

The second mask is made out of threads of clear glass that are fused together. The view outside when using the mask is distorted and so is the face of the performer directing the performer to make fractured movements, in a way trying to recollect the shattered world.

The third mask is a white opaque tube with two stretched openings. It is possible to be used by a single performer but it clearly invites a second one to join. When two performers have their heads in the mask, seeing nothing but at each other, breathing the same air, the atmosphere is intimate, even claustrophobic. The object directs towards an interaction between two performers but ultimately it is the performers then dictating each other’s movements.


Extraction from A Dialogue with Glass

In choreography two fundamental methods are used for designing a dance piece: improvisation and planned choreography. In improvisation the choreographer creates a score and provides the dancers with it1. A score gives only general guidelines for movement and form thus giving more space for personal interpretation by the performer – in other words the performer’s own style and personality become more visible.

According to choreographer Anna Halprin scores can be also used to bring creative resources to the surface2. These resources she talks about are unconscious and hidden: feelings, attitudes and blocks. In this way a score becomes a tool for discovering hidden things – in the same way as tacit knowing is a “tool” for discovering hidden problems.

Halprin states that scores are used to generate creativity3. As true as this is there is always the question of the quality of the outcome; the choreographer might not be satisfied with the emerged dance piece. But still scores can be a very efficient way of bringing new ideas and those hidden emotions, personalities, out.


1 Choreography. Wikipedia.
2,3 Lepecki, A. (ed) 2012. Dance. Documents on Contemporary Art.


Nationaal Glasmuseum, Leerdam
Lester Arias
Grant by Creative Industries Fund NL and Mondriaan Fund