Working collective as frame for liberatory theory-into-praxis

Extend the working collective body of our dance-theater collective In Divine Company as a frame for exploring liberatory theory-into-praxis.

Combined, the core company members have more than 7 decades of performance and creative work in the Boston area alone. Because a lot of our work is community-oriented, educational, or experimental, all of us are still supporting ourselves through non-artistic means. By creating the foundation for the long-term success of In Divine Company, the collective cooperative model offers a pathway to personal and creative success and economic sustainability for all of us and the communities we support. Specifically, it means we can do the truly collaborative work that is exciting and transformational. Artworks can be made alone, but art movements are made with others. Boston is hungry for more community-rooted liberatory art, and as local culture workers we have laid the creative and personal groundwork.

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Company members apply this frame as we experiment with dance drama techniques that best support modeling in community the liberatory worlds we want to live in now. Being in this world, we come away with two strong impressions we’d like to tackle in collective: First, and as a partial answer, we want to facilitate an exploration of our technocultural bodies – namely, how we embody them and learn together how to measure their impact when they overlap with other social and State-sanctioned values.

Second, the question, “how might methodologies in performance art making support the technologist’s heart?” Further, the embodiment that comes with movement and the performance arts will enable students to resist the stereotype of the unemotive engineer by finding physical and emotional points of connection in practice.

As we are proponents of flexible and responsive modeling, we want to be clear that the open-layout of the Company frame offers multiple points of entry, allowing participants to explore where they are with respect to engaging with the expressive arts and what design problems they are most interested in exploring. The frame encourages and provides multiple ways Company members may engage community members in developing certain technologies and methodologies that would contribute to Company goals based on their own interests – prominently through our labs. The frame also accommodates our individual creative aspirations in residency, even as we explore how dance and technology come together in Company projects.

That said, as educators and bridge-builders we apply the language of facilitation both to meet people where they are at and to challenge them to grow and engage. By providing participants the invitation to be both collaborators and audience members, they will be exposed to pathways that apply the expressive arts to support the understanding that the political is inherently personal. They will be challenged to find new ways to make their own voices heard.

Programming includes a series of expressive arts embodiment workshops that leans on design-justice principles as a first practice to help us understand the deeper cultural underpinnings of technologies and the values that selectively drive them. We critically examine the “expert” culture and the standard technological curricular approaches to problem-solving. Pressing beyond our professional training, we grapple with questions of trust building, and how to deeply listen to communities historically marginalized and affirm their own work and solutions. Workshops are composed of 15-30 minute modules: for example, the personal mission statement exercise is a popular 20 minute module that can support and affirm Company members in finding a way they can uniquely contribute to communities and help each other identify potential dance making pathways.

We are especially keen to continue activating the labs portions of In Divine Company: these labs accommodate multiple points of entry and interests – from concrete, guided engineering problems that our Company have already identified to more experimental, interdependent exploration that calls for collaborative problem-solving. Through this form of close engagement, we hope to affirm the understanding that engineering is an art, just as art inherently engineers.

Our hope is for company members and the communities we’re in relationship with to learn, share and co-create techniques for community building and agency, wherein we hear and responsively problem-solve with each other – working from our inner to outer worlds.

When engaging with community we do invite members to envision, create and perform as part of our performance. 

We hope to create a document that organizes the best practices we develop together of community-driven design to accommodate future cultural problem-solving.

Over the past decade we have been exercising space holding as a listening practice, knowing this process is essential to finding common ground when problem solving with community – a process that itself necessitates a responsive coming together of different value systems .

Part of breaking down the othering that happens with “expert” culture is to adopt a practice that encourages us to not see work in community and work we do for ourselves as inherently different. An understanding gained in our work that helped us embrace a tremendous shift in our approach involves behaving as if we are part of any community we are invited to be with and imagining that any intervention we work on together affects us as deeply as any community member. This attitude compels us to create infrastructure as part of the design solution that supports continued engagement with the communities we are in contact with. For us independent work and community work is synonymous, and that’s why we use the term interdependent.

Working with company members might serve as a first model of engagement for community building techniques to be tested. Increasingly, however, we encourage participants and community members to look into open community meetings or town halls they might attend in the local places where they spend significant time as a localized listening practice.

We plan to adapt our current portfolio of expressive arts community workshops rooted in popular education and community mediation to support our communities more formally with embodied healing modalities.

These larger cultural questions endure: for us, if these questions cannot be addressed, then the weight of our technocultural bodies will always support a destructive technocracy.

Through this exploration we stumbled upon consolidating successful engagement in resolving social problems into workshops applying the expressive arts as embodied, playful models to support others in navigating these precise challenges.

This curriculum is a sincere effort to be responsive to communities’ need for support as young adults, wherein embedded in the curriculum in the form of workshops and facilitation techniques are models for how to overcome problems that arise from gender disparity and lack of diversity.

Part of resistance is modeling different ways of being which challenges the status quo acceptance, normalization and tolerance of toxic behavioral patterns. To resist toxic masculinity, for example, we need to develop programming that scaffold an affirming and immediate addressing of issues during the moment of conflict in addition to regular programming that models other ways we might all together – including men – center femme engagement with technology and building up a practice of centering femme leadership first, in addition to putting into embodied practice vast theories that break down patriarchy and other State-sanctioned hierarchies.

The built-in exercises will enable students – particularly non-cis male students – to work confidently when observing the technocultural weightedness that favors and encourages men to act. At the same time, the exercises center community process that model for male students how to acknowledge the weight they carry so they might more intentionally rechannel and re-distribute the weight they carry to space hold for more femme-socialized colleagues and community partners in situations where there are more acute systemic structures in place that silence femme input, critique and leadership.

Participants will be encouraged to practice, adapt and model what works in our small circle to their other classrooms and worlds beyond.

In developing these processes, we learned some painful lessons when communities we helped build dispersed. Having people invest in community building when communities are actively being broken apart is a great challenge. Since then, for example, we developed a practice at our shows of converting the door fee as a token that people carry for the duration of the show which has a ribbon affixed to it that puts together all the hours of labor put into bringing the show about. The audience member contends with the idea that the labor artists exert even with what is considered a “decent stipend” is far and above mostly voluntary and therefore priceless. They view community investment and artist labor differently from when they arrived as audience and are invited to be community instead. We look forward to more such exploration with Company members – ones that may eventually be translated in narrative dance and choreography.

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