Attuning to Collaboration

Jamie McCarthy & Joanna Young

Earlier this year at the beginning of the summer, a small group of dance artists, choreographers, musicians and composers gathered in Cardiff for a two-day workshop.  With support from Tŷ Cerdd, Groundwork invited composer Jamie McCarthy and myself to facilitate a workshop around collaboration between dance and choreography, movement and sound.  We were kindly hosted by the University of South Wales, giving us multiple studio space and free run around the building.  

The workshops aim was to offer opportunities for participants to develop their creative practice, explore the term collaboration and its many different meanings, and to facilitate new ways of music and movement to come together.  

So often artists are put into a collaborative process with no preparation, or without the time or resources for them to consider under which contexts they work best, how they would like to approach collaboration, and how they can communicate their needs to the people they are working with.  The workshop questioned traditional hierarchies often associated between dancers and choreographers, musicians and composers and the ethics around credit and collaboration. It was a space to experiment and explore ways of being together in a supportive environment.

We were a small group, which gave the two days a warm informality, with much room for play, improvisation and long conversations.  The group became close and it felt like a safe space to really open up, discuss and reflect on past collaborations, what’s worked, what’s been hard and what we’ve learned.  We talked about language and its similarities and contradictions within these forms. We talked about boundaries and how to hold them, we talked about hierarchies, finance, transparency, difference, conflict, starting points, endings, burn out, the blur of professional and personal, credit and value, conflicts and resolutions, time scales, deadlines, pressure, uncertainty, vulnerability and practicalities.   

We didn’t attempt to reach any conclusions, we simply laid out the vast field of what collaborative practice has meant to the people in the room.  We oscillated between practice and discussions. Taking turns to devise scores from some suggested starting points, each participant getting the opportunity to work with everyone in the room.  We explored ways of ‘checking in’ and ‘checking out’ with a collaborator, thinking about what’s important for the people you are working with to know about where you’re at, and your thoughts about the work being made.  

My memories of the weekend are of choral voices spiralling up and down the staircase, with a dance appearing and disappearing at the bottom of a vertical drop; the deep sound of a cello with running feet; starting and stopping; sharing when it’s all gone wrong; sharing in the isolation; moving together; saying yes and saying no; hearing the building; watching through the window; being led and leading; a sense of catching up; starting from the middle; moving compositions; laughing; listening; more listening; sitting in the sun; noticing what’s already there, what’s already happening; sharing in our vulnerabilities; stopping together; keeping going; rhythm drills; jumping; frames; small quiet things; getting louder; changing studios; changing roles; witnessing.  

Many thanks to all who came, to the Arts Council of Wales, Ty Cerdd and the University of South Wales for supporting the workshop.