Dancing and drawing

Posted Jan. 4, 2016 by Auriea Harvey

A report of my foam lab micro-residency, part of series of thought and drawing experiments that I call The Living Line The D&D micro-residency took place on December 2nd and was attended by Auriea, Rasa, Stevie, Nicholas, Maja (who also facilitated and took great notes.) The lovely photo-documentations are by Rasa and by Nik.

The wonderful thing about foam is that they provide a space to figure things out, even when you are not sure resolution can be achieved, they say there is always a next step.

Habitually, obsessively, privately, publicly: I am an artist who Draws. I have wanted to formalize my habit of drawing during dance performances I attend. I want to make work which more directly in a way that involves the performers. I have had visions of DANCE married to DRAWING in my head for many years.


Firstly, I gave a short presentation. I expressed my confusion and my motivation, my existential doubts over the whole idea. Maybe I simply like looking at dancers in motion and would like translate that into drawing in motion? Maybe, as a representational artist I find that dancers make good subjects because their bodies and movements make more interesting forms, interesting subjects? I am not interested in being the performer myself, at least not in any direct way which leads to drawing in public. I find the idea of flailing my body about, piece of charcoal in hand, in front of an audience abhorrent. But I am very interested in finding ways of using my body to better understand what dancing is and what a Dancer does. And I wonder if knowing more about what I am drawing and making links to that other artistic practise can lead to better drawings. But the artefact at the end, the eternal truth of the drawing is paramount to my goal. What happens before is private. I showed artists whose work with Dancing/Drawing inspires me: Anne-Teresa de Keersmaeker, William Kentridge, Nicolas Gansterer, Andros Zins-Browne. Upon reflection, when I am looking at performances I have a preference for the motions of the everyday and of the absurd, as opposed to variations of traditional dance, like modern ballet. If I must have traditional dance I like the tradition laid bare a historical re-enactment. Similarly in the drawings I admire there is a rigorous discipline, a silver thread of the traditional, or there is a blistering fresh awareness of what making that drawing means. The artist, in her place, within and outside the lines. Discussion followed.


The point was made that what I am looking for is not a representation of dance nor a way of using dance to physically make a drawing but a SYNTHESIS of Dancing and Drawing which makes an artefact that goes beyond a representational drawing or the perfomane which may be used to create it. COMPOSITION was another keyword which came up to describe the overlapping goals I have for creation of a work. There was discussion of how musical composition and choreography have gone hand in hand historically. I must further research how dance was represented along with music notation in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. It was suggested that I look to the manuscripts of Hildegard von Bingen (which can be viewed in Dendermonde) and Thoinot Arbeau, for ways that music notation and dance notation were developed in tandem in the past. Also worth looking into the grammar of gesture in Baroque dance and it was suggested that to learn more I could perhaps make contact with Anna Yepes who is a specialist of spanish baroque dance. We didn’t talk that much about tools, unfortunately. But someone mentioned that I should experiment with Zoetropes or other animated forms. I brought up other ways of looking at a dance such as the black mirror and we envisioned a black mirrored floor of a performance hall. For it is not the performance but the intentionality of the created artefact and its aesthetic effect that I am interested in. On this I have demands. I feel it is important to draw from life. And in this live drawing not merely recording a gestural trace and nor memorizing a frozen pose but, I stressed, the primacy of active memory in drawing what is moving. Visual memory is an important principle of representational art, from the sight-size method to gesture drawing from one’s own imagination. Can a static work of visual art be considered time-based? We pondered how a performance lives on in one’s memory and one continues to ‘see’ and interpret it through drawing. The drawing continues the performance after the fact. It was said that this goes against contemporary relations to time, by crossing time frames which exist between the now and the then, becoming a performative notion of visual experience. What does it mean to make a drawing and then repreat it 20 times? I had to admit while I have copied many artworks from the old-masters I have never repeated a drawing of my own enough to answer that question. But I am curious to try. These were all very interesting topics of discussion which gave me a lot of food for thought. We discussed methods of choreography in contemporary dance. These are of interest to me because I felt there could be some helpful language exchange with the type of drawing I hope to make. It was noted that an observation and response or ping-pong dialog between dancer and drawer was perhaps less interesting than a more direct cooperation. Yves Klein was summoned.

But this takes me further away from my stated aesthetic goal and toward becoming the public performer again. We looked for another angle. The Choreographic principles of William Forsythe.

And again I gravitated to those beautiful repetitions of everyday gestures found in Elena’s Aria of Anne Teresa de Keersmaker.

We questioned if music was necessary. It has been said there are two ways music is usually used in dance: As a support, something to be enacted upon and interpreted or as two fully developed entities juxaposed... But in-between there is a lot of unexplored territory. I agree, but also I have an abiding appreciation for what Anne Terese de Keersmaker declares as the ‘musicality which comes out of the motion’. So I am dubious about the role of music with Dancing and Drawing for me. We had talked enough it seemed a good time for action! We went into a bigger room where I’d prepared paper, graphite and charcoal so we could try a few things out.


Time + Relationships + Gestures = A Choreographic Score What might a score for a dance to be drawn look like? We did a few exercises to find out.

Each of us invented a repeatable motion, a gesture with our body. The table became our action area. We walked around the table. When we reach the short side of the table we are the dancer performing our gesture 3 times. On the opposite side we become the drawer, drawing the performer at the opposite end of the table. We took the same gestures, this time, to be acted out on paper. We walked around the table with each person performing their gesture as a mark 3 times.

This then, became the dance score. We evaluated the score. There was a choice: each persons mark as an individual instrument or to divide the paper and each section would be the motion we would improvise.

We chose to each put one mark into motion. We marked off a space on the floor and each of us improvised a dance movement based on a line from the drawing. Dancing commenced. We iterated until we knew the dance moves as a group.

Next, on a mural-sized paper we made marks which expressed what we felt were the best motions of the drawn score.

This drawing was seen almost as a piano roll with the dancers imrpovising their motions from lines from the left to the right across the paper. I set up an easel on the floor while everyone else danced across the mural, Stevie played musical accomapniment on her hurdy-gurdy. Her music responding both to my marks and the group dance. We stuggled to pull order out of chaos! Fun was had!

Finally, I selected parts of the dance they had invented, which resonated most with me aesthetically, to be the main subjects of a final session of sketching. They developed those parts further. And after their dance I elaborated their positions from memory.


We had worked hard and had a good time. We were spent but felt like we had accomplished something. Endorphins ran high, as Dancing and Drawing will do. We had made a repeatable vocabulary. From that vocabulary we had made sentences. Fiero! On the one hand I have done the one thing I didn't want to do, become a performer and ignored what I said I did want to do, create an artefact which I considered to be visually interesting when severed from its origin story. On the other hand, getting out of one's comfort zone is seldom a bad idea. And I am happy to have experienced the joy of choreographing and dancing a dance with others.... then drawing it like crazy! While I was not able to explore a structural representational style I would like to employ, due to reasons of time, I still feel what this exercise provided me with is a visceral approach to starting a drawing, a method for developing poses or even an entire choreographic outline for a model or performer whom I will draw. I think an applied theme or narrative would lead to an even more visually rich outcome. I wouldn't mind trying this all again.


In closing, I would like to say that this is possibly the last micro-residency FOAM lab will ever stage. They are re-imagining what their lab will be and taking a big sabbatical next year. Having known them for many, many years I understand their reasons for changing ways. But I feel all the same that it will be a shame to lose their lab as a resource for artistic exploration. The maxim that ‘anything’s possible’ is often said but seldom acted upon. The world needs spaces for artists to experiment, discuss and transform vague ideas into a big plans. Verily, possible futures await!