Visits to the Archive no. 2: Do what you always do if you want the results that you always get.


There was a direct line between our first experiment and this one: 'Gorey på tværs' or 'The Gorey Experiment' from 2008. After I had presented Experiment 1 with writers and musicians at Laboratoriet's conference Meeting #1, dramaturg Sandra Buch came up to me and spoke very quickly and very excitedly about an interdisciplinary experiment she would like to propose, as a parallel or deepening of Experiment 1.

The following year we did the experiment that was very concretely and very precisely defined by Sandra. The purpose of the experiment was to find a way to work in an interdisciplinary process without giving preference or dominance to one of the art forms, but creating a truly equal collaboration process. The participants in the experiment were Sandra as dramaturg, Dorte Petersen as choreographer, Czeslaw Mozil as composer, and Nicolai Hart Hansen as stage designer. I was the experiment facilitator. The process work was going to be based on the world of artist and author Edward Gorey.

Every day for four days we worked with the same method. Using a drawing or story by Edward Gorey as the starting point, each of the four participants would take turns to start the process. For example, the composer would present a piece of music, then the stage designer would create a space to the music, the dramaturg would add a story/action (2 performers were available for the work), and finally the choreographer would add movement to the whole. The next day the sequence of the four art forms would change.

We kept the rules very strict. You were not allowed to change anything the others had made, and you were not allowed to transgress your own art form. So at the end of each day it was as if we had four transparent sheets on top of each other, forming a whole where you could see how the different art forms had contributed to the product.

This was incredibly interesting to watch, and it opened up a whole lot of questions and possibilities in the interdisciplinary work. It became suddenly clear that when you were looking at the four elements of a scene - movement, music, story/acting, and space - so neatly intertwined and separate at the same time, you would potentially be able to choose which of the four elements you would want to use to change or expand the scene. Something that seemed to stand out so clearly because the four elements had all been co-creative in making the fundamental, first set-up of the scene.

Furthermore, what I realised on the third day was that we were also dealing with several layers of experiments: The obvious experiment was our investigation of how these four art forms interacted. The 'shadow experiment' was: What IS the individual art form? What is actually their essence? What do I bring to the whole? What is actually the essence of movement, of space, of sound, of story? Until we know that - or know more about that - we are in reality less able to enter into the whole together with other forms.

And of course, the experiment was also very much about the collaboration between individuals, not just between art forms. On the last day, choreographer Dorte Petersen said with disarming honesty:

"I have surprised myself in areas where I definitely didn't expect it. I thought I was good at collaborating with others, including other art forms. And it turned out that actually, I'm not. I'm really good at collaborating as long as it happens within my own concept world and within the language that I speak. Which meant that when I had to deal with too many things coming from too many layers outside the world of dance and movement, and outside the story as I saw it, I found there was too much information and too many rules. And instead of thinking, 'Oh, how exciting, now I have all these structures to lean on' (which I had thought I would), I just became completely blocked and didn't know what to do."

The question of hierarchy also showed itself as something that must be dealt with between people, and is not settled just by a conceptual decision to let the art forms work in an equal way. Or, as composer Czeslaw Mozil commented:

"It's like a football team, when you're playing against the other kids in the schoolyard: Very quickly you find out how the roles are divided. So even though we have been working democratically, and we've been trying not to work in a hierarchic way I just know that it will come naturally in a longer process.... But the ideal working process is of course that you always listen."

The experiment idea came from Sandra's wish to break with traditional, habitual rehearsal methods: "The conventional process where the director gets a manuscript, has a vision, makes a plan, and works with the people under him to create that vision, is a good process for making people feel safe. But if it becomes routine for everybody, we are not using the full potential of everybody's ressources. We never get into the creative moments that might take performing arts to new places." To Sandra, the experiment was a basic investigation to start creating a rehearsal method that presents an alternative to the traditional six weeks, turning the process around, working in a non-hierarchic way, and still arriving at a performance at the end of the period.

And of course, turning a 'normal' process around is one of the things we love to do at Laboratoriet. Because how can you expect to create new and groundbreaking work, if you don't change anything in the way that you create it?

Documentation video from 'The Gorey Experiment' (in Danish):

To celebrate Laboratoriet's anniversary, artistic director Barbara Simonsen is making this series of Visits to the Archive, rediscovering 10 years of performing arts experiments and artistic research at Laboratoriet.