Dance Centre Artist-in-Residence Justine A. Chambers explains the origin and purpose of The Talking Thinking Dancing Body, and the importance of trust and speaking out:
The Didactic Text
battery opera performance's Talking Thinking Dancing Body (TTDB) is a facilitated conversation about aesthetics, context and artistic process. Initiated in 2012 by Lee Su-Feh, it encourages speaking about dance from an awareness of our bodies and the world it lives in. It unabashedly interrogates dance through a lens concerned with decolonizing, anti-racism and feminism.
The Story, or When Justine and Su-Feh Became Friends
Su-Feh and I became friends through the development and coordination of the Grey Square Relay - a durational performance of resistance in response to the vicious cuts to BC arts funding in 2009. It was through arts activism that our friendship and artistic kinship flourished. Over time our conversations about performance and art-making sustained us when discourse around work (made inside and outside of our community) felt overwhelmingly polite. How do we further the form if we don’t interrogate it? How can we possibly like everything? How is giving an “A” for effort helping artists?
In the fall of 2012, I was invited by Su-Feh to help her facilitate a series of public conversations about aesthetics, context and artistic process - she called it The Talking Thinking Dancing Body (TTDB). Su-Feh had started the discussion platform months earlier as a pedagogical exercise for pre-professional dance artists in Modus Operandi Training Program. Developing TTDB was responding to a personal need. The need for public critical discourse around dance making and performance within our community. It fosters developing language specifically within the dance milieu, and provides context for considering our individual experience as witnesses to work.
In its first couple of years we would meet at the hop bop shop (the home for battery opera performance and Marta Marta Productions). We would sit on the floor, share wine, fizzy water and sweet/salty snacks while doing the jagged work of talking and thinking through the dancing bodies we had witnessed that month.
At the onset there were rules:
1. We will not talk about how nice the choreographer is.
2. We will not talk about how “good” the dancers are as a default to talking about the work itself.
3. We do not care about the intent of the choreographer.
These days TTDB lives in The Dance Centre as part of my residency, and has taken on the form of a salon. I co-facilitate the conversation with a guest and we discuss a specific topic and see it where it takes us. There is still wine, fizzy water and sweet/salty snacks. The conversations still feel barbed, and while the rules are not laid out at the beginning of the discussion they are still firmly in place.
While Su-Feh and I sat on my couch yesterday she spoke about how trust allows us to have difficult conversations. Establishing trust allows us to feel safe, which then gives us the courage to speak up or speak out or simply speak.
Occasionally it is said that TTDB is a ‘safe space’ for dialogue. I’m not sure that is true. I’m not sure it ever feels truly ‘safe’ to voice opinions - particularly opinions of dissent - but the point is that there is a space, and folks have the courage to show up and speak.
The next edition of the Talking, Thinking, Dancing Body takes place on March 10, 2016, 5-7pm at Scotiabank Dance Centre and will discuss gender inequality in dance, with guest Kristina Lemieux.
Photo: Justine A. Chambers (L) and Lee Su-Feh (R)