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Posted on April 23, 2015 in General
SPLAY: Back It Up

SPLAY is a collaborative project by Josh Martin and Lisa Gelley of 605 Collective, and dance artist Justine A. Chambers, utilizing the Granville St frontage of Scotiabank Dance Centre. This guest post by Justine and students from the Modus Operandi training program shares some of their ideas and research, in the run up to a free showing on International Dance Day on April 29:

The following blog post is a compilation of our shared research/conversation for Back It Up (working title), a project conceived by Justine A. Chambers and created with Rianne Svelnus, Illeane Cheladyn, Kevin Li, Andrea Cownden, Diego Romero, Layla Mrozowski, Kaitey DeSante, Jamie Robinson, Matilda Çobanli, Hayley Rose Gawthrop, Flora Yeung, Lorenz Santos, Alex Tam, Sierra Knight, Avery Smith, Tyler Layton-Olson and Nicholas Lydiate (students of the Modus Operandi Training Program).

Our Back it Up Facebook page is a destination for sharing video, music, podcasts, images and our thoughts on the work and working. We invite you to sift through the contents of the page shared below.

March 18, 2015
back it up, back that ass up, back it up to your hard drive, back up plan, got my back up, it's backed up, do back up, i'll back you up, get back up, can you back up? Pay attention to the musicians in the background, especially the last song.


March 19, 2015
Can’t sleep. Decided to write (what else is new...). A collection of thoughts and impressions and questions from our encounter with the work on Tuesday.

I started with: 'what is the work?' and 'whose opinions do you prioritize?' which threw me back to our first conversation about what it is we're researching. We discussed the blending, the blurring, the combining, and the collecting of individuals/artists - an ensemble of one voice and the feeling of being "part of something bigger” than oneself.

So, in trying to blend in with the group to become one of the ensemble members (all working towards a common goal) it pulls me back to the question of whose opinions do we prioritize - ours or the ensemble's?

Now crawling from the past into the present and pushing this into the future, I ask: How do we manage to manifest our individuality while (nearly) submitting to this "greater thing”?

It's kind of this cyclical thing: the individual makes up the ensemble, but the ensemble is a melting pot where individuation is a difficult and near-impossible thing to do. And yet, this entity that melts everything into a cohesive lump, is still made up of infinitely complex individuals with full agency. SO. This prompts the question: is the ensemble just a surface blending/connecting which keeps the individual underneath intact?

I guess it's also important to know what context the "ensemble" is in to gauge which aspect has priority: me or us?

I'm interested in a few things:

What does everyone prioritize, themselves or the group? (In this work, class, life, while eating fries... whenever)

By allowing physical variation during the compiling and accumulating of our "fuck ups", how can we stay connected to each other without getting lost in the hazy, consuming realm of remembering our (hilariously quickly) growing movement scores?
Where do I fit into this work beyond the movement score? OR is the movement score the "greater thing" that all of us individuals are connected to?

March 20, 2015
Some thoughts in response: This is what I know right now about what we are doing. That is not to say it won't change or become something else. I'm speaking from the present moment knowing that we will know more about the work as we work and as we talk.

What is the work? The work is working through repetition to illuminate difference. The work is bringing the dance most often reserved for the background to the foreground.

"A collection of individuals" doing a repetitive movement task is perhaps the best way to speak of the 'greater thing' - we are connected through working on the same thing, at the same and in the same place.

The word "prioritize" as a choreographic directive doesn't feel generative at this early point in the research...or perhaps not useful just yet. It doesn't leave room to see what may happen, what is possible, where the work of doing can lead us.

I don't know that we/you can stay connected to each other in the accumulation score. I don't know that being connected to each other is important at that point. What does feels important is that you are all sharing space while rigorously working on the same thing.

I am thinking about putting together a motown compilation as a binding agent/map for the score. Only you, the performers, would be able to hear it. This may help with this question of staying connected.


March 25, 2015
"Entrainment in the biomusicological sense refers to the synchronization of organisms to an external rhythm, usually produced by other organisms with whom they interact socially. Examples include firefly flashing, mosquito wing clapping, as well as human music and dance such as foot tapping."

"Joseph Jordania recently suggested that the human ability to be entrained was developed by the forces of natural selection as an important part of achieving the specific altered state of consciousness, battle trance. Achieving this state, in which humans lose their individuality, do not feel fear and pain, are united in a shared collective identity…"


March 28, 2015
Yvonne Rainer wrote this, The Aching Body in Dance, last year and it reminded me of the detritus I sense in this work. Just as Rainer is adjusting to her aging, weakening, and deteriorating body, it feels we are adjusting to the groups' changing rhythms and our own degradation of gestures (and concentration/patience).

Exposing and embracing the "flaws" rather trying to hide them. I think performers often see the need to hide a lot of the natural things that human experience to make the performance more impressive, more flawless. We have to be perfect as performers, as professionals. It is quite interesting to have work that focuses on this instead

April 4, 2015
Listened to this podcast on loops yesterday and thought of our work. The first two little segments felt especially relevant. The first was an introduction about a goofy durational comedy act and the second one was about a weird type of temporary amnesia.

April 14, 2015

April 15, 2015
This is the link for the Jerome Bel piece Justine referenced today. Thank you, Justine, for making the connection to this piece for us. Her demonstration of being a living backdrop fits with what I've been thinking in this piece about the relationship between invisibility and comfort, and the challenge of performing through feelings of unease and failure.


This is what Tyler, Elya and I learnt last year during the research process. There's something about the overall vibe of this video that really resonates and carries over for me when doing the backup dance. The physicality of the ladies (specifically their fingertips/hands, jawlines, shoulders, hips and eyes) is definitely something I'm trying to embody. I remember there being an overwhelming amount to pick up in the detail and presence of each individual back up dancer and the coordinations that lived in each body was completely different.


April 20, 2015
Wondering what makes a performance in the face and body? Realizing I tend to think of neutral face = not performing but already through this process there have been many times where I've had to work to keep a neutral face. Especially during awkwardness or mistakes, laughing seems to be a go to. Also, the experience of being neutral in the face and trying to exaggerate the body has been interesting. Challenging at times to have what feels like such opposite experiences. I was also reminded of this video (for better or worse) yesterday when I was thinking about being neutral faced in the step touches...


When we step-touch with our eyes closed i can feel my ears perking and 6th sense sharpening and spine lengthening, reminds me of an animal body/my animal body.

The up and and down/side to side pattern of the step touches makes me super aware of the circles in my body and the volumes of my head and my ribcage.


Last week Ileana and I had a brief discussion about 'frontal' projection that seems indicative of this process (i.e. 'simple' in the multiple is subjective /loaded / idiosyncratic / nuanced): Me: 'frontal' projection is my attention and has everything to do with my face. Ileana: her body.

I am getting more and more comfortable with the lack of comfort in the body, I feel like now I know to continue into that place rather then back away. But the face still seams like a foreign state with no laws at this point. Masters of the subtle grapevine:


I find it really interesting how the back up dancers/singers both do more singing and performing. They truly were the unsung heroes of these songs. It's a little sad how these extremely talented people where always put in the background even though they were the show and the sound that everyone loved.

In Dorian Lynskey's '33 Revolution Per Minute', "Funk peeled away everything but rhythm, and then redefined what rhythm could do." (Pg. 113) This quote was referring to James Brown's 'Papa's Got a Brand New Bag'. As back up dancers, music is the vehicle that generated the dance and grooves. Through this process, I always felt unnatural and awkward in order to achieve precision and group mentality. How can we keep the movements raw instead of a militant march? How do we achieve the tasks and maintain the groove without music?


"A backup dancer also known as background dancer is a performer who dances with or behind the lead performers in a live musical act or in a music video. Their movements (especially where there are many moving together) provide a visual symmetry and rhythm to accompany the music." - online dictionary.

It's a natural reaction to move/ dance when you hear music, we do it because movement and rhythm feel good together. I've been thinking about the feeling that overwhelms me when performing our piece without music. There is still symmetry and rhythm, so why does is feel like some kind of nihilist march?

Join us on International Dance Day to see the research move.

By: Justine A. Chambers, Illeane Cheladyn, Matilda Çobanli, Andrea Cownden, Kaitey DeSante, Hayley Rose Gawthrop, Sierra Knight, Kevin Li, Layla Mrozowski, Jamie Robinson, Diego Romero, Avery Smith, Rianne Svelnus, Flora Yeung.


Free International Dance Day showing: Wednesday April 29, 2015 at 7pm, at Scotiabank Dance Centre (Granville St facade, 1196 Granville St). Full details.


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