12 Minutes Max

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Posted on February 18, 2016 in 12 Minutes Max
12 Minutes Max: Three Creative Approaches

12 Minutes Max seeks to foster experimentation and the development of new work, along with critical feedback and community dialogue. Choreographers Gemma Crowe, Iris Lau and Daelik provide insight into their choreographic process, and the challenges and rewards of choreographing to a time limit, as their studio showing approaches on February 23:

Gemma Crowe:

Around the ten-minute mark, a piece has had enough space to grow and develop important elements without having yet accumulated unnecessary indulgences. When exploring a concept, the most difficult process that I deal with is sifting through ideas, especially the ones that present themselves once I have already committed to another idea.

With my creative and rehearsal processes flowing simultaneously, I began to experience these strong surges of inspiration bringing on harmonious collaboration with the dancers and myself. These are waves of ideas, vision, insight and great successes in the studio. These waves don’t come up at every rehearsal though, they may be inevitable - but they are elusive. When one of these waves rolls up, it would herald a crashing of exciting new possibilities and the movement was flooded with enthusiasm. Everything seemed to make sense in one big, beautiful body of work. The problem is that between waves, the dancers and I would spend hours making connections and building a framework, only to have it washed away with the next wave of greatness.

These waves have kept my concept fresh, as such; my work has evolved almost exponentially, divisible only by the common inspiration. Lengthy bouts of consideration and experimentation in the studio did not effectively narrow the concept down to its core meaning - but rather, generated infinite possibilities of meaning with the crash of every wave.

12 Minutes Max has been a process of learning when to button down the hatches and save what has been created and when to ride the waves. The time frame which we have for creation and the confines of a maximum 12-minute piece has ultimately allowed me to take advantage of, and to harness the power of those waves, however infrequent, or inconvenient they might be.

Iris Lau:

Photo Teresa Leung

My project Babel is inspired by the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, which tells how God created a myriad of languages so that humanity would not be coherent enough to communicate.

I was born and trained in Hong Kong. Cantonese is my mother language. For me, language and movement are the most efficient channels of communication. Especially after I moved to Vancouver, when I couldn’t communicate fully in English, movement is always the best for expressing myself. Without movement, I can’t express myself organically. Although language is recognized as the most reliable communication in our culture, I want to challenge it by movement.  

Carmine Santavenere, a trained actor, and I have worked together since Babel 2.0. Differences between the actor’s and dancer’s mindset benefit us to develop and transform the interpretation on both language and movement. With an assumption that movement and language are similar methods of communication, we started Babel 3.0 with two workshops. I narrowed down my ideas and focused on three elements: architectural appearance, quality, and emotional expression of both movement and language. (In this research, architectural appearance refers to the anatomical/physical moving of the body and the pronunciation of words without tones and expression.) In general, when we wanted to communicate with others or interpret messages from others, we relied on altering the portion of these 3 elements.

These three elements helped me to construct the world of Babel with movement’s evolution and language’s devolution. During the process, we created a set choreography which is originally from a story that Carmine wrote. This set choreography is duplicated and reproduced along with language and other creative devices. We experience the de-constructing of language by movement, and vice versa.

The time limit is definitely fun to deal with. I have to decide what the audience could experience and start the conversation between them and us. 12 Minutes Max opens the door for us exploring all possibilities and impossibilities. It is worth examining choreographic and creative means, in order to look for the most suitable and truthful communication.


Chick Snipper and I saw 12 Minutes Max as an opportunity to explore our evolving creative relationship.  We never perceived 12 minutes as a limitation to the creative process.  We never thought to work towards creating something that was 12 minutes long.  What we did work towards was how to create complete ideas that are clear to the audience. 

BEGINNING – the conversation we had centred around:

  • Body sensations
  • sensuality
  • sexuality
  • weight flow
  • images that are physically compelling
  • themes that are physically based rather than intellectually or conceptually derived
  • physical impulses that come from different centres in the body
  • My habits – turning, passive weight of arm, right arm:

sinking into floor – floor work
shape with arms
fold at waist
pivot – into parallel
no head initiation – holding head
articulate through joints/spine
hands into fists – hands like blades
airplane arms
total flow without punctuation
I habitually avoid – moving quickly
articulate legs

The two sources that I wanted to draw from were 1) my research into the first high altitude jump from the stratosphere by Joseph Kittenger in 1960 and  2) the development of space flight in the Soviet Space Program. 

Source words: confinement, confusion, gravity, floating, fear, wonder, animal, freedom, structure, danger, task.

THE PROCESS – I develop my work through improvisation, often my performance is a structured improvisation.  Sometimes by rehearsing the improvisation over and over the choices I make become set like choreography. 

How do we make improvisation more audience friendly as a performer?

1) Repeating motifs
2) Examine the arc of the structure. Is there a journey?
3) Does transformation occur? Where is the impact of the transformation on the performer?
4) How does the performer relate to the audience? (Confront, entertain, seduce, elicit sympathy, collude, exclude.)

Observations that arose:

  • Starting the dance is challenging.
  • When is what I’m doing enough to convey the idea?
  • Defining the world I’m inhabiting is important, especially to me
  • The dilemma and power of Stillness
  • Music is hugely influential.  How do you let music support the dance without being lazy and letting it do all the work?
  • What’s interesting to the performer and what’s interesting to the observer and how different those things can be.

RESULT: we proposed 4 words as reminders for me as the improviser to expand my range.

CHILD – open chested
- open hearted
  - wonder

DISTAL – extension
-off centre
-moving backspace

SURPRISE ME – make changes 
- rhythms/dynamic range

HELLO - include the audience
- eye focus
- 4th wall

Beyond expanding my range, this process was informative about opening up into vulnerability.


12 Minutes Max Studio Showing featuring works by Gemma Crowe, Iris Lau, Daelik with Chick Snipper: Tuesday February 23 at 6pm at Scotiabank Dance Centre. Free admission. 

Photos top to bottom by: Gemma Crowe’s work in rehearsal/photo courtesy of the artist; Iris Lau and Carmine Santavenere/photo Teresa Leung; Daelik/photo Shane Rooks.


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