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Rosemary Lee
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Portfolio
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Choreochronicle
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Passage
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Caught by seeing
down arrow Beached
 
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Beached: A Commonplace Book
down arrow How to hoard
 
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Introduction
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‘In the field’
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Field Notes
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A walk to Iken
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Hoarding
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References +
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Image gallery
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Process writings
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A Tribute to Michael Donaghy 1954-2004
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A tribute to Niki Pollard
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By the late 1980s, it was inescapable that anthropological fieldwork would never again be a matter of an outsider scholar interrogating insider natives and emerging with neutral, authoritative knowledge.
– James Clifford

Rosemary Lee and Niki Pollard    
How to hoard: writing field notes of rehearsals

Field Notes

Niki: Where ethnography is more telling to our research is in the ethical and writerly questions that have haunted it since the 1980s. Writing Culture, edited by James Clifford and George Marcus, was a landmark publication in 1986 for its attention to the tropes and conventions of ethnography, to its always motivated, incomplete and textual condition. Since then, anthropologists, most especially in their use of field notes, have had to interrogate their writerly choices – of tense, deixis – for how they construct subjects, readers and researcher.

Current research in the field of dance and performance is increasingly dominated by questions as to what artists actually do when they work. My PhD study is typical here, in line with national projects such as PARIP and ResCen or with events such as the Roehampton seminar last December advertised as exploring ‘relationships between professional practice and research’. As in our research here, artists’ notebooks are regularly cited or reproduced often with reflections from those invited in to observe rehearsals.

Recent ethnography, post-Writing Culture, has proposed (I quote Sarah Pink again) that it ‘aim to offer versions of ethnographers’ experiences of reality that are as loyal as possible to the context, negotiations and intersubjectivities through which the knowledge was produced.’ Dance and performance research seems only now to have begun questioning such negotiations and intersubjectivities, for example in how it edits and reproduces artists’ notebooks to a research community. Questions that are now arising then concern who can write of dance-making (and for what readers); and of how, in ethical as well as writerly terms, its multi-modal, collaborative practices can be approached by an economy so different from it as writing.

Rosemary:

Niki: It seems to Rosemary and I that the question of who can write must profoundly involve the practitioners for practical as much as ethical reasons.

Niki: bullet arrowNotebook page

For example, in commenting once on something in my journal (above link), Rosemary revealed that she had a difference sense, a different familiarity with how each dancer of Chapter 4 was working. An observer cannot register such distinctions directly only perhaps sense their effect on a choreographer’s judgement and action in the studio.

Rosemary:

Niki: Having decided then to write together of Rosemary’s practice, we came up against the problem of how to do that, which has a peculiarly low profile not only in dance research, but in ethnography. Although Beached II and today’s paper are co-authored, this rarely equates to a shared narrative voice. It would be strange, not only ethically, for Rosemary and I not to distinguish between our perspectives: one observing, one choreographing. However, using dialogue to avoid an uneasily plural ‘we’ only creates another discrepancy for it implies that ‘what Rosemary said’ can be extracted from ‘what Niki said’. In reality, the origin of what we write is always more layered and compounded. Even if reported as speech, it may never have been said in so many words. In this paper, the grammatical voice shifts amongst a co-authorial ‘we’, impersonal passive forms, and an ‘I’ for the speaker present.

Niki: bullet arrowNotebook page with Rosemary's comments

Niki: As Rosemary has described, we found a way into making this book through reading one another’s notebooks and interjecting brief responses and queries between lines and in margins (as on the page linked to above). Sections of these annotated notebooks are interwoven in the book with extracts from texts that either Rosemary mentions in her notebook or I was reminded of whilst watching rehearsals or talking with her. Our aim is to give a reader a sense of layered immersion in what we each differently saw and imagined of rehearsal; a sense, that is, of how the notebooks were written and read, without necessarily giving images of the dance that they served or observed.

Rosemary: bullet arrowNotebook page

Rosemary:

Niki: I, on the other hand, was not of the artistic team for Beached, the dance, and so it seems odd that anything I write in our collaboration could claim a degree of identity with Beached. Moreover, my writing training is academic and so I am doubtful of the grounds by which I could identify my writing as creative.

 

   
   
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