Part of the Invisible Diaries series:
Week 5 / Day 4
If you thought that the bathroom was one room in the house with a limited number of functions unlikely to have been affected much by lockdown, you may never have shared your life with a four-year-old.
Early on in the beginning of lockdown, I invented a game to try and motivate my daughter to brush her teeth in the mornings, which has quickly become a recurring ritual. The bathroom becomes the dentist’s surgery, and I the dentist. She is the patient, waiting outside the room on a small stool. ‘Dentist, tell me to come in!’ she orders.
‘Welcome, patient!’ I say. ‘Shall we check your teeth?’ She sits on the toilet-dentists’ chair (‘Pump it with your feet Mummy!’) and I pretend to check her teeth. ‘All looking great,’ I say encouragingly, ‘now let’s just brush those teeth to keep them nice and healthy’. Ablutions complete, it’s ‘Thank you, dentist. Here are your monies.’
Of course, imagination is a huge part of her life and was before lockdown. She spends long periods of time inventing games with toys large and small, humanoid or animal or anything in between, or herself as protagonist. These imaginary worlds are completely fluid, leading to dizzying leaps of setting, scale and surroundings. Different-sized toys play together in various familial relation to each other. They go to the bottom of the sea and then to bed. They bake and eat cake and then Cinderella’s prince comes to visit. The trampoline becomes a dance performance stage, the sofa is a car.
Sometimes this reminds me of a stage: by acts of joint imagination, one physical place that becomes so many different imaginary places. I work in mostly small-scale dance; in many shows, there is virtually no set element, or if there is, it’s usually abstracted and consists of elements that can remind us of many different things depending on movement, light, sound and the spectator’s own associations. We’re used to having set elements that can fulfil multiple purposes, not only throughout a show but at one single moment in a piece. The set elements don’t have to tie the action down to a particular set of suggested locations or associations; they can also expand the possibilities of imagination in which abstract movement takes on fleeting resonances in the mind of the spectator.
I also often think about spacing on stage as a structural form, a bit like a set. This can include particular areas of the stage that take on associations and meanings for the performer or spectator, and also the journeys between them, their shapes and lines which recur and form patterns throughout the performance.
Acts of joint imagination are also core to the work that happens in the process, between me as a dramaturg and the maker with whom I’m working. Language can be a tricky beast to tame when we’re trying to talk around abstract ideas, concepts, associations, set-ups and characters that we don’t necessarily want to name outright. This becomes even more challenging when working in multi-lingual environments. Recently, I was working with a creative team in which English was the common language, but I was the only native English speaker. We relied even less on a shared understanding of slippery terms which took on their own meanings throughout the rehearsal process; after a few days I realised the choreographer and I had been using one particularly central term with quite different meanings.
Jaivant Patel in YAATRA. Jaivant Patel Dance (Photo: Matthew Cawrey).
I have often experienced moments in which I feel like my collaborator and I am skirting around a signified which repels any number of signifiers we throw at it, in an attempt to catch it and look at it under the light. Like stars you can only see if you don’t look at them directly. We then have to trust in a shared moment of imagination to know that we are referring to something common – even though it might look different to each of us, and its commonality only brought about in relation to everything else we share about the process.
I’m not the first to try and write about this in relation to the practice of dramaturgy, and others have done so much more eloquently. Jeroen Peeters writes about the 'dramaturgical object' in his essay ‘Heterogeneous Dramaturgies’ . In her essay ‘Thinking No One’s Thought’, Maaike Bleeker invokes Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of thought as a process that happens between two people . I recommend both and I’m sure there are others.
Despite the obvious trials of looking after a small person in lockdown, I feel privileged to be invited on so many journeys of shared imagination, on an hourly basis, every day. It expands the physical spaces I inhabit, as I get to shrink and grow and travel far and wide, both in location and narrative scope; it exercises my ability to rapidly change perspective on the solid space around me. Perhaps it’s keeping my dramaturg’s brain alive.
 In Maska 131-132 (2010): pp.17-27. Accessed at http://sarma.be/docs/1325.
 In Hansen, Pil and Darcey Callison, Dance Dramaturgy: Modes of Agency, Awareness and Engagement. Macmillan, 2015. pp.67-83.
Miranda Laurence is an independent dance dramaturg based in the UK, with over 10 years’ experience working in the dance and arts development sectors. She collaborates with dance artists across the UK and internationally, recently working with Johanna Nuutinen (FI) and Attila Andrasi (HU/ES). Her practice and professional development has been supported by awards from Arts Council England, Oxford Dance Forum and South East Dance.
Her collaborators work in a range of dance forms, from Kathak to screen dance. She is also in demand as a workshop leader, recently invited to Arhus by the Association of Danish Dramaturgs, and by London Studio Centre for their MA in Dance Producing.
Miranda has also directed the Dance & Academia project based in Oxford since 2008, convening a number of seminars and conferences engaging movement practitioners and academics in many different disciplines.
Alongside her freelance practice, Miranda is employed as Arts Development Officer at the University of Reading, where she is developing a strategic arts programme for the University including leading on new public art commissions.
Photography courtesy of Miranda Laurence.