ongoing brevity (2006)

A research project which offered designer Susannah Henry and choreographer Amy Voris the opportunity to investigate the intersection of their practices via the use of materials and spontaneous action.
ongoing brevity
Chisenhale Dance Space
project proposal (click to show/hide)
ongoing brevity
Amy Voris and Susannah Henry

1 what
Choreographer Amy Voris and scenographer Susannah Henry will investigate a collaborative working process with an equal dialogue between movement and design. Amy will work with simple and concise movement while Susannah will work with coloured electrical tape to “draw” in the space. We intend to create chains of material which alternate sparse action with re-configurations of tape.

A line of tape possesses clarity, suggests permanence and can also be neatly and quickly removed. This double nature of the material lends itself to the rapid turnover of design, enabling spatial intervention to be as ephemeral as movement. Electrical tape is colourful, sticky, rubbery, absurd and vividly two dimensional next to a moving human body. Using simple line and shape to define the space for human action reduces and concentrates Susannah’s practice as a theatre designer.

Limiting movement to a brief, discrete action refreshes perspective on the body: its eloquent form and innate expressivity. There is so much to notice in the action of bowing the head, opening the mouth, shifting forward, sticking out the ribs. In a single moving image there is a whole world of sensation, association, reference. Working with simple and spontaneous action reduces and concentrates Amy’s practice as a choreographer / performer.

We are also curious how Susannah’s functional movement will sit next to Amy’s more abstract sampling and stillness.

2 how
Our process will be improvisation-led and will warm towards the use of association. To begin with, we will adhere to alternating our contributions to the unfolding series (perhaps even using strict time or action limits). Each part of the chain will rely upon its predecessor. We are attracted to this rule / limitation as a means of coaching equal contribution and as a means of encouraging non-attachment to material. We imagine the initial strictness of the alternation to feel liberating through the prolific chains it enables and through the relinquishment of responsibility. We also imagine relaxing these rules when we want to.

3 why
We wish to simplify and to refresh what we do.

We wish to emphasise a process of discovery, to encourage non-attachment and to quieten internal judgment.

We wish to deepen our collaborative relationship and to de-centre authorship. We have worked together during the past year on the realisation of a dancework (Hover) and on a series of movement / space workshops for Amy’s student group and have been awe-struck by moments of discovery. We believe there to be tremendous value in these moments of emergence and shared conversation. This project will allow us to look with some sensitivity at the ways in which we might develop ideas prior to embarking on a new work.

Often the designer operates on the periphery of choreography, designing around rather than through the work. We would like our next project to be developed / led by both of us. For Susannah this project would, unusually, afford time to consider her instincts in terms of visual design.

Metaphor. We imagine that our improvisations will realise a kind of impermanence. Bold unwavering lines are also instantly removable. Boundaries and events are both meaningful and transient.

project report (click to show/hide)
final report submitted to chisenhale

ongoing brevity

susannah henry and amy voris

we intended to

alternate sparse action with tape-drawing

harbour and cultivate our collaboration

have a process led by doing

allow for unpredictable outcomes and blankness

subtract judgment

throughout the week there were

endless processes of addition and subtraction

on a domestic and sprawling scale

moments of emergence framed by quiet

there was decision-making laid bare


i (amy) remember

not remembering

and thinking that this might be about practicing forgetting

i remember

searching for rules / limitations and then muffling this desire

trying to commit to not knowing what would happen next

wondering what it means to be honest, what it means to be committed and when they are the same thing

finding something from nothing

giving weight to things and then letting them go

wondering if this unapologetic material was making fun of me

i remember a heightened sense of listening

i remember trying to settle down and be less busy

i remember thinking that whatever follows doing nothing acquires magic because of syntax

i remember trusting that the body finds something or that something finds the body

i remember feeling drunken with a sense of relation

and dizzy relating to an environment that is still emerging

i remember

sticking to something while susannah was changing

changing while susannah was still

‘interlapping’=overlapping and interrupting each other’s actions

i remember susannah moving considerably more than me

i remember toying with states and transformation





playing with edges

i remember thinking that the quiet act of placing oneself connects with the notion of ritual

i remember that uncertainty in the body has a distinct feeling

i remember confronting myself as an artist, which means having time to notice my feelings and inclinations

i remember uncovering personal symbolism:

a way of coping with an unstable environment

searching for self-expression amidst shape-shifting

a person dealing with what is being dealt

i remember susannah

pointing out her resistance to finding the ‘best’ way of doing something

and asking if what we are doing is

a process?
an exercise?
a means of expression?
a performance?
a warm-up or preparation for something else?

wondering if the whole thing is a challenge

to be present?
to practice relating?
to be simple?
to pay attention?
to notice small stuff?

i remember susannah

pointing out a sense of control when the tape is laid down and noticing its unpredictability when removed

i remember susannah talking about a ‘tape hangover’

ideas and questions which we are taking away with us

a belief in not understanding the significance of what we are doing as we do it

a sense that every time we do this strange practice, it defines itself
each day about searching for that day’s way, rather than the way
the here and now coming into the work

the whole exercise as a means of exposing different kinds of moments between us

an attachment to the idea that the tape is a kind of documentation / notation of the activity which has occurred

an attachment to the human scale of the work, markings borne of the body

aspirations of patience and simplicity

our explorations privileging journeys and
revealing searching
when a definitive image emerged, this often signified the end of the improvisation

fragility / vulnerability as a subject
where does fragility lead?
how does strength reside in vulnerability?

in the context of brightly coloured change, does physical commitment become
and what are the consequences when that commitment changes?

how does my internal quality of performance contribute to the properties of the work?

the suggestion to diversify or to restrict what we do is seductive
no doubt we will try other approaches, for example
enforcing non-stop activity and banning stillness

however i suspect these approaches will only be necessary diversions
which bring us back to the practice of simply doing our jobs
in close relation to each other
and listening

i am drawn to naïve imagery
those things which do not second guess the exercise

power issues are automatically read into the material
feedback suggested that there is a craving for ‘triumph’
to witness a person transgress boundaries and odds

however destroying these lines feels less exploratory
than dwelling in and around them

if you abandon boundaries then they no longer exist

i wonder if what people desire to see is irreconcilably different than what i / we need to feel while practicing

an interest in creating an installation-work which fully exposes its process
two people searching and doing what they do, having faith that it will lead somewhere eventually
becomes the subject

the bare expression of uncertainty is worthwhile

is this activity an invitation for a durational event?

treating the public sharing as an extension or continuation of our research was a good idea
also freaky
improvising in performance is a new domain (it is great to feel like an infant)

we envisioned that we would be pulling apart space

in actual fact our explorations were dealing more with time,

a fact, i guess, that the initial title for the project points toward

credits for ongoing brevity:
Choreographer - Amy Voris
Designer - Susannah Henry
Photography - Christian Kipp
created with support from:
Artists' Programme Chisenhale Dance Space, London (2006)