Yorkshire Dance, University of Leeds & Breakfast Creatives.
In September 2013, Yorkshire Dance, in partnership with Breakfast Creatives and University of Leeds, was chosen by Nesta, Arts Council England and Arts & Humanities Research Council as one of over 60 arts and cultural projects to receive funding from the £7 million Digital R&D Fund for the Arts.
The partnership used the award of £125,000 to build respond_, a responsive online platform to encourage audiences and the wider public to become more actively engaged in the creation and interpretation of contemporary dance. A digital adaptation of Liz Lerman’s renowned Critical Response Process (CRP), the technology enabled participants to interact directly with artists; share their feedback and interpretations of artistic ideas and works-in-progress; and exchange ideas with others on the site.
CRP is a feedback system based on the principle that the best possible outcome is for the maker to want to go back to work. In use for over 20 years, it has deepened dialogue between makers and audiences, enhanced learning between teachers and students and proved valuable for all kinds of creative endeavours and collaborative relationships within and beyond the arts.
Some of the award money was used to commission two new dance works to be developed through the digital adaptation of CRP, and Yorkshire Dance put out an open call to dance artists at the end of 2013, inviting them to submit a digital ‘pitch’ for their planned new works. The six shortlisted films were posted online, and the public invited to vote for two they would like to see commissioned. Almost 800 people from around the world voted, and selected Robbie Synge’s Douglas and Hagit Yakira’s Air Hunger.
Following an initial creative period, Robbie and Hagit each made a short film, giving a flavour of their works-in-progress, both posted online for a week in September 2014. Hagit’s film was shared privately with a ‘Closed Group’ of 30 participants working with researchers from University of Leeds; a mixture of Frequent Attenders of contemporary dance (4+ performances per year), Infrequent Attenders (1-4 performances per year) and people who identified themselves as Non-Attenders.
Robbie’s film was made public, and anyone, anywhere in the world, was invited to watch it and join in the Critical Response Process as a member of the ‘Open Group’.
Participants in both the ‘Open’ and ‘Closed’ groups interacted with Robbie and Hagit through the four steps of CRP. At each step, respond_ enabled direct communication back and forth between artists participants, with members of the respond_ team acting as a facilitator in the same way that CRP in a ‘real-life’ environment would be facilitated by an intermediary.
When the week of CRP came to an end, Robbie and Hagit went back into the studio to develop Douglas and Air Hunger further, equipped with all the questions, feedback and opinions from their respective participants and, in November, supplied new films demonstrating how their works had developed further. The films were posted online and a second week-long period of CRP was launched, this time featuring two live webchats to which online participants were invited; one between Liz Lerman herself and Robbie, and one between Liz and Hagit.
In December, both artists returned to Yorkshire Dance to complete Douglas and Air Hunger in time for their world premiere performances.
The research team has analysed data gathered through observation and content analysis of the audience’s engagement with the platform and through qualitative feedback provided during a focus group, a series of surveys conducted throughout the programme, and depth interviews conducted with selected participants from the three user groups and with the two artists.
Findings indicate that the process has enhanced participants’ engagement with contemporary dance, broken down barriers to attendance for non-attenders and changed the way that participants will provide feedback in future, both in the context of the arts and beyond. One participant described the platform as a welcome antidote to the immediacy of feedback encouraged by social media and to today’s ‘pundit culture’.
For participants, the platform seems to have enabled the fostering of productive and empathetic relationships between audiences and artists and supported the understanding of contemporary dance-making processes within non-dance audience groups.
The respond_ team published its full research findings on the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts’ website:
The two new commissioned dance works have successfully established lives beyond the project, with Douglas taking international bookings and Air Hunger touring the UK in 2015 and beyond.
We continue to develop the respond_ platform, in partnership with Liz Lerman, and have already used it to support the creation of a new work by dance artist Lucy Suggate in July 2015.
“I’m thrilled that Yorkshire Dance has taken the leap to test CRP within a digital platform. It has been so interesting to me to consider what feedback reached me and what didn’t, and why, questions which spurred me to develop CRP and which continue to drive its refinements and variations. I hope that users of respond_ will experience new pleasures of the Process through this platform.”
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