Published April 14, 2023

Two Aspects of Vulnerability

I thought I could add to the topic of vulnerability brought on by Katya and the Anonymous Choreographers in the last entry.

First, a disclaimer: I get that “vulnerability” can be a problematic word, given that the dance community has a history of precarity, and that the most precarious people in the ecosystem are―more often than not―the dancers. So, before I begin praising the acceptance of vulnerability, I must specify that I’m not mixing “vulnerability” in any way with “precarity” here.

Alright, that being said, I would like us to explore two concepts related to vulnerability.

Part One: The Fragility of Ideas in a Creative Process

I’m always drawn to things that aren’t exactly simple for me. Maybe I like challenges, maybe I get bored easily, but I’m noticing I tend to throw myself into things I don’t exactly get. That could be a reason why I feel so attracted to the creation process. By design, it’s about not knowing what will happen, and therefore, not being totally in control.

I don’t think that you can fail in a creation process, because like with science, the answer could be that the first idea, the first hypothesis was wrong. And that would not invalidate the process: it’s only one more piece of evidence.

But still, by having a hypothesis, you must believe in it enough to think it through, commit to it, and put it into action in some way, even if it’s just taking a few seconds to imagine possible outcomes. Those ideas, those hypotheses aren’t necessarily bad if they are rejected, but they fail at something, they are not convincing in the moment, or clear, or feasible, whatever― they are not necessarily wrong, but they won’t be pursued, elected, chosen.

For me, there are hundreds of those in a creative process. In an improvisation, there will be ideas or feelings that will be followed, and some that won’t be. It sometimes goes so fast it doesn’t feel like a decision process.

It would be impossible to describe the process, but I know that the more attention and consciousness I bring into an area of the body, or into rhythm or musicality or touch, or the more precise a conversation around improv gets, the more we get a feeling that choices are made. And we kind of get better at it, or better at describing it, the more we work around those specific aspects of the work.

Something is emerging in the process, like a clearer conversation of what feels relevant, but the process of clarifying that is not an easy and straight one. This is a fragile moment in many ways.

I feel fragile and vulnerable because I’m trying to explain what feels right to me, as I’m feeling it. I’m also trying to explain my hypothesis while being aware that I’m updating it every second. For collaborators, this is also a fragile moment to be in because they will try to suggest something, not knowing if they truly get what I’m rambling on about, while also knowing that as they are suggesting something, what we are searching for is already on the move.

There is no way to be right, no way to be spot on. What’s also hard to manage is that what seems to be going in the right direction might feel totally off the day after.

The fragility here must be cherished. If we’re ok with not knowing but wanting to know, I think we’re good. In some ways, feeling like there is no way to be right is a luxury.

On the other hand, if we aren’t clarifying our ideas, if we stay there, it’s a truly vulnerable place to be in, and it might not be something we necessarily want to bring on stage. That brings me to part two.

Part Two: The Vulnerability of Being on Stage

I’ve learned throughout my years of experience on and around the stage that some vulnerability is a really good connector. As long as we know how to tend to it.

When I was finishing the creation of Fear and Greed, my only solo piece, I was supported by a team of outside eyes/dramaturges/artistic assistants.

As I was getting close to the premiere, I wanted to be good, to dance well, and that was making me dance a bit differently. I was taking fewer risks, I felt that every silence, every hesitation was too long. I was losing a bit of the piece’s core, its guiding idea, which was to be visible in a moment of indecision.

The outside eyes team sensed that I wanted to appear more confident, and wasn’t going to let me go there.

At some point, I even said out loud: “In other words, you want me to be more vulnerable?”

With this question, I was trying to say that I felt vulnerable enough already, doing my own solo piece, full of improvisation, where I’m the lead singer as I also dance my ass off (so I’m always singing out of breath), but mostly having to dance the piece I’m responsible for, being the author, and feeling all that pressure already.

That was a good learning experience, as I had to listen to people that were seeing the piece more clearly than I was able to at the time. And they were also able to tell me that I needed to express some fragility for the audience to connect with me, that they would connect with something that would be visible on stage: my tentative, exploratory, unscripted decision-making. I was supposed to let myself figure things out live.

In some ways, it got me busy accepting the challenge and aiming in the right direction. The questions got more specific: how do I accept the time it really takes to make a choice on stage? How do I acknowledge what’s happening while performing the piece, so while being  self-conscious, time-conscious, and/or audience-conscious?

That show is still open-ended, it’s still evolving, and I’m still wondering how much of “not done”, of “not decided” we need to feel like we’re in the moment―myself and the audience included.

As the structure of the piece got clearer and stronger, we found spots to let time happen, to let me figure things out and improvise. That way, I think it provides a space for risk and exploration, like something is still to find every night.

– Frédérick Gravel

*Revision and editing: Marie-Ève Trahan

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