Extending Practice: Choreography & Sustainability Workshop Reflections

25th October 2016

In September we co-hosted a one day workshop with choreographers, Claire Pencak and Saffy Setohy, and writer/researcher Wallace Heim. One month on, we collectively reflect on learning points for further development.

The initial aim of the workshop was to explore how choreographic practices might contribute to environmental movements and sustainability. We organised the day through a series of exercises, creating a number of in-roads into the subject:

  • Initial discussion of the terms sustainability and choreography
  • A movement session led by Saffy and Claire in the North Kelvin Meadow: a contested community green space in North/West Glasgow
  • Group discussion shaped by propositions by Wallace
  • A short choreographic score-writing exercise

Movement Session

Claire described how the use of the session outside in the North Kelvin Meadow brought the group into more familiar territory as movement practitioners.

“It reminded us that our sensory system is a way of under_standing what is close at hand and under (the) foot and simultaneously through the gaze and ears to take in the far away. The different perceptual systems enable us to process information about distance and proximity in the same moment.

This ability to put our attention in more than one place at a time, to work with different scales, to bring a heightened awareness to placement, to work with being- in relationship to, to move beyond words began to approach through practice some of the discussion questions that Wallace proposed for the afternoon.”


Group discussions

We held short group discussions in response to four key propositions set by Wallace to consider the ways in which choreographic practices specifically operate and how they intersect with questions of sustainability.


Questions about the body: how do ideas about sustainability affect or change perceptions and ideas about the human body, the body in motion, and the body as inter-related with the living and non-living others, inter-related with ideas, technologies, and human social systems. How do practices do this, without proposing a pre-cultural, isolated or essential view of the human body.

Questions about sense: how do we ‘sense’ sustainability, sense being both with the senses, and to make sense of something, to make it make sense collectively. What is touched, what are the surfaces of our relations? How can we make sense of that experience? How does this relate to choreographic practice?

Questions about friction: sustainability isn’t a smoothly managed plan, or something that only exists for the comfort and endurance of humans. There are fragmentations, gaps, frustrations, imbalances of power and justice, conflicts. How can choreographic practices work with these tensions? Or hold the tensions that arise?

Questions about how to ‘place’ the human in relation to a world of other beings and entities which are not simply there to be perceived, but themselves have agencies, motivations and force? How might these placings relate to sustainability?

Initial responses to Wallace’s provocations included:

  • The body can be used as a proxy for sustainability, as a system with finite capacities. Conversely, dance offers plenty of examples of non-sustainable practice, it can be about ‘pushing the body to its limit’ which creates a particular aesthetic.
  • The employment of multiple senses within choreographic practices have the potential to ‘embody’ and bring to the fore of our perception the often abstract or distant seeming realities of sustainability and climate change;
  • The forms of cooperative leadership that are used within choreographic work could be applied to and explored within other, non-arts contexts.


Wallace provided some further reflections on the movement session and following group discussions:

“After a slow walk in the woods at North Kelvin Meadow led by Claire and Saffy, we gathered around to talk about what each of us had felt and learned. One response continues to stand out for me, and that was how easily one’s foot could adapt to the changing ground, to the roots, uneven swards, slippery patches. The foot, the body, understood how to balance, to adapt, to move safely.

I understood the physical touching of the earth, in motion, to be metaphoric for how one might, somehow, be able to move in other spheres of life with a similar delicacy and purpose. Of course, I extended the metaphor in my mind probably far beyond what it could take, to convey something of how one might hold in the reserve of one’s thoughts, interactions and daily practices a similar ability to meet or touch what is given, however rough. And how to make the next step, while keeping one’s own motion directed.

This could apply to almost any kind of action, but in relation to sustainability, it brought together ideas of doing and changing with an ability that might already be there, waiting to be let out. I didn’t press on to think about what happens when the going gets too rough; there may be another metaphor for that.

The talking sessions raised many of the facets to sustainability, from how to survive financially as an artist or company, to questions of how the experience of choreographic works, for the artist and the audience, may express and negotiate the knots of sustainability in ways that make for experiences that will matter. To me, that’s the area of most challenge and potential.”

As a side note, see Chris Fremantle’s recent blog on Tim Ingold’s lecture ‘The Sustainability of Everything’ for further consideration of how the arts are ideally placed to work with the complexity of questions concerning sustainability.

Score-writing exercise

We gave the last part of the day over to making individual scores that in some way reflected on some of the themes and thinking over the day. Claire highlighted the value of the score in the way it suggests ways to proceed:

“Scores are a framework to assist imaginative engagement, a way into improvisation and playful encounters. They offer a meeting place or point of departure for cross disciplinary working and offer a way into thinking about speculative futures.”

Sadly there wasn’t time to try out the scores, that will be for future development.






Saffy provided some final reflections on the day:

“I came away from this day remembering that choreography, its multitude of expressions and problem-solving ways, can open up tools for thinking through body and action. The collaborative relationships between people, and human-non-human things that arise through choreographic approaches, can offer new ways of communicating and of understanding.The imaginative potential of choreography can help us get beyond where we might be stuck. All are necessary in helping to navigate our way through the complexities of sustainability, and our relationship to it.”

Thank you to everyone who participated in the workshop and to the Work Room for supporting the event. If you would like to get involved in our continued work in this area please email Gemma.lawrence@creativecarbonscotland.com.

Find out more about our regular events connecting arts and sustainability on our Green Tease page.

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