Past, present and future of VDO

Report of the seminar conducted by the Society for Dance Research (VDO), January 22, 2011, in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Dedicated to the 20th anniversary of VDO, the seminar’s the central theme was progress in the field of dance studies and dance research at home and abroad. Over forty people attended the seminar.

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VDO President Liesbeth Wildschut welcomed the assembly, followed by Maaike Bleeker, Professor of Theatre Studies at the University of Utrecht, who gave a presentation discussing the current developments in the field of dance research.
It is well with dance research in the Netherlands, which has become a rich and diverse research field. Initial research was mostly historically-based, however, and at present very different lines of inquiry are being pursued and other disciplines are being involved. Examples include inquiries into the experiences of people who watch dance, but also research into the potential significance of dance for children with behavioral problems. The research pertaining to dance improvisation reaches so far that it can be used for the analysis of decision making in other areas. Other research examines the differences between the sexes. Dance research is attracting a growing number of research scientists from other disciplines, and dance scholars are applying their knowledge outside of the field of Dance Science per se. Because of this, the potential of Dance Science has increased significantly.
On the basis of scientific conferences in the early 21st century, this development has also become apparent: A century ago, central themes were the modality of dance itself and the liberation of dance as an independent art form. However, as a major conference in Berlin in 2006 illustrates, dancing is now increasingly taken advantage of as a source of information that can be utilised in scientific research of all kinds.

Scott deLahunta is a dance researcher at the University of Coventry and project leader of “Motion Bank” of the Forsythe Company. In his presentation he clarified the goals and methods of the project ‘Inside Movement Knowledge’, which focused on research into new methods of documentation, preservation and transfer of choreographic processes, and the knowledge inherent in dance products.
The central questions here came out of the dance practice, particularly from the International Choreographic Arts Centre Amsterdam (ICK-Amsterdam) of Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten. Foreign choreographers, like Davies, Forsythe and McGregor were preoccupied with these questions as well. The questions included:

– What type of notation can capture inner intention as well as the outer shape or gestures and phrases?
– How to create a ‘living’ archive based on Constantly Evolving Principles of movement and choreography?
– What is choreographic and/or physical thinking? How is this thinking ‘distributed’ in a creative situation? Is moving a thinking process?

– Can we draw on scientific understanding of cognitive-affective-sensory mechanisms to augment the creation process?
– How can we teach audiences to see complex choreographic organisation? To see how the dance (e.g., one flat thing, reproduced) functions?
– What else can this dance look like? Can dance ‘data’ support mutually valuable relationships with other disciplines and fields of practice?
– How is dance a form of knowledge? What is the knowledge that is dance?

The objective is to find new ways to document, analyse, (an)notate, measure and describe. The results are being recorded, among others, in archival records, publications (books, DVDs), as well as in creative and educational tools. In addition, an interactive installation [sic] has been developed.
All this should lead to new insights and practices and it is rooted in an interdisciplinary approach that fosters collaborations with individuals from the fields of anthropology, psychology, neurology, architecture, design, linguistics and philosophy, among others. The project also involves collaborations with representatives from various organizations, such as the Dutch Institute for Media Art (Nederlands Instituut voor Mediakunst), the Department of Theatre Studies at the University of Utrecht, the Department of Dance at the School of the Arts Amsterdam and an international partner network. For more information look up: http://insidemovementknowledge.net

The next speaker was Onno Stokvis, an art historian who held this position at the Netherlands Theatre Institute. He was one of the founders of VDO and has thus witnessed its development from up-close. Twenty years ago he worked at the Dutch Institute for Dance (NID) and the (mostly) historical dance research was the impetus for the establishment of VDO. The idea for its founding was born when Onno Stokvis and Jaap Blokdijk (historian) met serendipitously. Together they came to the conclusion that an association should be formed, a node that would bring all researchers and their research together. The Netherlands was increasingly becoming a country of dance. The sector had a need for professionalization, which meant that interests should have representation, that research should be conducted and that the resulting data should be documented and be made accessible. They submitted the idea to historian Eva van Schaik, who at the time was head of the library at the NID. She was supportive of their proposal. Frits Naerebout was found willing to take on the role of VDO President, Onno Stokvis would be the secretary, Jack Blokdijk the treasurer, while Eva van Schaik and Luuk Utrecht, another historian and critic, were members of the VDO board. The association sought to communicate with the vocational dance education programs and organisations for professional, amateur and folk dancers. Eventually, another independent organisation (Directie Overleg Dansgezelschappen, DOD) was formed and VDO relinquished this task.

At the University of Utrecht, Hans Ultman had been conducting structural dance research, since 1969. When this research was discontinued, no structural inquiry would be conducted for several years. Initially Luuk Utrecht (and Liesbeth Wildschut, at a later time) resumed this practice. Incidental research was also conducted. Because the organization pursued the greatest social relevance possible, VDO decided to broadly interpret the topic of dance research.
The concept of dance research has broadened over the years, as was discussed earlier today. Looking forward, it would be nice if English language publications on dance in the Netherlands could be produced as well.

Finally Liesbeth Wildschut took the floor again and reflected on objectives, ambitions and capabilities of VDO.
VDO has various ambitions: Networking, to provide a platform, archiving, to disseminate information, to continuously have the entire field of dance in view and to establish and maintain contacts with peer organisations. VDO is a small organisation that barely makes ends meet with membership dues and a few donations by scientific and educational institutions for its biannual publication. VDO’s board members are volunteers who fulfill their duties in their spare time. The means by which to realize the organization’s ambitions are limited, and VDO is therefore wholly dependent on the commitment of its membership. A positive trend is that the field of dance research can look forward to an increasing number of interested individuals. Whereas VDO initially had only ten members, its membership increased to about seventy paying members in recent years. LinkedIn boasts an even larger interest, linking 170 people with VDO. Moreover, the members in general feel quite involved.
VDO offers these members a number of attractive activities that have the potential to make a positive contribution to their daily work. There is an annual symposium for dance scholars and other interested individuals to exchange knowledge. In addition, every two years VDO publishes a compendium comprised of the latest dance-scientific articles, providing a platform for scientists. This year VDO published its sixth volume. Suggestions for VDO activities are inventoried in the General Assembly. The VDO website has recently been updated. The site is even more informative, makes information easy to find and features an updated design. The site also serves as an archive.
VDO informs its members via email on relevant activities, such as workshops, symposia, lectures and publications. In the recent General Assembly it was confirmed that these emails are very much appreciated.
VDO keeps all organisations that are relevant to dance research and related activities in view. In the future, the association desires to have more contact with sister organisations. Given the limited time the board has available, the ambitions must also be realistic.
The following diagram illustrates the organisation’s objectives and the means used to support its goals:

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Yellow = Satisfactory
Light yellow = Could be improved
White = Means are not suited for this activity or task

Following Liesbeth’s presentation the audience was given an opportunity to ask the speakers questions and to make suggestions for future activities of the VDO. There appeared to be a want for greater focus on dance education.

The presentation of the sixth edition of the publication ‘Dance Science in the Netherlands’ concluded the seminar. The first copies were issued to VDO’s founders: Onno Stokvis, Jaap Blokdijk, Eva van Schaik and Frits Naerebout.

Translated by: Marc M. Arentsen, MFA

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speakers: Liesbeth Wildschut, Scott deLahunta, Maaike Bleeker and Onno Stokvis

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presentation of the Dance Research in the Netherland part 6