Interdependable: Case studies in improvisation, composition and choreography in contemporary dance

Robert Smith, Ben Challis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is a considerable history of interactive dance/music, spanning examples such as musical and dance interdependence in long-established forms such as Bharata Nattyam, Morris and tap-dancing, newer occurrences such as Meredith Monk’s use of the same performers’ bodies to produce the music and the
movement and the oft cited Cage and Cunningham’s Variations V where dancers' movements triggered score elements via sensors, and so on. In our recent practice we have been exploring the use of custom built and off-the-shelf digital musical instruments to explore a range of relationships between performative musical gesture and sonic outcome such as might be useful in facilitating musical participation by people with special needs, and in improvised musical situations (i.e. in our own performances and those of our students). Since 2011 we have created scores for pieces by the choreographer Sean Tuan John. In these we have used digital technology with a range of interfaces to explore the situation of improvising with dancers, working out rhythmic patterns in situ which aid the required dance movements, recording them and then using these as the bases of sections of the finished score. This paper is a report on that process, strengths and weaknesses we have discovered in it, and an attempt to convey where we think the work might lead us.

Reflecting on two case studies, a show we have just completed and premiered in October 2013, and a site-specific piece performed in a Cardiff Night-club, we will show how these two different but related projects inform our current and future practice as part of a more structured approach to collaborative composition and performance-making. Presenting data from open discussions and interviews with Sean Tuan John and dancers from Bombastic Dance Company we reflect upon experience of dancers working collaboratively within the compositional process, giving the ‘other side’ view of the compositional-chorographic axis. The project premiered in October 2013, ‘Happiness Repeats Itself’ has had us involved at the beginning of the devising and choreographic process. There will also to be follow-on projects where it is proposed that performers will be directly involved in triggering and manipulating sounds within the performance.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberim13bk-018
Pages (from-to)201-212
Number of pages12
JournalKES Transactions on Innovations in Music
Issue number1 (Special Edition - Innovation in Music 2013)
Publication statusPublished - 17 May 2015


  • music
  • improvisation
  • composition
  • choreography
  • interactive musical system


Dive into the research topics of 'Interdependable: Case studies in improvisation, composition and choreography in contemporary dance'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this