Emergent choreography: Spontaneous ensemble dance composition in improvised performance




Martin, Nina

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This study examines the experience of dancemakers, who choreograph spontaneously within the complexity of the ensemble while embedded in a performance environment. The dissertation articulates such themes as the self-organizing aspects of spontaneous ensemble dancemaking; the role of implicit choreography and motivations for engaging in improvised performance; and the function of recursive dance practices that cycle through the spontaneous performance event and the participant's studio practice. The research focused on five evenings of performance by four different ensembles: the Seattle Festival of Dance Improvisation ensembles (Seattle, WA), the LIVE Dance Theater (San Diego, CA), and the Lower Left Performance Collective (Stolzenhagen, Germany). I also conducted face-to-face interviews with three dance artists, Barbara Dilley, Lisa Nelson, and Susan Sgorbati, all of whom have developed ensemble compositional methods for dancemaking. I employed a constructionist approach and engaged in the research process as a participant observer. The data set includes post-performance journaling, performance videos, a study questionnaire (see Appendix B), my research journal, and post-performance group interviews with the performers. I interpret this data through a lens that incorporates a dynamical systems approach that provides models for understanding self-organizing systems such as the individual choreographer in spontaneous ensemble dancemaking, the ensemble exhibiting characteristics of emergent group cognition, and the live audience. As the narrative emerges through the dissertation chapters, The Continuum of Deliberation serves to disrupt binary understandings of terms such as choreography and improvisation and, instead, proposes a dialectic relationship wherein the dance artist enacts both an implicit and explicit spontaneous choreography. This dialectic provides ground for framing individual dancemaking epistemologies emerging as an Ensemble Epistemology in performance. The self-organizing principles underlying ensemble dancemaking in performance allow each dance to choreograph itself and to create a new dance that is expressive of an Ensemble Aesthetic. As the dance unfolds in performance, the dynamic environment includes a live audience that emerges in the study as a co-creator of the dance. The data indicate that communal aspects of this dance form motivate the participants' growth as dancemakers and social beings as well as contributing to the vibrancy of this complex choreographic method.



Dance, Performing arts, Social psychology