David Norsworthy

wither bloom (a version of which I'll be performing at Into the Fire-- yay!) emerged from a solo research and choreographic creation project titled Contemplating motivation and responsibility, which was funded in part by the Toronto Arts CouncilDriven by personal questions and grounded in conversation and reading, the project was a process of dissecting assumptions, owning privilege, revisiting accountability, refining values and uncovering new lines of inquiry.
 
Some of the questions that fuelled my process included:
  • What are the reasons why I’ve become a professional dance artist?
  • What are my current motivations? 
  • Is this a selfish act? If so, how might I come to terms with that?
  • Does my work matter? To whom? What value does my work have?
  • If it matters, why? To me? To others? 
  • What makes something “matter”? What gives something “value”?
  • How do I earn the privilege of being a professional artist?
  • What can I contribute to the world?
  • What responsibilities do I have to my community/world as an artist? To myself?
I began my project in November 2016 by interviewing five professional dance artists (Amanda Acorn, Christopher House, Jasmyn Fyffe, Colleen Snell and Hanna Kiel) and three post-secondary dance students (who also happen to be my mentees: Nicolas Ruscica, Claire Whitaker and Alessia Mallozi) to identify their reasons for participating in the art form and gather resources for continued research. Four main themes emerged in terms of the responsibilities and motivations of dance artists: to practice attention, to challenge the status quo, to bring joy / create excitement, and to foster community.

Next, I read and reflected on select chapters from books including “Art & Fear” by Ted Orland and David Bayles, “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek and “Art and Upheaval” by William Cleveland. I also spent time digesting online resources including this interview of Chrysa Parkinson and this interview of Adam Curtis.   

In November 2016 and January 2017, I spent two weeks beginning to apply my research to my movement practice. How do you take an esoteric idea or philosophical question and translate it into movement, in a way that respects the complexity of the thought without succumbing to the easiness of narrative, representation or illustration? How do you create a choreographic dialogue that can be responsive to your intellectual journey and vice versa?

In April 2017, I invited Colleen Snell, Riley Sims and Francesca Chudnoff to investigate the topics of artistic motivation and responsibility with me through four days of open discussion, personal reflection, reading and choreographic proposals in the Lobby Gallery at 401 Richmond in Toronto. We called this micro-project Transparent Process. We were curious to understand how working in a public space would necessitate accountability; literally bringing our messy and confusing creative process out into the open where it would be exposed to critical and skeptical eyes right from the beginning. Halfway through the process, Colleen provoked us with the questions: “What if I told you to ‘just get over it’? What if these questions we’re asking don’t matter? What if we’re wasting time doubting the necessity of our work, that could be spent making the work itself?” 

After indulging in the endless questions and conceptual meanderings of Transparent Process, I returned to the studio to "suspend disbelief" in my work and get started with shaping and editing the choreographic material that had surfaced so far. I began to work with Riley as my outside eye. Simultaneously, I started to devise two pieces of writing which can be downloaded via the following links in PDF format: 1) Articulating my Mindset and 2) Responsibilities of a dance artist / My responsibilities as a dance artist.

The project concluded with a showing on Friday, July 7th, 2017 in Toronto. 

Now, nine months later (as I work on reimagining wither bloom for DanceMatters), I am struck by a few additional thoughts and questions:

  1. My work resonates with meaning when it comes into contact with people. My work often comes into contact with other artists but is rarely experienced by people who would not consider themselves artists or art students. Moreover, I actually feel quite self-conscious and awkward when I need to explain what I’m doing to people who are not familiar with my art form. As much as I want to be an eloquent advocate for dance, I often cannot find the right language to bridge the gap between my worldview and that of a “non-artist”. 
  2. Of all the responsibilities I have as an artist, I believe the most important is that I am always in dialogue with what is external to me. “Being me” and "just me” is not nearly enough. I must always look outside of myself for foreign stimulus — information that might change my perspective or offer a new idea. The most productive and interesting foreign stimulus is not that for which I search myself (because what I'm looking for is always biased) but rather that which enters my lens of consciousness through someone else’s bias. In other words, I am more interested in an interaction with an idea that seems to de-rail my line of inquiry (so that I can then ask “How is this related?” or “How could this be useful?”) than I am in an insular mode of investigation that continuously breeds an incestuous web of trajectories that are self-propagating and self-proving.

 

 

Photo of David Norsworthy by Fran Chudnoff