The Beautiful Bastard Manifesto

The Beautiful Bastard Manifesto

While we recognize that collaborative and interdisciplinary performances have existed for as long as human beings have performed for one another, we also recognize that serious challenges arise when different disciplines meet and combine on the stage, in the rehearsal studio and in the marketplace. We also recognize that makers of contemporary performance are increasingly disposed to combine forms and/or reach across established disciplinary boundaries. Focusing on the meeting of dance and theatre, we propose the following guidelines as a way of meeting these challenges more fully and moving this continually emerging hybrid form forward with intelligence and awareness. We are saying “do not” instead if “do” because we do not want to prescribe what we already know to do. Rather, we wish for new work to advance freely, and so we are attempting to help its practitioners avoid the pitfalls that would prematurely limit this advancement.

Do not begin rehearsal without a warmup. This is crucial not only for the benefit of the individuals’ instruments, but also for the collective’s creative potential. The warmup creates the culture in which the company will work, grow and communicate for the duration of the project. It develops the common language required to work effectively together. It informs both the form and content of the work being created. When fashioning a warmup, be transparent in what you are doing and why: how do these exercises relate to the project at hand? At warmup’s end, performers should feel physically and vocally ready, and feel heightened awareness of and connection to their environment and their fellow ensemble members.[1]

Do not assume you share a common language. Working across disciplines is an excellent opportunity to practice saying what you mean, rather than relying on lingo. Assumptions are embedded in language. Even though different disciplines may operate more efficiently because of their shared language, a collaboration demands greater examination of one’s communication. But you don’t need the lingo to communicate. Steal from Wittgenstein: “If you can’t say it, point to it.”

Do not underestimate the time it takes. There is never enough time. You will work with whatever amount of time you are given. Consider the quality versus quantity ratio regarding the different media and disciplinary elements you want in your piece. Do less with more. Allow time for practice, not just assembly.

Do not move, or speak, unless you have to. Desire for variety is not enough of a reason. Anything that is brought on stage – material, textual or conceptual – needs a compelling, undeniable reason to be there. Do not put it in without full exploration.

Do not assume pedestrian skills equal stage skills. Respect the training it takes for a dancer, or an actor, or a singer to do what she or she does. Sometimes technical limitations can be interesting. But you won’t fool anyone.

Do not work with people who are not interested in this kind of work. There are enough projects for people who already know what they do. This kind of work demands people who are willing not to know.

Do not limit the notion of authorship. It’s not just the conceiver, creator, playwright, choreographer, composer who makes the work. Be clear with all parties how they are expected to contribute. How they contribute is not limited to their background or field of expertise. Not knowing what you cannot do can be a successful precondition.

Do not limit the end vision. Expect that the project may end up very differently than how it was conceived, both in content and form.

After much discussion, there was no consensus on a single name for the Beautiful Bastard. We were looking for a name that would be a recognizable descriptor, and something we could picture as a heading or sub-heading in the arts or events listings. Some favorites include Performance, Interdisciplinary Performance, New Performance, Collaborative Performance, Hybrid Performance, Dance Theatre, Physical Theatre, The (Live) Bastard, and Live Art. The leaders of this working group favor the term Live Art, and we felt that there is a current trend towards this term. The recent merger of Bill T. Jones Company with Dance Theatre Workshop has produced a new company called New York Live Arts. Additionally, the performance venue PS122 uses the Live Arts as a super-heading for its diverse programming. Ultimately, we support individual and unique descriptors, with the hope that a good umbrella name will emerge in the marketplace as a way of expanding “shelf space” and increasing recognition for this hybrid form about which we are so enthusiastic. On the other hand, it is possible that this form exists best on the margins, and outside of any descriptor which will have come to be accepted in the marketplace.


[1] The following list reflects some training and warmup models that members of our working group have found effective. We do not wish to prescribe any of them, but to offer them as some models which are worthy of further exploration: yoga, somatic work, the Viewpoints, presence/focus exercises, improvisations, breath/meditation, Forsythe’s “Improvisation Techniques”, Grotowski, Suzuki, dance techniques, Linklater, Rodenberg, singing.


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Topic #3–In the studio

(3) The performers’ process (or, in the studio): Performers of dance and theatre often run in very different circles socially and professionally. Typical rehearsal processes are very different for each – dancers often meet less frequently but for longer stretch of time, while actors might cram the same number of hours into a few short weeks – so what might a compatible process be? Can a theatre director know enough to elicit a strong performance from a dancer, and can a choreographer effectively direct an actor?

Let’s stick with the practice of posting  first, and then commenting on other’s posts. Since I am posting this exactly one month before our conference date–Nov 18–I am setting a deadline of a week before–Nov 11–to post, so we can spend the last week commenting on each other’s posts and preparing for our meeting in the flesh— and the manifesto.

Carrie and Jeffrey

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Topic #2 – the audience’s process

(2) The audience’s process (or, in the marketplace): Can audiences of Dance and Theatre effectively meld? Is there a possibility for a greater “live culture” that does not identify with single, separate disciplines but with hybrid forms that cross boundaries and break new ground? Considering how events listings are broken down in virtually every media outlet in the country into separate categories, we wonder how long it will take until the information catches up with the art. In a world full of marketing genius, how is it that the marketing of the performing arts is a regressive discourse?

Let’s post our thoughts on this by September 25. I think the practice of posting without reading others’ remarks is a good one. Then I’d like to encourage you to read others’ and comment on them.

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Topic #1-The Creator’s Process

(1) The creator’s process (or, on the stage): A principal step in Dance’s direction toward Theatre occurs when the dancer speaks text; the converse in Theatre occurs when the actor moves expressively. Do these supplemental discursive acts necessarily multiply meaning? What can go wrong, or right, when the dancer speaks and the actor moves?

I don’t think we need a # of words requirement. The point right now is to get the thoughts out on the table: what we believe so far, relevant professional anecdotes. Let’s set a new deadline for this one–August 20

–Carrie and Jeffrey

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Hello world!: An introduction

This is the blog for the working session for the Nov ASTR/CORD conference in Seattle: Nursing a Beautiful Bastard: Dance Theatre in Theory and Practice. Let’s take a moment for all participants to introduce themselves.

My name is Carrie Ahern and I am co-presenting with Jeffrey Frace. Originally from Wisconsin, I moved to NYC 15 years ago to dance and soon after, to choreograph. I now have my own dance company, Carrie Ahern Dance, that is rooted in the dance community (because of my training, my history, my beliefs) but also lies somewhere in between dance, performance art, weird research and theatre. Each work I put my name on involves a deep collaboration not only with my dancers, but with a composer, visual artists, actors, sometimes scholars or people who have expertise in a certain area. However, when I formed my company in 2005, I specifically chose to place dance in the title. Why did I make that choice?  www.carrieahern.com

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