No Pleasure in Understanding: The Choreographer's Danger of Being Too Far, Too Close

Posted by Rick Tjia On 3rd May 2018 In Rick Tjia

Too much experience blinds us.

There is often a disconnect that happens between the artistic creator and the average person--someone who does not know the technique, who has not seen a million dance shows, who may have a desire to see the world as black and white more than in the many shades of gray that it would seem to actually be. As creators of art, our investment of our lives, hearts, and souls into the passion of art at some point can become a disadvantage to what we are actually trying to do. We often speak out against injustice, the human condition, people's needs and wants, about humanity--but at the same time living in a world that is so separate from the reality of the majority of the human population. And it is through these glasses that we watch the world, and it is through these glasses that we try to speak out about it.

And then as choreographers, we will then express our view of the world, our view of the bulk of humanity, through choreographic construction that very often is created through a dancer's eyes. Created through eyes that have long since forgotten what it is to see things as a non-dancer would. In short, choreographers choreograph for other dancers, or at the very least, for people who are already used to watching a lot of dance. We are very far then, friends, from the bulk of humanity.

And though I admit it is not a totally upsetting phenomenon, seen from the outside it does have its frustrating side. The blind leading the blind, as it were. The proverb already exists; I certainly did not make that up. Just because we are artists, does not make us immune to the situation the proverb describes.

So to counteract, some creators do the opposite and immerse themselves fully into their subject matter. Some will integrate themselves into a certain specific community, work to make themselves accepted, try to get a grasp of the core of the culture of that human segment. It is very commendable. The investment is commendable. The sacrifice is commendable.

But it is not without danger as well. There is also a danger in being too close to your subject. It is the same danger as the blind leading the blind, the danger in being too close to your subject, being too close to your show, being too close to your specialty, being too close to your dance. With experience, it becomes more and more difficult to see your own work with the eyes of an amateur, the "bulk of humanity." We become unable to see the forest for the trees. By the way, I did not make that proverb up either.

So in focusing toomuch on humanity, we risk the same danger as being completely disconnected from it. But in both situations, we do it for commendable reasons: to express through new means, to understand, to innovate. It's just that we innovate under false pretenses; we innovate by either isolating ourselves into the silo of the end user (to borrow an IT term--somehow, it seems appropriate), or isolating ourselves from him completely. Blind forest trees.

Isolated thusly, at the same time we innovate with the big fix dream in mind. The big hit. As much as many of us would like to deny it, the truth is we like to hang onto extreme innovation success stories. All good, all fine. But the problem is that it tends to change our relationship to reality.

And if the innovations we try end up not bringing in the audience we had hoped for, we will often explain it away. We push the burden of responsibility onto the audience. We creators, reject the notion that it is us who needs to change our process, our approach, our artistic work (God forbid)-- in order to be a success. We will even explain that success and popularity our not what we are aiming for. Or that popular success is somehow evil.

But last I checked, most of us had started out creating art in order to touch other humans. And the more, the better. The bulk of humanity.


So I think that when your new innovation doesn't hit, there are three important things that you may want to consider:

  1. Your innovation is not really innovative at all.
  2. Your innovation is actually not very useful or interesting.
  3. You've innovated too much.

New in itself does not automatically mean good, useful, or interesting. Solid, lasting, major innovation tends to happen in baby steps, and this is usually not because of a lack of ideas. And sometimes it is not even because of a lack of development (although this also is a common phenomenon). Often it is because the public is just not ready to receive it. And not being ready means that they are not able to understand it all today. So it is pointless to throw everything new at them; one needs to gauge just how innovative one can be. Innovation is great; it has a link with intelligence. But rollout has to do with wisdom. Intelligence without wisdom has the likelihood of not succeeding.

So although I am a total advocate of going far, I also understand that one cannot go too far--or at least, one cannot reveal everything all at once. One has to keep enough of what the audience already knows in an artistic creation--some island of familiarity and comfort--or they'll simply reject it. Or worse, pretend to appreciate it on the outside while simultaneously rejecting it on the inside.

Which certainly does not mean to not challenge them, to not push them. But even on a biological level, our bodies tend to reject foreign substances introduced too much too fast. When introduced little by little, the body will in many cases begin to accept. There is no reason to think that human cognition would react any differently.

There is no reason to think that human emotion would either.

Rick Tjia

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