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PARIP 2005

International Conference | 29 June - 03 July 2005


Shenton: Pete | UK

What is research anyway?

Reflections on the successes and failures of a dance research opportunity without certainties.

Speakers: Matthew Reason, Bush Hartshorn and Pete Shenton.

Other Authors: Simon Dove, Steve Purcell, Sean Tuan John and Guardians of Doubt.


At the beginning of 2004 Guardians of Doubt, a network of UK dance producers, awarded two choreographers a non-studio based research commission, inviting them to step away from the conveyor belt of producing work and reflect on the ideas behind their practice. As part of this process over the course of the following year the two commissioned artists – Sean Tuan John and Pete Shenton – met and engaged in dialogue with two outside and interrogative ‘mentors’ – Matthew Reason of York St John College and Simon Dove, Director of the Spring Dance Festival, Utrecht. The objective for the Guardians of Doubt was to open up both the commissioning and producing processes, and by strengthening the ‘research’ element of working practices allow artists to move away from asking arbitrary questions that lead to arbitrary studio processes. From three differing perspectives, this paper will reflect on the success and potential lessons of this project.

The Guardians of Doubt will present the PARIP conference with the story of the commissions: reflecting on the processes, practicalities, working relationships, objectives and changing motivations. The presentations will reflect on the process of the commissions: particularly on the attempt to work within new forms of art networks and to bridge the divide between professional arts organisations and the academy; on the difficulties of managing a commission that sought to establish new relationships between artist and producer; and also on how the material that emerged from the commissions themselves was itself influenced by the nature of the process.

The session will take the form of three parts, each by a different speaker and each presenting a different perspective on the project and highlighting different stages in the process.

First, Bush Hartshorn (Yorkshire Dance) will present the perspective of the Guardians of Doubt, briefly outlining the history and working practices of the network before exploring the objectives and motivations behind this commission of ideas. The focus here will be on the identification of limitations in the current state of commissioning and programming in the United Kingdom and on how this commission sought to explore possible alternative models and create a methodology designed to assist the sharpening and deepening of the commissioning process.

Second, Pete Shenton will explore his experience of the project from the perspective of being one of the two commissioned choreographers. This will link discussion of his particular research project with the workings of the commission as a whole. Pete’s research has involved the contemplation of the personal and social location of ‘marginal’ performance work in our culture. This process has involved thinking over in detail what is meant by this question in the first place; what it means to ask and attempt to answer such a question; and how it would be possible to go about doing so in a manner that he would find satisfactory. A key theme here is the question of what ‘research’ is anyway, particularly in terms of concepts such as methodology, objectivity and provability.

Finally, Matthew Reason will discuss the project from the perspective of being academic mentor, and fellow traveller with the choreographers as they went through the year, speaking in particular from the point of view of being someone working largely outside the processes of production and commissioning. From this external perspective he will explore problems of process, communication and commissioning, reflecting back on the previous two speaker’s observations and discussing different expectations, mis-readings of working processes and the impact of implicit competition. Some elements of this experience at first seem to largely involve practical concerns (including, for example, health scares and communication difficulties) and therefore of little interest beyond overcoming pragmatic difficulties. However, consideration of the practical experience of the project, particularly in terms of competition and entrepreneurship, also reveals much about the current circumstances of commissioning, production and performance in the United Kingdom.

At this stage it is envisioned that the presentations will largely take the form of writing-based conference papers, although other materials – including diaries, postcards, interviews, and video and audio material – may also be used, particularly to introduce the voices of the other, absent authors.

The material and discussion of the project is being presented to PARIP very much through the raw experience of an experimental process. Indeed, if this commission asked the two artists to go on a journey of ideas, it was as much a voyage into the unknown for the Guardians of Doubt as it was for them. It will reflect precisely on the successes and failures of the project and in doing so hopes to draw responses and feedback on two levels:

  • Is the commissioning model presented here potentially valuable in bringing together producers, artists and the academy? And does it have the potential to enable more sharply developed production practices?
  • Are the practical experiences described, particularly in terms of the working practices of artists and of the Guardians of Doubt network itself, widely recognisable? And if so, what are the potential limitations or rewards of such practices?


Contact Address

Dr Matthew Reason

School of Arts

York St John College

Lord Mayor’s Walk

York YO31 7EX

Guardians of Doubt

Yorkshire Dance


Dance 4


York St John College






















































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