Luo Shu Ji Xing

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This lab was an exercise in what’s called ‘performance as research’ which means art-making undertaken to investigate some aspect of art-making! Performance as research usually has two aspects for an artist: the first is what you thought you wanted to investigate when you set up the lab and the second is what you wind up actually investigating!

In this case, I was preoccupied with the following problem: I’ve developed a particular way of working that I use when I’m making a performance – some of it I inherited from my teachers and some of it is original. The last 7 pieces I’ve created have all used roughly the same approach. With this lab I wanted to see if I could create new working methods that would help me avoid repeating myself. I also wanted to find a way of doing things would permit me to keep the directorial skills I’ve developed over the years while somehow also going beyond them. What I thought we would be doing in this lab was creating a series of movement improvisations using the magic square of 15, which is a tic-tac-toe grid with the numbers 1-9 set inside it in such as way as to add up to 15 in no matter what direction they are read. I love this diagram, which is a central feature of traditional Chinese cosmology and Daoism, and I have used it a lot in past to create choreography and staging. I thought that by creating a system of rules for governing improvisation, I’d be changing my work as a director in a fundamental way, one that would allow me to do something I’d not experienced before.

What actually happened turned out to be about is a bit different! In each of the 7 past performances I mentioned, I had a story that I wanted to tell on the one hand, and a series of choreographic, musical and writing tasks that I used to create theatrical metaphors to tell that story on the other. Those tasks are all procedures used to shape the bodies and voices of the performers in space and time and the ‘art’ of directing resides in being able to creatively match up aspects of the story one is telling with evocative textual, choreographic and musical elements.

With this lab, for the first time in about 10 years, I did not begin with a theme or a story, but only with tasks for the performers that structure their behavior in time and space. Because of this, space, time and metaphor, which are usually the objects we manipulate to present the subject of a performance, themselves became the subject of the performance. So what we’ve started to investigate here has been to see what themes and actions might be latent or implicit in our art-making techniques, rather than what happens when we apply those techniques to a previously chosen narrative.

Luo Shu Ji Xing was performed to an invited audience of 20 at the University of Ottawa in the spring of 2014. We hope to develop these fragments into a full performance over the next year.


Created and performed by Sionêd Watkins and Ker Wells
Directed by Daniel Mroz
Expert Counsel by Derek Gingrich
Video by Melanie Willis