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dramaturgy in dance-making

2021 October-November - Contemporary Dance Stream - Second Year - Verge Major Season Work 

Instructors: Anthony Coxeter and Adelina Larsson 

Cohort: 18 second-year contemporary dance students

Course: Four-week dramaturgy intensive as a pedagogical process for the composition and production of the second-year Verge Major Season Work.

Pilot Description. Dramaturgy in Dancemaking is a four-week intensive that introduces second-year students to a key mode of dance dramaturgy: the creation of artistic work. Today, this has become a standard part of the practice of many working dancemakers across varied cultural contexts. For pedagogical purposes, Adelina Larsson and Anthony Coxeter demonstrate how this process of creation raises useful questions about what ‘dance dramaturgy’ is. In surveying answers to this question, the unit responds to perspectives put forward in ADT’s International Centre for Choreography’s recent program Dance and Dramaturgy in Turbulent Times that explores Australian Indigenous, Asian and European strains of the tradition. Margie Medlin, a recognised dramaturge and member of ADT, will give a dedicated guest lecture to students to frame this response. Dramaturgy in Dancemaking therefore serves as a general introduction to current dance-specific dramaturgical technique in Australia and abroad. In the overall WAAPA contemporary dance stream, it aims to translate the skills and competencies of Choreography and Art History units into the contexts of critical application and collaboration in the creation of a full-length stagework to be performed in the 2021 Verge Season. 


Detailed Precis. Modern dramaturgy, it is said, emerged as an independent interest with the bourgeois theatrical tradition in 18th century Europe, usually traced to the writings of the German playwright Gottfried Lessing. In contemporary dance, the interest in a distinct dramaturgical practice has been more recent. In a 2021 program entitled Dance and Dramaturgy in Turbulent Times hosted by ADT’s International Centre for Choreography, a diverse range of contributors give some ‘canons’ and ‘counter-canons’ of the practice. Angela Conquet, while noting dance dramaturgy’s favourable ‘lack of a normative definition’, locates the origins of the lineage in the collaboration of Pina Bausch and Raimund Hoghe in the mid-eighties in Wuppertal, and claims Hoghe, who had worked as a writer and dance critic, as the first to self-describe his vocation as a ‘dramaturg’. The unique creation of Tanztheater was bound up with it. Soon after, Marianne Van Kerkhoven, who Conquet refers to as the ‘godmother of European dance dramaturgy’, began a collaboration with Anna de Keersmaeker in 1986 that inspired, she thinks, a subsequent trend in a generation of choreographic processes and criticism. Other prominent pairings Conquet lists include Katherine Profeta and Ralph Lemon; Heidi Gilpin and Wiliam Forsythe; Hildegard De Vuyst and Alain Platel; Andre Lepecki and Meg Stuart; Talvin Wilks and Bebe Miler; Thomas F. DeFrantz and Donald Byrd; Anne Davison and Doug Elkins; David Dorfman and Jane Comfort; and Susan Manning and Reggie Wilson. But dramaturgy has been a strong vehicle for decentering the European tradition through the rise of cultural rights, where radically different conceptions of the relationship to art, life, the natural world and human relationships can be taken on as the ‘first premises’ of dramaturgical context. Australian Indigenous knowledge practices and perspectives, as argued by Dalisa Pigrim and Rachael Swain, can embody and look to Yolgnu conceptions of negotiated space, and the axioms of Indigenous philosophy put forward by Komumerri and Wakka Wakka philosopher Mary Graham: ‘the land is the law’, and ‘you’re not alone in the world’. Swain has proposed ten different aspects of intercultural dramaturgies in regard to listening to country, aspects grounded in traditional perspectives of the horizons of cultural practice but in touch with the dramaturgical performance vernacular she makes use of. Dramaturgy in the 21st century has proven itself to be a more diverse, adaptable and decentred artistic practice in many ways than the disciplines it emerged to serve. Conceptions of dramaturgy that intersected Cultural Community Development paradigms in the eighties have produced, for some, a radical dramaturgy that focuses on the ‘whole of life’ contexts of cultural work, and can seem closer to social planning, participatory governance studies and policy analysis. Indigenous knowledge practices have found in dramaturgy a vocabulary for articulating traditional practice in performances idioms in ways that similarly overcome Western conceptions of ‘discrete’ and ‘autonomous’ art works. 

Key Objectives and Outcomes:

  • To extend the skills and techniques from core choreography units into dramaturgical questions about the application and rationales of movement vocabularies in the composition and criticism of performance works

  • To expose the students to different forms of process-oriented and choreographer-centred approaches in the compositional environment

  • To foster critical thinking and agent-centred responses for the students as ‘performers’ (to equip performers to be able to confidently inhabit the role of a dramaturge)

  • To engage students in the ways that art history and comparative studies of performance history can provide a critical resource in the process of composition, collaboration and the communication of work

  • To provide real-world examples of the way in which the documentation of creative processes can become part of the compositional logic


  • Rehearsal Schedule

  • Self-reflection (journal)

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