Liz Lerman makes a flying visit

by antonydunn on March 16, 2015

On Monday 2 March 2015, legendary choreographer Liz Lerman arrived from the USA to spend the day with us in Leeds. And quite a day it was…

respond_ dissemination event - 2 Mar 2015 (c) Sara Teresa

Liz Lerman, Hagit Yakira, Robbie Synge, Dr Laura Griffiths, Antony Dunn & Wieke Eringa


The culmination of over a year’s worth of research and development, this was the day Yorkshire Dance, Breakfast Creatives and University of Leeds would present the preliminary research findings of respond_ to an invited audience of artists, arts organisations, technologists, academics and funders at The White Cloth Gallery in Leeds.

respond_ is a digital adaptation of Liz Lerman’s renowned Critical Response Process (CRP), its development made possible by an award from the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts.

Read more about respond_ here:

Through the project, the three project partners have been testing whether a digital adaptation of CRP can deepen audiences’ understanding of and engagement with dance and their empathy with artists, and Yorkshire Dance commissioned two new dance works – Robbie Synge’s Douglas and Hagit Yakira’s Air Hunger – upon which to test respond_ and which received their world premieres at Yorkshire Dance in December 2014.

The evening included a panel discussion with artists Robbie Synge and Hagit Yakira, Liz Lerman, research partner Dr Laura Griffiths and Yorkshire Dance’s Antony Dunn. Some excellent questions from the floor indicated a high level of engagement with the community of academics, research participants and artists that attended. The issue of co-creation for example was considered from different perspectives (eg. did the artists feel their work had been influenced by the respond_ process, and how?)

Dr Laura Griffiths, University of Leeds, presented the first research findings which will be detailed fully in our evaluation report for the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in due course. respond_ has demonstrably built an empathy between the artists and audiences who have used it so far.

It has encouraged a “considered”, “deep”, “honest”, “structured”, “succinct” and “mindful” approach to critical response and, according to 86% of participants, had had a positive impact on their anticipation of the final performance by making them feel “intrigued”, “involved”, “connected” and enjoying “a sense of ownership”, suggesting that respond_ had generated a real sense of anticipation. Several participants who had self-identified as “non-attenders” of contemporary dance have told us that the process had changed their outlook on the artform.

Liz Lerman at Yorkshire Dance - 2 Mar 2015Afternoon

Before the evening’s presentation, though, Liz spent the afternoon hosting a CRP workshop for over 30 dance practitioners from around the north of England.

CRP is a feedback system based on the principle that the best possible outcome from a response session is for the maker to want to go back to work. Embraced by dance-makers, artmakers, educators, scientists, theatre companies, orchestras, science centres, museums and more, it has deepened dialogue between makers and audiences, enhanced learning between teachers and students and proved valuable for all kinds of creative endeavours and collaborative relationships within and beyond the arts.

Yorkshire-based artist Grace Surman submitted herself, and a ten-minute section of her new material, to Liz and to the rest of the participants. For the next 90 minutes, Liz guided the group through the four stages of CRP, examining the “audience” response to the work, providing Grace with critical information with which to continue to develop her work.

Grace later reflected on the workshop, “Wieke said to me how brave I was so many times, I began to worry what I had let myself in for! The reality was an incredibly insightful experience, seeing critical response from the position of ‘artist’ in those two hours together.  It was such a valuable experience for us all to examine our dilemmas with linguistics and to have the chance to be coached through it with Liz herself. I felt fortunate to be responded to from such an interesting group, and I am currently working through their feedback in the studio…”


And, just to make sure we made the most of Liz’s one day with us, the respond_ partners had already met with Liz in the morning to discuss the future of respond_ itself.

The digital adaptation of CRP was made with Liz’s full support, but she had remained relatively “hands-off” until the two weeks of live digital CRP in September and November 2014, during which she facilitated two web-chats between Robbie Synge, Hagit Yakira and some of their respective digital participants.

The meeting was our first chance to sit face-to-face with Liz and hear her thoughts about the platform. We were delighted that she was bursting with ideas about developing it, about securing new project partners across the world, and about extending the potential of respond_ beyond contemporary dance and the arts sector into all kinds of other industries and areas of human endeavour.

Probably best to leave the last word to Liz Lerman herself, who wrote for our Digital R&D Fund for the Arts evaluation report, “I’m thrilled that Yorkshire Dance has taken the leap to test CRP within a digital platform. It has been so interesting to me to consider what feedback reached me and what didn’t, and why, questions which spurred me to develop CRP and which continue to drive its refinements and variations. I hope that users of respond_ will experience new pleasures of the Process through this platform.”

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