Why does the tactile matter?

As part of the ‘Crossing Borders’ season of talks at Siobhan Davies Studios, Independent Dance invited Abbie Garrington to talk about her work, in particular her exploration of the importance of touch in modernism (Haptic Modernism, 2013). She suggested that touch was particularly emphasised in the early 20th century, citing James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Richardson. Their ambition, Garrington suggested, was not to describe but to evoke haptic experience.

The word haptics has a sense of active exploration through touch, and includes not just fingertip touch, but proprioception (the sense of one’s own  body and the relation of different parts to each other) and kinaesthetics (the sense of the body in space). As such, it’s an important concept for dancers. Some members of the audience spoke about the starting points for choreography: one said that her starting point for devising movement is always language but that for other people she needs to bring visual sources.

Why are three-dimensional set models still made and used in theatre? Scale plans, digital realisations, samples of materials could all serve to communicate information about dimensions and materials instead of a model – if information was all that was needed. But the  experience of moving people and furniture inside the space of the model must engage us in a different way.

All the talks in the Crossing Borders seasons are recorded and can be heard here.


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