Dissolving: Creating in collaboration

One of the many things that I appreciate about Dance Exchange is the acknowledgment that we are so much more than one thing, and that our interests and abilities and strengths often don’t fall into one category or job description. In honoring that acknowledgment, an attempt is made to make space for the pursuit of those interests. The organization is a home for multiple artistic voices, and we want those voices to be heard.

Earlier this month, I was able to return to the role of a maker and revisit some old ideas with new information: this time, in a collaboration with Christopher K. Morgan & Artists (CKM&A). Now, I should also say that I don’t see the role of ‘maker’ as necessarily separate from all that I do at Dance Exchange. I’m a maker/educator/collaborator at all times. In fact, for this project with CKM&A (and a number of others I find myself in), I prefer to think of myself as a ‘collaborative visionary.’

Christopher and Thomas rehearse at Silo. Photo by Matthew Cumbie


I say this for a few reasons. First, I don’t like the way ‘choreographer’ sits on my palate. It infers a hierarchy and a process that I’m not comfortable participating in all of the time. There is most certainly value in working that way and naming that relationship as such, but these days I prefer to embark into the unknown and, shall we say, slightly more ambiguous. I think that calls for a different name. And while I often use the word ‘maker,’ I think the part that I played asked more than that. In this process with CKM&A I did some making in that I helped shape ideas and things that emerged; but all of the movement, and most of the really exciting things, came from the artists performing the work. In being a ‘collaborative visionary,’ I really helped plot a course for the process by bringing in various kinds of research, by naming what was surfacing in the other artist’s stories and movement, and by continuing to look for structures or frames that would help guide us all.

The view from my bedroom at Silo. Photo by Matthew Cumbie

What stuck with me most in this short process, a process that included a few days of rehearsal here in DC and a few days in residence at the DanceNYC/Now at Silo in Pennsylvania, was an exciting revelation of how my capacity for knowing when to both hold on to and let go simultaneously has increased. One might call this being responsive. And I feel strongly that I have to credit my work at Dance Exchange, the work that I’ve been doing as a facilitator of classes and workshops and the work that I’ve been doing as a maker within Cassie’s processes, to this increased awareness and ability to tune into both the macro and micro of the research.

Entering into this process, I had ideas about where things might go and what might come up and how things could look. But even after day one of working with these incredible artists, most of that thinking fell away. Instead, I found myself sitting on the red line heading home, mulling over again and again what was said in rehearsal, what notes I took, and what writing and/or movement had been generated by the company members. After a couple of rehearsals, threads began to emerge that were both relevant to what I was interested in holding onto and rooted in the performers’ lived experiences and interests. It led me to new research, new ideas, and opportunities to try different structures. It kept me invested, even when I wasn’t in the room. I found myself thinking about the work while at home, on the bus, or out to dinner; even the most everyday conversations I was having found some connection to the work that was happening in rehearsals.

When I went with the company to Silo for a long weekend, Christopher and I were able to share the rehearsal process for the first time. It was at this point that we were really able to look at what we were making together, as before we were working separately on ideas and nuggets, each in our own way. And while we didn’t complete the piece that weekend, I left with a real sense of excitement about what we found in that collaborative working. Things changed, as they usually do: some were reshaped, some were built upon, some were taken a part and used in other ways. The important thing, though, is that all of our voices were being listened to, and what we needed to keep we kept and what we needed to let go of fell away. Christopher and I noticed from the outside, and Tiffanie and Meghan and Lauren and Thomas noticed from the inside.

CKM&A in rehearsal at Silo. Photo by Matthew Cumbie


It’s this work, work rooted in a multiplicity of the individual, that keeps me excited about making. It’s what I value in a creative process, and what always humbles me when I think about how I’ve found a home for that at Dance Exchange. I hope you’ll join me next weekend when this collaborative work that I’ve made with Christopher and the artists of CKM&A goes live. Dissolving will premiere at the Alden Theater in McLean, VA, on March 14 and March 15 at 8 pm. To get tickets, visit www.aldentheatre.org.

To view a mini-documentary about the new piece, click on the link below:

Behind Closed Doors: Dissolving

About Matthew Cumbie

Matthew Cumbie (Associate Artistic Director) is a dance artist and collaborator who currently lives in Washington, DC.