Beginnings: A Postcolonialist Perspective

by Joshua Legg

1)For you, what role/s does the beginning play in a piece? More specifically, how have you employed beginnings in relation the rest of your work? (i.e. to frame, to present, to juxtapose, contextualize, clarify, foreshadow, etc). 2)Author Nancy Kress addresses the reality of having rich and interesting material, and yet, lacking a sense of direction or context for the material. In these instances, how have you found the beginning of your piece? How did you arrive at an idea to begin your piece? What did you confront, clarify to discover the beginning? 3)At what points in the creating process have you attended to the beginning section of your works? Has dealing with the beginning at different points in the creating process presented unique challenges or discoveries? Please describe. 4)Have you ever had to go back and change your beginning? What occurred or revealed itself that led you to this decision?

As a postcolonialist, I am constantly questioning the hierarchical structure of histories: the idea of where events or stories begin and conclude isn’t necessarily the same for all participants or viewers. Telling stories where the “beginning” might be revealed implicitly without ever being explicitly stated requires viewer/reader participation in terms of their making some decisions about “what came before” the action as it is unfolding in front of them. Photographs are extremely good examples of this kind of storytelling, and I am fascinated by dance and theatre that work in similar fashion. As a result, I tend to embrace abstractionism quite often.

When do I deal with content (in dancemaking, theatre, or poetry), I prefer to work with nonlinear narrative. If I do reveal “the beginning” in a work, it is usually placed later in the piece. The first element the viewer experiences then is a point of entry, but that element isn’t locked into chronological, pedantic order. Eschewing hierarchies of chronological time allows for a decentralized or (at least) de-emphasized patterning or sequencing of story elements or movement phrases. (Similarly, other dancemakers might be interested in decentralized stage space.) In some cases, I allow the order to evolve organically, while at other times I may utilize a chance operation of some kind (though usually only as part of the rehearsal process, and not as a performative practice). Other processes like my own mapping work, or Ruth Andrien’s ideas about scaffolding, help ensure that I further challenge the order and placement of things.

None of that is to say that I don’t work with form and structure, I certainly do. Even when I’m working with a classical dance-music relationship though, I’m still not thinking about beginning, middle, and end. By the time I meet with my cast for the first rehearsal, I’ve at least sketched movement motifs and broken them up so that in the first group session, we are starting from someplace internal to the dance’s movement vocabulary‚Ķeven if we are launching ourselves from the first note of the musical score.

I suppose this is all to say that beginnings aren’t terribly interesting to me. As as viewer, I appreciate arriving on a story in medias res. As an artist, that means I never have to go back and change the beginning of a piece. If I actually get around to telling that part of the “story,” I know much more about the arch of things. I find I’m able to be more honest this way, and the work also seems to unfold organically. Frankly, I find my work is more interesting with this approach than it is when I rigidly place “the beginning” first. It’s artistically liberating.