Innovative design and digital media for the arts

Launching respond_

It feels as if it’s been a long time coming, but at last respond_ is live… and it works!

respond_is a new digital platform, based on Liz Lerman’s renowned Critical Response Process (CRP), built by Yorkshire Dance, Breakfast Creatives, the University of Leeds & Liz Lerman, and funded by the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts.

We’re building it to test how a digital platform might advance audience engagement, artistic development, co-production, individual and group critical enquiry, and artistic learning.

For a week in September, users from around the world logged on and contributed to the creative process of two new dance works. A ‘closed group’ of participants, guided by researchers from University of Leeds, watched a film by Hagit Yakira which showcased her new-work-in-progress, ‘Air Hunger’, and then undertook the four steps of CRP. They interacted directly with Hagit, answering her questions to them about the work, and asking their own questions of her in turn.

Dr Brighid Webster was one of them. Our ‘closed group’ includes people who self-identified as ‘Frequent Attenders’ at contemporary dance performances, ‘Infrequent Attenders’ and ‘Non-Attenders’. Brighid, a ‘Frequent Attender’, said of the experience, “being a part of this innovative, exciting and perplexing project has affected me profoundly. I love and have loved being a part of it all… I love the way in which it has been organized and recognize the enormous work, preparation and thought, which has been put into it by everyone concerned. I am invigorated by it all and actually feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to peek for a time into another creative discipline.”

Read Brighid’s full article about taking part in respond_ here:

When the week was over, Hagit wrote to all the participants in the ‘closed group’, saying, “Let me first say how inspired I feel reading your comments. Some echoing my thoughts and some challenging my ideas. I have been reading them all and sometimes more than once. It gives me a lot to think about! You all have your own individual way to respond and write and still you are all doing it with so much respect. Thank you and more soon, Hagit X”

A film of ‘Douglas’ by Robbie Synge was made available to anyone, anywhere in the world, who wanted to join in, and participants from around the world engaged with him and his work through CRP.

Nearly 4000 people have so far visited the website, almost 900 of whom took part in the initial public vote which resulted in Hagit and Robbie being commissioned to make new dance works for respond_

The ‘closed group’ comprises 30 participants, each selected by the University of Leeds using a variety of research criteria. The ‘open group’, working with Robbie, was recruited by a variety of methods – call-outs through social media, targeting the audiences of other dance agencies and companies, haranguing our friends and neighbours, collaring other parents in school playgrounds… and, in the end, 55 people registered as participants in that ‘open group’.

Not all of those participants made it to the end of the process, and we’re evaluating the reasons for that at the moment. We remind ourselves that respond_ is an experiment – a research and development project. One of our big challenges is to find ways to increase the number of active participants, and to maintain their engagement with the site and the process over quite a long span of time.

And it’s a very complicated thing that we’ve built. We experienced a few technical hitches, and we discovered how difficult it can be to moderate the process of CRP between two artists and scores of online participants. Since this first step of the process finished on Friday 26 September, Team respond_ has been back together, refining the website and the way we use it to make it more user-friendly, more helpful to the artists, and more rewarding for the participants to engage with.

We’ve been to Manchester this month, to take part in a ‘Learning Day’ organised by Nesta, at which we swapped stories, experiences and questions with some of the other 60+ partnerships who’ve been funded to develop new projects by the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts, and gave a presentation about respond_ and what it’s taught us so far. There was quite a lot to say, and it was exciting to talk to members of other projets who quickly identified ways in which respond_ might be able to help them in their own work. So there also quite a lot of potentially fruitful conversations to come as respond_ develops.

In the meanwhile, Hagit and Robbie are going back into the studio, developing their respective pieces of dance with all the feedback and ideas from the Critical Response Process fresh in their minds. From Friday 14 – Friday 21 November, they’ll present new films which show how their works-in-progress have developed, and you’ll be invited again, at that point, to contribute to Robbie’s process. Again, Hagit will work with the ‘closed group’ and University of Leeds.

Then it’s back into the studio for the last time, to finish working on the pieces before their world premieres, here at Yorkshire Dance in Leeds, on Friday 5 and Saturday 6 December.

And you, of course, are invited…