Elliott, Hilary (2013) THE PLACE FROM WHICH I SEE: a practice-led investigation into the role of vision in understanding solo performance improvisation as a form of composition. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The Place From Which I See is a practice-led investigation into performance improvisation in which I have asked the question: ‘What is the role of vision in understanding solo performance improvisation as a form of composition?’ The research is encompassed and presented in two different, but interwoven, modalities, which function as a total thesis. These are: (1) a written thesis, which is divided into the four main chapters outlined in the Introduction and (2) a sharing of studio-based investigations and performances - included on the accompanying DVD - and a live performance. This sharing of practical work is designed to illuminate how the practice has functioned as a methodology for research and as a means of embodying and making public the research outcomes. Together, it is intended that these different articulations form a clear and useful prism through which the practical and theoretical terrain of the project can be distilled.

In this thesis I argue that working pragmatically and creatively with vision within the specificity of the immediate space and situation of performance can function as an efficacious means of understanding solo improvised performance as a form of composition, and the research offers five strategies that collectively function as a template of approaches for generating and shaping improvisational material. The strategies have been developed through instigating a practice/theory feedback loop with the phenomenology and artistic paradigm offered by French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty. I introduce his model of painterly composition as a particular rubric of what I call vision/action responsiveness against which I situate my own compositional approaches. I also outline five of the key ideas that infuse both this rubric and his phenomenology more generally - the significance of the entwining of a ‘questioning’ vision with movement; the chiasm; the visible; the ‘invisible’ and the ‘I can’ - and illuminate the way in which the practice has been developed and refined through a pragmatic interaction with these ideas. The thesis also outlines how these aspects of the phenomenological discourse have been re-framed through this interaction with the practical investigations and I situate my working of Merleau-Ponty’s ideas within the context of other treatments within both dance and theatre. More broadly, I relate this doctorate’s methodological approach and aesthetic concern with vision as a core compositional tool in and for performance to the compositional strategies, aesthetics, methodologies and philosophies of a range of other practitioners, locating the research within the wider field of improvisational performance. As an outcome, this research offers the template of strategies, layered with my particular re-framings of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, as an original contribution to the practice and discourse of solo performance improvisation.

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