SSHRC Research Creation Grant Project

Often perceived as one of its primary “holy grails,” intimacy is among the most summoned forth and least well understood aspects of live performance. Frequently romanticized as the fulfillment of performance’s communal promise, intimacy is portrayed as both ubiquitous and enigmatic. Intimacy’s dual, paradoxical status as both a de facto condition and an inscrutable element of performance makes it a seductive yet highly uncooperative topic of study. The proposed program of research embraces this challenge, along with the deep, diverse opportunities for discovery it presents.

Is it actually possible to establish intimacy in shared space performance? If so, what precisely are its characteristics and determinants? Are there constituent elements of intimacy that are common within all performance contexts? Conversely, to what degree, and in what ways, is intimacy discipline-specific? Are the conditions that evoke, foster and sustain intimacy within specific fine arts practices distinct or transferable, complimentary or contrasting, cumulative or counterbalancing (and in what ways may they defy these clean binaries)? Is there a state, a process, a set of circumstances that can be understood as interdisciplinary intimacy? Is it possible to inspire, facilitate, and reliably recreate interdisciplinary intimacy—that is, is it possible to articulate a “dramaturgy of embrace”? These are the questions driving this program of research.


 The research-creation framework involved two laboratory workshops, one held in August 2015 and the other in August 2016. The explicit reference to interdisciplinarity marks a shift beyond theatrical devising to modes of collaboration that incorporate a wide disciplinary range within a creation and/or performance context. To this end, the laboratory participants were selected on the basis of their identification with distinct disciplinary practices, including musical composition/performance, choreography/dance performance, theatrical devising. and visual art/installation.

Applying a set of specific perceptual lenses that emerged within my previous project “How the Doing is Done” (2009-2014), we initially (in the 2015 laboratory) identified a set of key, deeply emodied disciplinary tensions

We then (in the 2016 laboratory) focused on strategies to work through and beyond these tensions towards a framework of Interdisciplinary Intersections—that is, ways of meeting—that consistently facilitated significant interdisciplinary exchange between the lab participants. These findings, both conceptual and practical, continue to deeply inform my own artistic practice and my analytical/interpretive/dramaturgical approach to the work of others. I’m currently working on a book-length articulation of these ideas for publication in 2021.

Laboratory Participants

Michael Caldwell (dancer/choreographer, 2016)
Denise Clarke (dancer/choreographer, 2015)
Eve Egoyan (pianist/composer, 2015/2016)
Sherri Hay (visual/installation artist, 2015/2016)
Bruce Barton (theatrical performance creator, 2015/2016)
Pil Hansen (dramaturg/co-researcher, 2015/2016)
Natalia Esling (co-researcher, 2016)
Nikki Cesare-Schotzko (outside eye, 2016)

Laboratory space and facilities generously provided by the School of Creative and Performing Arts (University of Calgary, 2015) and the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies (University of Toronto, 2016).

Photos of Bruce Barton and Michael Caldwell by Ömer Kardeş Yükseker © 2015.