Documenting The Creative Process Focus Group

How can archiving become part of the creative process, rather than merely documenting products? How can artists’ intentions, methods, and working process be captured and preserved?

This focus group session convened choreographers and their archival collaborators, rehearsal directors, videographers, archivists, educators, and representatives of performance and residency venues. The three case studies highlighted strategies that choreographers are using to capture not only performances, but also the span of their working processes . Mainly, these choreographic artists incorporate documentation as a flexible, holistic part of their ongoing artistic process by embedding collaborators such as archivists, dramaturges, videographers, and other technical experts so that they can document, comment on, and be in conversation with creative activities. The choreographers themselves, and their dancers, are also reflecting on, investigating, and sharing their creative processes.

Alongside the case studies, this day’s session included self-analysis and group brainstorming to reflect on the strategies and processes already being used by the focus group participants to incorporate archiving within the creative process.

Common concerns and desires

During the creative process, significant material is developed and explored that does not end up included in a finished performance work. Many artists are interested in capturing these processes, intentions, and unused material, including research, personal contributions, historical context, and the language created in the process. One participant asked, “Is there a way that we could shift the idea of archive away from the product itself and into the process?”

  • Capturing how dance is temporal and relational in nature; how to better address the complexities of a dance-making process over time?
  • Artists are also interested in documenting the way dance works and production elements change over time. A dance work is never a rigid thing, but documentation can “fix” it in a single version.
  • Concern with more fully documenting the embodied knowledge and experience of dancers within a creative process.
  • How to maintain the quirks and mysteries of individualized creative processes within archival representations?
  • How to define what is full/complete/necessary documentation of the creative process, since the process can pervade the artist’s life. It is important to have “a specific and curated exploration” and to understand boundaries.
  • Whether and how documenting the creative process (especially if it is opened to the public) might change that process.
  • Working with new technologies; especially, what is the balance for the intersection of live and digital?
  • How to create a broader public “appetite” for dance archives?
  • How to foster and effectively communicate archival strategies with the broader dance/performance communities?
  • Some artists are engaged with trying to retrospectively discover threads, such as development of particular movements, within their work. Metadata, controlled vocabularies, cataloging systems can help to organize and structure information that is captured so it is usable in this and other ways.

Common strategies and aims

  • Defining the parameters and purpose of archiving the creative process through individualized strategies
  • Pre-determining how the collection can be used and its long term needs:
    – User-driven, ranges in engagement complexities depending on level of interest and expertise of users
    -Institutional/repository driven
    – Artist-use driven, specifically for reconstruction
    – Linked with other artists’ archives and collections
  • Archiving practices as affordable, accessible and appropriate for artists at various points in their careers
  • Documentation methods that are scalable and workable but not burdensome
  • Being sure that the archiving process is legally sound; there is clarity on the negotiation of rights and permissions
  • Transparency around how a collection is constructed yet allows for the mysteries of art-making and acknowledges the inevitable archival silences

Documentation methods for dance as creative process

  •  Film/video and the potential to annotate digital files
  • Audio recordings and oral histories
  • Photographs and ephemera
  • Journals/choreographic notes
  • Labanotation
  • Improvisation Scores
  • Dramaturges, writers and archivists embedded in the process
  • Works-in-process showings
  • Audience participation – contributions in-person, as documenters, and online
  • Websites and Blogs
  • Apps and ebooks
  • Social media
  • Streaming platforms


  • Choreographers are thinking through, defining and pre-setting the parameters of documentation in an ongoing way, to encompass process and performance.
  • Strategies are needed to capture creative relationships over time, outside viewpoints and responses to the work, and the layered nature of art-making environments themselves.
  • Possibilities are increasing for better documenting the movement and dance artists involved in the creative process as technology further intersects with archiving and dance making.
  • There is a greater desire for knowledge and resource sharing across expertise and mediums –  archiving and new technologies could offer tremendous added value to the creative process.
  • There is also a larger awareness of how self-directed documentation and archiving of dance processes and performances can add cultural, historical and economic values to a choreographer’s oeuvre as well as to the dance field as a whole.

Join the conversation! We invite your comments, feedback, and questions below.



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Advancing a vision of archives as a vital component of dance-making

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