Trinity Laban alumnus Jack Philp meets me straight after finishing another discussion of his project, a dance-meets-neuroscience study with City University. Clearly tremendously passionate about this collaboration, he is excited to show me diagrams and research papers. So what’s it all about?
First, tell me about your time at Trinity Laban.
It was really exciting to be here. It was fast-paced – so much so that my time went really quickly. I feel really lucky to have networked with valuable contacts; I formed pretty strong relationships at Trinity Laban and it’s been really worthwhile leaving with those. It was a great time to play, have fun, explore ideas, and test myself and what I can do. I’m really humbled and grateful to have trained here – I never expected to be lucky enough to do so.
How has your choreographic career developed since you graduated in 2015?
Since completing my undergraduate degree, I’ve been teaching a lot. I’m lecturing in a few colleges and I’m co-directing a few youth companies which is really exciting. It’s been great to work with a wealth of new people since leaving. At the same time, I’m working with my own company, which I developed at the end of my second year of training. Part of that involves continuing to form links, and pushing our work in the public domain.
Now we’re running a collaborative project with the cognitive Neuroscience Research Unit at City University, so that’s been the bulk of my creative time. Aside from that, I’m working on some new pieces with a youth group at the moment to fundraise for the Red Cross at a charity showcase. I feel blessed to still be doing what I enjoy.
How did your collaboration with City University come about?
First of all as a maker, I’m really interested in working collaboratively with music, and I knew I wanted to make a piece with that vision at the core. So in thinking about how I could unpick that relationship with sound a little bit more, I had a conversation with the Dance Science department at Trinity Laban. The staff encouraged me to meet with Dr. Corrine Jola who’s a Trinity Laban graduate and neuroscientist. I then took part in a performance cognition lab with her and La Fabrique Autonome Des Acteurs in France last summer, where there was a wealth of different artists – from theatre to dance to language specialists. It was exciting looking at how we can embed cognitive processes within theatre as a learning tool.
Next, I met with Dr. Beatriz Calvo-Merino at City University, and we started to develop a direction for the project, and unearth what questions we could answer; how we could analyse cognitive processes in relation to sound. We’ve since been running some pilot tests, including a performance by my company at Resolution (The Place’s annual dance festival) of an exploratory work, Psychoacoustic, which was a really useful platform to help me think about how to develop the project. Now, we are pushing the project into its next phase.
What’s the next stage for the research?
We’re interested in running another period of Research and Development (R&D) in the studio to really develop the work that we started for Resolution, and reshape it to form a more gallery-suitable, immersive piece. I’m interested in running a piece of performance and research at the same time. What we want to do is expand the initial pilot test* on a larger scale, and thus widen the data pool. Our concept is to place an immersive project in a gallery for people to walk through, with big body outlines on the walls for the public to draw on and highlight where they feel particular activations and sensations. So we will be giving the spectator a role in designing the space that they’re in, as well as generating research and art at the same time.
*Jack explained that the pilot involved getting participants to list words they associated with emotions. In the next stage, these words were morphed into abstract sounds. When participants listened to these sounds, and watched short clips of abstract dance, fascinatingly they tended to highlight similar areas on body outlines relating to where they felt a response, in line with previous research on bodily mapping.
How do you hope for the research to progress?
In summary, we are interested in learning how you can assess emotional responses in an audience, based on specifically crafted music and sound; how they can work coherently together to suggest a particular emotion. So we’re testing whether those emotional responses are proven within a spectator, and whether they’re coherent across a larger number of people. Furthermore, we want to understand what causes those reactions specifically. Is it where an audience member looks? We can observe this through eye tracking. Or is it perhaps driven by a sound?
I would like to then take the work back into the theatre in the long term, and maintain it as an immersive piece, giving the audience a role in the project. I’m really keen on making work that’s accessible for people. The ‘tagline’ for my choreography is that it’s both collaborative and physical, but I also strongly believe that it’s really important to burst the bubble of contemporary dance. Sometimes it can be a bit closed, and hard to read. With this project especially, it’s fusing with neuroscience, which is already so heavily academic. We then have to question how we make that accessible for the general public – for both specialists and non-specialists.
Essentially I would like to plug my audience in, perhaps with GSR (Galvanic Skin Response) watches and other gadgets which measure your body’s data – your heart rate, your pulse – and use that data to control the projection and the lighting of the space. So for example, if the audience’s pulse increases, the projection becomes faster. Much like performing the work in a gallery, the audience members still have a creative role in their watching, thus making it accessible because they are invested in it. They are creating part of it.
I would also like to culminate all of the work in a paper or a journal, so there’s an academic resource created at the end of the project. It would be great to combine all of the research, knowledge, movement and sound, so it becomes a coherent package of information that can then be used academically and creatively. I’m interested in not only making a piece for myself, but making work that serves purpose, that people can utilise, and that supports the field’s sustainability in the long term.
Do you see the research influencing your choreography in future?
For sure. I’ve always been interested in collaborative thinking and I’ve always been a bit of an academic as well, so it’s been brilliant to be able to collaborate with some real academic minds. For me, that’s really shaped how I approach choreography. I’m still learning, and that’s the beauty of it – I’m learning so much from them, but also about myself, and how I approach the studio and reconsider both creative and academic choices. I think it’s great to have experience of working with people who are outside of your industry. With that, they bring their own specialism. To employ that in what I do is really exciting.
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