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California Institute of the Arts

Creating Site-Specific Dance and Performance Works

California Institute of the Arts via Coursera

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Welcome! This project-based course focuses on the creation of live site-specific choreography and performance works from conception to production to performance. It is geared towards performers, artists, composers and creative producers interested in learning techniques and production practices for site-specific work. The course is open to both veterans of the field as well as emerging artists jumping in to the topic for the first time.

Site-specific dance/performance is work created in response to a particular place or site, inspired by its architecture or design, its history, and/or its current use. Lectures and forum discussions will investigate site-based projects in both urban and non-urban locales, and ranging from large-scale to small (guerrilla) style productions. Furthermore, together we will delineate definitions of site-specificity, and look across the history of the field, focusing primarily on dance.

Specific techniques and approaches towards generating site-inspired choreography will be introduced here, but the primary focus is navigating technical issues (lighting, sound, media) and production challenges (budgeting, obtaining permissions, insurance, fundraising, audience/event design). By the end of this course, you will have developed a comprehensive proposal for producing a site-specific work.


Week 1: History and Context
What is site-specific performance and dance? Through a number of examples, we'll define the genre through four distinct categories, and survey the range of site work in dance, performance, and installation-based practices.

Week 2: Working from the Outside In
This week’s lectures are about dealing with the many pre-production decisions that go into creating a site-specific piece. We’ll look at what can influence an artist’s decisions when selecting a site and cover how to assess a site from the "outside" before making decisions about the content of a potential performance (the “inside” of a site). Finally, we’ll cover how to put together a working budget.

Week 3: Research & Staging
This week, we will cover how to begin developing an artistic proposal for a site through a variety of set research "filters". In the last lecture, we will revisit the locations of several previous performances by students in the Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance at CalArts (as well as one of his own!) to demonstrate how to perform a site inventory.

Week 4: Technical Considerations
This module will cover methods of generating content as it applies to site and the concept for your work. We will look at production and collaborative issues around sound/music, lighting, costumes and media.

Week 5: Creative & Production Challenges, Part 1
A myriad of challenges may arise when creating site-specific work, so it helps to be prepared. We’ll take a look at safety issues, and what you might need to consider when making site work for urban and natural environments. We’ll also talk about working with different production staff (costume, lighting, and sound designers) and other creative collaborators.

Week 6: Creative & Production Challenges, Part 2
In a continuation of last week's ideas of making the work a reality, we'll delve into fundraising and marketing strategies to get your performance off the ground. We will also look at different options for documenting your work with video and still photography.

Bonus Materials
Looking for where to explore next? This module includes extended interviews with three of the featured artists from this course, case studies in site-specific work, and resources from the class for reference. This module also includes a Directory with links to site-specific works, artists, and more!

Taught by

Stephan Koplowitz


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