Rosanna Irvine and Sara Giddens are UK artists who both have extensive professional careers in dance and the expanded field of choreography. In 2015 they were both awarded PhD’s from Middlesex University developed in collaboration with Dance4 and funded through Arts and Humanities Research Council, Collaborative Doctoral Awards scheme (CDA), UK.

At Talking, Thinking, Dancing (June 2017) Rosanna and Sara uncovered this collaborative process through examples of their performance practice, exhibited works and a staged conversation with Paul Russ (Artistic Director at Dance4) and their former supervisors, Professors Vida Midgelow and Jane Bacon.   Located in Nottingham, Dance4 is an internationally recognised, experimental dance organisation with a strong regional programme and a unique voice in the UK dance sector. Dance4’s programmes include residencies, research, performances and the biennial Nottdance Festival.

The two PhDs were designed to provide opportunities for the research candidates to develop their individual creative work, while addressing two core aims that were of interest to Dance4:

“To activate and articulate aspects of the legacy of Nottdance as a major influence on the direction of (post)postmodern dance across the UK.”

“To provide models through which audience engagement can be reconsidered and dynamically activated”

Beyond the specifics of these two aims, each research project was designed to engage with (the then nascent) developments in Practice as Research in the UK. The CDA projects therefore sought to work from the basis that artistic work can in and of itself be a mode of research. This lead to some questions about how an artists own research agendas / artistic voice can be pursued, while also addressing established questions.  Both the candidates went about balancing this potential tension in their own differing ways.

The support of Dance4 in promoting the research outputs allowed both the researchers, Dance4 and audiences to benefit from the research as it evolved. In the group discussion at Talking Thinking Dancing, they together discuss the benefits and challenges of this processes. Some of the challenges discussed include:

  • Arriving at and addressing the research questions
  • Understanding the needs of all partners in a triangulated relationship
  • Managing  (changing) expectations (of students and of partner)
  • Art world and audience specific needs ‘vs’ research needs in artistic research
  • Benefits to Dance4 as the cultural partner of supporting doctoral research

Please note: Due to the use of a floor projection in the live event the video recording is rather dark – apologies.

Research Presentations and Roundtable

Sara Giddens and Rosanna Irvine also presented their research findings at ‘A Place to Dance’ (Dance4/Lakeside Arts Centre Nottingham). Two presentations are concluded in a roundtable discussion about the research process and the future of choreography with Vida Midgelow and Paul Russ.

Rosanna Irvine

Rosanna’s PhD is entitled,  ‘Processual constructions: towards a non-representational poetics of choreography’,  The thesis acknowledges Dance4’s prominent role in introducing European conceptual dance to the UK. It addresses a series of key works programmed in Dance4’s Nottdance Festival and Irvine’s own choreographic practice. In doing so it advances the notion of a non-representational poetics, understood as ways of making and doing choreography that are not founded on representational orders of thinking and the allegiance to recognition that representation entails.

As part of Taking Thinking Dancing she presented her new work,  Breathing line in the form of a taster workshop. The workshop experientially investigates simple action-based performance scores that call on a simultaneous attention in individual and collective awareness. We begin with a focus on our own breath – and from there investigate ways of walking as both an individual and as part of a group. Breathing Line emerges from Irvine’s doctoral research and has been commissioned and produced by Dance4.

Sara Giddens

Sara’s doctoral research,  ‘Still Small Acts’, concerns itself with employing stillness as a means of engaging participants and activating audiences. Reflecting Dance4’s commitment to engaging and challenging audiences, the thesis explores the potential for a greater understanding of stillness and how can it be developed in performance and articulated. The compositional and experiential practices of ‘stilling’ established through the research were articulated through concepts such as suspension, dwelling, the fourfold and memory.

The exhibition, Still-ing (an installed video archive)  shares the research processes and artistic outcomes of her doctoral research in a series of video works installed at i4C4, Nottingham as part of Talking Thinking Dancing.  The installed works include her guided research reflections on dwelling and stillness, the collaborative Dream-Walks and Still moving : Moving still.  Sara’s work has been presented internationally and includes a series of commissions from Dance4.


Dr Sara Giddens is a choreographer and creative facilitator. She also teaches on the Dance Performance and Teaching course at the University of Central Lancashire. Having worked on the Articulating Dance project, as part of Choreographic Lab, Sara completed a practice-based PhD, co-hosted by Dance4 and Middlesex University and supervised by Prof Vida Midgelow and Prof Jane Bacon. She continues to develop, make and tour performance-based work with Prof Simon Jones (Bristol University) through their company Bodies in Flight (1990).

Dr Rosanna Irvine is a Glasgow-based choreographer working in an expanded field of choreography. Her work operates in and between dance and visual art; it includes performance, installation, digital media and writing – including written choreographic scores. Works are presented in theatre, gallery and public spaces as well as on the page and online. She is drawn to the relational aspects of choreographic making, to the quietening of a sense of individual desire towards a sense of collectivity that Extends to audience and the material world. Her interests lie particularly in the capacities of choreographic processes to open spaces for a contemporary politics of being together. She works independently and in collaboration with choreographer Katrina Brown. She completed her PhD in 2015 and continues to develop aspects of this research with Dance4.

Vida L Midgelow, Professor in Choreographic Practices, is an artist/scholar who works on PaR, improvisation and articulation processes. Her creative work focuses upon the development of scores for movement and an attentional working from impulse. She is currently editing the Oxford Handbook on Dance in Improvisation and is lead researcher for the ‘Artistic Doctorates in Europe’ project (EU funded).  Midgelow co-edits the hybrid peer-reviewed journal, Choreographic Practices.  She is Director of Research Degrees, Middlesex University and serves as Vice Chair, Dance4 Executive board.

Jane Bacon is Professor of Dance and Somatic Practices (University of Chichester) and also an Authentic Movement practitioner teaching on the Faculty of Janet Adler’s Circles of Four programme ( Her main research interests include, practice as research in dance and performance particularly the processes of ‘articulation’ of both theory and practice. Her own creative practice is interdisciplinary, drawing on ‘self’ as a creative source for performance making and her work as a Jungian Analyst/psychotherapist, Authentic Movement teacher and Focusing trainer deeply inform her research into creative practice.

Paul Russ has been Artistic Director and Chief Executive at Dance4, Nottingham since December 2008. Dance4 is an internationally renowned organisation that strives to question the future of the art form and its relationship to its locality. Since studying Contemporary Dance and Performance at Nottingham Trent University and volunteering on the Nottdance festival in the mid 90’s Paul has worked in a number of roles as dance professional, from programmer, educator, funder, commissioner and producer, for organisations including; Arts Council England, Cambsdance, Birmingham Rep, Audiences Central, The Old Town Hall Theatre and Nottingham Playhouse. He now has responsibility for the strategic and artistic direction of Dance4 including; Nottdance, a biennial international festival of experimental dance and performance, Dance4’s new international Centre for Choreography (opened in 2016) and the East Midlands Centre for Advanced Training in Dance – a Government funded scheme for gifted and talented dancers. Particular areas of interest, to Paul, are increasing opportunity for disabled young people to have access to programmes of the highest quality that enable them to achieve in dance and in research to enable dance and choreography to share and exchange knowledge with other disciplines and sectors.  Paul is currently Chair of Titled Productions, a trustee of Merseyside Dance Initiative, Chair of the Nottingham Strategic Cultural partnership and Vice-Chair of Governors for Oak Field School, Nottingham.