William Peterson – Creating Dance on “The World’s Smallest Stage”


William Peterson

Flinders University

Creating Dance on “The World’s Smallest Stage”

The advent of the Covid-19 virus has imposed extreme challenges for the creation of new dance works. Dance is fundamentally an expression of embodiment, reflecting culturally encoded patterns of movement and bodily practices, and typically created and rehearsed in spaces where direct physical contact between the choreographer and individual dancers is both possible and necessary. Indeed, this contact is at the core of virtually all original contemporary dance creation and in its duplication and dissemination. In such a disciplinary practice then, the physical distancing requirements imposed in many parts of the world by COVID-19 would appear to put an end to the possibility of choreographing new work, barring not only bodily contact between the choreographer and the dancer, but even the co-presence of the choreographer and dancer in the same enclosed space given the health risks associated with practices that involve extremes of exertion and respiration. 

The larger challenge, that of unemployed performing artists all over the world and locally, presents not only a cultural, but a human tragedy. The State Government of South Australia has stepped into this space of increased precarity with a project-driven scheme designed to keep performing artists employed. The Adelaide-based Australian Dance Theatre secured such funding in May 2020 for a dance project entitled “The World’s Smallest Stage,” which paired ten local choreographers with company dancers to work remotely in creating short works of 5-8 minutes to be contained within a two meter square space.  Drawing on data from interviews with dancers and choreographers, this research seeks to identify discoveries made that responded to the extraordinary challenges of this mode of choreographic production, while also seeking insights into the internal, embodied experience of the dancers and choreographers as they worked in this novel way.

William Peterson is Associate Professor of Drama and Research Theme Leader in Creativity at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. Author of Asian Self-Representation at World’s Fairs (Amsterdam University Press 2020), Places for Happiness: Community, Self, and Performance in the Philippines (University of Hawai’i Press, 2016), and Theatre and the Politics of Culture in Contemporary Singapore (Wesleyan UP, 2001), Will’s academic publications have largely focused on religion, dance and theatre in the Philippines, mass events, English-language theatre in Singapore, Maori and Pakeha theatre in Aotearoa/New Zealand, international arts festivals, and interactions between Asia and the West at international expositions.