Choreography as art and as conversation

Featured In: The Brightside Blog

The moment will come for each of us to take our bow from the workplaces in which we perform each day.

The moment will come when we are ready to leave and others will take our place.

Watching the world renowned dancer Sylvie Guillem perform ‘Bye’ has made me think about arrivals and departures. Her farewell performance at Sadlers Wells on 31 May was described as ‘A Life in Progress’. Midpoint at 50, she has decided to stop dancing but there is no looking back. Her final world tour programme, which ends in December in Japan, has been built around new work created with people by whom Guillem’s career has been shaped and with whom it has been closely entwined. We each have such people in our own careers and, if we are fortunate, in life.

Combining technique with grace and agility, Guillem is a leader on her stage at the peak of her career. She dances with a distinctive voice and with a quality of vulnerability which has attracted world class choreographers to collaborate with her. So what can we, as leaders in our own fields, learn from her?

She was alone and not alone on stage. She was inextricably bound and sublimely at one with the choreography of her friends Akram Khan, Russell Maliphant and Mats Ek. As a dancer, she was in tune with the music, the lighting and with an audience who flowed with and followed her every step.

Her dance ‘Bye’ used a light installation to bring into sharp relief the people and significant relationships in which Guillem has been held, sustained and inspired throughout her life and her career – each one appearing, observing, moving on, she merging with then emerging from them until she was ready to leave the stage and ready to join the others, including her observant and curious dog.

This was a beautiful metaphor for each of our lives. How we appear and disappear into a crowd. How at times we may make a grand entrance, be the centre point of attention, then at other moments say a grateful good bye.

Each of our days – whether we are at work or at play – is full of such entrances and exits, great and small.

So how do we learn to question what we don’t yet know how to answer? A dancer’s body can carry the memory of all the lives it has described as it gives itself away in the moment of performance.

In the same way, our own voices at work carry in them the echo of our past experiences, reverberating into the present moment, whilst containing our future hopes and our unanswered questions. The choreography of every coaching conversation should be crafted and closely designed to respect and honour this. To help others articulate and hear themselves speak out loud – this is a kind of performance in its own right – whether it is the lone ear of a coach or a full audience listening in.

Choreographer Akram Khan asks,

‘Is art [dance] then the memory of movement, and of being moved?’

The title of the dance he has choreographed for Sylvie Guillem to perform this year is called Techne. This is translated from the Greek, meaning knowledge based in practice; the human ability to make and perform.

This idea connects to coaching and all of us involved in performing in our own different ways at work each day. Creative, inspiring coaching conversations enable individuals and teams to step back and up onto a balcony to glean knowledge based in practice. To observe what’s going on upon the work place stage, to see the patterns and the choreography being danced out. Observing oneself and others at a distance offers the chance to learn something new in the moment of the choreography of a coaching dialogue. It offers a safe space, like being in a rehearsal studio, to think through and try out new steps.

And then it is possible to return to perform, with confidence, practising new ideas, and complementary steps, back on the dance floor at work.

Then you are ready to make an entrance. You are ready to join in and work with others. And, one day too, like Sylvie Guillem, you will be ready to leave and let someone else take your place.