A Sounding Line: using art and performance to explore new methods of teaching and learning

McCalla Professorship project leverages dance, theatre and music for collective storytelling

Erik Einsiedel - 16 September 2020

How does one tell a story that is itself a new story every time? This was the question at the root of Drama professor Lin Snelling’s McCalla Professorship, as she explored a unique method of collective storytelling and teaching.

Snelling was awarded a McCalla Professorship in March 2019. This award encourages faculty members to explore innovative ways to integrate their disciplinary research with novel teaching methods.

A dance artist herself, Snelling’s own area of research deals with the qualities of improvisation as applied to dance, theatre, music and visual art. Exploring how each of these artistic mediums interact together became the foundation of her McCalla research project, A Sounding Line.

A Sounding Line brought together a collective of 10 interdisciplinary performers from across the country. They were each challenged to create a graphic score — a series of visual prompts, similar to a musical score — inspired by an important concept or issue topical to them at that time. The result was a collection of text, sketches, diagrams and artwork that was compiled into an artist book.

At a glance, the scores may not appear to be a set of artistic directions, instructing someone on how to move their body, but this served as the groundwork for A Sounding Line. In February 2020, 10 performers gathered together to teach each other their scores. The result was completely improvised dance/theatre performances. The performances born out of the scores may be very different each time the score is taught.

“We taught it to the classes to show that we could give someone the score, and they could do it themselves; that it might be done with children, with older people, in community centres,” Snelling says. “Gathering people together to do it is how we meet different communities, and how we can share the process of what a story might become.”

At the time of this writing, A Sounding Line is mid-stream of its next phase. This includes continuing the online conversation and collaboration between participants living in Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto, with a video channel featuring site specific performances, reflecting the artists’ current practice during COVID-19. This was made possible through a President's Fund Grant. An additional Kule Research Team Grant has allowed Snelling to continue the work with the ensemble of A Sounding Line, including potential collaboration opportunities with Simon Fraser University.

In addition to performing A Sounding Line collective work on three occasions, the scores were taught to UAlberta Drama classes.

A Sounding Line is Camille Renarhd, Jérémi Roy, Michael Reinhart, David Ryshpan, Mat Simpson, Lin Snelling, Kate Stashko, Cayley Thomas, Gianna Vacirca, Naishi Wang, Minggao Zhang. Videographers: Grant Wang, Edmonton, Yan Lee Chan, Montreal, Jeremy Mimnagh, Toronto. Administration: Amanda Bergen.

Lin Snelling is a dancer and professor in the Department of Drama, teaching movement to students in the BFA Acting program, and is also the Coordinator of the MFA in Theatre Practice program. Her performance, writing and teaching focuses on the qualities improvisation offers as applied to dance, theatre, music, visual art and somatic practice. Learn more at: rewritingdistance.com