Professor S F Melrose

Dr S F Melrose
M ès L, Dip d'EA
(Universite de Paris III)
Doctorat (Sorbonne Nlle)

About S F Melrose

Brief list of publications

Professor in Performance Arts
School of Arts
Middlesex University
London UK N14 4YZ
TEL +44 (0)20 8411 4307


These pages take as their starting premise my observation - as writer - that while relatively little has been published in the first years of the 21stC that deals explicitly with questions of disciplinary mastery and expertise in performance-making, it is also the case that practitioners in the Performing Arts are registering in significant numbers for higher degrees in Music, Dance, Theatre and Performing Arts, in universities across the country. This situation seemed to me as educator, early in the 21stC, to have a degree of urgency to it. At that time, many of us had begun to speak and write in the university, at least, about 'practice', and 'practitioners', as though a shift in focus and in terminology might allow us to use older knowledge-models to engage with the rapidly changing situation in parts of the university.

In these pages I raise a number of questions, and identify a number of issues that circulate around the notion of 'practice', which in the present context I want to qualify as expert. The qualifier itself seems, in certain parts of the university, at least, to be contentious - although enquiry tends to reveal that what is contentious here is historically specific, perhaps discipline (or anti-discipline) specific (by which I mean that it more readily holds in certain areas of performance-making than in many others); and it is (knowledge-)politically determined. On these bases, perhaps my heading here should read the 'knowledge-politics of expert practices in performance-making' - or would this make my writing a hostage to fortune, to the extent that it comes from a professional writer-educator, and not an 'expert practitioner in performance-making'? Perhaps, instead, these pages and the different undertakings they record should be headed 'The (Written) Confessions of an Uneasy Expert Spectator'.

Confessions of an Uneasy Expert Spectator

1. In 2003, I organised a symposium focused, apparently provocatively, on Virtuosity and Performance Mastery. The symposium was better attended by colleagues/students from Dance and Music, than from Theatre - although the incomparable Richard Gough contributed a keynote address, recorded in these pages. We sought to raise a number of questions and approach a number of issues relating to what I termed 'expert/creative meta-practice' and its relationships with academic writing. I was proposing that we look at 'disciplinary mastery' and performance expertise (and excellence), asking firstly why these sorts of terms tend to have been erased from published academic discourses, in certain parts, at least, of the university; secondly, whether research, pursued with due regard to quality (as that is established and recognised in the university), might be carried out through expert practices (also recognised outside the university) - and how one might go about and record that sort of enquiry; third, in what terms expert practice and disciplinary mastery, and their 'outcomes', might be both 'measured', and argued for, in those academic contexts within which this sort of case might well need to be made.

Lurking within or around such questions were others relating specifically to judgement: I was concerned, in part, at that time, under the heading of 'equivalence', with the criteria applied to the assessment of traditional PhD research, and with a certain reticence, in established Research Offices, when it came to articulating the precise bases on which judgements of value as to the quality of research were traditionally made. I argued at the time that the quest for equivalence, between the evaluative models applied to traditionally-published research, and those that might be applied to expert performance-making practices as research, was hampered, to the extent that many of us examining traditional PhDs might well seem to start from unacknowledged expert intuitions as to quality, which we proceed, thereafter, to rationalise.

Key questions posed at the Symposium were as follows:

Embedded in these questions, I later observed, was my own crisis of representation: what does my use of 'we', three times above, represent? What might my own engagement be, as expert writer/educator, when it has increasingly seemed to me, over the past decade, that one of the problems confronting expert arts practitioners who have entered the research contexts of the university, lies in the demonstrable fact that many highly skilled writers, in that same university, use models of knowledge, ways of seeing, doing and knowing, along with approaches to the performance product, that are specific to the positions and activities, in the (performance) event, of 'expert spectating'?

If this is indeed the case (and I have called Performance Studies taught in the university a 'closet Spectator Studies' that misrecognises itself as such), then one question that follows is this: to what extent can these knowledge modes and practices be usefully borrowed, by expert performance-makers? To what extent can models of intelligibility and models of interpretation that are specific to spectating, be used to represent expert making processes?

2. Other writers have pointed out that expert performance-makers, at certain times, equally adopt the positions of spectating, while making new work. My point, however, is that their spectating is different, both in time, and in its objectives: it is one element in a mode of performance-productivity. When the expert maker spectates, she tends to do so with performance production in mind, with the imperatives vital to performance-making in mind, and these are implicated in the actions that follow. This is a creative, inventive intervention, at a particular stage in the making, and these particulars colour the viewing. I am calling this spectating a "theoretical practice", for reasons I return to below. Not only, then, is their positionality significantly different, in discipline-specific terms,but so too are these times of engagement with performance: the times of making new work are almost never available to spectating in the performance event - although some of us encourage Performance Studies students to mis-take performance effects (spectator-experienced), for performance-making causes (necessarily spectator-imagined).

3. In 2002, in the context of a Goat Island summer school, and with difference in mind, I posed related questions:

please adjust your set

What might be the implications, for the ways some of us proceed to think arts practices, of the premise that established ways of knowing condemn us to inadequate ideas? What might be the implications, for those of us involved in or with art-making practices in one or another arts-marketplace, of the premise that inadequate ideas, produced and reproduced in the university, condemn practitioners to participate in the reproduction of inadequate ways of knowing? One example of the "set" to which my title refers, is provided by the apparently irresistible, even commonsensical reproduction of the couplet "theory and practice"; another linked and equally commonsensical set is brought by his old friend "mind and body".

The "Deleuzian challenge", notes one particular metacommentary, "is ... to think the difference between two incommensurable series", "preserving radical difference" instead of attempting to overcome it (Ian Buchanan, Edinburgh University Press: 2000). I ask what we might substitute for the inadequate (but perfectly commonsensical) formulation: "theory and practice", if it emerges that continuing, commonsensical use of these terms condemns all of us to inadequate ideas and ways of knowing. (Arnolfini Gallery/University of Bristol, August 2002)

4. From this moment on, I was persuaded that expert spectating, on the one hand, and expert performance-making, on the other, were two incommensurable series of actions, each having its own logics of practice; that they seemed to collide, in the performance event, without losing, in so doing, what was specific to each; but that it was also the case that Performance Studies, in the university, often attempted to persuade all of us to mis-take the one for its other. Not only to mistake the one for its other, but to do so in such a way as to retain writing, in certain approved registers, as triumphant over both. Now, trained and expert spectators - if we take the etymology of the final word into account - can only see what they can see. In the university, however, some of us equally train spectators to imagine the rest.

5. Now, if we were to change position, reviewing these observations from the position of the economies of performance-making practices, and the subject positions of practitioners, then we might also need to add that spectator-imagining is carefully planned for and largely anticipated by the performance-makers, even if it is also the case that this imagining is, in turn, one element in a complex mode of production. The two instances of imagining, once again, are un-like, or non-identical with each other: a practitioner, after all, has no need to present/represent on stage something (or some things) that spectators can be encouraged, in turn, to produce. What this means is that the economy of performance-making is not only un-like the economies of spectating, but that the economy of performance-making is internally complex, internally differentiated, and largely unavailable to and through spectating: when J-F.Lyotard asked, for example, of art-making, "What is the work that finishes the work? (1988), he was hinting, economically, at this sort of practitioner-centred complexity over time - a complexity often overlooked by spectating and spectator-centric writing, which tends to (have to) take 'the work' as its starting-point.

6. The term 'performative' comes into play here, although my use of it tends to differ from that preferred by the Performance Studies writer, Peggy Phelan. I am using it to signal a performance-making strategy, one of whose primary objectives is to trigger a particular sort of action in a spectator, where that action, and its outcome, is fundamental to the workings of the event. The performative (which works) engages a spectator in an event-constructive activity. The performative economy of making, in these terms, is cunningly calculated, and it gives the lie to certain aspects of theories of representation: when it works effectively, it operates so as to trigger the development of vital complexities, in a spectator. The actor's performance is performative, as soon as its actions, and the framing allowed by mise en scene, together cause spectators to imagine and develop fictional character (largely, it might be added, in spectators' own terms).

7. Performative triggering, fundamental to the ways 'the work' works, is provided by what is widely identified as 'narrative dance', in the performance-making of choreographer Kim Brandstrup (cf Brandstrup tends to cast, and to foreground, performers who can produce what might appear to be 'traces of a [fictional] life lived', in all of its drama. That casting tends to be both expert and intuitive (or to involve, as I have come to identify them, 'expert-intuitive operations'). The 'traces of a life lived' - drawn on so economically by Brandstrup's choreographic work - operate according to the logic of hypotyposis. Hypotyposis has a long history: in his Critique of Judgement, first published in 1790, Kant observed that "All hypotyposis ... consists in making [a concept] sensible, and is either schematic or symbolic" (1997, trans. W.S.Pluhar, 226, his emphasis)). I examined some of the implications of this observation in the presentation, included in these pages, entitled "... just intuitive ... " (AHRC Research Centre, SOAS, 2005), and in my entry in the Performance Research edition entitled A Lexicon, Volume 11, No. 3, Taylor & Francis Ltd, September 2006. See also my article "The Vanishing, or Little Erasures Without Significance?", in Performance Research, Volume 11, No 2, Indexes, Taylor & Francis Ltd, June 2006.

8. My sense that expert-intuitive operations play a significant and indeed exemplary role in (expert or professional) performance-making was confirmed when I was able to observe the expert performance-making of two artists, choreographers Rosemary Butcher and Kim Brandstrup. I observed that in both instances, the expert-intuitive operations produced new work to criteria that applied outside of the university, but only to the extent that those expert-intuitive operations were able to take their place in terms of the logics of production that apply to the discipline, to the performance genres concerned, and to the qualitative transformation each artist seeks to effect in her or his name. The logics of performance production meet and modulate what is made available by the expert-intuitive operations, in the times of performance-making. However - and this is vital to my argument in these pages - this meeting and modulation, in the times of making, is both constitutive, and it has an interesting consequence - for spectating - which is that performance material triggered through expert-intuitive operations becomes invisible as intuitive processing, as soon as the intuitive productivity is modulated by the production logics and production values that apply to genre, to discipline, and to the artistic signature concerned.

9. Plainly, then, it seems to me, if as spectators we can only see what we can see, but develop it as required where that triggering is effective, what cannot but escape sight, in the times of spectating, are precisely those operations of expert intuition that were constitutive to the times and the economy of making. As far as practitioner-specific modes of knowledge and models of intelligibility are concerned, then, these expert-intuitive operations, modulated by the logics of (professional) production that apply, are exemplary; they are discipline-specific, and in Brian Massumi's terms (2002) they are qualitatively transformed by, and extend, the artist's signature. As such, they are entirely-specific to expert practitioner undertakings, in terms both of positioning and of the times of making; they are incommensurable with, and are unavailable as such, to expert spectating.

10. It is absolutely plain to me, at least, that in the terms I have set out above, these operations and activities specific to expert performance-making, and to the discipline-specific work of expert practitioners, should equally be identified as complex and internally differentiated theoretical practices. (I do understand that some who identify 'theory' in terms of complex writing in a limited range of registers might have difficulty with this observation. Perhaps the difficulty can be alleviated once I identify 'writing in academic registers' as a further, historically dominant, theoretical practice.)

11. I wonder, on these sorts of bases, how expert spectators might ordinarily have access to the operations specific to the times and places of performance-making, where that making tends, in addition, to be driven by a production deadline, to a range of external criteria, and in terms specific to the artist's expanded signature? Each of these aspects renders the undertaking fragile, the practitioners more or less vulnerable. The philosopher Peter Osborne (2000) has observed, in addition, that the work of the artist is existential - he or she 'has to' make new work; that work is likely to be characterised by the quest for that 'qualitative transformation', which means, amongst other things, that one significant part of the performance decision-making cannot be figured in advance of its emergence. It will surprise its maker/s, and to the extent that it is unknowable in advance, even/especially by its maker/s, it tends to be constitutively speculative, as well as expert.

12. The observations I have set out above tend to suggest, in turn, that the expert-practitioner-researcher's undertakings are likely to involve what I have called a "disciplined unknowing" - an apparently curious and fragile knowledge-state, except perhaps to the extent that research itself, as K.Knorr Cetina has suggested (2001), is always characterised by a quasi-unknowing. This quasi-unknowing operates effectively as a "model of intelligibility", or way of knowing and understanding, that the expert practitioner recognises. It renders the researcher's investment relatively fragile, and, in Knorr Cetina's own terms, it is thus 'affectively-undergirded'.

13. As I have hinted above, the expert-practitioner, as far as the wider arts communities are concerned, engages professionally in what I have called 'signature practices' - whether the signature is that of Robert Lepage, Rosemary Butcher, Tim Etchells, Pina Bausch, The Wooster Group, Ariane Mnouchkine, or Simon McBurney. Signature practices are 'marked', and recognisable as such (they become what Bourdieu (1977, 1984) calls "symbolic capital", whose significance is realised through the (possible) act of exchange). Indeed 'signature' signals not simply a recognised marking, impressed 'in the work'; it signals not simply intellectual property ownership; but what is recognised as signature involves a relational mark, established between 'the work', its maker/s, and its validation by those whose judgements of taste and value are vital to the disciplines concerned. Signature practices, in other words, are singular or self-defining; but at the same time an aspect of them recurs, across a body of work, and between that work and its contextualising framework/s; and they are repeatedly modulated within given disciplinary parameters. "Wooster", or "Mnouchkine", as signature, triggers in me an anticipation - that what I am about to see will be im-pressed with a mark that calls back, through the new, to what I have retained from a past engagement with signature practice.

14. In the cluster of papers and short presentations included (or referenced) on this site, I attempt repeatedly to assert the importance, in the currently prevailing 'knowledge-political' set-up, of our collective identification of the modes of knowledge and models of intelligibility that are specific not only to expert performance-making, but to spectating itself and its secondary production. The science involved, for practitioner-researchers, as Knorr Cetina's enquiry into research in general would suggest, can be identified in terms of expert-practitioner and performance epistemics: here, the expert-practitioner, the making, the operations of expert intuition and their modulation in terms of both signature and of the logics of production specific to the discipline/s involved/invoked, can be identified as partial "epistemic objects", which are those that "bind [...] experts to knowledge things in creative and constructive practice[s]" (182). What Knorr Cetina understands by a "knowledge-thing" is revealed in her account of "epistemic cultures", which are

amalgams of arrangements and mechanisms - bonded through affinity, necessity and historical coincidence - which, in a given field, make up how we know what we know.

"Epistemic cultures", she adds, "create and warrant knowledge", and the analysis she proposes is one that explores "the meaning of the empirical, the enactments of object relations, [and] the construction and fashioning of social arrangements" within a disciplinary field (Knorr Cetina, 1999).

15. The long-term undertaking, recorded in part in these pages, has been described as dogged, for which I make no apology. There is something fundamental at stake here, that needs to be acknowledged with some urgency, in both political and ethical terms;and it needs to be taken into account, not least by those of us who are expert-spectator/writers, employed within the university, where we determine, in part, what 'should be' included on the research strategies seminar programmes to which many expert practitioners have recently committed themselves.

Susan Melrose

July 2007.


Cover of A Semiotics of the Dramatic TextA Semiotics of the Dramatic Text,
Macmillan, London, 1994.


Digital Dissertations
          book cover"Disciplinary 'Specificity' and the Digital Submission" in R. Andrews, E. Borg, S. Boyd Davis, M. Domingo and J. England (eds), Digital Dissertations and Theses, London: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2012.

Contemporary Choreography book cover"Expert-intuitive processing and the logics of production: Struggles in (the wording of) creative decision- making in 'dance'", in J. Butterworth and L. Wildschut (eds), Contemporary Choreography: A Critical Reader, London and New York: Routledge, 2009.

dance theatre journal cover"Finding -- and owning -- a voice
Kate Flatt and Susan Melrose discuss ownership in collaborative theatre practices" in Dance Theatre Journal, Vol.22, No.2, 2007: London, Laban

Performance Research cover

Performance Research article"(Re)marking the Overlooked or
Stanislavski's Napkin"

in Gough, R (ed)
Performance Research, Vol 6 No 2,
Summer 2001.

Cover of Navigating the Unknown"Geo-Choreographies: Self as Site", interviews with Shobana Jeyasingh in C. Bannerman, J. Sofaer & J. Watt (eds), Navigating the Unknown, London: Middlesex University Press, 2006Navigating the Unknown, interior pages

thumbnail book coverSee "intuition" and "practice" in A Lexicon, Performance Research, Volume 11, No. 3, Taylor & Francis Ltd, September 2006

thumbnail book cover"Who knows - and who cares - about performance mastery?", in R. Gough & J. Christie (eds), A Performance Cosmology, London & New York: Routledge, 2006. ISBN: 0415372585.

thumbnail book cover"Bodies Without Bodies", in S. Broadhurst & J. Machon (eds), Performance and Technology: Practices of Virtual Embodiment and Interactivity, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

thumbnail book coverS. Melrose, "The Vanishing, or Little Erasures Without Significance?", in Performance Research, Volume 11, No 2, 'Indexes' Taylor & Francis Ltd, June 2006.

thumbnail book cover" 'Constitutive Ambiguities': Writing Professional or Expert Performance Practices, and the Théâtre du Soleil, Paris", in J. Kelleher & N. Rideout (eds), Contemporary Theatres in Europe, London and New York: Routledge 2006.

thumbnail book coverRosemary Butcher: Choreography, Collisions and Collaborations
Rosemary Butcher and Susan Melrose (eds), Middlesex University Press, 2005.
ISBN 1904750 47 8

thumbnail book coverN. Hunt & S. Melrose, "Techne, Technology, Technician: The Creative Practices of the Mastercraftsperson", in Performance Research, Volume 10, No 4, 'On Techne', pp 70-82, Taylor & Francis Ltd, December 2005.

Papers now on-line

A Cautionary Note or Two, Amid the Pleasures and Pains of Participation in Performance-making as Research
Keynote Address presented at the Participation, Research and Learning in the Performing Arts Symposium, 6 May 2011, Centre for Creative Collaboration, London. Organised by the Royal Holloway University of London, The Higher Education Academy and PALATINE Dance, Drama and Music.

Rosemary Butcher: Jottings on Signature in the Presence of the Artist
Presented at Bodies of Thought, 3 April 2009, Siobhan Davies Studio, London

"Still Harping On (About Expert Practitioner-Centred Modes of Knowledge and Models of Intelligibility)"
KEYNOTE Presentation, AHDS Conference: Digital Representations of Performing Arts, National e-Science Centre, Edinburgh, July 2007. Paper written and presented in close collaboration with Rosemary Butcher and John Robinson.

"Not lost but not yet found": accounting for decision-making process in expert/professional performance-disciplinary practices
KEYNOTE, Convivencia Symposium at University of Central Lancashire, February 2007

"Not yet, and already no longer: loitering with intent between the expert practitioner at work, and the archive"
KEYNOTE address: Performance as Knowledge, Seminar examining the state of affairs in England regarding the archiving of live performance, May 2006, Somerset House, London.

book imageAlso now published as "Not yet, and already no longer: loitering with intent between the expert practitioner at work, and the archive" in Colophon, Capturing Intention: documentation, analysis and notation

cover of capturing intentionEditor: Scott deLahunta
Authors: Marion Bastien, Bertha Bermúdez, Maite Bermúdez, Frédéric Bevilacqua, Maaike Bleeker, Franz Anton Cramer, Scott deLahunta, Marijke Hoogenboom, Corinne Jola, Susan Melrose, Eliane Mirzabekiantz and Chris Ziegler
Text editing: The Loft v.o.f., Amsterdam
Graphic design: Katja van Stiphout
Print: VeenmanDrukkers, Rotterdam

Published by: Emio Greco | PC and Amsterdam School of the Arts 2007, EG | PC and AHK ISBN: 9789081081337

"The Body" in question: expert performance-making and the problem of spectator discursivisation,
seminar paper presented at Middlesex University School of Computing, April 2006

"Out of words",
keynote address at the Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music (CHARM) Symposium, 14-16 April 2005.

"'Words fail me': dancing with the other's familiar",
keynote address at "Towards Tomorrow?", INTERNATIONAL GATHERING 2005 at the Centre for Performance Research, Aberystwyth, 6-10 April 2005.

"... just intuitive ...",
keynote address presented at The impossibility of representation? practice, performance and media workshop organised by the AHRB Research Centre for Cross-cultural Music and Dance Performance on the 23rd April 2005.

"Missing Persons ... (and the ethics of affective eventhood)"
published on the web site of Archaeology and Performance. Papers from the 2002 TAG Conference, Manchester at Stanford University. (Thanks again to the Internet Archive for saving this site.)

The 2003/04 edition of e-PAI,
edited by Susan Melrose and Renate Bräuninger with web design and pictures by John Robinson and Hannah Bruce. It includes texts and visual material from the "Virtuosity and Performance Mastery" symposium (see below). Susan Melrose acknowledges the support of the AHRC in the preparation of this research material through its provision of a Small Grant in the Creative and Performing Arts in 2003-4.

NOTE (June 2010): unfortunately, the e-PAI web site which was hosted at Middlesex University appears to have gone off-line. The Internet Archive captured a snapshot of the original entry-point to the e-PAI sites in November 2006 at

The Eventful Articulation of Singularities - or, "Chasing Angels"
An earlier version of this paper was presented as the Keynote Address at New Alignments and Emergent Forms: dance-making, theory and knowledge at the School of Arts, Froebel College, Roehampton, University of Surrey on 13 December 2003, organised by Anna Pakes and Carol Brown.

"Virtuosity and Performance Mastery"
These pages provide a summary of material presented at the Performing Arts symposium which took place at the Trent Park site of Middlesex University on 31st May and 1st June 2003.

"the curiosity of writing (or, who cares about performance mastery?)"
First presented at PARIP 2003 NATIONAL CONFERENCE, University of Bristol, 11-14 September.

"Textual Turns - and a Turn-up for the Books"
An earlier draft of this paper was presented at "Textual Conditions", University of Nottingham, September 2002.

"please adjust your set"
Keynote Address, presented at Arnolfini/University of Bristol, 23 August 2002 on the occasion of the Goat Island/Bristol University Summer School and Symposium.

"Before the Posthuman Can Take [Its] Place: Performing Place and Person, in the Early 21st Century"
An earlier draft of this paper appears in e-pai (2002), the second edition of the online performing arts international journal, School of Arts, Middlesex University, under the guest editorship of Michael Atavar and Paul Rae (now archived on the Middlesex Research Repository).

"Entertaining Other Options ..."
Susan Melrose's Inaugural Professorial Lecture (delivered on 28 January 2002 at Middlesex University)

Background image from The Return, © R. Butcher 2005.

Photography and web design copyright © John Robinson.

Unless otherwise stated, all text and material on this web site is Copyright © Professor S F Melrose and may not be reproduced without the express permission of the author.

Page last updated 1720 27th June 2015.

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