Dancers

photo: Jon Green

LANGUAGE, EMERGENCE AND DYNAMISM: DISCUSSIONS TO CONTEMPLATE

The following discussions have arisen directly or as ‘emergent ideas’ from immersion in the research questions, reflecting on the issues of higher degrees in dance and the complexities of their examination processes. These discussions are by no means definitive but are offered as springboards for considering the knowledge/s of dance that is/are and will be. One fundamental challenge of every educator is to grasp the centrifugal force of the unknown while adhering to the centripetal pull of the known. Higher degrees, as perhaps this document illustrates, invites the ‘new’ while being wedded to the old. It is a paradox which may be unresolvable but to which dancers, with their awareness, and often defiance, of gravity may be able to contribute.

Research inquiry through creative practice: some terms and definitions

It should be flagged here that, as these terminologies are evolving in response to alternative research methods and models arising from creative practice, they are in a state of flux and hence the subject of much debate. In positioning creative practice within a research context, terms employed include practice-based research, practice-led research, practice as research, performance as research, creative practice as research, creative arts research and research through practice. This overview, however, does not attempt to deal with all of these terms; rather it broadly represents various perceptions drawn from creative arts research and is intended as a guide rather than as a document of definitive classifications. The terms outlined all endeavour to deal with arts-based research degrees where the creative process and/or artefacts form part of the masters or doctoral outcomes, and are concerned with how the creative process is understood as research; the function (and weighting) of research outputs (including creative works, written or verbal components); and the relationship between practice and written elements. Furthermore, the debate around these terminologies arises out of an institutional need for a formal recognition of art practices and processes as an arena of knowledge production (Piccini, 2002). In reviewing literature on this subject, it appears that definitions sometimes overlap or are used interchangeably. Whilst terms and definitions may appear contradictory and confusing, the authors of this report suggest that candidates define their understanding and use of the term(s) they employ up front and then ensure that the practice and accompanying exegetical component(s) clearly reflect this understanding.

Distinctions and shared characteristics

‘Research’

A definition of the term research is itself an area of contestation; however, there are outcomes of research that are deemed to be more or less desirable. The impact of any research is largely dependent on its communicability and its ability to be disseminated. Biggs argues that a practitioner’s research into their own work is less likely to have a broad interest or application unless some transferable outcome is drawn out of it and is meaningfully communicated to others (Biggs, 2004). Biggs here draws on the eligibility criteria for funding of the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council’s guidelines (AHRC, 2007). These guidelines roughly equate to the ways in which research is recognised in Australia.

Practice-Based Research (PBR) and Practice-Led Research (PLR)

The terms ‘practice-based’ and ‘practice-led’ are both currently used to describe degrees that include both creative and written or exegetical components, with documentation of the practice, or the practice itself, becoming part of the thesis. These terms are by no means consensual; hence we outline several understandings of the terms below.
According to Queensland University of Technology’s Creative Industries Faculty, one of the major PLR faculties in Australia, practice-led research not only situates practice within the research process, but also leads the process through practice. The research occurs through the practice, which informs the methodology, content, context and conceptual frameworks of the total research design. Haseman (2006) describes practice-led research as an experiential approach that does not necessarily flow from a preconceived research problem but rather commences from what emerges in practice. Haseman cites Gray (1996), who specifically defines practice-led research as being initiated in practice where problems and questions are formed through the needs of practice, using methods and methodologies familiar to the practitioner. In practice-led research, therefore, the practice itself is generally considered to be a central part of the examinable component. Practice-based research, on the other hand, puts practice at the centre of the research and its findings provide insights about the practice. The practice itself might not be part of the examinable component although the practice and its creative processes may constitute a major part of the methodology. To further clarify the practice-led domain, Haseman (2006) defines a further area as ‘performative research’, where research outputs and claims for knowledge are made through the material forms of practice, which can be research findings in their own right.
QUT’s definitions of PLR and PBR are not necessarily the understanding of other universities in Australia. In the view of Candy (2006), of the Creativity and Cognition Studios of the University of Technology, Sydney, practice-based research is an original investigation carried out partly through practice and the outcomes of that practice, with the doctoral thesis being demonstrated though creative outcomes including ‘images, music, designs, models, digital media or other outcomes such as performances and exhibitions’. Whilst the thesis context and claims may be stated in words, it can only be understood in direct reference to the creative outcomes. Practice-led, according to Candy, is concerned with the nature of practice and new understandings that arise through practice, yet the doctoral thesis may be fully described in words, without the inclusion of a creative outcome.
On the nature of practice-based research, Biggs argues that the term ‘prioritizes some property of experience arising through practice, over cognitive content arising from reflection on practice (our italics) and that most definitions of PBR are very similar, if not identical in nature to action research in that the research is made apparent by the practice or has a consequence in the practice.
Biggs goes on to describe three types of knowledge that arise from practice-based research – Implicit, Tacit and Ineffable – “Explicit knowledge can be put into words, perhaps because the term "explicit" implies the term "linguistic" … Tacit knowledge, …. may or may not be made explicit (and) … Ineffable knowledge cannot be put into words” (Biggs. 2004). He defines implicit knowledge or knowledge that is expressed most efficiently in modes other than words as an ‘efficient’ version of explicit knowledge. For example, it is more efficient to show someone how to ride a bicycle than to explain the various operations of pedals, handlebars, balance and so forth.

Practice-Based Research (PBR) and Practice as Research (PAR)

Whilst some authors and organisations (Pakes 2003; PARIP 2002) use the terms ‘practice-based research’ and ‘practice as research’ synonymously, Kershaw (2001) makes a distinction between these two terms. For Kershaw, practice-based research involves research undertaken through live performance that determines ways in which it can contribute new insights or knowledge to fields other than performance. In his view, practice-based research may be conducted for ‘historical, political or aesthetic purposes, etc’ and need not be conducted by theatre scholars per se. By the term practice as research, on the other hand, Kershaw refers to research conducted into performance practice ‘to determine how that practice may be developing new insights into or knowledge about the forms, genres, uses, etc. of performance itself, for example with regard to their relevance to broader social and/or cultural processes’ (2001, p.138).

Practice as Research (PAR)

The PARIP (Practice as Research in Performance) was a five-year project conducted between 2001 and 2006 at the University of Bristol, UK. Its aims were to investigate creative and academic issues raised by practice as research in performance and to develop national frameworks for representing these practices within academic contexts.  Although PARIP primarily refers to practice as research, the group also includes the term practice-based in their definitions. Whilst they also state that the term practice as research may not be the best definition to cover all activities of practitioner-researchers, they claim the term is a means for opening up issues arising from practice as a mode of research (Piccini, 2002). The 2001 PARIP symposium, which looked at various issues including the question of what constitutes practice as research, concluded that there is a distinction between practice and practice as research, which thus imposes a set of ‘protocols’ on the practitioner-researcher. PARIP suggests these protocols fall into two areas: that the research ‘must have a set of separable, demonstrable, research findings that are “abstractable” and not simply locked into the experience of performing’, and that ‘it has to be such an abstract, which is supplied with the piece of practice, which would set out the originality of the piece, set it in the appropriate context, and makes it useful to the wider community’ (Piccini, 2002). PARIP commentators qualify this understanding by noting that these protocols are not fixed and are institution-dependent.

Mixed-Mode practice as research

Melrose (2003), writing from the perspective of practice as research in performance, questions the relationship between academic writing and performance theory, and the relationship between performance theory and performance practice. Here, she differentiates between ‘spectator studies’ or spectator–based enquiries into performance, and interrogatory, self-reflective practitioner-based enquiries. To extend research into professional performance-making practices, she suggests the notion of ‘mixed-mode disciplinary practices’, which may not necessarily be ‘writing-based or mediated, but some of which may call upon discipline-specific metalanguages of production’. In this way, the practitioner-researcher ‘uses aspects of professional practice to explore aspects of professional practice’. She suggests several ways this might be understood. Firstly, that if the ‘epistemic’ or ‘knowledge practice’ is identified as the focus of the research, then it needs to be accepted that the professional practitioner survives in the field through a combination of mastery and invention and that this inventiveness is already research driven. Secondly, the focus should be on how these practices can be ‘successfully worded’. Thirdly, epistemic practices can operate through interrogative self-reflection and speculative processes. Melrose here draws attention to the significance of performance-making processes that may not be accounted for in assessments based on performance effects or the public showing alone. She states that whilst professional and creative arts practice in performance is dependent on the live performance event, the epistemic outcome may not necessarily reside in the public show, even though a performance may be the creative and professional outcome.

Dance practice as research

Pakes (2003), concerned specifically with dance practice as doctoral research notes that, with the growth of practical doctorates, questions arise as to what constitutes an ‘original’ research enquiry. As she states: ‘[w]hat is the product of an enquiry conducted through practice – an artwork or the knowledge that makes it available? Are these distinguishable from one another?’ (p.129). For Pakes, an important question is whether it is ‘viable to require the process rather than the product of practice in research to be original, or whether the originality of research is assessed via product or process’ (p.135). Pakes draws on an array of views within art and dance domains, as well as several UK-based reports on practice as research, to both present and probe examples of what might constitute an original artwork or research enquiry. Here, as a case in point, she gives the example of a work that displays the first attributes of a particular style, such as a new type of multimedia performance or ‘a work which establishes an idiosyncratic movement language which stands alongside those of other established practitioners in a distinctive and significant style’ (p.130). In both these cases, evaluation is dependent on comparison with other artworks.
Pakes observes that a major emphasis in practical doctorates to date has been on the cognitive dimensions of the artwork, where practitioner-researchers are expected not only to move the art form forward, but also to increase understanding about the practice (p.132). Thus she observes a further sense of what might be understood as original as ‘the newness of the object’s cognitive content rather than its artistic originality’ (p.130), where originality, for example, could be determined through a series of artistic representations including ‘paintings, sculptures, poems or digital animations which explore similar issues to those examined in or through the new dance work’ and which is subsequently evaluated on the basis of comparison to those representations. Another instance might be where the choreographer grapples with an issue that has been approached previously through philosophical methods, to see how dance might treat the same issue in a different way. A further example could be insights elicited through the enquiry, such as ‘the new knowledge it makes available about human experience, the body or proprioceptive awareness, rather than the innovation it effects in artistic terms’ (p.131).

According to Pakes, dance practitioner-researchers should not be expected to preconceive the outcome of the work while they are still in the early phases, yet they can and should explain why and what they are investigating; shifting the focus of the originality requirement to the investigation, rather than, or in addition to, the artistic outcome (p.134). Here Pakes suggests that is necessary to ‘recognise the different kinds of claim to originality that must be made by the researchers at different stages of their process’ (p.138). It may be that originality lies in the particularity of the investigation, in aspects of its processes, its interpretation through dance, of knowledge from other disciplines or in the revelatory capacity of an historical dance reconstruction and, as such, the claim to originality needs to be made on ‘a case-to-case basis in different ways at different stages of a practice-based project’ (p.143).
Photo Jon Green
Photo: Jon Green

The role of practice in relation to the theoretical/critical

The 1997 United Kingdom Council for Graduate Education (UKCGE) report, Practice-based Doctorates in the Creative and Performing Arts and Design, claims that conventional doctoral characteristics of originality, mastery and contribution to the field can be met through the creative work, yet a written submission is necessary for both contextualisation of the creative work and for assessment purposes. Candlin (2000) sees several problems in making practice-based degrees equivalent to conventional doctorates. Firstly, equivalency tends to privilege the written component over the creative work, thus maintaining a divide between practice and theory. Further, if conventional doctorate-ness is dependent on the exposition of both process and outcomes, an over-emphasis on writing (as the basis for legitimacy and evaluation) may preclude evidence arising from and demonstrated through the creative processes of the practice itself. In addition, Candlin finds the report overlooks the fact that writing can be considered a mode of practice and, conversely, that arts practice also includes theoretical dimensions.
Dally, Holbrook, Lawry and Graham (2004) raise the concern of creative practice-based research conforming to traditional academic models in order to achieve validity. They cite Marshall and Newton (2000), who are also critical of practice-based programs based on the development of practice that is then contextualised and theorised through a written document, which they claim ‘contradicts efforts to have the practice-based component recognised as a potentially valued research outcome in its own right’. In their own study on visual arts examiners within the Australian context, Dally et al. found, however, that the exegesis is widely considered to be a supporting document, a means for clarifying the research process and positioning the work within the field. The artwork, on the other hand, is considered to be the primary element in the relationship.

Summary

In positioning creative arts practice within a research context, various terminologies have arisen from an institutional need for the recognition of arts practices and processes as legitimate areas of knowledge production. The terms we have outlined here deal with arts-based research degrees where the creative process and/or artefacts form part of the masters or doctoral outcomes, and are concerned with how the creative process is understood as research, the function of research outputs and the relationship between practical and written components. These emergent and contested definitions are continuing to be interrogated, providing a rich and dynamic set of understandings, which are informing similarly emergent design approaches to frame and support this area of research.
[Note: In order to avoid the contradictions already institutionalised within the alternative terminologies, the investigators have chosen to use the term ‘multi-modal’ research which encompasses all the nuances of approach and uses of practice discussed above.]

Research Design Framework

Assessment of research higher degrees is predicated on the development and articulation of an appropriate research design framework. In multi-modal research, particular care needs to be taken because methodologies for creative practice research are emergent, and have not been fully and completely defined. Due in part to the relative youth of the field, this methodological indeterminacy is also a consequence of creative practice’s intrinsic emergent nature, making it questionable whether research methodology can or should be completely defined. For these reasons, we prefer to use the term ‘research design framework’ and suggest that developing a thorough and clearly articulated research design framework for multi-modal projects is a critical task for every higher degree candidate in this area.
A research design framework arises from a world-view that constructs the nature and function of dance practice in the context of a particular dance project. A robust and comprehensive design framework will enable candidates to gather and articulate methods that will support their investigation in a way that clearly defines their use of practice in research. This should be an active and emergent process in each project.
The consideration of research design developed here arose from a paradox that emerged from our interviews with candidates, supervisors and examiners in this study. There was strong agreement among respondents that written and practical elements in a dance thesis should work as two components of one conceptual argument; i.e. that the two components should operate in parallel, that written components should work to conceptualize the practice and, ideally, form an integrated package which is direct and “equal”. As one respondent put it, “they go together. The project stands and falls together” (VDe05). However, there was not a clear agreement on the specific nature of the relationship between practice and writing. Specifically, there was disagreement over whether studio dance practices can, in and of themselves, be considered research methodologies.  Some respondents considered that practice can be its own methodology, while other respondents argued that we “need to be careful of confusion between artistic excellence in the practice and academic excellence about the practice - they are complementary but not the same in terms of attainment and delivery of knowledge” (SSa02). This lack of agreement also extended to the relationship between ‘practice’ and ‘the work’, with some respondents using the terms interchangeably, while others understood these elements as distinct, if interrelated. 
This lack of agreement demonstrates the emergent nature of research design in dance research, and the need for more work in clearly defining its parameters and possibilities. It also, however, sheds light on the nature of the distinctions that need to be clearly made in developing and articulating research design. This discussion presents an analysis of the issues involved, and develops a framework within which these apparent disjunctures can be used to understand research design as a continuum of approaches that place dance practice in differing relationships with writing and with interdisciplinarity.

ARTISTIC RESEARCH AS ARTEFACT OR PROCESS

Different approaches to research design involving dance practice hinge around the researcher’s understanding of the relationship between dance practice and the ‘findings’ of the research. The crucial issue is the extent to which the research is distinct from, or distinguishable from, artistic practice. Where research outcomes are considered indistinguishable from dance practice, practice itself forms a primary site of, and method for, investigation. In this instance, any other articulation of findings, such as within a written text or ‘exegesis’, may be useful, even necessary, but will always be to some extent derivative of the dance practice.
Alternatively, if dance practice is viewed as simply one component within a larger research design, then research ‘findings’ will exist, and be able to be articulated, to some extent outside the mode of practice. In the first formulation, research outcomes could be said to be conceptually indistinguishable from, or ‘synonymous with’, the dance practice itself. In the second formulation, research outcomes could be understood to be conceptually separate from the dance practice, even when informed by it. Thus, it is possible to formulate a continuum of approaches between these two extremes, within which most research projects will lie; the conflation of outcomes and practice on the one hand and the separation of outcomes and practice on the other.

THE CHANGING NATURE OF CHOREOGRAPHY

Whilst this document deals primarily with dance to which choreography is inextricably linked, it is evident that both dance and choreography also include various practices - sometimes but not always - under the banner of dance, such as physical theatre, circus skills and some performance art to name a few. In all of these forms, choreography has normally been associated with physical practices or modes of embodiment.
Ironically, choreography is historically aligned with writing: “[t]o choreograph is, originally, to trace or to note down dance. This is the meaning that [Raoul-Auger] Feuillet, the inventor of the word, assigns it in 1700, in the title of his work Choreography, or the art of describing dance with demonstrative characters, figures, and signs” (Louppe, 1994, 14). Today, writing, except for the specialist notations of Laban and Benesh, has slipped from fundamental definitions of choreography which most often encompass the creation, development and manipulation of movement in space and time. This of course does not preclude the interdisciplinary nature of much choreography, which incorporates music, visual arts, design, lighting, text, or film into its conceptualisation, creation and staging. 
Indeed choreography at the present time has never morphed so fast into other forms and modes of expression and will no doubt continue to do so. Like the proposed multi-modal nature of dance research, choreography can also be viewed as a multi-modal practice. In order to allow diversity within consistency to frame understandings of what choreography might be for the purpose of this code of practice, we offer the following comments:

The choreographic landscape has become more layered and nuanced, complicated by increasingly digitised and on-line communication and expressive encounters in virtual as well as ‘real’ space ... how can we frame choreographic concepts and practices in a globalised environment of blurred boundaries, interdisciplinary processes and the slipperiness of provisional knowledge? Contemporary choreography grapples with a multiplicity of patternings within and across bodies and ‘messy’ practices; a polyphonic

Photo Alex Chen
Photo: Alex Chen

overlay of rich and bewildering possibilities, conceptually, technologically, culturally, socially. Choreography’s reach and scope have expanded, perhaps in some cases beyond recognition, arguably without the formerly necessary pre-requisite of steps and movements ...
Whilst the body and movement are still central to the above understandings of choreography, notions of coordination, connectivity and the management of complex interdisciplinary systems are equally significant in the creative process and the emergent definitions of what choreography is today. (Stock, 2008)

Examination as a complex dynamic system

You really need to have a new set of guidelines developed each time you have a thesis, which is ridiculous, but you know it’s very hard (WMu14).
Examining theses of any shape or form is a difficult task at the level of a Research Masters or Doctorate because work at this level is by nature complex, involving numerous variables that relate to one another in, arguably, unique ways. When the variables of material practices are added to this notional equation, examiners can feel quite overwhelmed. This situation is exacerbated by the:

  • Newness of material practices within research contexts;
  • Common (though questionable) association of artistic practices with subjective responses. How often do you hear the question “but how can you measure an art work?” The answer, of course, is that art works are not measured they are evaluated;
  • Variety and often unknown ways in which practice is or facilitates research, made doubly complex by dance’s multiple purposes and forms; and
  • Tendency of some (poor) artistic work to be introspective and self-centred.

How then to construct a system to guide examiners in the actual evaluation process that makes allowances for variable relations between elements (and, indeed, of the actual number of pertinent variables); encourages critical reflective feedback common to artistic evaluations and still accounts for the diversity of research forms in which dance might operate?
Starting with a single type of dance research seemed to be the way to go - choreographic performance as the research outcome, being a favoured type of multi-modal research seemed an obvious choice. Naturally, this ‘one’ type sub-divides into genres, location and so many other considerations, but those difficulties might be manageable?
Under consideration were:
(1) Disciplinary-specific issues raised in creating choreographic outcomes;
(2) Theoretical/conceptual relations between practice and written explanatory means; and/or
(3) The difficulties of consistency when there are so many variables in a choreographic investigation where the research outcome is conveyed principally through the finished production of a performance.
The result emerged as the diagram below, Complex Dynamic System for a Choreographic Performance Outcome, which suggests that the examination process is not unlike the research under scrutiny, being a ‘danced’ system or a metaphorical ecosystem that depends on the dynamic interrelationship between a number of factors.
Here, the intention is to emphasise the ‘active’ participation with the thesis materials of the examiner who enters the process at the final stage and is asked to judge the significance of many variables. Instead of a checklist of attributes, which tends to be the usual instruction to the examiners, we would like to suggest a more interactive proforma, one that takes into account the variable intentions, resources and situated-ness of the researcher/choreographers concerned, as well as the examiner’s acumen and tacit disciplinary knowledge.
The over-arching guide to the evaluation process should be the stated research design framework by the candidate which should be consistent with the performance presented. It is acceptable that the reflective processes which occur post performance, and will be evidenced in the written component, may involve a shift in the contextualising/conceptual framework but the initial framework will guide examiners’ engagement with the performance.. Consequently, we propose that a checklist approach be replaced by a more interactive system.

FOR RESEARCH WITH A CHOREOGRAPHIC PERFORMANCE OUTCOME

A checklist approach might consider the following components in terms of the stated intention or framing of the research:

  1. The work’s capacity to illustrate the conceptual and/or theoretical underpinnings of the research;
  2. Originality or the imaginative treatment of embodied/physical practice as a means to evoke an, or many idea/s;
  3. Potential meaning-making via the physical composition;
  4. Phrase and/or sectional development/cohesion/dynamics across the total structure of the work;
  5. Potential meaning-making via extra-physical elements: music/sound, design/performance site, text/dialogue, object use, interactive media;
  6. Appropriateness/quality of dancers and production elements;
  7. Cohesion/integration of all elements and levels of production in terms of the stated intention/framing/choreographic notes/emergent premise;
  8. Extra-ordinary features: culturally specific orientation or anti-dance performance/positions; and
  9. Micro-structural choices/development/invention within a phrase or small units of movement.

In the diagram below, the factors are the same but the act of judgement is acknowledged as more reliant on the dynamic mix as perceived by the examiner (and highlighted by the candidate) rather than a straightforward tick of boxes. In such a system, it is possible to conclude that the strengths of a highly professionalised and polished performance may indicate one way of solving a research question, while insight into a conceptual problem via a less polished or craft-orientated performance may provide another solution. It is not intended that all these elements must be present in every thesis, but that a case-specific combination of some of these elements may provide a basis for evaluation in multi-modal dance theses. Additionally, candidates and supervisors may be able to construct the study’s research design framework along the lines of a dynamic system which is more conducive to the dance environment.

The danger is that an examiner may find the proposed system daunting, even if that system represents more closely his/her actual evaluation process. In acknowledging the complexity of evaluation and a degree of courage that each act of examination represents, the objective is to open evaluation to both its strengths and possible vulnerabilities. In short, the examiner, while maintaining arm’s length impartiality, becomes metaphorically engaged in the candidate’s process and embarks on the examination journey that encompasses disciplinary conventions and challenges.

Fiona Cullen
Photo: Fiona Cullen

COMPLEX DYNAMIC SYSTEM FOR A CHOREOGRAPHIC PERFORMANCE OUTCOME

Evaluation may involve the following interplay between attributes: the guiding principle is that inter-relationships are significant both in the delineation of the ‘thesis’ and in its evaluation.

Once we had come to terms with the possibilities of thinking in dynamic systems, we realised that more examples would be beneficial to demonstrate how the concept of the dynamic interplay of variables might apply to the many different types of theses that may arise. The following is another example which suggests how an examiner might engage with a process-type multi-modal thesis.

COMPLEX DYNAMIC SYSTEM FOR PROCESS-ORIENTATED RESEARCH

Note: the concept of a complex dynamic system should also be applicable to wholly written theses in dance where the variables are likely to include interdisciplinary elements.

Entry pathways

I would say for sure that the outcomes are likely to be of a higher quality if the person has spent some time out in the industry and comes back and does some research rather than go straight on from an undergraduate to a postgraduate degree. However that may depend upon the person, so I don't think it should be a prerequisite (QQt06).
So much of the achievement in every creative arts does in fact, relate to life experience ... and the perceptions and insights that one brings to the creative activity, which in my mind should also be part of research degrees in the creative arts. It's a little difficult to believe that someone who's come straight out of school, gone into an Honours degree and then straight into a doctorate, can actually have the gravitas, the authority which in any of the creative arts fields, tends to come more with a bit more life experience under your belt and a bit more experience of the discipline (QQt16).


Whilst it is recognised that the conventional pathway to doctoral research is a direct pathway through a first class Honours and/or a research Masters, in the dance discipline this applies predominantly to written theses where the foci of study are about the practices of dance, usually contextualised by intersections with complementary disciplines such as education, history, anthropology, psychology, aesthetics, biomechanics and so forth.
Increasingly multi-modal theses, wherein studies concentrate on knowledge in and/or through the practices of dance, comprise the majority of dance research higher degrees. Doctoral level study in choreography or performance can rarely be achieved without a substantial body of advanced professional practice in the field prior to entering the program. Creative practice research studies in dance require several years of industry experience, beyond undergraduate training, to reach the necessary level of experiential and embodied understanding for doctoral study of this nature. Consequently, there is a preference to accept mature age students for these programs.
These applicants may not always have recognised university qualifications since their intensive professional dance training can have occurred in a conservatory or other professional training environments. Therefore, there are strong arguments to be made to university authorities to accept equivalency in terms of a high level of professional practice and experience in lieu of the usual academic requirements. In spite of the challenges, experienced artists who have been admitted under this exceptional rule have successfully managed the transition to the rigours of doctoral study, arguably because of the sophisticated understanding of their experiential practice, maturity and, often, incisive argumentation developed in writing grant applications.
We recommend that equivalency be accepted for multi-modal research studies, decided on a case by case basis with input from leading industry experts, together with dance academics who have an understanding of creative practice.

So just what is the problem with ‘theory AND practice’?

The [theses] that are really outstanding, for me, are where the relationship between the theory and practice are just so blissfully integrated, that you can see in the exhibition something magical in the work the ‘Ah ha!’ … The writing – that same sense of fluidity – that they have taken you somewhere else in their writing. They are telling you things that are new. … Exceptional ones are the ones that are entertaining - maybe [that’s] the wrong word – but they are entertaining you on every page and you are going ‘Wow – isn’t that interesting?’ they are giving you something more than just ‘this is what I’ve done’ (emphasis added) (WCu01).


Firstly, ‘theory and practice’ is an expression which is bound to the binary oppositions of linguistic structure, where ‘meanings’ are distinguishable because of the phenomenon of un-like ‘meanings’. A cat with four legs, head and fur is not a dog. In its pairing with practice, theory, according to the most basic linguistic rules, is thus distinguishable from practice, even though the point/s of distinction may not be as transparent as the rules imply. In western thought, the spectre of the Cartesian split incisively separates thought from body. Thought, thus, corresponds to mental faculties that relegate theory and the body to ‘unthinking’ practice.
Likewise, academia is separated from artistic interpretations, favouring positivistic methods of explanation about human experience and, thus, relying on methodologies of proof according to scientific criteria as against speculative intuition and so forth. Today, the two worldviews of science and the arts seem to collide, even though their historical antecedents may have harboured more inclusive perspectives. In brief, complex social constructions become embedded within structural binarism to create conventional meanings and the implicit divide of the expression, ‘theory AND practice.’
To propose alternatives to conventional meanings, as do proponents of multi-modal degrees in the creative arts, appears reasonable until the trappings of linguistic structures intervene. This word-formed or ‘scriptural’ language, this literacy perceived to be the fundamental earth of our meaning-making faculty turns slippery.

When art actually reveals something or takes the viewer somewhere else, it changes the consciousness in a way that might also be an aesthetic thing – that to me is when all those things – the critical and aesthetic come together in a way that gives you the artistic aesthetic experience but also more than that (VDe07)

The practitioner researcher theorises in the ‘doing’ and its integral reflective processes, some part of which may necessarily be conveyed in words. Practice generates and/or explores theory at a deep level of thought and thought, in our understanding, can occur in an indeterminate variety of media. Words, in this perspective, constitute one form of practice, one means by which such theorising can be expressed. However, as Susan Melrose argues “enough expert academic writers (some of whom actually do know better) use the noun ‘theory’ as though what it stood for were writerly and written” (Melrose 2003). Johanna Pentikäinen likewise questions the transparency of language noting that the “linguistic turn of the last decade led us to see language as a meaning-making medium itself, and therefore, we are not able to see it as a mere documentation of something already done” (Pentikäinen, 2006), something, moreover, already thought. Paul Carter’s strategy to circumvent the problem focuses on practice or the multiplicity of practices, all of which he describes as material activities seeking to reveal knowledge of human experience. With a sleight of hand, he employs writing metaphorically, proposing that the materiality of practice is ‘written’ sound, movement, painting and so forth. In spite of the appeal of their ideas, these commentators continue to struggle in a cage of words because ultimately we are all trapped in the " ‘scriptural economy,’ a term used by Michel de Certeau to account for the university and its role in the knowledge economy” (Melrose, 2003).
It is not that words are antithetical to research in alternative modes but that words bear those linguistic structures which tend to deflect meaning back into conventional attitudes, attitudes which invariably involve politics or power relations. In many ways, the processes now faced by multi-modal researchers echo the argumentative strategies enacted by feminist commentators when they were forced to demonstrate how ‘language’ operated with a gender bias. Our cause is statistically less explosive. But we do have to argue against assumptions inbuilt into the systems in which we operate and theory, in academia, has a formidable presence, evoking very particular meanings for some academics and their disciplinary conventions, not to mention the custom-built protocols of administrative management.
One particular assumption encountered by multi-modal researchers is set in place by what Melrose calls the ‘spectating’ as against the practising professional. For Melrose, time is the qualifier in two incommensurable ‘expert’ systems. The ‘spectating’ academic looks back to arrive at knowledge whereas, in her terms, the artist practitioner projects forwards towards potential ‘transformative events’ in the production of knowledge. This temporal distinction bears ramifications in terms of research management, one significant branch of which concerns examination processes and expectations.
Theory for one system ‘picks up the mind’s pieces’ and translates effects in a habitually accepted causal logic of words making reference to framed and written concepts expounded by antecedent theorists, whereas, for the other system, theory underlies the projection of the mind in experimental media (dance for instance) from a combination of experiential and often, interdisciplinary concepts to see what puzzles or realisations might result.
In both instances, theory or a conceptual revelation can be a result of the particular practice in question (dancing or writing), delivered according to that practice and/or via the contextual wording. By the same token, theoretical premises may be tested, extended or interwoven across the media of practices. The relationship depends on the intention and design of the investigation. The challenge is less a matter of conception than of avoiding the binary linguistic trap by consciously changing habits in the use of terms which may prove difficult in the wider university and professional environments. Nonetheless, if the feminists managed to abolish ‘chairman’ and ‘mankind,’ there is hope for theorising practice.

WORD LENGTH FOR MULTI-MODAL Theses

In terms of weighting of the components, there’s that issue of the university struggling with how to measure and the practitioner finding ways it will work for them. This is an issue that needs to be critically engaged to allow the relationship of those things to be tested and wrestled with from a practitioner’s viewpoint (QQt09).

Word length is a critical issue in defining possible formats for Masters and Doctoral theses involving studio practice.  In our interviews, most respondents argued strongly in favour of a significant written component.  The consensus appeared to be that a written component of between 30-50,000 words at doctoral level was generally considered long enough to articulate the substantive and original knowledge generated, allowing space for the deep integration of theory and practice. A few respondents argued for the possibility of shorter written components in some institutional contexts. For Masters, 20-30,000 words was generally considered appropriate and long enough to articulate knowledge of the field, innovation and the use of appropriate methodology.
Generally, the exegesis/written component was considered by our participants as a vital means of communicating knowledge beyond the embodied understanding of the choreographer and participants. Without the benefit of an exegesis or guiding document written by the candidate, an examiner may be forced into a position of complicity in construing the thesis for the candidate that goes beyond the notion of formative assessment.
However, some caution needs to be exercised when determining and applying guidelines for specific word lengths for written components.  Different research design frameworks will situate dance performance or demonstration differently in their relationships to the ‘outcomes’ of the research, and these different formulations can be expected to result in different formats and lengths for written components. Ultimately, word length needs to be evaluated in terms of what needs to be written to clearly articulate the outcomes of each individual thesis, and the cohesiveness and thoroughness of the practice/written package is perhaps more important than the specific word length.


It's like we can have ninety nine percent creative work, but we've still got to have that one percent thing, which we put more emphasis on. But if we actually think, as what I do, the whole PhD is an interpretation. The whole PhD is research, therefore we shouldn't be dividing it up into real estate, you know, forty percent this, fifty percent that. The whole thing, and it's our experience from a phenomenological perspective, how do we understand that presentation as knowledge? We're nowhere near that and that's the problem (QQt05).


Our recommendation is, therefore, for clearly defined word lengths be designated within specific institutional regulations, along with a concomitant understanding, both in examination and in institutional guidelines, that the precise word length of each individual thesis will be governed by the specific research design framework the candidate develops, and that candidates may argue, in their written components, for

‘Liveness’ and the examination process

Dance is an activity of many manifestations all of which should be considered as potential targets for investigators whose objective is to contribute to the ‘sum of human knowledge/s.’ Social dance in discos and rave parties, ethnic maintenance programmes within selected immigrant communities or integrated dance-in-education in school or pre-school settings tend to be side-lined in debates about the crucial place of ‘liveness’ in knowledge evaluation processes, yet no-one would doubt the efficaciousness of the experiential or embodied natures of such subjects. These topics have featured in research papers by sociological, anthropological and educational scholars since the 1940s: for instance in the work of Franz Boas, Gertrude Kurath and Margaret Doubler in the USA and in the network of folklorists and musicologists of the European tradition. When the first doctoral dissertation or thesis concentrating on dance actually was published is more difficult to determine though their numbers have gradually increased over the last couple of decades, more often than not under the umbrella of cultural studies with its concerns about the variables and variations of human experience3. The most recent development in dance scholarship has been the entrance of actual dance practice into the thesis4 raising issues of presentation for evaluation purposes (the demonstration of the knowledge) and documentation (the preservation of that knowledge within the temporal progressions of research). While some sections of the academic community remain sceptical about the scope of movement’s mindful-ness as a bearer of knowledge, it is generally accepted that practices, whether originating in nursing, mathematics, ceremonies or the arts, do embody tacit and/or material knowledge/s that is communicated and apprehended in ways that are often parallel to thought transmitted via the accepted channel of the written word (the material practice of writing).
As a Kuhn-like paradigm shift, this transition from the power of the word (with all its religious connotations) to competing powers of practice bears not just political ramifications but ones of a pragmatic order. It is such ramifications which are addressed here in terms of the protocols of examination of postgraduate research degrees. Simplistically, what has occurred in terms of dance is that its ‘practice’ has, in some situations, supplanted descriptions about its practice which appears logically plausible but which presents problems both in accepted examination protocols and the subsequent documentation system. Whereas ethnologists and educators have in the past been content to rely upon written description, analysis and transmission, many current researchers/practitioners question the competence of words alone to convey knowledge born of and pertaining to material ‘knowing.’       
The first question then is why do choreographic investigations culminating in a performance insist on the irreplaceable experience of the ‘live’ performance for examination purposes? Particularly, in an age of digital reproduction that is accessible and of a relatively good quality, the insistence of the ‘live’ can be seen as a vain attempt on the part of performers to cling to former conventions not unlike the way in which university conventions cling to the printed word. However, if knowledge is to be taken seriously across its multi-modalities, then the ‘live’ performance becomes the crucible that pertains to how those particular epistemological genres are made manifest in human experience.


It’s like the difference between in vivo and invitro - you want to study your subject as it is in real life and that’s with an audience (VDe05).


Creating a performance is an act of communication dependent on the audience factor. Constructing/creating a performance is determined by various degrees of engagement and/or alienation/confrontation with a (usually) notional audience, so that a maker (or researcher for the purposes of this paper) does not exist without the other, the recipient or audience. In most, if not all performances, audiences play a subtle role in what might be called the flow of feedback: the energy exuded from performers is bounced back when the audience is engaged or alternatively lies ‘cold’ when an audience rebuffs the performance. Performers calibrate these reactions in the process of performing and, in complex ways, adjust to the feedback. Performance thus, as many commentators have pointed out, is a quintessential phenomenological environment, where an enactment of knowledge is grounded in being in the world.
Intrinsic, to the communicative acts of the ‘live’ performance is the issue of kinaesthetic intelligence which is in its optimal receptive mode in three-dimensionality environments. Screen products can provoke such responses but, generally, they do so via a re-making of the original choreography by inter-weaving different angles, proximities and locations. In other words, the ‘live’ performance is transformed into a dance film or, in the research context, a different thesis. Such a translation from the live to the digital also changes the three-dimensionality to a two dimensional flat screen altering the sense of perspective. Point of view is also limited to a number of fixed positions.

It depends on the purpose of the practical component in the thesis. If it is an experiment, it may not need to have the audience (NMa02).

This differentiation may be less clear in theses presenting process-type investigations, such as experimentation with teaching/choreographic approaches or responses within multi-media formats (relations of ‘live’ and virtual). Nevertheless, the ‘live’ examination experience may be crucial to understanding the significance of the investigation and thus needs to guide the candidate’s research design framework decisions and subsequent examination format.
Giving access to ‘live’ performances/processes has a number of ramifications:

  • Performance/presentation scheduling by candidate and supervisor - and subsequent organisation by graduate school officers to assemble the examination panel;
  • Resources, where possible to accommodate interstate examiners. This point is crucial considering the relatively small pool of academically qualified dance specialists;
  • Candidate’s formulation of a ‘framing statement’ or ‘emergent premise’ for his/her research for the examiners at the performance/presentation which normally falls well before the submission of the final thesis package;
  • Protocols for maintaining distance between candidates/supervisors and examiners and between examiners themselves. In most instances, informing candidates, supervisors and examiners of their responsibilities is sufficient to develop appropriate etiquette;
  • It may not be possible to maintain the anonymity of examiners but again distance and non-contact should be made a condition of the candidature;
  • Depending on the particularities of the study, it may be equitable and beneficial for the candidate if one of the examining panel is a professional choreographer or artistic director who might not have academic qualifications. Such an examiner is liable to be of assistance to the candidate post examination in much the same way that other disciplines chose examiners who are likely to support the candidate’s future publishing; and
  • Costs of involving international examiners will usually be prohibitive unless there is a digital compromise for one of the examination team.

Examiners and the academia/dance professional relationship

An ideal of complementarity governs perceptions about the relationship between academia and the dance profession, though what that might mean in actuality is not as clear cut. Distinctions between expectations of the industry and those of academia become more pronounced when the issue of examiners is raised. Some respondents were open to balanced perspectives with industry and academic examiners sitting side by side, yet there was opposition to people without experience of the academic journey being in a position of judgement.


I’m also really keen to engage with industry, but you have to choose your industry person reasonably carefully … you have to choose somebody that has at some point or still is sort of aware of academia and the aspirations of the academy (SAd01).


Whilst there appears to be a strong case for using an industry examiner provided that person has an understanding of the needs of the academy, there is some hesitation about using industry professionals without academic experience, as they may not fully grasp the investigative nature of the postgraduate journey:


If you haven’t done a PhD you are working from assumptions on what you think one is, not the reality … And I think too that from outside a PhD people may not be able to set the bar for the philosophical project being investigated (VDe05).

Limited pool of examiners: industry professionals offer expertise in the field

A common perception is that the pool of examiners for multi-modal dance degrees in Australia is limited and hence professional practitioners can potentially increase the number of available examiners.

One of the first and really important issues in dance is that the pool is incredibly small. But I do think when a lot of the assessment rests on artistic, aesthetic, professional background and experience of looking at work [and] you’ve really got to have people experienced in the kind of dance the candidate is really doing. For example, should I be asked to examine a thesis in contact improvisation … I think I would be inclined to be a little too soft on it because I don’t have a nuanced view of good, bad, indifferent contact. I don’t have the nuanced judgment of someone who works in the field (VDe05).


Finding a balance between examiners from industry and academia provokes debates over the respective merits and rigours of artistic as against academic expectations. In dance, many academics have experience of being practicing artists outside the academy and are naturally concerned with issues of quality and technique within the work’s conception and realisation. On the other hand, what an academic focus can bring to bear on the examination is the way the performance investigates a problem. Those two viewpoints overlap but are not synonymous.

We like to find a balance between an academic, a free-thinking academic that can appreciate performance. You have to be philosophically attuned, you have to find somebody who thinks that performance is research. So you get a good performer that’s got an academic credential and then you find somebody who’s got industry cred and knows about the academy (SAd01).

Vocational Tendencies of Higher Degrees May Align With Industry Standards

If the intention of the candidate is to create work in industry-based sectors, then it is appropriate to have an industry-based professional who, as an examiner, may be able to position the work nationally or internationally.


You can rely on the rigour of the artist. I think the more that this vocational thing that is happening with higher degrees the more you will need to have people from that particular expertise rather than academic people, because if the purpose of the degree is to get you up and doing art, then that’s what you have to be assessed by (WEd16).

Photo Jon GreenOn the other hand, industry examiners may confer higher value on the quality of the performance outcomes and its viability in a professional context. This may result in privileging the artistic work over research processes and focus of inquiry. It is important, therefore, that the candidate clarifies the research focus and aims, particularly if the epistemic focus of the journey is to reside in the processes, rather than in the live work at the culmination of a process.

DocumentING PRACTICE(S)

Several writers, including Rye (2003) and Piccini (2002), draw attention to the problem of documentation of practice in relation to research outputs. On this issue, Rye (2003) states that ‘the research may be concerned with exactly those qualities of the live encounter and the production of embodied knowledge/s which can not, by definition, be embedded, reproduced or demonstrated in any recorded document’. Thus the ephemeral nature of the live performance becomes an issue if the recording of the event is deemed a research output. Furthermore, according to Piccini (2002), if the live performance itself is already considered a documentation of practice, then the question arises as to the nature and role of any recorded outputs. Here, the archiving of outputs as a means for making the research accessible to the wider research community becomes a significant issue. Piccini points to possibilities of different ‘registers’ of documentation, including ‘traces’ produced through the creative process (such as scripts, drafts, notes, and designs) and their role as documentation of research outputs. Issues surrounding the documentation of live events do not apply to projects where the research inquiry and outcomes focus on dance/choreographic practices specifically developed for the screen or other kinds of recorded media.

Benefit of Digital Documentation

 

That might be where technology and things comes in and can start to offer other kinds of solutions where you can start to almost like layer things and allow different sorts of transparencies or what would you call them, palimpsest scenarios where you can read through (QQt09).


In multimodal theses, digital documentation is a means for articulating different strands of the research inquiry that cannot be adequately presented in the body of the written/printed component or through any supplementary appendices and notes. The processes of creative practice may be more closely represented through the non-linear, cross-referencing capacity of digital formats that ‘not only highlight the outcomes, but also elucidate the processes leading to these results’ (Schipper, 2007, p.4). Digital documentation can incorporate video of live performance components and also provide a means for clarifying the research journey through video excerpts of studio practice, choreographic notes, sound files, sketches, photographs and so on, thus serving to convey the richness of the inquiry. Digital recordings can be memory aids to the live performance artefact, art works in their own right or a combination of the two treatments, all of which should be integrated into the total thesis package.

Importance Of Good Documentation as effective memory aids

Normally I receive a video or some visual documentation to remind me. Sometimes it can be a very long time … I need that documentation to remind me of the intricacies and nuances that went with the performance (WMu14).

Video documentation is perceived as an effective tool for triggering impressions of the live performance, in addition to any initial note taking undertaken by the examiner. This is particularly pertinent considering the potential time lag between examining the live performance and receiving the final thesis. Given examiner expectation of high quality documentation, it is recommended that financial and technical resources be allocated for this purpose.

As long as there’s really good documentation – and there always is now – and if examiners were aware of that time line before, I think it would be fine. And I think in a way, an illuminating document that came six months later with a really good DVD would really open the memory to that live performance (VMe02). 

Facilitating connections between digital documentation and written component

 

Documentation should allow the examiner to access easily the particular element of the work being referenced.  A full length video record of a performance is not much help if particular moments in the work are referred to as examples of a claim made/question asked (DCAU02).


Whilst digital formats, such as DVDs, are a useful means for presenting non-linear information, it is advised that the contents and navigation pathways are kept as simple and clear as possible. The candidate should bear in mind that the reader will need to travel back and forth between the written and digital components, thus documentation should facilitate a clear-cut process for the examiner/reader. It is advised that written work be edited before inclusion in the final digital format, with the candidate ensuring that the contents are an integrated part of the thesis.

Cross-Referencing written component to DVD/Other digital media

Within the DVD proper, cross-referencing is possible via menus, chapters and links. However, a clear cross-referencing method is also necessary between the written component and the DVD. It is important that the relevant chapter or section be clearly cited, and if video files are not separated into chapters (for example, where the candidate wishes to maintain the temporal flow of the dance), then time codes for the specific aspect being referred to should be given. Wherever reference is made to the DVD in the written text, an icon (such as a disc) can be used as an easily identifiable visual marker.

Interactive DVD: Navigation and use


In regards to DVDs that have multiple chapters and links, it is suggested that a section be included in the written component (for example, following the contents pages) that sets out how to use the DVD. If appropriate, this could include a diagram/flow chart which maps the contents of the DVD, such as the title and chapter headings, and the contents of each chapter including movie files, still images, choreographic notes, etc. This serves as a useful visual overview that immediately illustrates both contents and navigational pathways.

Cross-Platform DVD

DVD duplication or burning is inexpensive and appropriate for personal projects requiring only a few copies. However, a problem encountered in the creation of DVDs is that they are often incompatible with some players and formats. Should financial resources be available to the candidate, it may be of benefit to seek assistance with DVD creation. DVD mastering is a digital optimisation process that enables multiple copies of a DVD while maintaining the quality of the project. Authoring is a process that creates a DVD that can be played on a DVD player. It is important to ensure the DVD can be played on a range of machines and computer operating systems before submission with the final thesis.

Good documentary practive: Video Point of view, lighting and editing

When filming rehearsals and live performance events, candidates should consider camera angles and point of view, not only using long shots or a single point of view, but also close-ups and tracking shots. For documenting live performances, it may be necessary to enlist the assistance of an experienced camera person to work with the choreographer/dance artist. Lighting conditions for the live event may be too dark for effective footage, thus time schedules should take into account shooting a particular scene with lighting levels set at higher percentages. Consideration of the editing process is also important here. For example, when shooting live performances, it is useful to have more than one camera capturing the event. One camera could provide footage for laying down the main video track, with angles and shots taken from other cameras edited into this main track.

Copyright Issues

 It is important that what constitutes documentation does not infringe copyright laws. For archiving purposes, it is also necessary to ensure that the appropriate acknowledgements and accreditation (including production roles, videography, photography, sound, editing and so on) appear in both the written component and digital documents.  

Web-Based Formats

If documentation is web-based, the candidate needs to ensure that it is archived for the required number of years in accordance with research protocols.


Obviously these recommendations are guiding principles at the time of writing. We are aware that technology is constantly changing and so anticipate the influx of new digital formats and platforms. Whichever mode is used, it is important to remain mindful of the principles of navigation and archiving of material.

The viva voce: a lost convention of examination?

I think the oral exam is actually crucial for dancers to dissolve the lingering public perception of others that 'dancers don't talk’ (DCNZ1).


One question raised by the international consultant on this project, Susan Melrose, concerned the absence in our draft recommendations of the oral system of examination known as the ‘viva.’ As the normal culmination of the examination process in the UK, Europe and NZ, a ‘viva’ invites candidates to articulate their research trajectory and findings in dialogue with an examination panel or, in more traditional language, ‘to defend his/her thesis.’ Melrose, whose work champions the artist researcher engaged in multi-modal degrees, is concerned that the omission of the ‘viva’ might not provide the most equitable conditions for this type of candidate.

It is at the viva examination that a skilled and sympathetic examiner is able to elicit a very convincing oral account of the project – not least because skilled arts practitioners often demonstrate advanced oral skills - which are not equalled in the written component [or] the feedback to the candidate, required so that he or she can make the necessary ‘amendments and corrections’ to the written component along the lines raised at the viva, has in numerous circumstances served to enable the arts practitioner candidate, over the period of time recommended, to make strategic interventions in the writing, such that the writing serves the expert practice, rather than attempting to replicate certain tired conventions of the traditional thesis (Melrose report).   


Melrose’s point is that professional artists are trained, directly or indirectly, to speak rather than write about their work and that the viva dialogue often draws out ideas which illuminate the practice but can lie obscured in a writing straining to be ‘academic.’ This perspective aligns to a certain extent, with a New Zealand respondent who stated, of her own experience, that the “whole process was quite affirming - the exam was presented as an opportunity to really discuss my work in detail with the examiners, rather than it feeling only like a defence” (DCNZ01).
The positive weight of such comments stands less securely against the misgivings about vivas raised in the literature. Powell and Green (2003) argue that the vagaries and ambiguities apparent in the UK examination system often come to a head in intentions and procedures of vivas. The viva’s purpose is variously perceived as authenticating authorship, a rite of passage, a probe into the candidate’s ability and a confrontational challenge to the research claims, while notions of the viva’s role decision-making about the thesis’ doctorateness and examiners’ independence differ widely and are often imprecisely communicated in institutional protocols. Other UK commentators like Morley, Leonard and David (2002) note the significant numbers of students who report on the negativity of the experience even when awarded the degree. Even more disturbingly, these academics claim to have themselves witnessed vivas permeated by power struggles or sub-disciplinary disputes between examiners and/or examiners and supervisors, who in some instances are permitted to be present at the event. Inconsistencies in the rules pertaining to vivas lead Tinkler and Jackson (2000), similarly, to question the quality assurance measures in relation to higher degree examinations and thus to the fundamental consistency of doctoral processes.
By and large, Australian universities have opted out of the viva practice and chosen instead to emphasise examiner independence, upheld through the autonomy of examiners to respond to theses without interference from others’ perspectives. Independence does not allay wide variation in examiner reporting and decision-making but this approach does obviate inter-personal disputes, leaving moderation of variations to an internal panel whose members are again at a distance from the examiners (and any interpretational clashes) but not from institution’s interests. Some universities do have final review processes, where the completing candidate orally presents their thesis to an internal panel before the final submission. This procedure enables the candidate to gauge the credibility (or otherwise) of their work and, on the institutional side, operates as a gate-keeping mechanism to prevent underdeveloped studies from exposure to the full and decisive examination process. The effectiveness of this procedure is yet to be rigorously examined, although anecdotally the process does augur well for a final successful outcome. Whether the process substitutes for Melrose’s concern to support the expert practitioner is untested and it certainly does not address the final recognition of research raised by our NZ correspondent. Sympathetic examiners with critical formative skills are in demand even in the Australian experience where interpersonal dialogue is usually filtered out. While the viva does appear to offer some advantageous aspects, the process presents as many problems as it might resolve. How candidature is celebrated and affirmed is another question to address in the future.   
Examination/assessment is a human process, subject to that tension with which this project began: dancing between diversity and consistency. There are checks and balances working towards consistency to put in place and advocacy of particular recommendations to disseminate but, in the final analysis, as humans, we are diverse and, with all the problems of management and accountability such a condition presents, diversity should be celebrated as a catalyst of knowledge. If diversity is restricted too closely, innovation is denied and growth is impoverished. Balance, a tenuous state well known by dancers, risks failure but when achieved is exhilarating and life-affirming. As educators, we should remember that we can pave the way with our acts of balance, provoking suspended states that can invite but not determine the next journey … nor the next discovery.

Photo: Flavio Rosa
Photo: Flavio Rosa

 

4 From our data, Masters of Choreography involving practice began to appear in 1996 and the first PhDs in 1999/2000.