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Creative limitations – why the sky really isn’t the limit

In 2015 Scottish Ballet’s CEO/Artistic Director Christopher Hampson presented at TEDxGlasgow about how setting limits can unlock parts of your creativity that you may not have known were there. Chris explained how he developed a series of choreographic provocations, each with their own set of simple limitations, which have helped fertilise the ever-growing choreographic talent with SB’s ranks.

‘In my experience, a blank canvas is probably one of the scariest commissions you ever come across in a creative environment. When limits are in place, you can push against them, you can navigate round them, you can duck under them, you can take them with you and charge forward.’

Our audiences will likely be familiar with one of these talents – Sophie Laplane – a dancer who, through Chris’ choreographic tasks, was challenged to re-think what is possible with the resources at hand. 

The maturity and ingenuity of her work has developed over a few short years to form a distinctively unique style, with her most recent work for Scottish Ballet’s 50th anniversary season Dextera described as ‘a smart, quirky, funny, accessible work that constantly surprises’ by The Scotsman. She has since taken up the prestigious position of Scottish Ballet’s Resident Choreographer.

In his TEDx Talk, Chris shares his experience of the importance of setting limitations when commissioning a new work. The first challenge he set for Sophie (a solo for one male to last one minute, completed in a week) was deceptively simple. This limitation is at once specific and unspecific, and can act as a sturdy foundation on which a work can grow. When faced with a challenge or limitation like the one Chris gave to Sophie, choreographers can say ‘but that’s not what I wanted to create, I have a million other ideas' or use the opportunity to think outside of the box and work beyond their comfort zone.

Chris goes on to describe how, over a series of succeeding challenges, Sophie used these simple limitations to create something that otherwise would not have been possible.

Today’s challenge is one faced by all of us around the world – to stay at home, to physically isolate, and to do our best to make it work. This presents a unique choreographic opportunity which takes us into uncharted territory. 

Where there is adversity, so too must there be creativity.

Born out of this challenge, Chris commissioned Sophie to create a short work on our dancers. The limitations – taught via Zoom, rehearsed via Zoom, recorded via Zoom, all in the space of one week before the dancers go on furloughed leave. Scottish Ballet’s in-house filmmaker Eve McConnachie (Maze, Haud Close Tae Me, Frontiers) will then take on the monumental task of editing 28 different living rooms into one virtual world.

Watch Sophie's playful new work Indoors here.

Chris also approached a group of developing choreographers within SB’s ranks (the same group Sophie was once part of) and offered them their own challenge – to use the limits of physical distancing to spark a new creative process. The outcome of this could be anything from a journal or quick video to an edited short film. Many of the dancers have begun sharing their work (explore below), and you can be sure there is more to come.

So while the challenges of covid-19 might get you down, they also offer you something that hasn’t happened before and may never happen again – a limit for your creativity.

We’d love to see your creativity fly! Use the hashtag #SBCreative to share your own covid-creations.