This summer, the Institute of Imagination teamed up with Siobhan Davies Dance to deliver creative school sessions exploring robotics and mark making. Jo Rhodes of Siobhan Davies Dance tells us about her experience creating these workshops with the iOi.

During the summer term in 2018 I had the pleasure of working on behalf of Siobhan Davies Dance to collaborate with the Institute of Imagination on developing creative sessions based on robotics and mark making.

What is the ‘Imagination Lab’?

We started last weeks’ sessions with a question about what the children thought a ‘lab’ was. We began with one comment that it was a place to make potions – I love this analogy! The skill of a wizard is perhaps to utilise clever or surprising ways of doing things. In this case we refer to the children’s imaginations and creativity – their tinkering, exploring, discovering and making connections with things they already know or are learning for the first time.

During the sessions children explored the process of making Drawbots (in a robotics lab) and translating the marks the Drawbots made into movement (in a choreographic lab). Their creations were two-fold:

  1. Translating the marks that their Drawbot made into movement and choreography
  2. Translating the ways in which it moved into their performance/expression of their dance.

The groups were asked to consider how the materials they use (whether that be batteries, a motor, blue tack, pens, hexbug etc) effect the WEIGHT, ENERGY and BALANCE of their robots and in turn, their choreographic discoveries with their own bodies as the material. This provocation started their investigations for the day.

Child-led enquiry

Siobhan Davies Dance and the Institute of  Imagination are advocates of the ‘Philosophy for Children’ approach and self-directed learning through play. Through observations and child-led enquiry, children create their own work through collaboration and co-operation with each other.

The image below shows an example of this child-led approach. One group discussed how ‘our [marks] look like one of those spirally coils that you can put on the stairs and it goes down’. They were then asked to consider how they could use this as inspiration in choreography – actions, spatial pathway, levels, relationships with each other. Would it be heavy, light, sudden, sustained, fluid, sharp – how would it move? Why do you think this?

Image 2


The groups were then asked to continue to ‘hack’ their Drawbots – changing the materials in order to change the movement and marks the Drawbots make, just as rearranging and reconfiguring the body changes the creative outcome during dance and how the viewer reads it. The groups shared observations of each other’s work. For these sessions we designed the space so that the children had a ‘work station’ where they played and experimented with marks and movement. What was really enjoyable was watching the children flit between other work stations – they were inquisitive and curious about the marks on their peer’s papers and wanted to share processes amongst themselves.

In choreography, children were tasked with observing, through a live web cam, how marks were ‘communicating’ with one another. Children said they overlapped, joined, connected, ran parallel, side by side, inner circles, outer circles. They were then asked to ‘hack’ their choreography and apply some of these words to their dances. The children intuitively used dance techniques such as canon, unison, mirroring, question and answer.

Image 3


The level of maturity shown by the year 1 children was amazing, with highlights being:

  • Their level of engagement
  • Their excitement of creative processes
  • Their perseverance and willingness for trial and error
  • Their ability to articulate their learning through appreciations of their own and others’ work.

I sincerely hope we get to see this wizardry in action again soon.

Jo Rhodes, Dance Artist (Siobhan Davies Dance)

Thank you so much to Jo for sharing her experience of creating and delivering these workshops at the Imagination Lab! We look forward to more soon.

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