Optimal Distinctiveness

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Optimal Distinctiveness is set to a three-suite, 16-minute guitar trio composed by Mark Charles Smith.  I am intrigued by the layers already present in the work and want to add another layer: a quintet of dancers.  The dance will work closely with the music and develop an intricate look at the dynamics of group relationships.  The piece’s name is that of a theory dealing with beliefs and behavior associated with shifting ingroup politics.

From an evolutionary perspective, groups are subject to complex pressures that shape interactions and determine cooperation and competition.  All social relationships reflect a certain degree of coercion or compromise, and it is this delicate balance I will play with in Optimal.  I am particularly interested in the idea of reciprocity between unrelated individuals.  This dance deals with five strangers moving through the process of becoming a group, dealing with issues of cooperation and defection.  In creating the work, I am inspired by behavior scientist William Schutz’s theory that developing groups of unrelated individuals move through three main stages: inclusion, control, and affection.  If one stage is dealt with incompletely, the group may remain in it or regress.

Behavior is complex and often derived from our understanding of our experiences.  Animals tend to base their behavior on the prior behavior of their opponents and respond in a tit-for-tat (TFT) manner.  In a way, this can be seen as the scientific version of “treat your neighbor as you would want to be treated.”  If two children are playing and one shares a toy with the other, that second child is more likely to share as well.  If there is a habit of sharing and one time the first child does not share, the relationship between the two will not suffer, as it is seen as a momentary slip.  If, however, the child continues in the new behavior, then the second child will react, thus changing the relationship.  In all studies, the data suggests the more individuals meet, the less likely they are to act selfishly, because the more entwined their lives the greater one’s downfall can hurt the other.

The choreography of Optimal is inspired by TFT and the Prisoner’s Dilemma.  What conditions encourage cooperation, and when is defecting seen as the better plan?  How is behavior misinterpreted, and what does that do to the group dynamic?  If there are issues of dominance, how does that play in terms of coerced cooperation?  How do individuals manage the greatly unseen process of moving through inclusion, control, and affection? The possibilities are endless.

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