Collaboration and the Poetics of Failing

In her latest Sixth Position column, Danielle Georgiou says it's OK to not be the smartest person in the room.

published Friday, March 2, 2018


Dallas — Recently, I was asked to give a presentation on the benefits of collaboration and how it can be used to increase student engagement and retention. As I was working on my speech, I started to think about how collaborative projects at the academic level are not too different from collaborative projects at the theatrical level.

Collaboration is an integral part of my artistic practice and has been an excellent guide in my academic career, both as a student and as an educator. I firmly believe that to teach, to lead, and to create in the world we live in, we must work together to find unique and alternative solutions to common problems. Moreover, beyond just confronting issues, collaboration leads to a wealth of knowledge.

Someone once told me that “I should never be the smartest person in the room,” and I took that heart. Everyone carries with them a wellspring of ideas and a diverse experiential background, and it is those qualities that make us valuable. They are what inspire our daily practices and our personal goals, and when we share those experiences, imagine what we could do. When we create space that allows for experimentation, exploration, and questioning we get breakthrough scientific discoveries, brilliant compositions of music, plays about the human experience, and challenging interactive public artworks.

Collaboration pushes us forward toward a unified goal. If we all understand the bigger picture, then we can develop a comfortable mode of operation. Trust forms, and from that trust, deeper exploration can occur. What will then be created will be rich and full.

Further, it is the process of pushing aside ego for the development of something greater than all of us, because part of the benefit of collaboration is the experiences created. They are new, exciting, and inspiring. They might be risky; they might fail, but in that unsafe space is where future success comes.

Working at a college is an ideal environment to foster collaborative learning and devising experiences, as academia is ripe for experimentation and practice. During my 10 years of teaching, I have been able to be a part of many teams who have braved the collaborative terrain and have found that one of the keys of collaboration is to listen—not to what is being said, but to what is unsaid. What develops when you expose your talents, your strengths, and weaknesses, and you ask for help is probably going to be the best outcome for any project.

However, asking for help is never easy. Neither is taking a step back and letting go in order to work toward a shared artistic vision. Knowing when to let your voice quiet down and allow your partners’ to come forward takes time and patience. Because it feels like failing, and we are taught that failure is embarrassing and a disgrace. However, it is not. To fail is natural. To fail is good. Failure spurs creativity and motivation—in fact, as Samuel Beckett said, we should all “fail better.”

The poetics of failing is what drives most artists. In her book, Performance Theatre and the Poetics of Failure, Sarah Jane Bailes looks at failure in performance as a hopeful strategy. She tracks how it can make visible the possibility of idea generation that is measurably different from the original product. She says that failure can show “how performance both does what it does, and how it does what it isn’t able to do as the example of another way of doing” (111). It inspires passion, and it encourages us to find people who are better than us and to learn from them. To watch and to listen to how they practice and find new ways into our processes.

Looking at my professional career in the performing arts, I have discovered that my role is more about crafting an environment that fosters communication and developing a common language—clarifying ideas in rehearsals, facilitating dialogues between designers, actors, and dancers, and helping those artists communicate their work to an audience. In a way, I have become a movement dramaturg, soaking up the knowledge and experience of those around me.

I never want to be the smartest person in the room. I want to be surrounded by great minds and passionate individuals. I want to do work that makes me think harder and feel stronger, and I want to help others discover those emotions.

It is vital to any community to raise the consciousness first. To do that, honesty, trust, and communication are essential. From there, we can struggle and fail together to find our way toward work that is accessible and empowering.  


» This weekend Danielle Georgiou Dance Group presents four free performances of her latest work, Things Missing/Missed, at the Dallas Public Library in downtown. More info here.

» Danielle Georgiou is a dance educator, critic and writer. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group) and is a working dancer and performance artist. Her column Sixth Position now appears on the first Friday of the month on









  • January 2018: No column
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Collaboration and the Poetics of Failing
In her latest Sixth Position column, Danielle Georgiou says it's OK to not be the smartest person in the room.
by Danielle Georgiou

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