About this website

No-How Generator is a body of artistic doctoral research by choreographer Matthias Sperling, made up of a choreographic work and a written thesis.

This website offers an entry point into this body of research via the short poetic text that forms the concluding words of the written thesis, weaving together the different ideas and references within it.

This site invites you to travel through layers, each one expanding further on the ideas introduced in the last. Hover over individual words and phrases in the short poetic text on the home page to reveal one or two sentences introducing their role within this research. From there, clicking on ‘MORE’ will take you to a one-page summary that expands on this. From the summary, you can follow further links to read full sections of the written thesis where these ideas are discussed. Photos of the choreographic work appear on each one-page summary, and video documentation and the written choreographic score are accessible via the menu.

This website is created by Matthias Sperling (2023) in collaboration with designer Victoria Ford, as part of a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at De Montfort University supported by Midlands4Cities.

About Matthias Sperling

I am a Canadian/German artist, choreographer, and performer living and working in London since 1997. My work includes creating performances in theatre, gallery and museum contexts, as well as extending to curatorial work and scientific research collaborations.

My work has been presented in the UK at a.o. Sadler’s Wells, Tate Modern, Southbank Centre, Royal Opera House, Wellcome Collection, Dance Umbrella and Nottdance, and in 15 other countries worldwide. I am the Artistic Director of the 5-year EU-funded interdisciplinary research project NEUROLIVE (2020-2025). I have been a frequent collaborator with Siobhan Davies Dance, together with whom I have created and presented works at galleries including the Barbican, ICA, Whitechapel, Hayward, Tramway and Turner Contemporary. I have created an adaptation of a solo choreographic score by Deborah Hay, which I co-commissioned through Hay’s Solo Performance Commissioning Project 2012. I was the guest artist co-curator of Dance4/FABRIC’s biennial festival Nottdance in 2019.

Born in Toronto in 1974, I studied with the Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre (1984-1993) and went on to study philosophy at university in Canada before coming to the UK to complete my dance studies with Transitions Dance Company at Trinity Laban (1997-1998). I then danced with UK companies including Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance (2001-2006) and Matthew Bourne’s Adventures In Motion Pictures (1999-2000), before focusing on my own choreographic work. I was an Associate Artist with Dance4 (2007-2015), a Sadler’s Wells Summer University Artist (2010-2014) and am the winner of a Bonnie Bird New Choreography Award (2008).

In 2022, I completed my PhD in choreographic practice at De Montfort University (Leicester) supported by Midlands4Cities in partnership with Dance4 and Siobhan Davies Dance. I am currently continuing threads of my PhD research through a one-year part-time Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at De Montfort University, supported by Midlands4Cities.

You can read more about my work on my artist website: matthias‑sperling.com

You can email me at info@matthias-sperling.com

About the choreographic work No‑How Generator

No-How Generator embarks from the question: If knowledge-generation is a fundamentally embodied process, can we see and experience it happening in a dance performance?

Performed with Katye Coe and joined by a different guest performer each time, No-How Generator invites you to experience a ritual-like performance that connects scientific perspectives on embodied cognition with more magical ways of knowing, such as divination, alchemy, shamanism or hypnosis.

With both seriousness and gently subversive humour, the work reflects on a dance performance’s potential to serve as a collective experience where particular forms of knowing are conjured into being – for performers and audience members alike.

First performed in 2019, No-How Generator has been created through Sperling’s artistic doctoral research process. Seating is on cushions and chairs around the performance space. Duration: 60 minutes approx.

Click here for video documentation of performances of No-How Generator

Click here to read the written choreographic score of No-How Generator

Choreographer and performer: Matthias Sperling
Collaborating performer: Katye Coe
Guest Performers to date: Jennifer Lacey, Fernanda Muñoz-Newsome, SERAFINE1369 / Jamila Johnson-Small
Lighting and space designer: Jackie Shemesh
Clothing designer: Alexa Pollman Clothing
Fabricator: Mabel Luz Flores
Sound Consultant: Joel Cahen
Graphic Designer: Victoria Ford
Producer: Iris Chan

No-How Generator has been supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, Midlands4Cities, Dance4, Siobhan Davies Dance and Sadler’s Wells.

10 October 2019, Nottingham Contemporary (Nottingham, UK) as part of Nottdance2019, presented by Dance4; 24 November 2021, De Montfort University (Leicester, UK); 21-22 April 2022, Sadler’s Wells Lilian Baylis Studio (London, UK).

Work-in-progress performances:
6-7 January 2019 (solo version), Future Oceans/ APAP, Marlene Myers Theatre (New York, USA): 25 January 2019 (solo version), Slade School of Art (London, UK); 3 March 2019, iC4C, Dance4 (Nottingham, UK); 22 March 2019, Siobhan Davies Studios (London, UK); 30 March 2019, Eintanzhaus (Mannheim, Germany); 12 April 2019, Per/Forming Futures conference, Middlesex University (London, UK); 28 June 2019 (solo version), Cracking the Established Order conference, De Montfort University (Leicester, UK).

About the written thesis No‑How Generator

This website invites you to begin at the end of my written thesis, with the short poetic text that forms its concluding words, and to unfurl its constellation of ideas and references from there. As a brief introduction and overview, here is the abstract of my written thesis:

‘This written thesis is an exegesis of developments arising within my choreographic practice and thinking through the creation and performance of the choreographic work No-How Generator, an artistic investigation of the event of choreographic performance as a site of embodied knowledge-generation. Drawing on the cognitive science perspective of Guy Claxton and others, this thesis emphasises the embodied basis of knowing and argues that this grounds an understanding of knowledge-generation as intrinsic within the embodied context of choreography. This understanding foregrounds the integral presence and contributions of ways of knowing that are felt, more-than-rational and intuitive within the generation of knowing and intelligence. Insights are articulated into how these ways of knowing unfold in my choreographic practice, supported by specific conceptual and practical tools and orientations that I have developed in a choreographic context during this research. This includes no-how (drawn from Samuel Beckett via Sarat Maharaj’s writings on art-as-knowledge), which I use to name the particular kind of knowing that I consider this artistic research to be generative of, and Magic & Science (drawn from art-historian Aby Warburg) which I use to name the broader epistemological orientation that I situate choreographic no-how generation within. Drawing connections between Warburg’s work and my engagement with the work of choreographer Deborah Hay, this thesis emphasises that the catalytic dynamics of paradox are a generative and inherent part of the artistic and embodied landscape of what I term choreographic no-how generation. Drawing on humanities writers including Boaventura de Sousa Santos, the thesis emphasizes that a continual, underlying attention to the social and political contexts within which choreographic no-how generation unfolds is an integral dimension of a choreographic engagement with it. Through its integrated embodiment of this particular multidisciplinary constellation of knowledges, this artistic research develops novel approaches to practicing and conceptualizing the generation of knowing in choreographic contexts. This research works to broaden understandings, both within and beyond the field of dance, of the forms that knowledge-generation can and does take, and of the social and political relevance that such a broadening has.’ (Sperling 2021)

About the artistic doctorate

The full title of my artistic doctorate is No-How Generator: an artistic investigation of the event of choreographic performance as a site of embodied knowledge-generation.

My thesis is made up of a choreographic work and a piece of writing. In addition to this website, the written part of my thesis can also be accessed via libraries here and here.

I did my artistic doctorate (PhD) between 2017 and 2022 at De Montfort University (Leicester, UK), thanks to support from AHRC/Midlands4Cities in partnership with Dance4 and Siobhan Davies Dance. I’m very grateful to my funders and partner organizations, to my PhD supervisors Ramsay Burt, Sally Doughty, and Paul Russ, to all of my artistic collaborators on No-How Generator, and to my examiners ‘Funmi Adewole and Jonathan Burrows.

October 2017 – began artistic doctorate
October 2019 – premiere performance of No-How Generator
December 2021 – submitted written thesis
March 2022 – passed viva voce examination