The Human Swarm: Thoughts on Ensemble

Daniel Buckland shares some thoughts about what makes ensemble work exciting for performer and audience. Buckland is co-director and collaborator of Swarm Theory at National Arts Festival 2019

“The most compelling component of operating within, and watching a well oiled ensemble play is the shared sense of a group mind under which they operate. The relegation of personal ego driven needs and wants of the individual performer in service of a organic machine more than the sum of it’s parts.

The reason we love to see a flock of swarming swallows, or a successful sports team intuitively making physical and mental micro adjustments in service of the group is the same reason a slick theatrical ensemble is compelling to watch.

On a base level the stakes of performance are higher from an objective aesthetic perspective. More coordination, choreography and crafting is needed to achieve a desired performative outcome.

On a purely emotional level stakes are heightened in the same way that a mob of protesters has a contagious dynamic energy, or a giant dance party inspires heady joy, or a large public funeral infects spectators with a sense of mourning. The larger the ensemble, the more unified the members, the more the audience is infected by the contagious energy. For participants in the ensemble the sense of what is permissible becomes more fluid. Participants are allowed to grieve louder, more publicly and more deeply, express joy with more reckless abandon and express rage and anger louder and more physically than they would if they were a lone person in a public space.

Ensemble members are asked to walk the tightrope between the relegation of their personal wants, remaining absolutely present and ready to respond to and with the group, while avoiding becoming robotic and merely a cog in the machine. In an ensemble improvisation the performer must be physically, emotionally and intellectually present and available with all their faculties to respond to the organic needs of the group.”

See Swarm Theory at National Arts Festival Makhanda 2019
More info at