To move or to be moved, a choreographic practice
“Which was the figure and which the ground? When my eye explored something still, the movement of my seeing was the figure. When both the framing and the subject were moving, however, it shifted back and forth. This was most interesting.
While dancing, figure/ground translated to mover/environment or moving/being moved. Which was determined by how I directed my sensing. In stillness or movement, when I thought I was touching the wall, I was the figure. When I perceived the wall touching me, I became the ground. My body became the environment of the space”
-Lisa Nelson, Before your eyes; Seeds of a Dance Practice, 2003, p,5
Practicing Improvisation for many years has led me to an interest in investigating the clarity of it and how it can become a choreographic practice. I used to participate in and watch improvisation classes or jams where decision-making could be completely indulgent and only based on the experience of being on the inside of it. At times I would enjoy the simple fact of moving around with others and seeing where it would go but more often than not it wouldn’t really go anywhere and I would be frustrated with a lack of clarity and attention. It was when I encountered choreographer and performer Rosalind Crisp in 2009 that I could really see a sophisticated use of choreographic tools used to make improvised performance with extreme precision and presence. I desired to recognize which my tools were, what made me move and what moved me, bringing me into a solo practice of choreographic improvisation. I was no longer moving around only because I liked feeling the flow of movement or because I was indulging on the inside. I became fascinated with becoming visible to a spectator and the particularities of shaping sensation, impulse and intuition into form that extended beyond my own interest. I was practicing being on the inside and on the outside simultaneously; I was both the performer and the choreographer. The difficulty with this was the invisibility of myself to myself. I could practice imagining what I was doing as a spectator and get better at it but never actually grasp the impossibility of becoming visible to myself. Neither did I actually want to put all my attention on the external. Because I was only becoming visible through the eye of the spectator I was juggling keeping integrity, sensitivity and confidence in balance. I didn’t want the spectator to become the overruling reason for what kind of work I was making. The impossibility of making myself visible to myself kept me curious and still does, and has become my ongoing practice. However I have lately decided to explore filmmaking as an expression of my physical practice which is fully external/visible to myself. Part of what I feel has given me more clarity of what my visibility is when dancing, is working with improvisers and choreographers such as Rosalind Crisp, Julyen Hamilton, Meg Stuart and most particularly Rosemary Butcher. Butcher was my teacher for many years and I was part of making and performing her work The Silent Room (2012). She taught improvisation based classes and delivered verbal improvisational scores but she would always have a choreographic, even if it was just a two hour morning class. By participating regularly in her practice she would help me realize if I was doing what I thought I was doing. She would often point out that just because you think or experience that you are doing a particular thing doesn’t necessarily mean it is being communicated. I remember her saying to some dancers “I can’t see it, if I can’t see it you are not doing it” and they would get very frustrated because obviously to them they felt as if they where in the right place. I wanted to be able to become this particular with my own practice and find a language from which I could make pieces of improvised performances that where distinct from one another. In order to make them really distinct and particular I had to create a score for each one. For me the score making was about recognizing what I was doing and picking out or harvesting the important elements. I could then go back to those elements and shift them. One idea was to access an invisibility that emerged whilst moving and displace it from its source to the surface of my body. For example if I accessed something in my chest I could then shift it to my skin or even out in space. This would shift something in the dance at the same time as it was still extending from its source. As I kept working this way, accessing and displacing, I would have to decide what is kept in the score, what is thrown out and what might belong to a different work. This way I would eventually be left with a work of it’s most authentic form.
I had spent a long time earlier in my training being immersed in experiential anatomy and various somatic practices where the taught rule was that the experience of moving was the important thing not what it looks like. This has been a very significant practice for me in terms of moving from experience and sensation. Through that work I became a more sensitive dancer and I found myself becoming very particular with imagery and I gained a more sophisticated understanding of my body. However, what Butcher did was help me connect this with an even earlier part of my training in classical ballet where the only thing that mattered was what it looked like. In this part of my training I was very aware of what my movement looked like through the constant use of mirrors and having to strive for the ideal positions and demands. Although that practice gave me a lot of discipline and physical control, I did not want to be in either one or the other of those places but in both at the same time, which created a whole new discourse. In this discourse I would have to constantly negotiate emerging into the source of movement but at the same time distancing myself from it to be clear about its form.
What I do in the studio:
“If we can manage to stay in touch with the immediate and sensory detail of what we are doing, the working itself may begin to reconfigure the feelings in which we are locked”
-Miranda Tuffnell, 2004, p. 113, Body Space Image
Questions that come to me in my practice:
How can I begin? What is constantly changing?
Have I begun? How long does something stay?
How can I be a whole? How long can I keep going?
What do I resist? When is it heavy?
What is light? Why is it hard to stop crying?
Is it hard to stop laughing? What is the distance between everything?
Did I dream this last night? How far away is here?
Can I touch my right lung with my sternum?
How do I understand you? How to navigate through space?
Can my voice be louder? Can I be silent or still?
How to trust my self? What can I accept?
How do I resist? How to be uncomfortable?
Can I unlock my self? What does that mean?
Is it different from yesterday? Who am I with you?
How to let things fall? How to make things fall?
How to let things fail? How can I succeed?
Why is left and right important? What stays and what goes?
How to imagine space? Why is it hard to understand sometimes?
How to misunderstand? How to misjudge?
Am I on the right track? How to not anticipate?
What is frustration made of? How to move through?
What colors are beautiful? Who decides?
Why is there a wave inside me? When to break the rules?
How to articulate? Who comes first?
How to spin around? Am I moving or being moved?
How to disagree? How to be understood?
When do I stop practicing? How to stay interested?
How to have direction? How to leave being overwhelmed?
Can I let go of importance? When to let go of knowing?
How to not assume? Am I holding on too tight?
Who is this new me? How to unfold identity?
How to recollect? How to recognize?
When do I judge? How to be endless?
“What if there is no space between where I am and where I need to be?”
“where I am, is where I am, is what I need”
-Deborah Hay 2000, p. 2, My Body The Buddhist.
I’m not searching for something on the outside, it’s not my interest to apply theory to my practice in order for it to be relevant or justified. I justify my work through enquiry in movement, relationship and energy, The body is my source. The justification comes from me and the fact that I’m staying interested. I’m justifying the work on my own or with my collaborators by doing it and making it real. The theory of the work comes through it. I’m interested in the present process, what it leaves behind and what it sets up for the future. Everything I read, write and see becomes my experience which helps me understand myself in the world better or differently.
Image: Screen shot from recording in Residency at Trinity Laban, researching Touching The Invisible 2016.