Proposed Performance Lab

“Our body mind is a highly organized and structured affair, interconnected as only a natural organism can be that has evolved over hundreds of millions of years. An improviser does not operate from a formless vacuum, but from 3 billions years of organic evolution; all that we were is encoded somewhere in us. Beyond that vast history we have even more to draw upon: the dialogue with the Self – a dialogue not only with the past but with the future, the environment and the divine within us. As our playing, writing, speaking, drawing, or dancing unfolds, the inner, unconscious logic of our being begins to show through and mold the material. This rich, deep patterning is the original nature that impresses itself like a seal upon everything we do or are.”
Stephen Nachmanovitch “Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art”

performance lab flyer

The proposed lab and performance would seek to explore bringing this evolutionary heritage more consciously into play within an improvisational frame.

My interest is in the body as a repository of experience, emotions, imagination and history and as a vehicle of willful human agency (including decision-making in improvisation). I’m interested in time. How our bodies hold residues of cosmic time (13.7 billion years), phylogenetic time (3 billion years), human time (500,000 years), familial time (100 years) yet locate their own life time as our vessel of lived experience – “dialogue with the Self”.

I am interested in exploring the performic possibilities that arise playing between these deep biological residues, the body AS NATURE, and the humanness of ego, desire, love, aspiration and fallibility. Can we play between the dramas of our daily time and our ancient Cnidarian ancestry or hold the two simultaneously and what does that look like? Are there different kinds of time which are palpably present and what are they?

The working process will involve elements of evolutionary movement, developmental movement, communing with nature juxtaposed with our very best efforts to entertain, be funny and create meaningful art. I invite members of the group to bring their own expertise and curiosity to the exploration.

To see how it turned out January 2014 Performance Lab

 

January 2014 Performance Lab

The questions underpinning the Lab arose out of several different approaches to improvising that have inspired me over the years. The terrain is  neatly summed up in this passage from Melinda Buckwalter’s book “Composing while dancing: an improviser’s companion” where she talks about preferring  improvisation techniques that allow movement to come from the senses and “unfold at its own luxurious pace” in contrast to improvisation that requires  “quick frontal lobe decision-making”. She continues, “These preferences became clear to me from an experience I had in Nina Martin’s Ensemble thinking workshop. Martin, looking to simulate “choreographic time” and the ability to jump-cut in improvisation, prohibits a slower, organic development of movement in her training exercises, referring to it aptly ( and wryly) as “glacial timing”.  This approached worked well for those who wanted to get on with the compositional dialogue of the shifting elements in the stage space; they happily accepted Martin’s toolkit for ensemble work. However, a few dancers from somatic backgrounds (like myself) had trouble separating the compositional dialogue from the developing of movement material; the two were entwined in our training.” In my own work I’ve found Nina’s Ensemble Thinking Skills a supremely useful compositional toolkit. At the same time I’m deeply drawn  to somatic, organic body process modes of improvising, the work of Caryn McHose, Miranda Tuffnell, BMC and some Butoh, to name a few.  I’ve often wondered about the nuances of this apparent polarisation. Can instant composition and “glacial time” (or “evolutionary time” in my book)  coexist performatively. In “somatic” based work I’ve seen the room transformed into a stunningly beautiful aquarium of primitive life. Is it possible, and how, to stage such a world – as performance? In other improvisational modes I’m fascinated by the deliberate cerebral play of composing the space moment by moment.

The lab was an attempt to consciously bring these two approaches together. The working process involved exploring evolutionary movement juxtaposed with sessions to develop our group skills and collective language in instant composition. We worked roughly through the evolutionary timeline with exercises to attune to evolutionary stages and then cut to exercises to sharpen our ensemble skills working with composition (space and time),  status, solo and chorus. At first I was concerned that this was too great a jump to keep making but through the course of the weekend a continuity emerged.  We began referring to the jump into compositional mode as – “now let’s be apes with brains”. This began as a joke but actually unified any apparent schism.  The result of 3 billion years of evolution was our becoming apes with brains with all our human faculty to play, be creative, make decisions and be conscious of what we were doing. Working with the different bodily resonances of evolution was like shining a torch to bring to the surface different features, the heritage of evolutionary process was always there though, complete. Showing up in the studio to improvise was an end product of  evolution.

My intention for the performance was to have an open score where the work from the weekend could form a palette of possibilities – body states, compositional games, human creative decisions with which to inhabit the score. I wasn’t seeking to deliberately include or exclude any options but to see what from the process had permeated our improvising selves. As such it was important that we committed to total permission to take space, to tune to whatever was emerging for each of us and collectively, to embrace “evolutionary time”. The 30 minutes was to be occupied as a kind of installation or environment. Interestingly another kind of evolutionary process had diminished our numbers from the start. Environmental factors: illness, recurring injury, offers of work, domestic emergencies and the looming tax deadline had all claimed people.

By the performance we were five and in spite of the storm we still had a small audience. The performance did seem to move in a different time, often slowly on the surface yet the 30 minutes passed quickly for us and the audience according to their feedback. Some commented that the overall changing choreography of the space held their interest as much as any one person. Another commented that both very primal beings and human dramas seemed present in the room. I’m planning to continue developing this exploration in future labs, workshops and performances. Big thanks to everyone who came to the lab and to those who performed we me, K’lo Harris, Itta Howie, Kathleen Downie and Saskia Chaplin. Thanks also to Lisa May Thomas and Kathleen Downie for their help organising and to all the Bristol Practice Group for their support with the studio.

Dreaming into 3 Billion Years

Over the last year I have become increasingly interested in our evolutionary heritage or more specifically how our body-mind being is an expression of  evolutionary processes and heritage. I’m  deeply curious to investigate what this means in embodied practice as a dancer, performance maker and as a human being walking the planet.

Through CI I’ve touched on elements of  embryology, evolutionary movement, developmental movement and BMC in the past and had planned an R&D project to take these enquiries further but  didn’t get funding.  So for the moment the investigation has begun in a more haphazard way: trips to the aquarium, visits to museums to view the fossil record and time in the studio doing exercises from the brilliant “How Life Moves” (Caryn McHose and Kevin Frank).

I’ve been concerned that  limited time for reading is a problem but it has actually led me to reflect on where theoretical knowledge and experiential knowing intersect. I can mentally absorb something about a stage of evolution but it is not the same as having my face 12 inches from 250 million year old fossilised bones,  feeling the articulations of a joint or sensing the weight and volume of meat/muscle that would attach to a bone. Somehow the movement potential of a skeletal structure can be felt as though it vibrates through my bones.  Standing within feet of a million gallons of water at the aquarium exerts a kind of tidal tug to a life aquatic – the movement of creatures evoking a deep felt memory of flow and both a comforting and disquieting sense of our ancestry – a bodily empathy with the life forms from which we evolved. These are body states which “knowledge” alone does not release, they are awakened through immersion, tuning and dreaming into the sensory field, into the 3 billion years of evolution woven in our DNA.

Ultimately I want to take this work into performance making. It feels entirely coherent to me that it can marry with the imagistic provocations of Butoh or can be more intentionally present as a layer of presence in improvising.

I came across a passage in Stephen Nachmanovitch’s book “Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art” :

“Our body mind is a highly organized and structured affair, interconnected as only a natural organism can be that has evolved over hundreds of millions of years. An improviser does not operate from a formless vacuum, but from 3 billions years of organic evolution; all that we were is encoded somewhere in us. Beyond that vast history we have even more to draw upon: the dialogue with the Self – a dialogue not only with the past but with the future, the environment and the divine within us. As our playing, writing, speaking, drawing, or dancing unfolds, the inner, unconscious logic of our being begins to show through and mold the material. This rich, deep patterning is the original nature that impresses itself like a seal upon everything we do or are.”

Watch this space!

Movement Retreat 2013

Somatic Movement Retreat, Movement Sense, Pistyllgwyn Wales

In March 2013 I organised a week long somatic movement retreat in West Wales and was joined by Sally Dean, Sandra Arroniz and Carolina Rieckhof.  The retreat was hosted at the stunning new centre run by Maggie fearn and Kerstin Wellhofer- Movement Sense, near Camarthen. Over 6 days we worked on our own research, shared practice and collective explorations.  It was a great place to meet the early spring and despite varying ailments and exhaustion it was a fruitful time for us all. My researches didn’t go to plan as I had intended an intensive enquiry though moving and drawing. A bad cold meant all but staring out of the window was too much yet as I watched the trees, the sky, the changing light in the fields and the first greening of spring the slow solo time cast it own vegetative retreat. I was reminded that sometimes not doing very much is still process and although I was frustrated at my lack of “output” the week created a space to reconfigure questions and let them settle in the body.

Many thanks to Maggie and Kerstin for their support, to Sally, Sandra and Carolina for being there and to Pablo Troccoli for the wonderful BMC session on skin.

MSscl