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Monday, January 25, 2010

‘Exploring Kinaesthetic Empathy’ exercise

Working with a partner: Partner A lies supine, Partner B sits or kneels beside them, near to their navel centre. Partner A’s main objectives are to breathe, become passive, release any holding of muscular tension in their body and to keep their eyes closed if possible. Partner B sits and observes Partner A and watches the rise and fall of the chest and/or abdomen as Partner A breathes. Once a regular breathing pattern is established by Partner A, Partner B matches it and notes how it is perhaps different from their own natural breathing pattern.

After both partners have experienced a unified breathing pattern for a short while, Partner B moves to sit or kneel beside Partner A’s leg. Partner B lifts Partner A’s leg, bending it at the knee and placing it in their lap. Partner B does not touch Partner A’s leg but rather lets it rest in their lap, supported as if by the floor. Partner A concentrates on releasing the weight of their leg into the support of Partner B.

Once Partner B feels that the weight of Partner A’s leg has been surrendered Partner B begins to slowly manipulate the leg, focusing on exploring the range of motion of Partner A’s hip joint. As Partner A maintains their objectives to release, breathe and release tension, Partner B concentrates on listening to the signals of communication coming to them through their partner’s body. These signals may include Partner A holding tension, resisting range of motion or attempting to direct the movement of their own limb. If any of these signals manifest Partner B stops moving the leg, holds it in a supportive way and lets Partner A regain their focus of surrendering. Once Partner B feels that the weight of the leg has once again been surrendered then movement can resume.

This process is repeated with each leg, both legs simultaneously (which can prompt dragging Partner A by the legs across the floor if both partners feel they want to do this), each arm, both arms simultaneously (again, can facilitate dragging, lifting the upper torso and assisting spinal twists). Once all of Partner A’s limbs have been moved, Partner B sits or kneels at Partner A’s head and places their hands between the back of Partner A’s skull and the floor with their palms cradling the skull. Partner B does not lift Partner A’s head but instead the hands just act as a small cushion between the skull and the floor. Partner A concentrates on releasing the weight of their skull into Partner B’s hands. Once Partner B feels that the weight of the skull has been released, the hands are slid out from under the skull towards the ears. Partner B then places one palm (fingers pointing towards the floor) onto the crown of Partner A’s head. After a few moments, Partner B releases their hand whilst visualising that the release of their hand can extend and make space between the vertebra of Partner A’s spine. Partner B then moves quietly away from Partner A and lets him/her rest for a few moments before the roles are reversed. The whole task takes about an hour.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Grapping is coming together

Grappling is formed of seven sections. The order in which these sections are performed is a decision made by Alex and Louise as the work unfolds and indicated by the arrangement of stones in the performance space. Each stone represents one of the seven sections. Lighting states, sound, music and clothing choices are also made by the performers over the duration of the work. Each section contains several points of intent between which the performers’ attention shifts. These points are identified section by section below:

Section which begins with Louise saying, “And now Alex will Dance”
*Louise repeats a physically demanding phrase of movement.
*Louise gauges her level of performance persona on a scale of 1-10 (ten indicating a maximum level of persona present) and says the number out loud.
*Louise gives Alex images to embody as Alex works in a butoh persona
*Alex can refuse any image suggested to her by Louise.
*Louise plays with ambiguities in terms of becoming exhausted through the repetition of a physically demanding movement phase and ‘performing’ exhaustion because she knows this is the expectation of the choreographer for this section.
*Option to ‘opt-out’: This is an option embedded throughout the work where, if either Alex or Louise feels that they loose focus or connection with the tasks, with each other or become self-conscious from being watched, then they stop what they are doing. To indicate this, Alex begins a series of shaking movements (Alex chose to do this shaking because it is what she does to mentally and physically prepare for performance) and Louise shakes her foot/feet (Louise chose to do this as it is a recurring habit in her daily living when she needs time to stop and reflect).

Manipulation Section: Alex moves Louise
*Both Alex and Louise play with different types of focus of their eyes. This includes two types of gaze used in butoh work: ‘crystal eye’ which has the characteristics of opening peripheral vision without fixing the focus on one thing and ‘meditation eye’ which has the characteristics of being half open with a soft unfocussed gaze. They also use direct focus, ‘a conversational eye’ where the gaze is fixed either into each other’s eyes or into the eyes of a member of the audience. Finally, they can also use a ‘persona eye’ where the focus of the eye is withdrawn but the eye is open.
*Both Alex and Louise play with sound. Sound can be made either on the exhale or the inhale. This type of sound work takes its inspiration from both a breathing exercise (pranayama) and a meditation used in yoga where places in the body (the base of the spine, the sacrum, the solar plexus, the heart, the throat, the eyebrow centre and the crown of the head) correlate to sounds.
*Alex shifts her intent behind the way she manipulates Louise physically. Alex sometimes moves Louise with the intent to extract sound from her (like playing an instrument), other times Alex moves Louise with the intent to ‘wake-up’ one of the above listed areas of Louise’s body.
*Louise has the option to put tension into the muscles of her body so that she cannot easily be moved.
*Alex and Louise both have the option to ‘opt-out’ as in the section prior.

Touch Section with words
*In this section, Alex and Louise both use the words ‘skin’, ‘muscle’, ‘bone’ to articulate the intention of physical depth behind each moment of touch between them.
*They also have the option to say each other’s names when the intent behind the touch goes deeper or shifts away from the physical.

Touch Section without words
*This sections contains the same movement vocabulary but the intent is thought and not spoken.

Internal/External Section: Louise watching
*Alex uses the words ‘internal’, ‘external’, ‘image’ in an attempt to articulate where her focus is in the moment. ‘Internal’ relates to internal felt sensations in the body, ‘external’ relates to movement that comes in direct response to an external stimuli such as a sound or visual cue and ‘image’ relates to an imagined stimulus which is then manifest in the physical body. Alex also has the option to say ‘I don’t know / I’m not sure’.
*Louise watches from the audience’s perspective, sitting with the audience. Whilst Alex moves Louise names (using the shared vocabulary: ‘internal’, ‘external’, ‘image’) where she perceives Alex’s focus to be.
*Both also have the option to ‘opt-out’ and shake when they feel the focus or connection has waned.

Section which starts with breathing then into both dancing internal/external
*Both have the option to state level of their perceived personas on scale of 1-10.
*Both can ‘opt-out’ if they feel disengaged.
*Both have the option to watch each other from the perspective of the audience, sitting with the audience, and comment upon ‘internal’, ‘external’, ‘image’ or to offer descriptions of what/how they perceive the image to be manifest in the other’s body.

Alex dances to the sound of Louise
*Alex has the option to work with the focus of her eyes in the variety of ways used in the manipulation section whilst she dances to the sound that Louise makes whilst dancing.
*Alex also has the option to react to other external stimuli to provoke her movement.

The end of Grappling constitutes a culmination of all seven sections being performed in quick succession (approximately 30seconds for each section) while the performers attempt to hold all of the different focal points and intentions.

Monday, November 03, 2008

a sequence about degrees of touch

Some video stills of Alex and Louise working today on a sequence exploring the depth and intention behind touch.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

structure of 'grappling' - a description

Alex moves her hands, fingers raking Louise’s abdomen.
I wonder if it is my place to tell Louise the words that should leave her mouth:
“I just want to dance”.
What’s this section about?
It’s about an integral connection between sound and movement,
It’s about an intimate physical relationship,
Its about empathy.
Its about the natural, organic movement that so effortlessly emerges in carrying out a task.
Louise breathes in, speaking;
Breaths out, speaking;
And Alex walks away
Shaking head, arms, legs…
Shaking it out.
She does this to clear herself
Like an etch-a-sketch shaken clean,
Ready to be filled with the next image.
Its about revealing process,
About revealing engagement and disengagement,
Revealing both focussed and diffused attention.

Then Louise says,
“And now Alex will dance”
In actual fact, they both start to dance.
A new section addressing persona.
Alex begins with a strong sense of performance persona,
A 10, on a scale of 1-10.
She’s trained in Flamenco dancing
And her Flamenco dancer persona is one of fearlessness, passion…
And with each repetition of her phrase
Alex attempts to strip a bit of this persona away.
But what is underneath?

Is true self ever revealed?
Does it matter?
Or does it reveal enough of her just to see her struggle in her attempt to strip it away.
Louise also dances a repeated phrase
But with each repetition aiming to strengthen persona.
She hovers around 6, a 6 on a scale from 1-10
Louise confesses to being a “cool body” contemporary dancer.
I confess to adopting a “Ms Mello” persona;
A facility employed to hide my nerves.

As they both dance with crescendo-ing and decrescendo-ing personas
Louise gives Alex suggestions of images to physicalise
spontaneously inserting them into her phrase.
Alex’s phrase is in a constant state of disruption but
She always has the option to refuse Louise’s suggested images.

As Alex strips away her Flamenco persona
And starts to work with image,
A new persona appears.
I recognise it from my own dancing.
The butoh persona:
Eyes closed, quiet body, a patient, slow-moving state, waiting for image to take hold
In both form and feeling, body and mind.

Alex and Louise both danced butoh with me as students.
The butoh persona is a practised one
And as Alex settles into this,
Louise dances heartily
Performing more and more.
The cool body persona strong
And I feel removed from her experience.
She becomes a dancing object for me.
I impressed with her limber body, her stamina, her training.
After Louise exhausts her image suggestions to Alex and the repetition of her phrase,
They begin another version of their solo material.
This material has embedded in it:
Improvised movements of internal/external which emerged out of my studies with Annie last year and
“thinking spaces”
We’ve had lots of discussion about these “thinking spaces”
Both Alex and Louise admitting that they are now pre-occupied with thinking about thinking.,
How are thoughts formulated?
Once reflection on a thought takes place
You’ve lost the moment of thinking that thought.

An now we’ve devised a mechanism for moments of self-judging, a movement for the recognition of self-assessment

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Grappling - A new work

I have ceased dancing on boxes for the time being as Nicola and I have both launched back into full-time teaching and embarked upon a new process of making with two recent University of Bedfordshire graduates: Louise Douse and Alex Stains. They are both experienced improvisers and we did 12 weeks of butoh work together last year so when I asked them to make some duet material that contained: moving through spaces, pushing, rolling, following, leading with the head and borrowing material; they went about it with ease. Then we ripped this duet material apart and they created solo material with “thinking spaces” – “thinking spaces” are gaps in the set material where they can stop and think. The decision to insert these gaps came about from the realisation that:

“The most interesting moments are the moments of decision, where nothing is set – where decisions are made about where and when to start the next movement….like when Louise stops and decides to watch Alex. It makes a nice connection between the two of them and its unplanned” (choreographic journal notes 6 Oct 08).

We played with repetition of the movement sequence and the thinking spaces. The movement phrase that each of them had created was fairly short, about two minutes. I had them repeat their phrases together, at the same time for ten minutes and I discovered:

“They’ve opened up a bit, revealing their tiredness, they’re newfound camaraderie…feeling the moments of when to hold, wait, rest, listen – its about creating moments for listening – fabricated in a way that the unexpected or at least structuring a potential unexpectedness. I like the rhythm of watching decisions being made” (choreographic journal notes 6 Oct 08).

And so where do we go from here? To show the body’s response to the thoughts in the “thinking space” perhaps…

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I think I work best with chocolate and caffeine in my system so, over a couple of strong coffees, Nicola and I, in our usual manic but efficient way, downloaded a month’s worth of ideas, concerns, gossip and desires. It feels good to rekindle our shared interests for butoh, image work, improvisation and a need to work creatively.

Tucked away in Toyenbee Studios away from my perceived pressures to conform to orthodox traditionalism in my dancing, I feel suddenly freed. After some discussion it feels right to head up to the studio and do some Authentic Movement. We start by one of us moving for 15 minutes whilst the other observes as “witness” (to use Authentic Movement terminology) and then vice versa.

Neither of us knows very much about Authentic Movement but we’re learning. I’ve done a bit with Jonathan Burrows, Nicola has just done some with Henry Montes and coincidently we’re both reading the same book: Offering from the Conscious Body: The Discipline of Authentic Movement. So we’re not at a total loss; plus, we know each other well so the movement comes easily and without much self-censorship.

Almost immediately, Nicola called my attention to the two large white installation-like boxes in the studio so we made no haste in organising our improvisations around them. Initially, I found it challenging to get out of my “removals-man” mentality when negotiating my body in relationship to the boxes but Nicola seemed to have no problem conjuring up and embodying images of things like water, moss and snails.

Despite my challenges in manifesting images in working with this large prop, Nicola and I discussed how useful they were in forcing us to move differently as we had to pull ourselves up onto the boxes, lever ourselves off of again and find ways of simply manoeuvring ourselves physically around them.

We drew conclusions at the end of our time together about how a simple idea, like, ‘move around some boxes’, was very successful. Perhaps an image does manifest out of such an idea; for instance, the image of a snail. Well then, this image could be filled out with other images; such as: where the snail is crawling, what it is eating, what the texture of its shell is like and so on. As is the case in butoh work, one image is the spark that lights the fire and you are only limited by your own resistance to explore aspects of your own consciousness.

A productive day….

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Start of Something New?

Managed to ferret away into Toyenbee Studios for a few hours with Nicola Gibbons recently. We hadn’t danced together since Fran Barbe’s work in 2003. We’re both working full-time in dance education now and find that our luxurious days of experimenting with movement and reflecting back on it are few and far between. So we started our time together in the studio with the aim of improvising with an image, reflecting back on our improvisations (through discussion) and then improvising again.

Coincidentally, we started out working with the same image, that of being filled with sand. We moved, then chatted. Sand was too heavy on its own so we added air. Sand and air was too dry so we substituted air for water. This was better. Like oil and water the two substances as images could shift around in our bodies and we moved easier. We’d worked with the idea of image a lot together from our days dancing with Fran and in our butoh work with Atsushi Takenouchi. After each of our improvisations when we were meant to be strictly reflecting on the practice we stopped, and instead reflected on our lives.

We agreed that working in dance education had taken us out of our own practice as artists and into a cycle of giving, giving, giving to our students. I realised I’d come to a gradual halt in my own dancing with Living La Pedrera in 2006. Had two years already passed? We vowed to book studio time more frequently in order to work together – maybe with the aim of making a new work? We’ll see where it goes…

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Relieved. Finally I have a title for the new work: 'Annie is not bipolar'. For the first time in making work the title has come very late in the process. I was getting worried and somehow not having the title was stifling my making. It is all in a flow now though and will be performed December 5th!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

...working with the composition students at University of Bedfordshire, this is the sound that has been put together for their assessment: aprils.mp3 (soundfile © 2007 tucola / the Stranglers).