It’s been a week now since I got back from California. Stepping back into my old shoes, I’ve been wondering about what I’ve learnt. They say that when you learn something new you need to put it into practice within a few days, otherwise you lose touch with it and the learning falls by the wayside. That’s all very well when you know what you’ve learnt. A new exercise, for example has an obvious form, something you can take hold of and define in the short term. But very often learning is less about new tricks and more a kind of imbibing of ideas or approach. It’s a kind of quality. At least this is the way it is for me. So how do I work out what I’ve learnt? Instead of looking in my notes for key ‘things’, I’ve decided to allow the work to come out in me. It feels as though it’s left a kind of imprint in my body and mind, triggered some new connections perhaps. All I have to do is trust that it’s there and listen. It’s a curious thing when you begin to see what’s new through the prism of what’s familiar. Whilst I write this with the intention of pinning down some key thoughts, as a means of drawing this experience to some kind of conclusion, I don’t believe that this is final. This is just what stands out so far.
Grounding. Anna defined grounding as one part of a polarity, the opposite of which is sky. She began in standing. It made me wonder why so often in contemporary dance classes, we start lying on the ground, surrendering to gravity. What’s the opposite of surrender? Fight? Is this why moving with ease is so difficult when you’re lying on the floor? Because essentially you have to fight the desire to just fall asleep? If the feet are planted you create movement potential from the feet upwards through yielding, if not you’re just jelly.’Letting go’ is a move towards passivity, ‘yielding’ is a move towards activity. Most people are ‘just jelly’ when they stand. Jelly hanging off bones. Poor joints! So cuing this anchoring down into the ground is not just about feeling earth-bound it’s about activating muscular engagement from the feet upwards.
Scores. Of course I’ve worked with scores a lot in my creative work. I dedicated my whole MA thesis to creating via scores. I found Anna’s definitions and thoughts about the RSPV cycle helpful. Again this is something I’m already doing, but the clarity around the approach, the labelling and identifying of the different components, brings a little more shape to this process, even if the term ‘valuaction’ is a little too American for me…
Collective Dances. We really do live in a world where convenience and efficiency is rated above the more undefined qualities that come through experience. In the Pilates world this translates into two things: private sessions and online resources. Before I move on, I think that both of these serve an important purpose. Some people need more assistance due to injuries, some people just don’t have time to get to a class. I understand and appreciate both. But something new happens when you move as a group. I’ve been thinking about this for some time now, but this specific experience really highlighted the importance and benefit of being amongst others. It’s not only a valuable social experience. There’s something you gain from moving in groups. A quality, a tempo, a focus, a playfulness, a relationship that no amount of self practice will ever achieve. I think sometimes we’re so stuck in our own needs that we forget / ignore the power and importance of moving together.
Relationships. The biggest take away from this whole experience was not in the specific ‘tools’ employed. It was in the underlying philosophy that you cannot separate a person’s body from their internal and external environments. A person is not a body with a head attached at the helm. A person is a point of inter-relationships, within themselves, between themselves and others, with themselves and their environment. We don’t just teach bodies we are feeding information into a complex system of inter-relationships.
Life-Art. I think that the ethos behind the work of the Tamalpa Institute is that through creative exploration we access a truer understanding of ourselves. Because movement, writing and drawing give licence for the ambiguous, non-literal, obliqueness within which self-expression truly lies. I guess this is why I’m an artist. But this work has never figured in my dance training or professional practice. I have spent the better part of 34 years trying to refine an understanding of movement, to understand how to move better and create better dance works, but somehow the messy area of feelings was never really addressed. The shift from feelings to movement or dance is a big one. There were occasions when I felt that the approach was naive to suggest that the bridge could be crossed so simply. This was a tough critique to let go of. But the insights I gained from the work were actually quite profound. So there is something in there.
Home. I came home and realised that I don’t really have a home. I rent a shared flat in a city that may well be getting ready to kick me out. My childhood home is all but sold, but even if it weren’t, after 16 years it would be hard to call that ‘home’ either. 16 years of roaming. No roots. I came ‘home’ with an urge to create my home, a home studio where I can work and live and create my own space. Sometimes you just have to be brave and grow roots. Anna may not have said this, but this is what I heard from that space, this is what I’m taking with me.
My trip to Anna Halprin’s Summer Workshop 2016 was made possible thanks to the support of the Lisa Ullman Travelling Scholarship Fund.