The Creative Articulations Process

Breathe out slowly. Write the Movement. *

I came across the Creative Articulations Process (CAP) whilst researching for my PhD proposal a few years ago. My own area of interest is solo practice, and finding ways to resource the solo artist to enable that practice led me to the Choreographic Practices Journal and CAP. Up to that point I had worked with Halprin’s RSVP cycles (which I wrote about here) and had nurtured a particular interest in the notion/s of ‘resource’ and/as ‘disruption’. My initial encounter with CAP, via an article in the Choreographic Practices journal, left me perplexed. I understood and was drawn to the idea of unpacking the creative process, but didn’t understand the focus on language and “languaging”. I parked the thought somewhere in my mind that I should look into this further, but for the meantime I worked with a simpler version in the form of Josiah Hinks’ 5 facets process (which I worked with and wrote about here). Having since started my doctoral research, I looked up CAP again, saw this workshop coming up and instantly booked. And there I was.

Sit still for 10 minutes, mark the page

The workshop was led by CAP creators Vida Midgelow and Jane Bacon at Dance4 in Nottingham and ran over two weekends in November/ December 2019.

Sit upside down, record the view

I write here as a visiting tourist to this practice, my aim is to capture to the page the final resonances of the work, mainly so that this writing might become a resource for me in the future. However I am still new to this place and I write this more as an excited traveller might write home to describe a wonderful place they’ve just seen. It’s incomplete and likely full of errors. But it is where I start.

Take a few steps, write the story

CAP consists of 6 facets through which one cycles in a creative / somatic process. The facets are: Opening, Situating, Delving, Raising, Anatomizing and Outwarding. Each facet employs different modalities: movement (or being in the body),  languaging (which might be written or spoken) and the slightly indirect expression on the page via drawing or mark making.

Opening – Arriving, noticing, being present to the now, settling

Situating – What do I bring to this space? What stories and histories are present?

Delving – What’s there? Plunging into the dark and rummaging around.

Raising – Pulling something out. What draws your attention?

Anatomizing – Shaking it up. Letting go of whatever you’ve found and looking at it differently. What else might it be?

Outwarding – A temporary conclusion. What is this thing right now?

The process is rhizomatic: any number of facets might be present at any one time.

CAP is not a scripted form. It is mobile and can interface with other practices or processes with which you work.

Feel into words before they hit the page, let them dance their way there.

CAP may be practiced as a daily / weekly hour-long practice which the creators call “the ground form”. Or it can be practiced in its expanded version, which might stretch out over hours, days, months, years.

The ground form is a structured and time limited means by which to practice the qualities of each facet. It involves spending 10 minutes in each facet. 5 of those minutes are spent in the body and 5 are spent on the page. It can be used as a means of generating resources for a longer practice or as an isolated practice in itself.

The expanded version may or may not be time limited. My sense is that the expanded version offers a framework (via the labelling of facets) by which to move through and articulate where one is within a process. One might spend days cycling through just two facets (such as Delving and Raising, Delving and Raising, Delving and Raising) and perhaps knowing that this is happening might be a useful prompt to shift forwards, towards Outwarding or backwards to Opening. Perhaps…

Close your eyes, write a secret dance

It’s not just about the individual facets. CAP is also an approach and key to this is the notion of “dual awareness” which underlies the work. To describe this Jane offers the following mantra: “I have a body and I know I have a body”. So whilst I am moving I am also witnessing myself moving, whilst I am sensing, I am also witnessing myself sensing, whilst I am writing I am also witnessing myself writing and whilst I am speaking I am also witness to my speaking. The aim of this dual awareness is to bring attention not just to the outcome of (or reality of?) our doing, but to the ways in which we carry out those “doings”.  How do we move? How do we sense? How do we write? How do we choose? How do we talk? This is achieved through a constant internal and external tracking. This notion of internal witnessing comes from Authentic Movement, and also has strong phenomenological underpinnings.

Another fundamental aspect of CAP is bringing awareness to our ways of speaking when we are immersed in a somatic practice. The CAP approach employs a way of articulating that comes from the body/movement / sensation rather than talking about the body/ movement/ sensation. This notion hints at discussions around Practice-as-Research (PaR). Fighting to maintain the primacy of the practice, artist researchers are seeking ways of writing that places writing/ articulating as another modality within their practice, rather than simply as a means of documentation. However the discipline of writing or speaking from the body rather than about the body has clear benefits beyond PaR. It presents writing, mark making and drawing as a dialogic partner within the movement practice. This writing might be vague and oblique at the start of the process and move towards a more concrete and deliberate form in Outwarding. As artists we often encounter a need to language our work, whether that’s to complete a funding application, or to explain our work to that distant relative (who we don’t think will understand anyway). It felt good to be challenged to speak differently.

Spin until dizzy, mark the page

As we cycled through the ground form I noticed my desire to get to the page or get off the page. “There’s a discipline in delaying” they said.

Look around, record the room

On the second Saturday evening a participant spoke about their desire to have a “lucky dip” of prompts that would encourage her to write or mark make in different ways, disrupting the natural propensities that pull us towards habitual ways of doing.

The notion of disruption might be a third underlying principle in this work, since the form ultimately generates shifts and tracks them in order to generate meta shifts.

A thought was aired by Jane (I think): When is a disruption a positive encouragement to shift and when does it get in the way?

We were given a task in Anatomizing where we offered something from our process to two other participants, without explaining it. The other two participants reflected on the offering and then gave back a response in the form of either movement, writing or mark making, again without explanation. This resulted in a shift for me that absolutely could not have been possible on my own. One participant referred to the exercise as a “somatic wash”.Sit still for 10 minutes, collect your dance

When I left Dance4 I think I nearly ran for a train. I just wanted to get home. Quickly. But I wish I had lingered. It felt as though I had found some real grounding in the practice and I wish I’d savoured that space for a little longer. This morning, filled with resolve, I picked up the collection of “resources” that I had spent years gathering and had since stuffed into the depths of mess that is my desk drawer. I went into a studio and I practiced the ground form… alone. I noted with amusement:

If you have the mindfulness app on your phone, the green one, (not the blue one) you can set it for an hour’s unguided meditation and it will ping every 5 minutes. The perfect companion to the Ground Form. 

Breathe out slowly, write the movement

*Quotations are taken from “Skript” by Jane Bacon and Vida Midgelow

More about CAP can be found at https://www.choreographiclab.co.uk/creative-articulations-process-cap/

 

Being-With-Alone

The question I’ve been asking myself recently is this: Where does my work fit?

And the reason for the question has been both a frustration at two years worth of rejection emails coupled with, and perhaps also resulting in, an overwhelming sense of creative nomad-ness.

It’s not so much a problem of my ego being wounded, but more a feeling of not being within a community, a movement, a shared energy and feeling lost on the edges of a profession. And I think all this is slightly compounded by the fact that I now chose to work solo, providing all the more isolation.

And like my decision to work solo, I also acknowledge that the nomad-ness is also partly a result of my resistance to fit in, and a desire to really know who I am, to really excavate my own creative identity without the persuasions of audience and programming expectations muddying the water. I think sometimes you just have to be alone to know yourself.

Being alone does not mean being lonely or isolated.

Which is why another area of interest for me, alongside the aesthetics of my compositional practice, is the notion of working alongside others, in parallel.

Whilst developing this idea for my PhD application, someone recommended I looked up the work of the philosopher Jean Luc Nancy. Nancy talks about the notion of singular / plural, a situation where there is no individual outside of our relationships, and that there is no community without our singular identities.

“Existing never means just being, but ek-sisting or being-toward. The I is not a self that is immediately present to itself. Existing is always a being-exposed to, being-outside-oneself,…” pp97

If I apply this to how I work in the studio, then somehow even if I am working completely alone, I am always working “with” or “toward”. I just have to notice how this is. For example, I work in a studio run by artists, so each time I show up and work there I am “with” the historical and current community of artists who form that space. When I bring resources into the space with me, I am “with” the originators of that resource, be it an author, artist, poet etc. When I move, I move “with” the knowledge of movement that has already been imprinted into my soma. And when I make creative choices I do so “with” the socio-historical and cultural legacy of modern and postmoderen dance that is so deeply ingrained in me I am absolutely not separable from them.

The notion of being with or being toward has given me a new sense of empowerment around my nomadic state. Being a creative nomad allows me to pitch my tent wherever the resources are most nourishing. I have the option of being toward any artist, resource or idea I find interesting. And I have the option of framing those encounters in whatever way feels right, authentic rather than through some kind of mechanised process.

Words for Dancing

“This is one text in an ongoing series; to find a way of writing which though coming from ideas is not about them; or is not about ideas but produces them.” – John Cage

Resource: a source of aid or support that may be drawn upon when needed

Score:  “even a shopping list, for example, can be a score” – Lawrence Halprin

Performance: the action or process of performing a task or function

Value-Action: A reflective process, more than simple evaluation and feedback, but a recognition of shared values underpinning creative exploration. Recognising limiting values or value systems that are present.

Continuous – forming a series with no exceptions or reversal

Practice – the customary, habitual, or expected procedure or way of doing of something.

Practise – carry out or perform (a particular activity, method, or custom) habitually or regularly.

Continuous Practice – A serial way of working leading to multiple outputs

Process – A linear way of working leading to a single final output

Solo – For or done by one person alone; unaccompanied.

Solo Practice – A method of working alone

Solo Practise – Working alone regularly in order to gain proficiency

Generative – Able to produce or create something that is more than the sum of its parts

Authentic – True to one’s own personality, spirit, or character

 

 

An Iterative Choreographic Score

Whilst working alone in the studio, I’ve become interested in the traces of remembered movement. How can I build material from the ground up, using only my body and muscle memory as my resources?

Just move

What’s there?

Notice movement

Pick a movement

Turn it over, like a pebble in your hand, know every part of it.

Remove anything superfluous

Once you have it in essence and form, begin to play with it.

Change it’s shape

Stretch, condense it, reverse it(?)

Now hold on to the framework of that material and move in and out of it

Now let it go and…

Just move

What’s there?

and so on….

Choreographic, Choreography, Composition

What is the difference between choreography and choreographic?

At the end of last year, frustrated by the lack of opportunities, I decided to commit to a weekly practice session, on my own in the studio. Every week I enter the space to ‘practice’ being a choreographer. The only problem is that I seem to have forgotten how to ‘choreograph’.

A quick dictionary search reveals what it means to ‘choreograph’ :

compose the sequence of steps and moves for (a ballet or other performance of dance). “the ballet was choreographed by Diaghilev”

The quickest explanation is: to set steps.

And how does the word to choreograph differ from the notion of ‘composition’? From the Cambridge English dictionary:

When you talk about the composition of something, you are referring to the way in which its various parts are put together and arranged.

Composition is the technique or skill involved in creating a work of art.

It feels as though choreography relates to something of the intricacies of setting movement, whereas composition is more about the whole…. In the dance world the two are often used interchangeably, but I feel that there is something to be unpicked here.

By contrast, improvisation is about not setting movement, but responding in the moment. This is not to say that improvisation is easier. It’s an approach which requires a different set of skills.

A shift in the dance world has been the use of improvisation as a means of resourcing movement for choreography. Perhaps this is similar to the devising process in theatre? Rather than walking into the studio with a script, a final plan, we have a general aim and we develop the actual material through an organic, emergent process.

I’d like to think that the latter is a better way to work, because it’s more democratic. The performers have more sense of agency, more creative input into the actual content of the work, rather than focusing on delivery alone. But it raises questions. If I invite a performer’s collaboration, how is my role different? Is increasing performer agency, reducing the choreographer’s ownership? Perhaps it’s no wonder that a dancer colleague remarked that “it’s dancers who make the choreography anyway”…

I think my own struggles with this relationship between dancer / choreographer have led me to be both and work alone. And so here I am stuck in a space wondering how to be both the resource-er and choreographer. How do I capture my own material and give it shape from inside it?

Muddying the water, solo performer and choreographer Rosalind Crisp calls her practice “choreographic improvisation”. She has developed a set of tools that she engages with as a means of directing/ choreographing her dancing. She doesn’t know what will come next, she says, but she knows how she will find the next move. Sometimes she calls her tools “choreographies” because they give shape to and direct what’s coming out. They are choreographic in nature because they carry a logic, a direction, a specificity. But they are improvised because the actual resulting steps are not pre-set. They simply happen by being present to the choices in the moment.

I cannot help feeling that what Crisp is talking about when she talks about “choreography”, “Choreographic” and “the choreographer” is choice. And I agree that the resulting performance is engaging, playful and choreographic.

But where does that leave me, as I wonder back into the studio on my own? Am I setting? Must I set material? Is the desire to set simply a lack of confidence in my ability to improvise in a way that is engaging and choreographic? Or is there something else? Have I forgotten how to choreograph? Is the presence of my own body and my own movement just getting in the way? Have I spent so long improvising that I cannot shift my approach back to setting? My sense is that just moving is such a seductive option, that it takes some curiosity beyond the movement to engage with its composition, to choreograph. And then setting feels so bland, like flattening the material resource. Is there a way to keep the fullness of material whilst setting? Is there any need to actually set?

 

 

The Elephant in the Room

Last night I watched / played / participated in what is undoubtedly the best immersive theatre work I have ever come across: The Justice Syndicate at Battersea Arts Centre. In brief, 12 audience members sit around a table as ‘jurors’ and proceed to review evidence in a case, discuss their thoughts and then go on to cast their vote of “Guilty” or “Not-Guilty”. Apart from highlighting the flaws in the judicial system (or are they flaws?) the work brings to the fore the nature of decision making itself, and especially the dynamics of decision making within a group of people. At the end of the performance the neurologist, who advised the company in the making of the work, talked through the particular patterns of decision making that have been observed in this work. A key point was the interplay between intuition and reason in the making of decisions.

Dr  Kris De Meyer explained that intuition is like an elephant and reason is a small rider sitting on the elephant’s back. What most people would like to think is that their decisions are governed by reason, who tells the elephant where to go. But in fact this is seldom the case. For most of us the elephant is calling the shots, with the little rider on top making up stories for why the elephant is moving in one direction or another. To take the reins back into reason’s hands involves an active engagement with a different perspective, causing moments of dissonance. It is interesting to note that neither reason, nor intuition are necessarily right or wrong. Ignoring intuition can be just as harmful to us as ignoring reason. De Meyer pointed out the significance of this in the current political climate, where an in / out vote on the EU, led to entrenchment on both camps and a thoroughly divided UK.

********************************************

Dissonance.

Our ability to disrupt our patterns of choice, to embrace the uncertainty of not knowing, of accepting our own fallibility, our inclinations towards manipulation and coherency. To really see ourselves. These are all aims of the solo practice I am developing, using the process of disruption as an awareness generating tool. The aim is not to hang in perpetual uncertainty, but to understand why we make the choices we make, not just as artists but as individuals.

Not Knowing

Over the last couple of months I have committed myself to a weekly solo practice session. I spend three hours per week alone in the small studio at Chisenhale Dance Space. As you walk into the reception a sign-in sheet asks you to tick off why you’re using the space: Rehearsal, Workshop, Performance etc. Somehow I find it hard to tick the ‘rehearsal’ box, because I don’t feel as though I’m rehearsing. The word ‘rehearsal’ suggests something known, linear, attainable. But when I walk into the space I never feel that I “know”. Instead I feel immersed into a constant inner dialogue of self-doubt, frustration, boredom. When you’re on your own in a space you are confronted with yourself on every dimension. What I’ve learnt to do is settle into the process, accept the chatter and self-doubt and be present to the space. I carry words into the space with me, because words have a comforting clarity when all else you have is form and motion. This week I was buoyed by a line from John Cage:

Not working = Knowing

Working = Not Knowing”

– John Cage

 

Play

It’s apt that the two buildings I have worked creatively out of this week, are surrounded by the sound of children playing. It’s an appropriate sound track to creative practice, the sound of play, messy, loud, unintelligable and yet distinct in its cocophony. For school children play is a moment of relief, where the urge to move, to imagine, to role play, to create, is finally allowed freedom to express itself. And, importantly, this expression is unstructured and messy and you probably wouldn’t pay to sit and watch it.

Is it the money, and the expectations that come with it, that turns creativity into work, or is it just the extension of creativity into art that requires the focus of work? And if the answer is both, in different ways and at different times, then is there a way to be at play as we work? To sustain the openness and joy of play as we create, inspite of expectations, both internal and external, or the weightiness of what we make?

 

Outwarding

Today is the final day of my residency at Dance City in Newcastle. Well, technically it’s “tomorrow” because I’m cheating and writing this a day earlier to save time for the looming deadline of Friday’s “sharing”. In Hink’s Five Facets model of creative processes, Assaying is followed by Articulating. ‘Articulating’ is the stage where the work becomes known, established, defined. But it simply doesn’t feel right to suggest that this is where I’m at. It feels impossible to know what a work is until it’s been “seen”. Which is why I’m skipping to Outwarding and placing Articulating aside for the final evaluation.

I normally find sharings more terrifying than performances. The work is always messy and unfinished and there really is no hiding behind stage lighting. The bare bones are revealed for… dare I say it… judgement..? And it’s all of you out there that people are watching, in-between lunch and a cup of tea.

This is where I’ve found Hink’s description of Outwarding most useful. He frames it as a part of the process, a chance to see “if the work lives beyond me and brings liveness to others”. The idea of empowering artists to gain and manage useful feedback in a way that supports their process, is well-known in the dance world, thanks to the excellent work of Liz Lerman and her Critical Response Process. But Hink’s poses questions that highlight the process of Outwarding itself:

Is it important to you that your work is seen?

If so, do you have a more precise sense of what it might be like for it to be seen more? What might come from that for you?

And do you have a sense about who you would like to see your work?

If so, how can I introduce this work to its right audience? How can I help it find its lovers?”

Whilst sitting in another artist’s sharing yesterday, I realised the importance of this last question. A member of the marketing team, sitting in on the sharing, offered her description of the work that we had just seen. Not in a judgemental way, but as a means of explaining the importance of clearly articulating the work so that it found its right audience. I had never considered this before. I just thought, and still do to some extent, that good work is just good work. But of course it’s pretty hard to know whether something is actually good or not. All we can know is that we’ve put something out there. In Seth Godin’s words:

Here, I made this. I hope it changes you.”