Capturing Practice

I’ve become obsessed with trying to pin down what I’m doing, to find a way of describing my practice without using my words and to find a way of seeing myself so that I can ‘know’ what I’m doing or at least know that I am ‘doing’.

Following on from my last thoughts where I considered ‘choreography’ as a form of capture and therefore attempted to ‘choreograph myself’ by ‘capturing myself’, this week I took the notion of capture one step beyond the practice of choreography. My aim was to capture my practice itself, to capture what it was I did when I ‘practiced’. I felt that the short term capturing 1 minute apart was too ‘close’ and that I was too aware of practicing for the camera. So Simon created a programme that allowed me to capture my practice by taking a photo every 5-10 minutes.

Unlike Capturing as Choreography, capturing practice required a real letting go of control. Firstly the wider time frame makes it harder to stay with something long enough to capture it. I therefore have to let go of things I might have liked to capture and accept that something less interesting might make the cut. This lack of control becomes all the more evident when my practice involves engaging in another ‘choreography’ that absorbs my attention as in the documentation below. The first set of images document my practice over a 1.5 hour period during which time I ‘warmed up’, thought about what I wanted to do, set up a ‘choreography’, ‘performed’ a choreography and watched back the choreography in order to repeat the cycle. (Further images of this process were captured, however the programme shut down before they were downloaded!)    All words enclosed in ‘scare quotes’ above are written so to remind myself to think more about how I am using them in the context of my practice research.

The second set of images are the resulting ‘choreographies’ captured by my phone running an app set to take a photo every 1 minute. Unlike the previous experiments, I was not able to see the framing of the space or have some sense of when a photo might be taken, resulting in a less intentional choreography. I worked on my living room carpet with white masking tape to once again draw out the framing or enframing within the frame of the camera. The framing of the collage took place post practice and was almost accidental, however the appearance of white lines both between and across each picture draws out another possibility for choreographic interplay.

 

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/

 

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….

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.”

Assaying

Days 3 and 4 at Dance City for Creative Summer.

Today was about Assaying.

From Google:

verb
gerund or present participle: assaying
1.
determine the content or quality of (a metal or ore).
“the man who assayed gold was more than a technician”
2.
archaic
attempt.
“I assayed a little joke of mine on him”

Day 3 was about Attempting / Determining. I had to let go of my judgement of the movement material and just try (attempt) to find out (determine) what kind of thing this work could be. What kind of shape it might have.

Josiah Hinks writes:

In Assaying there are processes of probing, questioning, and detailed exploration of themes, trials, tests, research, studies and other attempts. This can be systematic, or it can be a time where there is a lot of rough drafting, studies for all types of iteration… Assaying is a checking, verifying, open-ended and exploratory process.”

The process felt very much as though I was excavating, a common sensation in my work and one which I have spoken about before. The creative process is not about knowing the outcome and finding a way to match reality to the idea in my head. It’s more about looking for, uncovering what’s there. Excavating. Or as John Cage put it:

Not working = Knowing

Working = Not knowing

Raising

Whilst walking down the hill towards Dance City this morning, it occurred to me how the creative process is a lot like gardening. I was chatting to Andrew, who’s putting me up for the week, talking about his allotments and about learning to trust in the process of growth. I think that the availability of food in supermarkets has somewhat dampened our appreciation of the growing process. I think that many times I simply haven’t trusted that you can plant a seed and it will grow, and bare fruit and vegetables that we then eat. And perhaps I haven’t always trusted that if I enter a studio and start working, something will surface and ripen.

Day two is typically the less fluid day in the process. I had to finally give up on the idea of using image as a starting point. All I had now was words, and they had started to bare fruit. I just had to let go of quite a lot of my expectations, and simply nurture the initial saplings of this idea.

The second stage of the 5 Facets process is Raising. This is what I did yesterday:

In Raising we lift up what interests us. If in Delving a fish might nibble your line, in Raising you would lift it up and see if you want to cook it. It is the facet to begin to bring out initial themes, issues, ideas, puzzles, images, conceits, concepts, movement etc. that you clearly know you want to work with or explore more. – Josiah Hinks

I’m not really sure whether the description of the process came first, or whether, on reading this description I realised that my process had naturally shifted into this facet. I expect it was a bit of both.

I’m about to start my third day of work. Today’s step is ‘Assaying’, and in my mind I’m rolling around another thought that came out of my morning’s walk. Andrew said that a lot of gardening is not actually about growing, but about controlled killing. The systematic exploration and then expiration of drafts. This is my work for today.

A short 30 minute sharing of my work in progress will be held at 2pm on Friday 24th August 2018, at Dance City, Newcastle, (Studio 4).  

The Virtuosity of Paying Attention

Have you ever played with a child? I mean spent time with them building castles that are never completed? Repeatedly banged out the same tune, because each turn never stops being highly amusing to them. Children have an innate ability to just play, not to find the meaning of things, but to explore the pleasure, run with it a while and then change, move on, let go. It’s highly frustrating for an adult, because we’re so used to seeing the end game, or seeing the point of it all. I know I am.

The resounding impact of a 3 day workshop with the improvisation performer Andrew Morrish, was this realisation: perhaps I’ve forgotten how to play!

Andrew’s workshop was titled ‘Solo Performance Improvisation Practice’. It involves at least three of the most terrifying propositions anyone could face: performing, solo and improvisation. Imagine entering the space, facing a whole audience, no score, no pre-rehearsed movement, just you and the space and the audience. No props or other performers to lean on. Andrew’s starting point is always to think that the audience likes you, they’re on your side. But I’ve seen audiences walk out of theatres, so I’m less convinced.

As an experienced improviser Andrew admits that there’s a lot of bad improvisation out there. Improvisation is often the fall-back of choreographers and directors when they cannot quite fill a section of their work, or performers when they forget their lines or make a wrong move. “Just improvise” is an often heard comment back stage, “no one will know”.  But when improvisation becomes a practice in its own right, the result is a performance that is skilled, authentic, endearing, humorous, engaging. An improviser over-comes so much of the natural chatter that prevents us from fully revealing who we are, they place themselves in a place of ultimate vulnerability. The experience of being in this space develops new muscles of authentic communicating, which is what gives this work its multi-dimensionality. The good news is that it’s not magic, it’s a practice that takes time to develop. And the key to developing this skill is to pay attention:

improvisation is the virtuosity of paying attention”  – Andrew Morrish

To frame Andrew’s teachings, I’m going to use his own structure of Beginning, Middle and End.

Beginning

Beginning starts with noticing.

Andrew says that having ideas is great while you have them, but what happens when the ideas run out? The key to being present, is to notice what’s here, now. We’re taught to listen in to sensation, and become aware of where that takes us in terms of movement, sounding, talking, imagination. When you attend to what’s there in the room, you never run out of resources.

“Pay attention to the child”

Andrew relates how he worked on a project where his job was to improvise alongside a child. Paying attention to the child was his source material for his own role in the duet. I know that Andrew was talking about a specific event, but I couldn’t help drawing parallels with Julia Cameron’s suggestion that our creative side is a child. Suddenly this idea of tapping in to my inner child just opened up something for me.  I’m here in this workshop because so many years of dance training dulled down any real ‘presence’ in favour of physicality. We were physical beings, but not human beings on stage. And now I just find that presence so stale. I’m here to work out what it might mean for me to be present on stage. If I could cut out all the negative chatter that prevents me from making a fool of myself and notice what my inner child was drawn to, perhaps something more real would come out of me?

Staying in this childish space, Andrew suggests following your pleasure. The game is not to find something that’s “interesting”, it’s to find something that’s fun for us now. It’s function-less, frivolous. But if you find it then developing it is a pleasure too. It sounds like a good life mantra…

Middle: Developing what you’ve noticed

I’m very bad at the middle bit. I find myself wanting to know the outcome right from the get go. Only a few seconds into an improvisation task, I find my mind panicking to know the end point. I find  it so hard just to settle in, notice and develop what’s there, whatever that may be. I sense that Andrew knows this and one of his tools is to get us to move around the space.

“a solo is a journey”

Andrew places groups of people around the space, so that as we improvisaed solo we have to move from one audience to another, shifting ourselves spatially. Each new audience, or new sapce brings a new energy. Somehow, using this structure, we each do a 4 minute solo improvisation on the first day!

“Change!”

If the first job of an improviser is to find something pleasureable, then the second job is to find the next thing that’s pleasureable. It’s so easy to get stuck in what we’re doing, that sometimes we forget to change. Andrew suggests introducing something that prompts us to change, like a change of scenary or a change of focus. I think that my inability to change more frequently comes partly out of feeling very invested in what I’m doing, so that I find it hard to let it go, and partly in the fear of not being able to find the next thing. Andrew suggests the Andrew Morrish App: it follows you around shouting “change!” every 30 seconds. Sadly it doesn’t exist, but it’s not a bad idea.

“you need to feel safe to be creative”

There’s something about this remark that holds so true and yet is so little understood in the arts world. Everyone somehow expects artists to bare their soles, to be really ‘out there’. But that’s not a safe place to work from, and when you’re acting from a place of fear, you cannot really be creative, you can only do what you already know which is the opposite of being present. So how do you create safety when you’re facing an audience with no pre-known moves / score etc?

“supportive architecture”.

Andrew talked about creating supportive architecture. One exercise involved each of us performing with other members of the group sitting / standing around the space. When you’re in relation to another body the space feels less empty. More resources appear. Later Andrew suggested using our imagination to create that supportive architecture, or thinking about the audience as a supportive architecture.

Ending

“Be aware of what’s happened”

Finding an ending involves the ability to be aware of what’s happened and to somehow hold that in our body in a way that will lead us to an ending.

I don’t think I ever really found an ending. It would be safe to say that I’m still trying to find a sense of play. But each time my turn came to an end, I seemed to come out of performance and suddenly I was me. In Andrew’s words: how can I find more of her?

This blog is dedicated to my work as a dance artist and choreographer. If you're looking for my Pilates work, please visitmy Pilates website at www.margueritepilates.com