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

 

 

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?

 

 

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

 

Delving

Today was my first day of Residency at Dance City in Newcastle. Once again, I’m developing ‘Fold’, or some iteration of it.

Working solo has become a natural thing for me. As has schlepping around a whole suitcase packed with projector, laptop, computer, tripod, cameras, a lot of postcards and other miscellaneous gadgets. Whilst preparing for this residency, I recalled an idea that Andrew Morrish taught during his solo improvisation workshop: if you build your own architecture in the space, then you’re not alone. By architecture he meant both real and imagined props, prompts, ideas that hang in the space with you. Frames?

So far, ‘Fold’ has been a visual piece. Last year I worked with camera and projector to create three versions of my movement that ‘conversed’ with each other. ‘Hands’ became the most clear image of this. But today things started on a different page. Rather than working with physical ‘frames’ I started by working with words. I created audio scripts to lead me into movement, ending up with a word score.

Score is the S in RSPV, the iterative cycle that I’m working within: collecting Resources, developing Scores, performing them (to camera), evaluating them (without judgement) in order to refine the Resources and Score that feeds into the next cycle etc.

RSVP is a system that I’ve adopted to support the making process. It’s another architecture in the space, and one that I have used for the last year. But this year, wanting to explore movement again, I’ve drawn on a second architecture: Josiah Hinks’ 5 facets process. If RSVP is the meta-structure, then 5 Facets offers different kinds of resources, questions. It’s a supportive, soft structure that feels more pertinent to the creation of movement material.

It begins with Delving.

In Delving the situation is already given and allowed, we enter and play there. We are like a child exploring within givens it would never stop to think about. This is the space, this is the size of the paper, these are the colours we have, this is the body I have and this is the situation I am in. – Josiah Hinks

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

 

 

On Solo Practice

What are your thoughts, issues, frustrations, ideas around developing your work on your own? When you book yourself into a studio to finally get your ideas out of your head and into your body, or you’re super chuffed about getting a residency, you walk into the studio on your first day, all alone with your music and that bit of text you really liked…. then what? Does this way of working, work for you?

A few weeks ago I decided to take a week off from teaching so that I could get back into the studio and move again, bringing my focus back into my dance work. I’m starting a new piece as well as rehearsing an old one. It’s all solo material, plus quite a lot of tech, literally just me and the machine. Working in a studio is an investment. It costs time and money. Even when it’s free, it comes with some kind of a cost. So one does kind of feel obliged to ‘achieve’ something. Compound that pressure with all the problems that arise from working alone (distraction, boredom, self-doubt) and you have a recipe for the ultimate frustration. Working solo has to be one of the most difficult aspects of a dance maker’s practice. By the end of that week of rolling around on the floor, I put the above question to my fellow dance makers. Here are some of the responses I received:

 “I almost never go into a studio on my own. I always feel lost whenever I try to do that. I’m usually either making group work or if I’m practicing solo improv then I always share the practice with someone so I have an audience.” – Seke Chimutengwende.

“I never go into the studio alone either. No one should. All solos need a director 😉 as not to be left at some point – lying in a shaft of sunlight falling asleep in desperate lonely inadequacy – before then bursting into tears, getting inspired, coming up with something small; it’s hell.” – Sally Marie 

“It’s usually great for the first hour…and then I’m bored, not sure what to do next, messing with documentation and note taking instead of developing material… I’m not good in the studio alone but I also feel like it’s what I’m supposed to do to be a good dance maker, so I tend to make myself do it for a day or two at the beginning of a project.” – Kate Sicchio 

“For me, working on a solo is like learning a foreign language; you need to pass through the point where everything seems impossible, really push yourself and “learn the grammar” to finally let the body speak. And I go to the studio on my own because it is the only moment I feel my body is a subject and not an object. It is honest and a process that lets me connect with myself first.” – Danai Pappa

The bottom line is that working alone in a studio is tough. I’m curious about the combination of reasons that people chose to work in this way: sometimes it’s out of necessity, sometimes it’s just a starting point, sometimes it’s because of a feeling of obligation. I’m grateful to those who expressed that this way of working simply isn’t necessary in their practice at all. Working solo is hard work, so if you can avoid it then by all means do. I think it’s fair to ask ourselves, in the first instance: Why choose to work alone? Is it really necessary?

I started working alone partly for practical reasons: I got tired of asking people to work for free for me, it never felt good. But once I started working alone, I realized that actually working with others was even harder. The reason for this is that developing an idea from scratch puts you in a very vulnerable place to begin with. It’s all very raw and unimpressive and more importantly, it’s easily trampled on. Having another collaborator in the studio with me made me feel like the idea was threatened, partly by the presence of another person’s ego, partly by the fact that another person will bring their own baggage to the room. I’ve also become hyper sensitive to the way that someone else’s movement can take over the aesthetic of the work, and this probably has something to do with the subtle nature of identity in my practice.

After the first two rehearsals, working alone in a studio space, I found myself wondering whether I was really getting anything out of it. I came away and showed some images to my collaborator, who instantly saw the progress and encouraged me to keep working. If I hadn’t had that feedback I think I might have despaired.

What I realized is that some of what we think of as frustrations, may actually be a consequence of the continuous expectation of being productive. But the productivity scale does not reflect the value of what we are doing. Richard Newton puts this so well in “The Little Book of Thinking Big”:

“The cult of busyness requires a certain type of thinking. You could call it instrumental thinking. The consequences of the thinking must be instrumental in achieving value: sales, innovation, cost savings…wealth and power. This is valuable but it is narrow, focused and constrained.” – Richards Newton

In some senses, remaining in the undefined, non-linear space of creative practice is a quiet protest against the dominance of ‘getting somewhere’ in our goal oriented culture. There is something pre-verbal about solo practice (I read that somewhere) and I wonder about allowing it to remain in this space. How can I allow myself to roam in that initial idea without getting trapped in self-absorbed, self-conscious fantasy?

So the question isn’t “How can I get more out of this time?” but “How do we get better at being in this space?” by which I mean both the physical space of the studio and the psychological space of solo creative practice.

And another thing: shouldn’t it be fun? Why does it always feel like such hard work?

I recalled the writing of Mihaly Csikszentmihaly who talks about the state of Flow. Here’s what he says:

 “These are the eight main components people mention when what they do is fun and enjoyable: they have a clear sense of goals, they know how they are doing, their skills are matched to their challenges, their attention is concentrated on what they are doing, they operate in the moment, they are not worried about being out of control, or about how they look in the eyes of other people, time then passes fast and one is glad to be doing whatever it is that provides such an experience.”

The reason that I like this idea is that is suggests that if the first three principles are met (clear aim, feedback and skills matched to the challenge) then all the other frustrations disappear.

So how does all this fit together? I’m just at the very start of my research, but this is what I think we might need, to develop a better solo practice.

a.) The right approach.

I think we need to remember that working solo is a practice that takes time to develop. We need to approach each session with curiosity and kindness. We need to enter into the mental attitude of practice rather than achieving outcomes. We need to be ready to suspend judgment.

b.) Resources

In preparation for my workshop on Sunday, I’ve been spending time walking around hardware stores and stationers. I’ve bought ‘toilet reading books’ and searched through online resources for anything that resonates. Having a box of physical tools (I don’t mean hammers and nails), is a great oblique way of getting the mind focused on making. Resources don’t have to be physical. They can be simple constraints or tasks you give yourself, like using less space or trying to make 10 versions of something. You can tailor them to the ideas you’re exploring. Having small task based goals gives us something smaller than the bigger picture to get our teeth into. I think a lot of the time we’re so devoured by the bigger picture of what we’re trying to do, that we feel paralyzed by it. Finding a way to focus on something small, either related, or unrelated, is a good way to keep the analytical side of the brain engaged, so that the more elusive original ideas can surface.

c.) Preparation

I have this idea that if I’m about to spend 4 hours alone in the studio then I should spend at least 4 hours preparing in some way. Creative practice should be an ongoing process. Admittedly this takes a lot of discipline, but setting time aside in the week to go and look at something, or research ideas that you can take into the studio with you, will massively enhance the quality of that time alone in the space.

d.) RSPV

If you’re not familiar with Anna Halprin’s RSPV cycle, then I’ve written about this here. RSPV stands for Resources, Score, Performance, Value-action. We all know how to structure rehearsals, but what about structuring the process? I like to think of the preparation time before the session as a time to collect resources and set a score for how I want to work in the studio. The time in the studio then becomes the performance, which I film to watch later. I then evaluate what I’ve done by reflecting on my process and the documentation after the rehearsal. This allows me to refine my score and resources so that I can repeat the cycle in the next rehearsal.

e.) An observer

The most effective solo practice sessions I ever had involved working with the dramaturg, Chris Higgins. You can read about my experience here. What I realized from this way of working, was that having an external eye, not directing, but supporting me staying in the space, was the most conducive set up for my own physical practice. On Sunday 18th June I will lead my very first lab on the observed / observing practice. This presents a score for supporting each other’s solo practice by simply being present. I’ll also be exploring some of the resources I’ve been gathering to facilitate solo making. You can find more details on the workshop here.

I’m so grateful to all of my fellow makers who contributed their thoughts and allowed me to share them here. This is just the beginning of these ramblings. In the meantime let me know what you think. Do any of these ideas resonate with you?

Bi-later-ability

Thank you all for your comments following last week’s post. It’s lovely to hear everyone’s reactions to what I’ve written and reminds me of the importance of this ongoing research and thinking around my teaching. So this week’s inspiration came from my new-found hobby of swing dancing. It’s a step up from ironing, and somehow continues from last week’s post, which you can read here.

Swing is a social dance. You dance with a partner, either loosely facing or side by side. One person in the couple is the ‘lead’ and the other is the ‘follow’. This description is all highly simplistic I know, because you watch professionals dancing and they’re literally all over the place. But at a very basic level, your footwork and facings essentially mirror that of your partner.

Bare with me.

Following the usual set-up of the beginners class I go to, last night we first learnt a basic step, and then built on that into different variations. The lead dancer started by stepping back on the left leg, the ‘follow’ stepped back on the right. The pattern soon set in till it felt almost unconscious, which we only realised several variations into the class when we suddenly all found ourselves on the ‘wrong’ side of our partners. Having to do the basic step on the other leg before we could get back to ‘home’ felt like picking up a knife in the wrong hand. Panic!

What we experienced was the surprise of having internalised a movement pattern.

Repetition has long been the main way of learning dance steps. We talk about ‘getting it into the body’ or ‘feeling it in the body’ so that it becomes imprinted to such a degree that it can be performed unconsciously. This is the result of neuro-muscular patterning, the particular organisation and co-ordination of parts needed to carry out the movement. The rate of encoding will depend on how practiced our neuro-muscular system is at adapting to the demands of this new circuitry and what other library of sequencing the body already has to draw on. If the basic scaffolding (an understanding of centre, full access to the peripheral joints and an ability to sequence from one to the other) is available, then building the sequence will take less time. Perhaps for those without a basic scaffolding, more basic patterns will need to be laid down first before the full co-ordination can be accomplished. Once a pattern is imprinted into the body, it then becomes the ‘easy’, most available option, which in turn makes us more likely to select it, leading to further re-enforcement etc.

OK so perhaps you have no interest in learning social dancing, although I highly recommend it, but this little unpicking of learning seems relevant to how we create movement biases just through living. As I struggled to get my left leg to start the rock step back, I was reminded of this remark by Liz Koch:

Unlike a machine, we are not symmetrical but bilateral – Liz Koch

We are literally composed of two different and complimentary parts that work together around a single central core. However, somehow, through conscious or unconscious learning, we have all internalised movement patterns that have led to more or less use of one side over another. Of course I’m not suggesting that we all become ambidextrous. We will always have a dominant hand / leg. However I wonder how much we tend to lean onto these dominant sides. Remember that the body will always default to the easiest, most available pattern which, whilst over-developing activity on one side, will equally reduce access on the other side. Injury, for example, can lock us into a pattern that is aimed to protect the injured part in the short term, but causes more imbalances in the long term. Learned non-use leads to functional asymmetry. The result is a metaphorical limp in the neuro-muscular system with various compensation patterns, stresses and strains on the joints that lead to pain and injury.

Perhaps the roles of ‘lead’ and ‘follow’ might equally apply to two sides of our body? If so, the key to reducing this functional asymmetry is to somehow land up on the other side, to trick the body into stepping out of ‘home’ and remaining bi-laterally able.

The way towards bi-later-ability (my own word, not a technical term) is the ABC of better movement:

  • Increase Awareness: notice your habits.
  • Shake Things Up: walk around the park in the other direction, put your mat down on the other side of the room, start on the opposite leg, go to a different class (because teachers also tend to default into patterns of exercises and teaching techniques that come easiest to them), change the interlace of your fingers.
  • Listen to Feedback: Go to a class where a teacher can see what you’re doing and help bring your awareness to patterns that you are not aware of.

Be creative, let me know what other small habit shifts you’ve thought of.

 

 

Call for Solo Performer/ Dancer / Collaborator

Over Summer 2013 I will be carrying out a new research and development project, supported by DanceDigital, live@LICA and the Arts Council England. I’m looking for a dancer to help me develop the work which will be performed in April 2014.

I’m looking for a strong performer with a mature attitude and an interest in exploring interactive designs in performance. The role involves some speaking and will probably be a bit of a brain workout (I speak from experience). The working process will be a challenging one for me, so I need to work with a confident and supportive collaborator who is responsive to the work and doesn’t mind trying different things out, even if they lead to nothing.

The project will take place in August / September 2013 and will involve residencies in Bedford and Lancaster as well as two weeks of work in London.

If you are interested… or if you know anyone who may be… or if you’d like to recommend someone who might be good for the role, please get in touch via email. A brief biog would be helpful. I will hold a workshop for a few dancers date tbc.

email to: margueritegalizia@yahoo.co.uk

Thank You!

“Training, or any kind of physical conditioning, is only useful when its focus is to prepare the body, to bring the body to a point where it is ready for action, where it has options and can react to internal and external stimuli efficiently and effectively with no need to pre-rehearse.”

Rules and Freedom

The house I live in is shared with 6 other people. We’re all busy professionals. We’re not friends who knew each other and decided to start living together, although of course we are friendly. And we’re not family. We have a rota in the kitchen for who will take the bin out and pay the cleaner each week. Rules. There’s a part of me that resists the thought of having to pin myself down to petty rules. It seems unintuitive, manufactured, nanny-ing. Surely any reasonable adult knows how to empty a bin when it’s full. Think again. It was my turn to empty the bin last week. Saturday morning + a bin full of rubbish + late for work = an angry scribble on the rota pointing out that weekly duties lasted into the weekend. Oops!

Rules are by nature an act of control, whether self-imposed, tacitly agreed on or not. Having any kind of organisation requires rules, boundaries that protect us from ourselves, or at least from the worst aspects of our human-ness. Most reasonable people agree on this with respect to social organisation. We know that imposing some form of control does not necessarily infringe on freedom. If anything it protects all of our freedoms. The same is true of movement practice, training and choreographic practice.

The Problem with Contemporary Dance Classes

In the contemporary dance world there’s some confusion as to how you train the body without restricting it to one ‘way of moving’. Training involves internalizing a technique: a system with rules. It often generates a kind of aesthetic too. It seems completely contradictory to the idea of individuality and the industry’s obsession with ‘idiosyncratic movement vocabulary.’ In release classes we’re supposed to start each day by re-inventing the dictionary, wiping out centuries of evolutionary movement function and pattern in order to become completely unique ‘movers’. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that we spend 2 hour long professional classes rolling around on the floor like amoebae ‘visualising’. (Actually visualisation is an extremely powerful tool when working with the body, so long as it is grounded in function and is not just thrown around for its own sake. Creating pretty pictures in your head is all very well. But if it serves no purpose then you lose me instantly.) The alternative is to attend a class that is far more stylised, involves ‘exercises’ but is most often a confusion of ideas about how to ‘train’ the body. These classes seem to miss the point because they switch into ‘choreography’ before addressing the most obvious question: where does power and support come from? Learning someone elses co-ordinations is interesting and is useful. But it needs to form a part of a class that addresses movement in a less embellished and more functional format.

The truth is that being asked to do nothing, or to do what you want, leads to exactly the opposite of freedom! You might not be forced into some silly routine, but you’re undoubtedly regurgitating a lifetime’s movement pattern ingrained in your body and fixed as habit, even if you are not aware of it! Choreographers know this. It’s interesting that the movement aesthetic that has come to dominate in contemporary dance work, ‘Release’, has been attributed to a choreographer who still doesn’t ‘teach’ a ‘technique’ class to her company: Trisha Brown. When asked about this Brown’s reply was that she created ‘problems’ that required ‘movement solutions’. She didn’t go out of her way to develop the ‘Release aesthetic’. The aesthetic came out of the questions she proposed. In fact there is a kind of functionality to her movement vocabulary that comes from her adherence to the task at hand. Even the term ‘release’ is something of a misnomer. ‘Release’ is not about flopping around and relaxing, it’s actually about learning to un-embellish movement to create clarity in how you move through space, take or give weight or respond to choreographic structures and scores. It’s actually about efficiency. However, what developed as a functional response to a choreographic intention has become a ‘style’ with ‘moves’, a ‘performance presence’ and a bizarre aversion towards the idea of using muscles.

What’s Natural?

Let’s go back to habit for a moment. Something I am often asked as a pilates teacher is why someone should stand in parallel if their natural posture is turned out. It’s a good question. It’s the KEY question, because underlying it is the assumption that what feels ‘natural’ is ‘natural’. The truth is that what feels ‘natural’ is actually ‘habit’. Just to clarify here, the person asking is normally not actually standing in a ‘turned out position’ but is often standing with a collapsed arch and toes pointed outwards whilst their knee is rotating inwards. So my answer is that parallel is a quick way to align the ankle, knee and hip to spot poor alignment issues that lead to less efficient bio-mechanics in the lower limb and pelvis. Yes we can stand in turned out too. We can stand in a turned in position also, or with legs apart, or with one leg off the floor or any variation of the above, so long as we know that we are aligning ourselves in a way that respects the structure of the joints and most importantly, within a range of movement that we can control. So by gradually progressing through increasingly complex variations of the above, sustaining control throughout, we develop a physical ability to carry out any imaginable movement.

Options not Restrictions

Training should be about giving people options, not restricting. The aim of training, class or practice is to achieve a fully functioning, injury free body that is ready for anything, not restricted by habit or by an adherence to a particular style. As I was writing this article I came across a post by another Pilates Teacher Mike Perry, who says something quite similar with respect to Pilates:

“..Pilates’ intention was to create a form of physical training that, unlike the kinds of training he had done himself (boxing, for example), would ready one for any conceivable physical challenge. In a nutshell, General Physical Preparedness.”  – Mike Perry, read the blog here

Training, or any kind of physical conditioning, is only useful when its focus is to prepare the body, to bring the body to a point where it is ready for action, where it has options and can react to internal and external stimuli efficiently and effectively with no need to pre-rehearse. I feel that what is strongly needed in the dance world is an approach to movement development that safeguards the dancer from self-indulgence without enforcing any particular style. It should be a process that gradually brings the performer into themselves more fully, so that habit is replaced by options, providing an informed starting point for any movement exploration. As Gary Carter once said, a dog lying quietly on the floor, sees something worth chasing, springs up and runs after it. It doesn’t slowly extract itself from the floor, do some hip limbering, chose it’s ‘better leg’ and then spring. Similarly, our bodies should be ready for action. We should be able to sprint for the bus without worrying about our knee tracking. A performer should be able to change direction, transfer weight or get to the floor as and when the work requires them to, not when it feels right, or when they’re on their ‘good side’. That is what physical ‘freedom’ means.

Working inefficiently or restricting ourselves to one way of moving will often manifest itself in injury at some point. Problems happen when a ‘way of training’, ie: a ‘technique’ becomes a ‘style’ or worse still a ‘habit’. This is when choices are made not because they are functional but because they fit in with the particular look. This is how parallel position of the feet has become synonymous with the contemporary aesthetic, whereas a turned out position indicates a ballet aesthetic. One ex-royal ballet dancer turned pilates teacher once described how after years of stretching her hamstrings in a turned out position, she happened to step in to perform a piece that required parallel leg kicks and instantly tore her hamstring. Once again to quote Mike quoting Gray Cook:

“Every time we specialise we give up our adaptability” – Gray Cook, quoted in Mike Perry’s What’s Great About Pilates, Part 4. Read the full article here

Mind Training

Habit isn’t just something that the body does. We have thinking habits too. I’ve recently begun attending meditation classes with the wonderful Jill Setterfield. I’ll go into more detail on the content of the sessions another time. Right now I want to bring up a point that I feel is relevant to this discussion. The first step in meditation is to become aware of your thoughts and judgements, to notice what ‘gear’ your mind habitually shifts into. Meditation is not about doing nothing. Actually it often involves a lot of training to learn how to gain control of your thoughts. Jill suggests that allowing your thoughts to drift to where your mind wants to take you does not make you free. Rather you become a slave to a way of thinking or a frame of mind that has grown with you through your interactions in the world. Being able to control your thoughts allows you to become the person you really want to be. It frees you from impulsive actions that are rarely efficient or effective. But it does take practice and training otherwise it’s just a waste of time!

Awareness

The most useful outcome of a truly holistic training structure is the development of awareness. Ultimately I think that this is what makes us free to control our movement, behaviour and creative choices. Being aware means being able to notice the difference between habitual tendencies and the other options that might be available. It is through rules that we become aware of the implications of our actions or the wider picture.

So the moral of the story is: don’t be afraid of rules, rights and wrongs, positions. So long as they are used appropriately, to expand the options available, and not simply for their own sake, then they are a vehicle to freedom and happiness. Don’t be seduced by what feels good. Develop a training structure that opens doors. Do things that you are less comfortable with. That is the only way to ensure that you are not stuck in one pattern but are constantly growing into your body.

… And don’t forget to take the rubbish out.