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?

 

 

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.

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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