Dance Practice as Research...
"...Not that you know by means of movement, but that knowing is movement." ~ Tim Ingold
My research practice begins in my body. Focusing on and with my body, engaging with space and time, I delve deeper in to what a physical understanding of balance can reveal to me...what is the knowledge my body holds?
My research began simply. Each day I would find balance in a 'Tree Pose'. I would spend roughly a minute on each leg, attuning my attention to my body and asking the question simply 'what is going on here?'.
The observations and the questions which arose from the act of finding and maintaining balance in this basic 'Tree Pose' informed subsequent physical explorations and led me, with a spirit of curiousity, to consider and explore balance from a variety of different approaches.
I recorded my observations and thoughts by jotting them down on post-it notes. This method of note-taking allowed me the freedom to read back over my notes quickly and to aim to hold and incorporate current thoughts with those had prior. It also allowed me to physically organise them in space. In processing and organising my thoughts, experiences and observations, I found mind maps to be highly useful. This visual-spatial approach to processing also allowed me to hold many observations and ideas together in the one place and helped me to identify and play with how different ideas and observations could interrelate. Stream-of-conscious writing also proved to be a helpful and often revealed a sense of direction in the research.
Reflecting upon my decision to begin exploring balance in the form of a Tree Pose, I can detect underlying value systems and desires present in my research. An ideal of 'a balanced lifestyle' is not an unfamiliar one to many of us, and indeed it is a 'golden concept' I strive to achieve in my own life. Could spending time in a Tree Pose - a pose which in the act of balancing promotes a calm and steady, focused mind - affect the way in which I function and behave in the world - ideally calmly and steadily, capable of focusing and adapting day in and day out to the situations I find myself in? By practicing and understanding balance am I hoping attain balance, in a broader sense, in my own life? Does my mind in fact know calmness, steadiness and clarity because of/from my body?
In concept, balance is often presented as something good and something that one should strive to attain. We seem to 'know' this in our bones as we strive to find balance as infants 'finding their feet', beginning to walk, run and play. As children we are allowed and encouraged to be in situations, such as playgrounds, that test balance and often take us off-balance, developing a stronger centre and ability to balance. As adults being off-balance is quite often cause for shame - simply travel on London Transport and it won't be long before you see someone lose their balance on a tube or bus trip, potentially (heaven forbid) bumping into another body, or worse falling into someone's lap! The resulting embarrassment often very apparent in their face, body and in the utterance of (many) apologies due to not being able to 'stand on their own two feet', hold their own weight and for impacting on others in their precarious moment of being off-balance. In my own experience, physically finding balance is a constant negotiating and adjusting of weight, pressure, tension and release in the body, I am striving for balance, but do I ever really attain it? What can the act of balancing teach? Can it teach us how to listen and tune-in to our bodies, to be adaptable, how to hold ourselves? How important is balance in a social sense? In an ecological sense? In a social sense, is an off-balance body a precarious thing? An off-balance body (be that physically, mentally, emotionally) can place demands and those around them, pulling to the fore our sense of connection and responsibility to each other. Is it a responsibility to strive for balance?
Amid this research I had the pleasure of attending a workshop by Marina Collard. In the workshop we were guided through an improvisation for approximately 40 minutes. The central concerns of the improvisation seemed to be about facilitating a 'released body' - relaxing and releasing tension from the body were imperative, as was seeking a greater awareness of the space within and around the body. When the improvisation concluded, participants were encouraged to write down thoughts immediately arising to them as a result of the experience. The improvisation was then repeated for a second time, as was the invitation to write down thoughts. What seemed most remarkable about the improvisation was the dramatic change visually in the 'texture' of the bodies of those participating. It was as if the musculature had softened, the body was somehow more open...echoing the feelings and sensations I experienced in the journey of the improvisation. I could sense the visual parallels between a body in balance and indeed relate the sense of calm and availability in my body to that felt in moments of balance.This workshop perhaps catalysed a shift in the research and brought my focus to ideas of a 'textured body' and an 'open body' (see Mind maps 3-4). Using an improvisation to draw out physical qualities in the body and seemingly change a person's musculature was an exciting and also satisfying idea to me. How are these textural changes in the body read by others? Are they important? As a choreographer, how could I harness qualities in the body to strengthen the impact of dance which I create?
I am currently working with a group of nine dancers (ages 18-24) who are undertaking their dance training at the University of Roehampton. I am fortunate to meet with them on a weekly basis, researching and developing material for my MFA thesis. I have been working with them aim of cultivating a 'released body' - a body which lets go of excess tension to find more space within the body and that is able to access many different movement pathways with ease. This body is soft, yet powerful, organised, supple and efficient. It harnesses the energy of weight and gravity and is able to transfer this energy through whichever movement pathway is occurring. I perceive the 'released body' and the 'open body' to be closely related. I have been working with the dancers to develop their awareness of levels of relaxation and tension in their bodies as the move. The movement at this stage is mainly floor-based, allowing for moments of complete relaxation as well as a greater amount of surface feedback as the body contacts the floor. Using a similar improvisation to that of Marina Collard, we have begun to maintain the released qualities in the body whilst moving through vertical levels and upright material. I have worked to consolidate these improvisations into a Score for an 'Open Body'. In attempting to demystify what constitutes an 'open body', I began to wonder whether a body which is open is in fact a body which listens.
"Listening requires attending, giving our attention fully in order to hear." (Lalitaraja Chandler)*
The 'listening body' is receptive, open and ready - qualities which I see in both the 'released body' and the 'open body'. It is a body present to the moment, to the task at hand. I can listen to the voice of my own body, responding to it's movement desires, making adjustments - minute or dramatic - to how my weight falls, the tension or release of various muscles, the organisation of my skeleton in space. Is listening inherent to the human condition? Does our culture encourage us to hear the voice of our body? Can we, and do we, forget how to listen? Listening to our bodies is fundamental to our well-being, ignoring the voice of the body can have dire consequences for our health. Just as I can listen the voice of my own body, I can listen the voice of another's body or a group of bodies. There is no such thing as a singular body independent of others, from the moment we are born we understand our own body in the world around us through the formative touch of our parents/care givers (although internal systems in the body give a base level of understanding of course). A body is sensitive to touch and capable of listening to the voice of another persons touch, and by extension, another person's body. How in tune the body is with this touch is another matter. Yet through touch we have great capacity to communicate and relate to others. A 'listening body' is vital for partner dance techniques - hearing another person's body, sensing their weight and energy, adjusting to channel or direct momentum - conversing in physical terms, with physical understanding, in order to dance with one another.