On Saturday the 28th of May, I led a movement Lab aimed at sharing and developing my MAP research series practice with interested participants. Thank you to all who attended, your participation and insight were invaluable.
• We went through the entire sounding process from basic sounds to ‘human Radio’ as described in previous blogs.
After having described ‘human radio’ as a failure, OMG, the Lab participants made it really interesting again. I realise now how that I tend to make arbitrary rules in order to maintain a sense of cohesion in the tasks as if I need to be able to visually identify all the individual parts of an improvisation in order to qualify them. Folly! Megalomania! A general finding is that it is usually a subversion of a rule that I have created that brings a task to life, or provides a way forward. The
key thing with the h.r. is that sliding between different uses of voice needs to be practiced, yes, but not restricted to only three arbitrary components. To slide or to leap between two ways of vocalising, to work discordantly or harmoniously, to compliment or ignore other performers are just six of many, many possibilities as demonstrated by the Lab participants in this improvisation.
• We looked at Audience design and code switching.
We talked about the role that our audience play in the way we speak and how that is often related to a spatial relationship. We then constructed some short scenarios between speaker and audience and explored how tone, vocabulary and space could significantly alter the meaning of this relationship.
This short film captures a particularly clear code shift really sweetly.
• We looked at the Vocal Prosthesis and expanded its potential
In some ways, I think that this is my favorite thing that I have found, not just forits sound carrying qualities but also for its zoomorphic kinetic possibilities, and its ability to extend and contract in the space. It also rolls, vibrates and is quite wearable. We will look at how some of these qualities can be exploited on Friday.
It's quite heady stuff , this work, and not having solidified or set anything leads to anxiety over how to present my findings in a way that is useful to me and engages an audience. What is particularly difficult is negotiating the tendency and temptation to move big, obviously and virtuosically, to do something that is seen to be good dance, and by good I mean curated in some way, perhaps highly
skilled, perhaps beautiful.
After all, what is the point if anyone can do it right ? What do you think Yvonne Rainer ?
In a facebook post pertaining to her research into the possibility of Queering space, Artist Val Smith said “…I am more interested in drawing attention to small and imprecise attitudes, rather than to a whole-being attitudinal force, though that is interesting too with the contestable existence of a ;whole, but perhaps more obvious in terms of performance material. These minuscule attitudes of the body reveal themselves as vague gestures, often inter-relational, often fleeting, through interactions and situations... but how to choreograph insignificance,vaguenesses, and inexactnesses???"
I replied “Yes how? Actually isn't choreography (meaning conventional choreography ) kind of the antithesis of these ideas - perhaps you are looking for a way of being - experiencing being - observing and responding to just the fact of being in a particular measure of time- yikes “
Val’s response: “Yeah, trying to expand what we think choreography is, including all those things we think it isn't. ..”
What I have had to remind myself of is the value of taking time, and not necessarily ‘nailing it’. Economic factors seem to be slowly squeezing dance practice into ever shorter time periods for ever higher stakes, therefore, shaping the way we make, watch and value art. The average length for my last few projects has been a week. This research series is of similar duration but being
spread over five weeks makes all the difference. Time to reflect, plan and ponder, not to mention the compulsory blog has given me time to entertain some tangents and then let them go, and to come at my ideas from another angle.
I remember, as a student, Charles Koroneho telling me about his process for performing, and I misquote badly due to the effect of the mists of time “Think, think, think, think, think, then DO“. I think that in the context of this conversation (a project which I forget) he was challenging me to know my subject better, to be authentic, to learn by doing, to edit differently. Perhaps he was questioning the need for highly choreographed structure and recognising that the choreographic
research exists on a continuum which absorbs and outlives the performance.
I have often had that feeling that production and performance hijacks and corrupts a fascinating period of research and discovery and must thank MAP for promoting practice as a legitimate endeavour in itself.
I look forward to sharing my research with you on Friday at 7pm – Wellesley Studios.
After a warm up of vigorous rubbing, dancing and climbing we try a few structural scenarios in prep for Wednesday nights showing. We trial writing a script or map for each other. Leah and I were up first and as a performance this was a bit of a failure. Our paths were too self involved we did a lot and it said nothing. So after some discussion we tried writing a script for a duo, L and I wrote for J and M, we called the instructions verbally which gave the performers an instantaneous reaction pop. It always starts with a face off, where the two performers stand face to face gazing into each other's eyes. This works to create a strong connection between the two.
The next performance was pretty comic and grandly entertaining, Julia had a moment of rebellion to being what I call an instruction slave, and this set the pace for fun, both J and M work really well together. It seems that as performers these guys are evolving.
We are refining the process day by day. Today we learnt the important role of language, we decided that our offers are better termed triggers rather than directives. This releases us from a one dimensional focus and allows the performers more freedom to respond to the world they creating together, and also enables the performers the freedom to take time in responding which in turn is more likely to layer the performance experience. An instant response to “directives” often found the performers crashing into each other's offers and losing the language of their conversation.
Giving each performance a simple theme which is decided upon in secret by our performers, really helps to hold the world of what is experienced, this gives the dancers an anchor and far more clarity.
We have decided that for the performance tonight we will undergo two scenarios. The first will consist of the exercise being directed by our audience, each audience member will write down one trigger and pass it along to some other punter. These will become the triggers where the dancers will have one minute to respond to each trigger.
The next performance experiment will be driven by myself and the performers. Where the performers will decide on the world and each us us will only be allowed to give one trigger which can be repeated at any time during the exercise.
Let's see what happens…
Last night felt like an overall success. A spontaneous performance experiment where audience participation opened up the experience for a good dialogue. We embarked on the theatre sports of dance, and the dancers really brought their all to the task providing an engaging and animated presentation.
For me the residency has provided an invaluable experience where I have explored and learned in ways that have been completely unexpected.
I have come to an understanding that my work instinctively investigates human power, and questions the misuse of power that I personally question on a global scale. So the reaction to this becomes a process of personal empowerment for all on board. By investing in a shared directorship with the dancers I gained more depth to understanding the process and my motivations. I felt that the dancers became more confident as performers and as creativedecision makers in the instant. The dance and the dialogue during the exploration process were equally important and we gained insights as a group.
For future endeavours our performance experiment lends itself to exploring possibles around structure, motivations, digging for gold and developing specifics. It aids the development of the performer, and reveals tendencies both personal and social.
It would perhaps now be interesting to work with this process around ideas of political global significance.
Following on from last week.
Sometimes when you sleep on an idea for a few days you realise that its tangential and difficult conception, and the overwrought justifications you contrived to support it, has obscured the fact that the idea was in fact going nowhere.
Maybe that’s a bit extreme. I’ll tone that statement back.
In trying to align the logic of speech to contemporary dance vocabulary I have simplified the issue in order to try to prove a point about how collage-like contemporary dance vocabulary is. In several live improvisations, we tried to transition seamlessly between sounding, singing and conversational speaking all relating to clear points in space. No point was proved and the exercise ‘Human
Radio’ was very difficult to do.
There are a couple of points of interest in the failure, though.
• Making sustained sound seems to hijack the body’s ability to move freely. We turn into reverent opera zombies wandering through space at an intermediate tempo.
• Transitioning from sounding or singing to speaking conversationally is painfully awkward. The paradigm shift between the two ways of thinking and doing seems to trip the brain up, leading to hesitancy and/or waffling. We wonder if the only way to do it effectively is to script it.
We decide we have gone too far too fast. We back to the basic sounding and simplify the score.
• We remind ourselves that it is the points of resonance that is of interest.
• We allow ourselves to respond to other sounds.
• We include a listener who provides a fixed point in space so that our voices are either closer or further away.
This works a lot better and locates the voice in space clearly. The listener's experience is influenced not just by the volume, the harmonics, and the tone but also proximity. Voices merge and separate and can be heard to be approaching, retreating ascending and descending. Unfortunately, the overall effect is quite familiar and again tends to sound overly reverent. More on that next week.
There is some difficulty in addressing an area which is actually being utilized all the time anyway. Think of the way you address your mother compared to the way to address a telemarketer ( an extreme example ) There will be some element of code switching within any presentation I make as some people will be familiar to me and what I'm talking about and some will not. The trick will be to deal with it in a way that doesn’t ruin its’ impact by making it simplistic, crass or so subtle that no one knows that it happened. Keep your ears and eyes open as I think this idea will be one to try live rather than rehearse.
Thinking about how to move the voice from one point to the other (as opposed to an instrument which makes its own sound), I have built an amplifier which I call the vocal prosthesis. The first thing that comes to mind when moving the voice between two points is the telephone which may be explored next week, however the vocal prosthesis is tactile and can actually move within the space. You speak into one end of it and the voice comes out the other. Simple!
Finishing on my theme of things that are interesting but that I barely understand but have a hunch are important to where I want to go with all this… lets touch in lightly on Hermeneutics, perception and experience.
Originally associated with the interpretation of biblical and literary texts, FERARIS (1996) defines hermeneutics as “ the art of interpretation as transformation” and contrasts it with a view of theory as "contemplation of eternal essences unalterable by their observer “.
Philosopher Alva Noë, who writes about perception, speaks to this idea in the recording ‘Dance as a way of knowing’ which you can find on youtube. Noë says “ the world comes into focus as a dynamic of trying of trying to make sense of it”
In other words, there is a kind of chicken and egg scenario where as we attempt to understand something, perhaps a dance, its qualities are revealed to us as our consciousness of it expands, which in turn reveals new ways of seeing, and so on.
What this suggests to me is that analysing dance by the semiotic value of its vocabularies is problematic if we do not consider that the primarily important element of the dance is, in fact, the observable act of experiencing by the dancer.
“Dance is an enactment, a remodeling of this fundamental fact about our relationship with the world around us” Alva Noë
My first week of MAP was a difficult one, I struggled a bit. As I had opened up the process to all to attend, I found that people coming and going and turning up half way through the day wasn’t conducive to exploring or establishing anything. This has not been anyone’s fault - it is simply life making demands on people. I started out exploring character but this process has been somewhat abandoned.
The second week has been far more fruitful. I now have three constantly attending people to work with Leah, Megan and Julia. They are a wonderfully supportive crew.
After a discussion with Julia, the focus of my research has changed to be one of exploring a process of performance where the performers are offered instructions via a list to create a spontaneous performance where the dancers are able to choose how and when they respond to the directives. They do not know what is on the list prior to performing.
This change in research focus has been surprising and liberating.
In the creation of the process we are loading the performers with information that they can draw on. We are working to create improvisation experiences, all of us are able to contribute to the ideas, so that it becomes more of a collective creation.
Some ideas we have explored:
In the outdoor context of daylight - this as a possible performance piece had too much space around it - my desire is to see some kind of container around it - night-time and a street light could do it.
The instructions I had given on the list were fairly singular - it would be great next time to create a personalised list for each performer and set up the possibility for greater interaction
What is interesting is the individual responses.
Run for as long as you can
Be still and hear
Mimic someone's walk………………………….Exaggerate this
Speak philosophical truths as if you know everything
Get undressed - get redressed
Lie down for pleasure
Become agitated with the sky
Cluster as a group - follow each other
Ask someone a question………… possible questions - what is freedom? Who Are You? What do you think of when you imagine time?
Engage in a conversation where you only ask questions
Lie down for pleasure……….
You are lost
You are dancing like you have never danced before
explore how your clothes can refit your body
Lab on saturday
This became more like a continuum of the process we are engaging in - and felt like a really interesting session. Four of us were involved Julia, Leah, Kristel and I was in and out of the explorations.
Julia had suggested that I consider this process to be a time of recovery - so with that I have been actively engaged in some of the exercises that have been proposed. After not dancing for around two years the experience of moving with others has been profoundly satisfying. I have found that I can explore my physicality with an open curiosity - rather than feeling dismay at my bodies new limitations.
After some initial warm up improvisations:
The most powerful to observe from these experiments were the performers changing emotional states from a place of stillness and really staying true to the emotion and investing time in this experience, we worked with two performers experiencing opposing emotions next to each other. We concluded that this could be experienced several times over and over a long period of time - it was a captivating performance.
Next we explored chairs: the chair is a great object - very representational of an array of human states - it is a durable object that can be climbed, skidded and thrown.
Again some really compelling stuff - This got me really excited to create a choreography solely around the idea of using multiple chairs.
We worked with the chairs in competition with each other, as vehicles for traversing the space and finding different ways of being burdened by their weight. My aim was to give the punters an experience of using the chairs and becoming comfortably dynamic with them - these guys rose to the challenge really quickly. A great exercise was getting each person to stockpile all the chairs in one location - this was the most important objective in their world - a really dynamic interaction ensued - all sorts of human dynamics and sneaky antics came to the fore. As an observer you become really invested in the outcome of the game……..
I really loved it…….
Thier final challenge was to create a scenario where the chairs are the performers - I gave everyone twenty minutes to complete this task. There were a couple of gems that stood out for me in this - one was Julia who was joined by her two children moving the chairs slowly forward without using her hands and the other was a stockpile onto Leah’s hands and feet of around 14 chairs.
A choir who was waiting to use the space after us - came and watched the performance.
Will revisit this stuff on Monday.
What I am really loving about this process - is that my original ideas of character and chairs are coming back to the fore in unexpected and new ways. This process has been a real meander - and what a brilliant gift that is! I’m potentially finding a format that presents the ideas in a spontaneous and engaging way.
All I wear to bed is my hat it fires up my head in the middle of the night.
It tells me:
Not wanted conclusive indecision
Not liked A psychopath with dementia ruling the world
Not adhered to wearing of a cycle helmet
Not dancing yet.
A grid of practical grey roadways to navigate, stone corridors are the freeways of iron juggernauts
there are numerous amounts of vehicles, vehicles, vehicles. I try to walk them
and am a stranger to myself.
Where do they go? Are they unsearchable?
You must travel in packs for safety of your sanity.
The roadside cops are gentle.
Everyday we will do something different. We will make loud noise, the sound will echo
through the stratosphere and will eventually touch the outreaches of the cosmic equator.
This is a place of warmth and judicious sunrises, where polar bears fear to tread, and
seldom seen words will fill your head.
This week I have invited several dancers into the studio to practice with me, all of whom are skilled and experienced performers. Thank you, team. We have been trying to take the sounding exercises practiced in week one towards a more
I've been thinking about the similarity between what we are doing and singing. I think the key difference is that we are constantly trying to relate the voice to space somehow, either by drawing it through space like a sonic crayon or trying
to place it in space like an object. There is less focus on the quality of the sound than there is in where it is coming from and where it is going. If anything like ‘high-quality singing’ occurs it is completely incidental.
Worryingly we find it difficult to keep this intention while moving our bodies through space and the best we can currently do is walk, turn and direct the voice in a direction. My next step is to think about dance vocabulary. Any particular contemporary choreography ( lets just leave other dance forms out of this for a moment ) might draw on material from various sources within the same work including but not exclusive to; existing vocabulary drawn from a particular master or such as Hawkins or Graham, existing vocabulary from social and cultural dance or other contemporary forms such as hip hop or pole dancing. It may include existing gestural languages including hand gestures such
as waving, pointing and also posturing. It may sample martial arts, movement which is superficially transposed from objects or seeks to replicate their form, pedestrian and functional movement such as walking or climbing a rope and
movement drawn from somatic principles.
Considering that we tend to talk about movement vocabulary as being tailored to a particular choreographic concern , it becomes problematic to think about it as analogous to verbal language. Whereas words themselves have comparatively
fixed individual meaning and must usually obey syntax, movement vocabularies in contemporary choreography, by comparison, seem to be far more fluid in terms of their intention and interpretation , often being a collage containing any
number of the vocabularies listed above.
Considering contemporary choreography’s ability to code switch between vocabularies in this way, I have started thinking about different contexts for vocal communication and reasons for talking. Three main areas that come to
mind are A. Vocal expression i.e. sounds but not words, B. Conversation and speaking with words, C. Singing.
Here is what I tried this week.
1. Warm up – starting with basic sounds (which last week I called primitive) such as moaning, whining and hmming, beginning with mouth closed then opening and closing the mouth like, perhaps, a tap and a tourniquet for the
2. Extend the sound. Shift the point of resonance. Add syllables and melisma always focusing on the resonant point in the body.
3. Send the voice to points in space. This might be a single direction per syllable or may be a sustained lateral movement like a horizontal or vertical line of sound painted on the wall, ceiling or floor.
4. We begin carrying the whole body through space, continuing all the above points. This adds the ability to move away from the sound as if it were the water from a hose or move towards it as if we were swallowing a noodle.
It might be relevant to mention at this point how difficult it is to maintain the sound while moving. While an abdominal contraction might cause a bagpipe-like sound owing to the restricted and forceful exhalation, and impact/s through the
legs may interrupt the flow of the voice, these feel like tangents. I am not interested in making a vocally percussive composition.
5. Improvisation. While continuing to practice moving the voice in and through space explore contexts A,B, and C. Again, the focus is on the resonance and space, while now also attempting to let text and song emerge. It feels kind of like switching between radio stations. Perhaps we could call it context radio.
Two tangents to pick up on next week.
Prosthesis – how can I use objects to extend, shift, or transport the voice.
Sharing words – how can we take shared responsibility for completing a sentence, a word or maybe a story.
And two loose ends…
My interest in code-switching between levels of formality and in terms of audience design is still lurking but is beginning to seem an advanced idea to consider after further exploration of more basic concepts.
I am still interested in looking at the choreographic implications of conversing, the transmission of it and the actions that result.
Perhaps I’ll leave that last one for you to think about.
A recap to start with:
My proposal to MAP details a research plan that explores ideas about voice and speaking in a dance context, perhaps moving toward vocabulary and syntax, and perhaps thinking a bit more about sociolinguistics. More about that later.
If you have managed to watch my video blog you might hear sean Curham mention the propriety of floundering. What value is there in pursuing territory that I’m not particularly skilled in ?
Here is the start of an answer:
Some of you may have attended Violetta Luna’s workshop in Wellington in 2014. Luna spoke a lot of borders as being fundamental to her practice and as a metaphor to facilitate aspects of the workshop such as taking a risk, looking deeper and challenging one's limitations. Crossing Borders is fundamental to Luna’s Art; Geographically because of the socio-political tension of being a Latina
living in the United States, practically because of the subject matter and methodologies employed in her praxis and perhaps literally if we think about the parameters of the body as a physical border. The crossing these borders could also be a metaphor for undoing thinking, for breaking mirrors for seeing through smoke screens, for cutting through the bullshit. I want to embrace this idea.
So with the idea of crossing personal and professional borders my research approach this week is to push nonviolently at the edge of what I understand and am able to do and hopefully, find that by the end of the series, I am in unfamiliar territory. Ironically the results of initial experiments look a lot like things I have seen and done before. I am not so concerned about this as yet.
Some discoveries from week 1:
Our initial enquiry is with the voice, because where that comes from, how it moves within the body, and how we give and receive it are of primary importance.
In the spirit being mortified by making funny sounds in front of other people, this week we are sounding. Making vocal sound using extended vocal techniques.
The main point of initial exploration is identifying where resonance sits in the body and the gentle sliding of the voice across those resonant spaces ( primarily in the throat , neck, soft palate, cheeks lips, and nose ) foregrounding the position and not the quality, direction or volume of the sound.
Taking a step by step approach we begin with basic everyday sounds, which is basically such as, and it sounds terrible, moaning and groaning.
•The last version experiments with working to a directional spatial image as shown in the video Soundings #2:
We ( the collaborators and I ) are spending some time observing and tutu-ing with these spaces and techniques and observing, responding perhaps then discussing.
Some observations are:
We will be looking continuing this line of enquiry to better equip our voice for other experiments.
I will be looking at areas of sociolinguistics such as vocal code switching and audience design while continuing to relate them to primary dance concerns of the body, time, and space.
I will think a little about the choreographic potential of conversation.
It seems an unlikely amount of territory to cover but as Sean said at the start of the week ‘If you find out what you are not interested in, that’s a good outcome’. I agree and look forward to that and other possibilities.
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