September 2 2015
I’ve been trying to pinpoint what I value and where my interests lie when making work. Why am I interested in these tasks? I think my main interest is to create an experience for the performer that can also be experienced by the person viewing it. Setting up a kinetic transference between the doer and the viewer so it becomes a shared experience. We are all human, we all have bodies, we all use our bodies everyday so I’m interested to see if we can draw the audience into our experience of the tasks enough for them to viscerally respond, or have a sort of physical or emotional empathy when viewing it. Have them with us enough so they feel like they’ve experienced it as well. Finding connection from audience to performer.
I feel like the easiest way to gain a kinetic transference or an empathetic response is through suffering. An initial inspiration for this research is exactly that. The Oliver Stone film They Shoot Horses Don’t They (1969) is set during the depression in America and they have a dance marathon for people to win money. The couples dance for thousands of hours, so as a means to eliminate couple from the marathon they have these derbies around the space. The derby scenes are raw, and painfully real, juxtaposed with cheering spectators and big jolly brass band music, but what struck me the most was the length of the scenes, they go on past the point of ‘Yeah, I get it, it’s hard for them to run’. I remember feeling pushed to a point of discomfort, it was hard work to watch because I was so involved with them, and I was surviving it with them as a viewer. I’ve been interested in this film and the longevity of the derby scenes for a long time and the response it gets from viewing it, but I’m not so interested in the angst and pain, more how the length of it draws you in. So how can I reveal this obsession with a lesser degree of suffering? More delicate and subtle. I don’t think it’s about hiding how taxing the task might be, maybe more embracing the discomfort in it, finding peace in it. Maybe a pragmatic approach to the tasks will allow viewers to see the work happening without the added layer of drama within it.
There’s a link to one of the derby scenes here, it’s not as long as the first one in the film but it can give you the idea of it.
We’ve been working with four tasks. Or states of movement rather. Running. Spinning. Balancing. And what I’ve been calling a ‘slow death’, which is a super slow descent from standing to lying down. I want to find ways within these tasks to highlight or amplify how the body behaves in different physical situations.
We began today with working on a running pattern traveling forwards and backwards in the space. Running is such a simple, full bodied action and watching it for a long period of time you can start to notice how different bodies move differently, same action, but subtle differences within each body. Perhaps with the continuous rhythm of it, settling into just watching the body move in a way humans were evolved to do for a long time allows for a heightened sense of noticing of the different behaviours of the bodies.
As much as it’s about the body in a pure state, managing quite a simple movement, I want to see if it can be choreographic as well. It’s begins primarily with the movement tasks but where else can it go to keep the audiences attention alive, allowing them to decipher, dissect and engage with the bodies moving in the space. I’ve been using a number pattern that defines how many steps forward and back and is then layered with direction changes and running on the spot, I’m trying to not let it be in a space where it becomes ‘known’. The pattern also keeps the dancers attention present as it’s super complicated and can help us sustain it for longer as the brain is not just focused on the body tiring but also keeping a timing and pattern.
Today we also placed six microphones on the floor around the room to amplify the sound of our feet hitting the ground. I want to draw attention not only to make it easier to hear if the sound shifts as time goes on but also to reinforce the rhythm in it. I’m wondering now what it would be like to have the aural sense heightened and gradually take away the visual with darkness and how that experience would continue after the knowledge of what they’ve seen. Would the viewers experience it more in their own bodies without sight? How much of the movement in the space would they feel? Perhaps we could amplify our breath as well to add to the humanness of it? Would hearing running and breathing keep the attention to what’s just been seen or send them off into another place in their mind? What other things might come up?
We didn’t stipulate how long the slow death should go for, but literally moving as slow as we could from standing to lying down, or finding a position where your body could fully give it’s weight to the floor. The experience for me on the inside of it ranged from being meditative, painful, playful, extremely tense and extremely soft in the one progression. These days we are so used to so much visual information speeding across out eyes with the modern pace of life, screens and technology etc that it’s hard to settle into watching one thing but when time is slowed down so much is revealed inside the body, little muscles activating, the skeleton’s subtle shifts to stay on balance, so much is happening to maintain such a slow descent. You can feel your weight shifting around to find the least muscularly intense pathway. I am still continually amazed at the intelligence of the human body.
And then as an observer you experience these waves of tension and relief throughout the process. You can see the tension in their bodies, the strength it takes to maintain slowness through certain pathways, but then the relief when you see a hand first touching the ground, when you see different parts of the body find the support of the floor and you see muscular tensions slowly ease away. And yet in both observing and doing because it’s so slow, and the awareness of what’s happening in the body in every moment, the progression of the descent nearly goes unnoticed. I didn’t want to put a set time frame on the progression because I think not having this pushes us to experience each moment and not measure or regulate the descent through time.
I have been thinking about ways to highlight the body’s movement during balancing. I’d love to work with a sound engineer in creating an interactive soundscape that’s sensitive enough to react to how the body moves during the balance. Having motion sensors on different parts of the body so they can be separated. Each limb and the head could have a sensor that creates a different sound so we can see the score being devised in real time from the movement. This doesn’t seem too feasible right now, perhaps in the future, so I thought we could try to achieve a version of this using humans and musical instruments. Each soundmaker has a different instrument and focuses on a different limb. I like the idea that no one is in control of what’s happening,
The balancer is focused on balancing and letting the movement happen the soundmakers are focused only on the movement of one particular limb. We gave it a go with a ukulele, harmonica, recorder, a tambourine and two bells. There are so many possibilities and questions that came up within it. How do you respond with your instrument to the movement? Does height influence pitch? Does larger more energetic movement influence volume? Can you reflect quietness and stillness with the brashness of a recorder? How dynamic can you be with two bells? We tried some different options with it, responding to the energy of the whole body with your instrument, using voice instead, not seeing the balancer and just seeing the soundmakers watch and respond, just seeing the balancer and hearing the sound score. I think to find depth and clarity in the sound score we need to super specific about what we are responding to and how our instruments respond to that. But to be honest I’m a bit perplexed by it all. It was good to experiment with it and I feel there’s something in it but it seems a little too simple to be what it is at the moment. I don’t know if I want to let it go but I’m not sure quite how or why to move forward with it.
I’m finding there are two ways to approach the spinning. Not the only two ways but two that I have been working with. I’m not sure which interests me more but one option is to spin and push yourself to go faster and faster, allowing your body to find a place of unintentional falling, physicality of survival, discovering how your body organizes itself in when out of and regaining control. This is hard to sustain for a long time but there is a window within in it that produces quite an interesting mode of moving. It’s risky, intense and quite physical but the consistency and rhythm of the spin can get completely lost and I feel like for these tasks there needs to be some sense of sustainability. Perhaps it could start really slow and take a long time to get to that point. The point that you can’t spin anymore.
Or there’s a mode of spinning where you find a consistent manageable pace that can be sustained long enough to become your reality, there’s a calmness within the spin. You are still while the world spins around you. Once you find this you can spin at the same rate for quite a long time, it’s meditative to do and watch. The process of spinning takes you to another place the longer you do it. It’s a pleasant experience but I think it needs to be a somewhere in between these two modes. It still needs some precariousness, the stumbles, fighting to regain control but maybe on more of a subtle level. Allowing yourself to shift within the mesmerizing nature of it and pushing that a little further so there is still tension and risk in it. And I’m still interested in using salt to be the extension of the bodily behavior, it’s delicate, but I love how the consistent flow of the salt is interrupted by the body’s little shifts and stumbles. It also changes the sound of it hitting the floor so perhaps amplifying the floor for this would be interesting too.
Time and duration is such an important things to consider within all of these tasks. It’s important not to put a fixed length on time on any of them because it’s important to listen to how your body experiences them at different times, also so we don’t contextualize the journey around time itself rather than the task at hand, we can’t fully immerse ourselves in it. Also, there needs to be enough time and space for the viewers to reflect, think, experience, go deeper into what they are seeing and considering. It makes me think about a piece of Maria Hassabi called INTERMISSION, a live installation of three women descending down a large flight of stairs over hours. There’s a huge amount of time for viewers to reflect in this situation.
So, I want to share an excerpt of a spoken lecture of Becky Hilton’s, where she says a little bit about an encounter with a woman when watching Hassabi’s INTERMISSON. 1, because she’s hilarious, and 2, I think it’s a great example about how, when viewers have time to see and think, their experience and perspective on the work can shift quite dramatically.
“Last Tuesday, I came to see FRAMED MOVEMENTS here at ACCA. Maria Hassabi’s work INTERMISSION was up and running. While I was here, I sat down and wrote this note to Maria, Paige and Hristoula (all three of whom used to come to my classes when they were young dancers newly arrived in New York City. I wrote -
‘Hey Maria, Paige, Hristoula, I came in here after looking at all those fucking videos in the other rooms and there you three really and actually were on your majestic staircase - a triple threat, double denim, shiny shoed, slow motion glamour event asking time and attention from yourselves and from us. Asking a lot actually, in a good way. An older lady and her husband came in. They had many grey plastic shopping bags and she had a bit of old egg on her jumper. I particularly noticed that because I also had traces of morning egg on my skirt. Depressing. The man briefly looked up at you, grumbled and wandered away. The lady stayed and watched with a slightly sour expression but that might be how her face settles these days. It happens. ‘What is this?’ she asked me, I said ‘ Well I think it’s a dance’. She said ‘It’s too slow for a dance’, so I said ‘Does a dance have to be a particular speed?’ She was quiet for a little bit and then she said ‘No’. She, no, we, kept watching for a while and then she said ‘It’s beautiful’ and then after a while ‘It looks hard, like it might hurt’. And then, ‘they look like they could do with a cuddle’. I am not making this up. So there you go, your work gave her the opportunity to move, in about ten minutes, from suspicion, to curiosity, to appreciation, to admiration, to empathy.”
A lecture written and spoken by Becky Hilton, with Alice Heyward, Ella Meehan, Ellen Davies, Megan Payne and Chloe Chignell. Presented on 05/11/2014 at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), in the context of Helen Grogan’s ‘Specific In Between, the Choreographic Negotiated in Six Parts’ part of FRAMED MOVEMENTS, Melbourne International Arts Festival.
So I’m hoping that the time and space within these tasks can allow audiences to really think about what they are seeing, give them the opportunity to notice things in the body, how it behaves/copes with the situation. It’s awareness, attentiveness, articulation, control/abandonment, subtleties, and complexities can all be revealed in the duration of the task. And also provide the performer with the same opportunity for heightened noticing and engagement.
I guess what underpins all of these tasks is the vulnerability that comes with performing them. We willingly enter into them not knowing how long we will go for, how our body might cope, we enter into it knowing failure could occur. I think it’s interesting to watch because these situations frame an opportunity to see how the body behaves in precarious and potentially exhausting situations, and also how a performer copes with the unknown, possible failure, and how they manage the duration of the task. The presentness of it all is what interests me and engages me. Being vulnerable on stage is a very generous and courageous thing a dancer can offer. Performing something without knowing exactly how it’s going to go is scary, but rewarding. As a viewer I appreciate seeing people working, thinking, managing on during performance and I feel a stronger connection with them. I feel like their humanness is revealed through their vulnerability. I need to make work that people can connect with the artists. That’s the beautiful thing about live performance, humans being in the same space, connecting, having an experience together that only exists for them in that time.
MAP invites independent artists to share their practice with written and video blogs.