Thursday, 5 July 2007

Investigating notions of identity in Contact Improvisation Dance practice

I am a relative new-comer to Contact Improvisation Dance, (I shall use the initials CI from now on) having been engaged in practice and teaching for eight years now. The questions I raise here are therefore from a desire to inform myself and further my understanding of CI. I would like also to encourage informed debate for all and the sharing of thoughts on certain aspects which may be inherent within the nature of the dance, which relate specifically to the notions surrounding the title of this post: 'The self and 'other' in Contact Improvisation Dance practice'.

If one takes as a basic premise for Contact Improvisation Dance the idea and practice of two (or more) people connected through not only a diverse repertoire of listening through touch/weight-giving and receiving, but also through an active mutual sharing of intent - the intent to reach out both physically and conceptually - to be actively inquisitive - I would like to suggest that the nature of the physical, emotional, somatic and psychological conversation(s) taking place are influenced by and perhaps even driven by states present in each of us, of what I shall term, 'host'/self and 'stranger'/other roles or identities.

This descriptor 'host' and 'stranger' was first implemented by Georg Simmel in his 1908 essay, 'The Stranger'. The words suggest a desire to communicate the often, incommunicable. Simmel used these words in two contexts: The first context located the 'other' in urban society in a place which was and still is, understood by us - each of us, as 'host' identities, at home and comfortable on our own ground. Often, in this context, the 'other' has a capital 'O' signifying ethnical difference and is often associated with attitudes and stances which are prejudicial to and biassed against a fair perspective of that other person. Still in the same context, the term, 'stranger' can be used to describe simply, the 'person-you- have-never-met-before in the street' - an 'unknown' entity and in so doing, unconsciously we locate ourselves as 'hosts' within this scenario. It should be acknowledged of course, that the person you have just met will equally (unconsciously) and with just as much validity, consider themselves to be 'host' to their schema of the world which is not unknown, where you are the stranger.

However, in the second scenario the term 'other' can also be used to describe that 'otherness' within yourself. That part of you that perhaps you are not sure that you know too much about. That part of you that sometimes takes you by surprise. The part of you which may put you out in an instinctive, limbic region and the part of you with which you can sometimes converse when you are listening adequately - to this 'other' in yourself. So there is the notion here that in fact, you yourself can be that person that you meet in the street - and be the stranger.

On one level to partner someone in a CI duet is a simple undertaking. But I believe there are layers which materialize and evaporate around the success of being in the moment where there is only the moment - layers of feeling, observation, appraisal, self-doubt, elation, concentration on not doing any of these things ...
which constantly move and replace and replace and replace one another within the dance. I am wondering to what extent these layers are generated by the self/host and stranger/other dynamic within us and outside us as we somatically read ourselves and symbiotically read our partner?

Are we alone when we solo? Authentic Movement as a vehicle for self-regulatory enquiry teaches us, I would suggest, that we are often not 'alone'. We talk to ourselves. If CI can be seen as a fractal of 'life', then as in life where we are sustained and the world around us is re-inforced by our internal dialogue so we oscillate between 'being' and talking to ourselves in the dance. Existentially listening in the moment in a duet, often the internal dialogue is stilled, so perhaps negating that presence of the self/host and other/stranger in our personna within the dance.

Do we move in and out of self and 'other' roles in the dance? Or are we too busy listening to our partner - being in the moment, for this distinction to be recognized or indeed, realized? The nature of improvisation is such that improvising as a process creates holes or impasses or interfaces between doing and not-doing. Does our attention focus during these moments, away from our partner and back to us? Can we be conscious, during these moments, of our internal conversation as well as the one we are having with our partner?

I am inclined to the belief that in fact, all CI encounters are 'successful' as events in themselves, whatever the outcome, (within reason) in the sense that they foster liminal dance experiences, narratives of the unexpected. Like so many dancers, I have danced unexpected dances with a variety of people; with Argentinians in Sydney and with Americans in New Zealand Aotearoa, but of course, equally, every dance with an established friend is a foray into uncharted territory. Recently, I had someone I had never met before approach me to duet and cordially, I asked, 'How are you feeling today?' The response was, 'Come and find out', a not uncommon yet extremely evocative invitation to come and collide gently with the unknown and in so doing, to 'find out' not through being told but through the process - and it is a process - of simply engaging with .... a stranger.

CI creates an expression of and a desire for collaboration - with strangers. CI also provides us with the tools to negotiate this uncertain terrain and manage the encounter using perhaps the most profoundly-simplest of strategies; that is by the desire and through the facility to listen. The mutually-collaborative voice occurs only after one learns how to listen. It makes of us all, open learners. I believe the conversation which then develops is negotiated through a mutual honouring and acceptance of difference. The difference manifested in the encounter by the host in each of us, a tacit acceptance of the stranger in us and the existence of both in the partner in the duet.

Rollo Kohime solo 1 Outskirts Toxian City SL - first layer.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Duet in Second Life 1 (Rollo and Fionnbhar Kohime (aka Mike Baker and Fiona Gillespie): In the Company of Strangers

Dance Exploration in Mixed Realities? Investigating Second Life as a virtual platform for duality within identity.

One of the strands of my research for In the Company of Strangers is currently investigating the nature of 'virtual' or 'not-real' moments, how we perceive or witness them and move in and out of the real or virtual in both Real Life and in the virutal world of Second Life, ('Second Life. com'). At the moment I am experimenting with uploading real-life film of my dance work into Second Life and projecting this against selected surfaces in virtual urban environments and conversely, exporting footage of my dance work in Second Life to project onto selected surfaces in urban environments in real life.

Mark Hansen, in Bodies in Code, (2006) sees the embodiment of function manifesting through the human body, acting as a kind of seismographic wand - ‘ a vehicle of being in the world’ (Hansen, 2006:5-6 after Heidegger). He maintains that: ‘All virtual reality is mixed reality … all reality is mixed reality’, (Hansen, 2006:5-6) Hansen quotes Massumi who talks about the existence of the analogue as a transformative entity:

"Always on arrival a transformative feeling of the outside, a feeling of thought” sensation is the being of the analog. (sic) This is the analog in a sense close to the technical meaning, as a continuously variable impulse or momentum that can cross from one qualitatively different medium into another. Like electricity into sound waves. Or heat into pain, Or light waves into vision. Or vision into imagination. Or noise in the ear into music in the heart. Or outside coming in. Variable continuity across the qualitatively different: continuity of transformation.' (Massumi, Parables for the Virtual ... 2002:135 ) Like Real into 'Second Life' and back and ...

Through our internal analogue therefore, we possess the innate capacity, to transform, continuously, the many real and virtual realities with which our existence is constructed and constantly deconstructed, reconstructed and re-affirmed.

The mixed-reality paradigm can shift the fields of 'orthodox' perceptions (has perception, in fact, ever been orthodox?) which have, in the past, established existing modes of seeing and understanding reality: Cinema has hitherto been granted the capacity to represent the world from a non-human (this is debatable in the sense that if the footage was the product of human creation, that is the unassailable baseline from which all the forms of expression within the presented film stem), perspective and so is properly mechanistically autonomous from direct human influence; in contrast to this, the process within us as humans which brings virtual reality technologies together with our natural perceptions, supports a function which expands the scope of our natural perception and integrates real-world and virtual realities to arrive at a more homogeneous, mixed reality. Rather than presenting the virtual as a completely technical simulacrum – a portal to a fully immersive, separate or fantasy world, the mixed-reality paradigm regards it as just one more realm among others which can be accessed through our already embodied perception or our ability to enact - or, in the case of both First and Second Life, role-play.

So there is less emphasis here on the content and more emphasis on the ways in which we access that content.

In the light of the above, I am interested in pursuing this definition of mixed-reality - a 'new' realization of the fluidity of experiencing simulacra: In the first instance, physically/perceptually moving in and out of real and virtual moments in Real Life (RL in Second Life speak) and in the second instance, physically/perceptually, in front of our computer, moving in and out of Real Life (one is tempted to use the term First Life ...) and Second Life. I am inclined to the feeling that there is little difference between these two scenarios. They are not so much distinct from one another as examples of layered mixed-reality encountered within the moment. I think that the two realities are actually 'one': they can be seen and experienced first- hand as mutually-dependent, opposing binaries and therefore as a linked whole or a single, layered experience. So for me, the virtual and real in our lives can be described, like so many aspects in our lives, as states of perceptual layering-in-flux.

It can be said perhaps, in part, that in urban environments these days we are, all of us, strangers or at least, that the stranger among us is alive and well. The mixed-reality platform of Second Life/Real Life as a 'place', lends itself constantly to the process of host and stranger interaction and the assuming of both roles. I am curious to see how I may be able to apply this to my dance movement in and out of Real and Second Life, using the process of activation to manipulate and modify partially-peopled 'non/places'.