Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Small conversations in urban spaces: Wellington City Centre and surrounding environs.

This is a brief synopsis of my latest developmental work pursuing concepts for, 'In the Company of Strangers'. If you have read the other topic areas, you will notice that some of the material and concepts I am discussing in this post, occurs elsewhere. I make no apology for this. I regard these topic posts as pages from my notebook and part of an ongoing process of investigation which should be subject to change and/or affirmation. The concepts and my perspectives relative to them will therefore evolve, be modified by insight, critiquing and the developmental processes within my practice and methodology.

After four days dancing and filming experimentally in July, my thinking has moved on.

Concept Aims:

In this work I wanted to carry out an investigation of moments of 'almost conversation', or 'just missed' dialogue with people on the street, to create within and through this discreet interaction, an environment which might allow discernible 'differences' in the respective identities between individuals to surface. Differences within unrelated identities - strangeness between strangers on the street and then from these 'almost meetings' operating as a catalyst, more subtly; differences within ourselves - the wider differences or strangeness between us and other people jogging a question that perhaps we ourselves may carry, co-habiting within us, both, our sure and 'certain' self and an uncertain, 'otherness'.


To facilitate this process and consistent with my work carried out so far, I wanted to find a location which would allow me to identify and articulate visually as well as conceptually, notions of 'difference'.
Rhetorically and practically, this enquiry could be carried out almost anywhere. Descriptions of identity, as a notion is perhaps, infinitely portable: Domestically, with a stranger at the door; in a familiar suburb with interaction created between neighbours; Publicly, in the middle of a high street crowd. The composition of the physical environment is important to me and I am choosing to select interfaces between existing contrasting spaces at the edge of busy places and what could be termed, semi-redundant places; a 'littoral zone', which describes an inter-tidal space - a liminal place subject itself to the influence of a medium, the sea, continually passing across and potentially influencing and transforming the space. (Not to draw too literal a parallel between mediums, the movement of people in a city can be perceived as a fluid medium in acting out a time-based ebb and flow, capable of either sparsely populating or saturating spaces).

I want the familiar with the not-so-familiar, the place where a seldom used back-alley or service entrance meshes with a busy thoroughfare, because I mean to investigate the various tensions which can be found at these points: tensions through visually-contrasting movement-flow signatures - directional rush-hour crowd mass versus individual exploratory dance movement - the kind of ambiguous movement glimpsed in the distance (or right there, next to you) through a large, moving crowd of people which precipitates in one`s perception, a query; 'What was that I thought I saw? Or even, what 'strange' behaviour was that?'

I want to capture glimpses of tensions through difference, in spaces which themselves are almost forgotten and therefore liminal; urban-spaces perhaps aligned with my conceptual questions above: the conceptual differences apparent in what may constitute identity, the tensions between the path regularly trod and the one often seen from a distance but seldom traversed. As well as the 'idea' itself of partially-forgotten, semi-redundant spaces which are often only steps away from pedestrian trunk routes,
I mean to enrol into the description of the identity of the place, the physical appearance and atmosphere, which may carry not just the crepuscular lighting, but also the memories and traces of past identities inherent in these kinds of places. Are these traces a kind of 'otherness'?

With the above needs in mind, I planned to move beyond Nelson to Wellington, which I saw as offering a broader range of locations which may be appropriate conceptually and physically for the work I wanted to explore.

On our way to Wellington City, my partner, Fiona Gilespie and I filmed a 'slow roll' in the restaurant on the Interislander ferry, the Kaitaki. On our arrival in Wellington we investigated possibilities for applying subtle interventionist dance strategies in Opera House Lane and Wellington Railway Station. (see vid clip on this post, above). In addition we carried out investigative, improvised dance on the walkway over the motorway from the Memorial Gardens and filmed crowd-flows and movements at selected sites on Lambton Quay. (This latter footage to be used for introducing crowd-presence in virtual world, Second Life projection)

I selected Opera House Lane as a location due to its proximity at the end of the lane to Courteney Place and Cuba Mall. At lunch times and rush hour, there is a considerable flow of people along the pavement, principally at right angles across the entrance to Opera House Lane. Pedestrians also use the lane itself, to cut through towards the harbour and veer off to go to the carpark half-way along the lane. We inhabited the lane for two hours, carrying out Authentic Movement-based experimental dance interspersed with Contact Improvisation Dance. The compositional space captured by camera was formalist in the sense that the camera was fixed on the ground for most of the duration, with a prescribed very linear perspective down the lane towards the main street, creating an extended depth of field. For this shot I wanted us to be a little removed from the entrance to use the atmospheric perspective qualities, looking out toward the lit entrance from the lane`s dark field with crowd-flow a little distant and in silhouette. I filmed Fiona from the street, walking past as a member of the public, with brief cut-aways into the lane entrance on my way past, to implant a snatched peripheral view a pedestrian might have of our activity as they carried on down the street. I subsequently edited/combined these two views to explore possibilities for non-linear narrative and a hand-held urgency to the video perspective. I also shot a danced view looking the other way down the lane to document the wider perspective within the space.

After reflection on the work carried out to date, I have identified the need to move my research focus. Hitherto, my research has been centred principally around information on the 'other' sourced from theorists like Georg Simmel, Jacques Derrida, Michel de Certeau, Emmanuel Levinas, Martin Heidegger, Marc Augé, Ian Buchanan, Mikhail Bakhtin and others. Because much of this is very dense, philosophical material I think it relevant to begin to locate some of the findings within more specific research relating to my concepts, dance practice as medium and the specific environments in/with which I am working.

Before I do this, I would like to offer short summaries I have made to aspects of selected theoretical texts which to some extent, may position these theorists in their stance toward the issue of identity. It is not my intention to 'skim' over these weighty sources, but to be as transparent as possible about the position of some of my thinking in relation to a very small part of their material on this subject, in an effort to gain some measure of clarity for myself.

What is the 'other'?

Emmanuel Levinas, (1906-1995) influenced by and perhaps pushing beyond the phenomenological methods and territories of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, located his studies in ethical, rather than ontological dimensions of otherness. Ethics for Levinas meant the importance for the individual in taking responsibility for self or 'I' through a responsibility to 'otherness' in the individual`s stance toward 'difference' - seeing an 'other' person in a face-to-face interaction, not so much as a reflection of oneself, but as simply different and above all, greater than oneself, ' ... I am responsible for the Other without waiting for reciprocity, were I to die for it. Reciprocity is his affair. It is precisely insofar as the relation between the Other and me is not reciprocal that I am subjection to the Other; and I am "subject" essentially in this sense. It is I who support all ... The I always has one responsibility more than all the others.'

Levinas stated in 'Entre nous: on thinking-of-the-other' (1998), (Entre nous, trans: 'Between us'), that 'Our relationship with the 'Other' is always a relationship with mystery'. This reference is to the cultural or ethnic 'other' rather than simply a stranger on the street and his position with regard to the 'other' was governed principally by a concern that if a being were to enter into a relation with the 'other', how would the self avoid being completely dominated and crushed? This is written from the reference to Levinas` perception of the 'other' which appears to have been orientated around aligning this state with that of death: 'So complete is the strangeness of the future of death that it renders the subject utterly immobile', therefore, 'it leaves him/her no longer able to be able' and in 'Totality and Infinity', (1969), p. 152, the 'other' is, '... Autochthonous, that is, rooted in what it is not, it is nevertheless, within this enrootedness independent and separated.' (from self).

In contrast to this, Martin Heidegger, in Being and Time Sein und Zeit, (1927) who coined the composite term Dasein, a holistic state of our fully occupying or 'being' in the world, suggested that Dasein was informed and empowered by the awareness of our impending death (another interpretation of 'other') and was therefore capable of changing us with the full potentiality of 'Being'. The existential and ontological constitution of the totality of Dasein - how it is manifest or realized, is grounded in temporality - in other words, Dasein recognizes otherness as indispensable to our corporeal self and is connects us to life 'in-the-world'.

Ian Buchanan, in 'Michel de Certeau, cultural theorist', (2000), discusses the term 'Heterology'. De Certeau was formulating a treatise on heterology but this was unfinished at the time of his death.
Traditionally, heterology designates that branch of philosophy which is concerned with the 'other'. Buchanan suggests that philosophy relies on the study of the 'other' through heterology, yet still without being able to comprehend it. Buchanan quotes de Certeau: 'The 'other' besides being 'when', 'where', and 'what' I am not is also radically contiguous - so beyond the imagining that it does not even share a common border with the imaginable'.

Mikhail Bakhtin`s 'Law of placement' identifies, through seeing and vision, the 'other' as indispensable to the self. We rely upon the 'other' to map or affirm those areas on ourselves that we cannot see or easily sense - our own forehead, our ears, how we taste, etc ... Bakhtin asserts that, 'self means nothing without the alterity outsideness of the 'other'. 'I cannot become myself without another'.

For Jacques Derrida, 'heterology' is a pejorative - a naïve dream of empiricism - itself a 'non-philosophy' or reliable approach to informed learning. For Derrida, what might 'otherness' through the study of heterology look like? Buchanan tells us that it would have to be formulated as an alternative to, but not as a compromise between, in Derrida`s words: 'The impossibility of the infinitely 'other'; and the impossibility of an other that is not infinitely 'other' - as near a clear definition of 'otherness' as any that I have found to date. ('Michel de Certeau, cultural theorist' (2000)

The anthropologist, Marc Augé seeks to eliminate the problem within the debate entirely by suggesting that the self or 'same' be taken out of the equation: 'We are as 'other' to ourselves as we are to others - so our relation to ourselves is no different from our relation to others'.

Such are some of the boundaries of heterology within philosophical theory. The 'otherness' of the self may not be an identifiable personna or condition - it may manifest as a moment of recognition - it may be an entity - it may be a state, like Heidegger`s Dasein, of being; the not-I-in-me - in the world. It may be, after de Certeau, a map to a distant territory.

Because the nature of what heterology seeks to identify is clearly mysterious, I believe I need to explore my interpretations of the presence of the 'other' by using such 'indicators' as may be identifiable or recognizable in a given space and time. My practice then, is to seek ways to generate and document these indicators.

Georg Simmel`s dynamic of the 'host' and 'stranger' (see earlier posts) polarity still seems relevant, even though Simmel located this relationship within a specific context, time and place. Aspects of his concept of alterity offer a valid avenue of approach for me which, despite Derrida`s judgement above, could be appropriate as reference for my concepts if explored using experimental, documented empirical field-work (my dance/video practice) to record information. I need to ensure that my own research and development of concepts does not appropriate Simmel`s positioning. Ownership of my process is essential while I endeavour to locate myself within the framework of investigating identity in my specific time and place and the layers or personna with which it might be comprised.

Returning to my practice:

In Opera House Lane I was looking for small, fleeting connections between our dance begin to develop this as a 'language' or at least, as a vocabulary for tableaux that are essentially unspoken and how this might intervene and intersect with the language of crowd/individual pedestrians` movement, rhythms, patterns, travelling past us. I was not after in-depth, substantial meetings. I was interested in making ourselves available to catalyze ephemeral conversations, 'almost'-dialogue, brief encounters, micro-dramas with people who might glance our way, perceive us through a double-take moment - views between other moving people - perception 'slippage'. So our movement was divided between notions of Contact Improvisation conversations between our dueting selves and minimal, inferred connections with passers-by. In retrospect this became a compelling narrative in terms of mapping the space of Opera House Lane, but was inconclusive in its aim to connect in these 'almost-connections' with other people in the space. I had positioned us a little far down the lane to make the interaction with the crowd-flow on the main street meaningful, but the slightly distant, lit entrance appeared Michal Rovner-esque with blurred crowd-shapes coalescing and splitting, morphing and sliding away - interesting and partially addressing the distance perspectives I wanted, but still requiring a different focus for more intimate 'conversations' to take place. This meant that we were more dependent for the quality of interaction that I wanted to explore, upon those pedestrians who entered the lane and passed close to us, so the contrast between our idiosyncratic movement signatures and that of a dense crowd-flow was not signifcant at this location.

We shared fleeting eye-contact and double-takes with cyclists, runners, men on crutches, businessmen and women, shoppers, families with children, concerned people who wanted to give us food and drink - or call for an ambulance - and we had to avoid the odd car using the lane as a shortcut. Our movement explored levels of alterity or 'otherness' within our own dance, but also the terrain of the lane: Semi-avoidance of fast and slow-moving vehicles, giving weight to existing 'furniture', slow-rolling and running across the widths of the space, filming the slow-roll from the roller`s perspective and as mentioned above, filming the pedestrian`s view of us from the street walk-by. Most people effected polite distance with peripheral views and some managed a cursory head-turn or pause. Muted indifference oscillating between curiosity and surprise. We possessed 'stranger' traits as entities in the realm of pedestrian 'host' familiarity with the geography and their known feel of the place.

At times this role was too obviously overt.

The camera was concealed at Opera House Lane which provided candid perspectives of the public using the space and so did not colour or influence their perception of our reasons for being in the space.

We also inhabited Wellington Railway Station. I wanted to time our occupation of spaces there with evening rush-hour to maximise the crowd potential in the spaces. Earlier in the day we explored the areas offering scope for the most dynamic and most subtle interaction. At 5.30pm I carried out several slow-rolls across the floor of the concourse foyer. I rolled from wall to wall, against the direction of crowd-flow to subtly increase the speed of the interactive movement taking place between us. I filmed through the crowd to catch glimpses of myself - those peripheral capture moments - and several other viewpoints. I am editing these to arrive at a composite roll-view. Pedestrian reaction was 90% focussed on train-catching - to be expected and indeed, sought after. 10% of walkers wanted to pause, turn, watch, speculate. No-one came to my 'aid'. In this location it was harder to hide the camera so there was probably more acceptance that what was taking place was a performance of some kind. All of these responses are positives as far as I am concerned, but require a careful rationale concerning the role of the camera in this project as a whole and the camera`s effect if recognized, at 'corpsing' or nullifying the intended dramas or tensions in the spaces.

We moved on to work in some of the linking under-pass passage-ways connecting platforms. I selected a meeting point of four passages and filmed our dance activity on the very edge of the crowd-presence. Body-distance away from the thoroughfare. I filmed Fiona from the top, moving very subtly at the bottom of stairs linking the street with the passages which meant that I had a dual view of above and below ground;
Night-time car break-lights, horizontal rain and gale-force winds whipping flax bushes in the swarming darkness set against subterranean flourescent lights and public moving swiftly past Fiona moving quirkily and very slowly. 'Are you all right?' came one query ...

A question of 'ownership': I have to ask myself, 'Is my practice meeting my conceptual intention?'

Because I am involved in an evolving, personal methodology/body of work, I will be making efforts to develop the theory/practice relationship to a point where my understanding of the material can allow me to assimilate the contextual information and make it my own. It is my voice that needs to be heard in this work and although to some extent I believe that it is emerging, there is a need for clearer processing-toward-ownership of my contextual influences to create a more robust and relevant bridge between the theoretical base and my practice.


nomads.hat said...

While I search to locate my self within a frame of reference which is manageable in relation to alterity or 'otherness'I cannot ignore Mikhail Bakhtin`s assertion that if one takes the self/other as a binary pair, there is another layer, or aspect which is the product of this pair. Perhaps this represents for me, the territory requiring the most urgent exploration. This is an excerpt by John Allen, from J. Holloway`s and J. Kneale`s (2000) 'On Self and Other in Bakhtin', in Thinking Space: critical geographies by M.Crang and N.Thrift. Routledge, London and New York:

‘The implication of this is that for self-authorship through outsideness to proceed, in order to discover the ‘not-I-in-me’, in some way the Self must complete the Other. In other words, it must fix or better still, objectify the Other in time and space. For Bakhtin the Self attempts an architectonics (the ordering into wholes) of the Other. As mentioned above we see them and temporally and spatially position them as wholes in relation to other people and different objects. The following passage is significant and illuminating for me, as a reference of the ‘real’ in
terms of my organizing a practical, performative response using the issue of ‘self’ modified by alterity and through this relationship, the emerging physical manifestation of the ‘other’.

Particularly, Allen`s reference in the following passage, to the place of the Self manifesting as ‘… an event ‘ and as the Self manifesting not as a duality, but as a tri`ad between; a centre, a not-centre and the binder, or relationships which lie between these two states: The recognition of this difference through the performance of such an architectonics is precisely the significance of alterity and outsideness. Yet while the Self completes the Other, the self will never be brought into stasis and fixity. The Self will always exceed that which it necessarily derives from alterity, precisely because its place in existence is unique. In addition this place is an event.

The ontology of the Bakhtinian Self is one which is characteristically always open and in a constant state of Becoming. Put differently, the Self ‘as a multiple phenomenon of essentially three elements (it is – at least – a triad, not a duality): a centre, a not-centre, and the relation between them’(Holquist 1990: 29).

This is consistent with my assertion that, if one takes the Self and the Other as opposed binaries, it is the third element – ‘the relation between them’, the dialogue produced, which is the terrain which I need to inhabit in my investigative movement and filming.

KL said...

Hi Mike,

Thanks for the reminder. I have looked at your blog albeit briefly. I have to admit that when I have scanned it I felt puzzled, as if I didn't know what I was looking for.

The text is dense to the point where I get lost. If dancing in No Space means dancing in alley ways or supermarket aisles then I don't feel I understand the act or the text driving it.

In order to write anything I would like direct questions / provocations from you.
There was a question from you to me awhile back regarding my experiences of spaces like these and the word liminal came up. My memory is imprecise unfortunately but I recall at the time a sense of not feeling like I could relate to the question as was unable to locate where it was coming from.

So I have questions:

What is it that you are doing?
Why are you doing it?

I hope this helps kick start the dialogue.



nomads.hat said...

Hi KL,

Thanks for the reply. Great to hear from you. If you go in, you will find that Simon Ellis has been asking similar, very pertinent questions - questions which I need asking! It`s all good. My focus is gradually shifting away from the theoretical toward a closer relationship with the 'real'.

The problems are, how to create scenarios which are relevant and how to record these scenarios if, when and where they emerge.

I will try and summarize for you. It is essential for me to able to get my head around doing this as much as for your clarity.

My aim is to explore methods of investigating, through dance and video, notions of what constitutes identity. I am particularly interested in those aspects of identity which perhaps are usually taken for granted or pass unnoticed in our busy lives. The ways in which we relate to strangers in the street. The constitution of engagement itself as an event, its constituents - what makes a conversation recognizable and verifiable as such, between two strangers? How small can this be before engagement becomes indifference? What kinds of activity may catalyze a very small, brief dialogue between two strangers where the two people move from a point of complete indifference to engagement?

Why am I doing this? What is the point? What am I getting at? Good questions. 7 months in to this project and as you know with this stuff, I am living it in all its complexity. I value dialoguing because this process can cut thru the complexity to look at the bones beneath.

I am doing this because I am fascinated by the dramas inherent in micro-moments of connection with people. I am intrigued with the possible visual, conceptual and kinesthetic tensions which come briefly into being when that moment of acknowledgement is reached between two strangers, but which is only cursory. It happens all the time. In a city, almost-meetings with strangers happen continually. We tend to shrug off such encounters believing that such encounters are meaningless punctuation marks, which allow us to navigate our way through our day and only recognize and value extended connections and conversations of import which really engage our attention in a more prolonged fashion.

This is 'normal' behaviour. We don`t have time to gravely consider each and every encounter with a stranger and its possible import.

I am interested in manifestations of what the anthropologist, Carl Augé terms, 'the lonely contractuality of everyday life' as well as what may constitute a feeling of 'belonging' in a space and with people, in our current society. I think that these micro-moments of 'almost meetings' and non-conversations are an expression or manifestation of this condition, arrived at out of necessity, but insidiously re-inforcing distance and difference from those who are nearby. When is a stranger not a stranger? I think that these micro-moments of 'almost meetings' and non-conversations are an expression of this condition, arrived at out of necessity, but insidious. So I am exploring possible dramas in these moments of meeting.

My current investigation into what may constitute engagement with another, how this may contribute to notions of identity within these encounters and how this may be evidenced, is beginning to document this dynamic through my practice. My practice process is concentrating on initiating structured improvisation scenarios in the spaces to create a diagnostic vehicle. Through this vehicle, I want to be able to witness, document and record subtle connections, non-engagements and tensions between myself and other users in the space.

A priority for me is to make sure that my practice dovetails with my thinking and in demonstrable terms, that my dance/camera work actually does succeed in, not ‘resolving’ issues of identity, but in illuminating and critically investigating these issues.

At this stage and this may change, I am targeting inner-city spaces which I feel are appropriate for their own issues of questionable identity. I am looking at putting together, liminal interfaces between people in/and what could be called liminal spaces located at the edge of predominant movement-flows of people next to these spaces. I am interested in the visual and conceptual ambiguities and dramas which emerge as 'tensions' which are created through contrast. Contrasting people in constrasting places/spaces. The underlying ethic the work is centred on is
movement-in-transit' and transience typifies the behaviours and tensions which predominate due to these states. Which brings me to why I am using CI Dance.

I am using CI dance as a 'movement in transit' vehicle to explore identity in selected, estranged spaces because essentially CI is always, I believe, an engagement with a stranger, whether a known friend or a chance meeting with someone from anothe country (It is also an encounter with the stranger in ourselves - the other) and these spaces are places of improvisation. They lack a sense of prolonged engagement in most people`s day, a sense of 'belonging', although this of course, is relative, hence the ambiguity. To put it in Nancy`s terms you could say that the spaces and the people in them fall into that stage in the Underscore which is described as 'streaming' and 'grazing' - solo non-engagement followed by minimal and fleeting engagement. So our dance in the selected spaces goes. The spaces are subject to both, constant re-invention in their significance and useage by the presence of the people who travel through them or engage in brief work in them. But ostensibly they remain - spaces of transit. So I am using CI through its improvisational ethic of transience and because it is still quite an unknown or even aberrant art form, as a means to engage people`s fleeting attention. Within the description of what dance can be, as a movement mode, I think CI is quite a liminal movement form in some respects. There is a lot of interfacing in the process of the dance: connections solid or tenuous with the partner, connections solid or tenous with a given audience, connections solid or tenous with a given space, connections solid or tenous with the self/other.

I am not fixed on these directions but at this stage, they are a way in for me.

Hope this is clearer. I am still working things out and this will probably continue for the duration.

Thanks KL, I really appreciate the opportunity to talk.

KL said...


I did take the time to read and digest your reply, and have looked at your blog again since, looked at video's etc.

Yet somehow I am still having trouble locating the essence of your work both in the text and in terms of the manifestations I have seen in the video's. But maybe thats the point of your work, to situate itself in a place where text becomes redundant.

Nonetheless I am trying to work out how your improvisations are taking the world into account when you dance in public. It seems that the public has no reference or context for your actions, no way of responding or interacting with the movement language you are espousing. Is that you're outcome? Is that your experience when you dance in this way?

Do you want to be seen or is that not the point? Do you work from the movements of the pedestrian public or is the movement language itself arbitrary? Sorry if the line of questioning comes across as incessant but I am curious.


nomads.hat said...

Hi KL,

I can fully understand your ambivalence about my work. Thus far, I too am ambivalent about it. It is very much a work in progress and I am feeling my way through. The point of my work I think, is to situate myself in a place where, by virtue of its location, this must make it difficult for an audience to engage with the concepts - or the presentation - the work itself. Because the location is not a 'performance', its not a documentary - perhaps it is a docudrama. The French philosopher, Nicolas Bourriaud, talks about the process of performance work transforming through being filmed, into a 'trailer' - I view my ideas and work very much as a trailer at this point - but open-ended, for an event which may be put off indefinitely. I consider my work post-structuralist: open, discursive and posing questions, rather than tidily presenting a modernist kind of statement, resolution or answer. I want my work to read as a diagnostic instrument to measure ways in which we 'miss' one another on the street. I am interested in dislocation, discontinuity, double-takes, displacement.

This is how my full abstract reads now:

Project Title:
In the Company of Strangers

Meetings, Exchanges and Negotiated Conversations in Urban Spaces

This performance and video-based project critically explores meetings with members of the public in selected urban spaces. My practice will centre on the initiation of interventionist dance strategies, to prompt and examine exchanges with pedestrians in transit. Exploration of these engagements and the subsequent dialogue which emerges through physical interaction, will focus on encounters between myself, other dancers and members of the public traversing the given spaces.

Enquiry will be focussed in each meeting, on the process of engagement as an event in itself. I will be exploring in each encounter the dynamic constituents of this event: anticipation, arrival, connection, dialogue and departure. I am interested in illuminating and documenting through this process of exchange, that territory of uncertainty which pervades each encounter and lies beneath these points.

Experimental-movement frameworks will be based on the disciplines of Contact Improvisation Dance and Authentic Movement. My practice will be recorded using a range of video narrative.

As you can see, I am interested in putting myself in touch with exchanges with people, not through a performance work, but with a process of movement-based signification. As far as taking the world into account when improvising through dance, I am still working out how to do this.

Post-structuralism notwithstanding, I still want to make work which is robust and which possesses definition. It is still not clear to me what it is I want to carry out, but there is something nagging at me, something hovering. I think I want to take the conversation of my dance-partner and I and say to the wider world, ' I am taking a partnered movement-form, itself an expression of dialogue centred on improvisation in the face of uncertainty, into this wider arena of 'the world', governed by improvisation in the face of uncertainty and perhaps, ritual and I want to use it to illuminate the ways in which we meet. The ways in which we establish meetings - or not. I could stand in the street and use English. I could speak in ways which were intentionally obtuse, indefinable or ambiguous. I choose to use a vocabulary of movement.

I am working on the issue of cues for the public. I will be taking my cues from the public. (Stillness and only movement when someone comes close - activating us - and other strategies). I have been taking my own cues to the public so far. Yes, I want to intervene, but only just. Yes, I want to be seen but not 'performing'. I would like to be only just noticed by some. Peripherally. From across the street as well as by the people with whom we are interacting. If people gather around this ok too, but I am not seeking this. Interestingly, I checked out a busking licence the other day to ensure I am covered for ethical approval and one category is the 'Walk-by or Walk-through'. People are doing this around me. My outward expression to be noticed or ignored is a metaphor for conversations in public, which are cursory, casual and a product of a contractuality which exists to protect us as we go about the business of our everyday life. An urban condition. Ultimately, I am asking questions about alterity - the 'other', within urban identity and this is my study.Through my practice I want to be perceived as an 'other', conversing in a different language in a public place. This act alone is enough to provoke that status of 'otherness'.

Your questions are all great. As yet, I dont have answers to them all. But I am working on it.

Thanks and keep it coming ...

KL said...

Hi Mike,

I am having a problem with the use of the word 'uncertainty.' Theres a distinction to be made between not knowing and being in a state of uncertainty.

In my experience all activity is improvisational in dynamic. Be it driving a car, cooking food, doing a dance or having a conversation. What I notice in the 'everyday' activities is that function and specificity are fundamental to the improvisation. I know what I want to do and I work with the resources I have, take the environment I am in into account, and end up with a result.

In order for my investigations with improvisation to offer me up any concrete information, have any sense of context, effectiveness, or any sense of anything I have endeavored to find out what it is that I am doing.

With contemporary dance there is a commonplace lack of clarity in terms of its function, the investigative aspect has become cliche because of the lack of rigour and specificity that occurs all too often Theres a lack of clarity when it comes to where it situates itself in the world, & how it interacts with society.

If the approach to contemporary dance is primarily or exclusively intuitive, based purely in sensory information then there seems to be a risk of the work becoming indulgent.

I'm not saying that your work is. What I will suggest is that CI is not an appropriate language to use to conduct this kind of investigation. I also question: what IS 'authentic movement' ? Not the existing body of information that is labeled authentic movement so much as the idea itself.
You may well disagree but in my experience CI is limited in terms of its ability to take into account the composition of the environment or situation it is occurring in. It is only concerned with the fulfillment of its own agenda.Perceived this way the same limitations would occur regardless of the specific movement language eg; tai chi or ballet or break dancing.

"I am interested in putting myself in touch with exchanges with people, not through a performance work, but with a process of movement-based signification."

What an opportunity! Somehow when I look at that statement it seems to me that the basis for the movement language is answered right there. I actually think the movement comes from them, the public. Use their movement, blend with them. Then you are in a twilight world, liminal/subliminal. In that realm you may 'not-perform' the performance. There is opportunity in that real time moment to make compositional decisions that take the movement into the abstract, fragmentations, double takes, discontinuities can all paradoxically exist as 'flow'.

If you want to illuminate the ways in which we meet I suggest you remove uncertainty and ambiguity and replace it with certainty in the face of paradox.

Let me know your thoughts.


nomads.hat said...

Hi KL,

I think that CI and Authentic Movement are ideally suited to my task - initiating communication between strangers. I hazard the suggestion that while it is undesirable to make work which is self-indulgent, to some extent depending upon who is witnessing the work, almost all art work which is not literal and instantly accessible is in danger of being labelled in this way.

As for CI being able to interact with specific surroundings and environment, I have been dancing CI in just this way for 7 years now. Interacting with the 'furniture' in the space, for me, can comprise a significant part of the dialogue one has in a space. This includes street furniture, imbuing inanimate objects with a sense of the biomorphic. BodyCartographyProject for instance, in the personal experience I have had with them, empowers all the things in a space/environment which they may be occupying. I have danced with them when these issues were foremost in creating an environment-wide 'conversation'.

I fully acknowledge that classically, CI has its own agenda, which is why what I am doing would be contra to some CI dancers who recognize its validity only in a 'sport-dance' situation. For me it is much more.

I include a small section from my Project Analysis for this body of study. I begin with a quote taken from your blog. (This has been properly acknowledged as to source in my document):


In an interview with Nancy Stark-Smith (1987) Robert Ellis Dunn maintains, “In improvisation there are three things involved. Often I make a column list. In the far left column I write, “Perceptual Cues” … (These include those from the external world, but also from the body and the imagination as well!) In the right hand column I write, “Movement Vocabulary” … and in the center column is, “How are we correlating this?”’ [1]

[1] Dunn, E. quoted in Larsen, K. retrieved on 1.10.07 from: throwdisposeablechoregraphy.blogspot.com'

My task is to correlate my contextual intent to converse through movement and to investigate ‘conversation’ itself through this process, with my improvised movement language. My cues are the structured intent beneath the improvisation, driven by my concepts, the states of agency on the day, (people, weather, my clothing, my health, my partner, the space …) affecting my investigation in the space. My movement vocabulary is Contact Improvisation Dance (CI) and Authentic Movement. I am using these disciplines as a vehicle to explore the process of engaging with the public in selected spaces because essentially, CI is an engagement with a stranger and these spaces are places of improvisation and uncertain outcomes. To put it in Nancy Stark-Smith`s[2] terms (I have alluded to this before) the spaces, the people in them and their movements, fall into those stages in the ‘Underscore’ which are described as 'streaming' and 'grazing' – movement and connections which promote respectively, solo non-engagement followed by minimal and fleeting engagement-disengagement. My tenuous connections with the people in the selected spaces reflects and gives this underlying structure a voice. I am using it as an active departure point from which to progress into improvised exploration with the other users in the space. In a sense, I am enrolling them in these phases of the Underscore.

For me 'uncertainty' is significant because I am interested in the tensions inherent in the manifestation of this word/world. This does not mean that I want to allow my work to be woolly or unclear. I agree with your summary of the improvisational. Yes, function and specificity. All technology and much of our thinking about ideas whether high, low, real or virtual is geared toward managing our world in these terms.

As for Authentic Movement, I outline my understanding of the accepted interpretation of this form as a disciplined search for unpatterned movement. Similar to advanced levels of martial training, where form becomes 'formless'. However, to measure this process, an existing pattern of movement requires attention as a departure-point. As far as recognizing movement which is 'authentic', for instance, if I take a solo dance piece of yours on the net, where at the end of the work you disappear off-stage into darkness, that whole dance for me is executed 'authentically'. It does not appear to be choreographed, it appears to be one long phrase of wondering out-loud. I may be mistaken. If so, it doesn`t matter. The study is in integrity.

Yes, the public. I need to develop cues from them which are accessible I think to both, a theoretical and practical understanding of the notions I am pursuing around identity and the constitution of dialogue with strangers. I like your rearrangement of certainty and paradox. I do not mean to pursue uncertainty in my own movements and thinking. I mean to pursue it as a phenomenological entity. A construct, if you will. But certainly, the 'trick' is to ensure that my own contributions to the dialogue are not ambiguous for ambiguousness sake. I do want clarity in the mix. But I do think that you have got it in that final paragraph of yours. My movement-based signification is only as valid as it is robust and 'real', I think. Perhaps not necessarily decipherable to all-comers, but certainly 'authentically' executed.

Thanks again ...

KL said...

Hi Mike,

You have plenty of justifications for your choices and parameters in place. And I am loathe to argue them further.

I can say that I experience a chasm when I go from your text to your performance manifestation. The qualifications for your actions and the actions themselves seem disparate. And this is something I constantly question in my own practice. At this stage I am deeply dubious about contemporary dance improvisation in public performance. I have not yet answered my own demand...namely 'What does this stuff do?"

Regardless of my reasons for improvising and regardless of the sense I feel I am making when I talk about it and write about it I have to say that I feel deeply frustrated because I am failing to say anything, and that the dancing reads in a banal way. So very often I am left with a sense of 'So what?' when I witness an improvised event that is based purely in concept. As s friend of mine said to me recently in an email "This is commonly the major limitation in some performances when they focus on a concept and we ask ourselves: what's happening? The work becomes a discussion of a concept. There is no tension or that element that generates interest (curiosity). The danger is the artist discussing things that are of his private interest only, excessively didactic (teaching the audience), preaching, elitist, dealing with an idea rather than a paradox...Accepting the idea of exploring concepts in dance is the major mistake. The audience came to see a concept on stage???? I don't wanna see concepts on stage. I don't care!
I abandoned contact as a baseline foundation for improvisation because I experienced an all too limited capacity for choreographic concerns within its strata. And I have never been satisfied with any performances that have been constructed with contact being one of the key components. Ultimately I feel CI should be subservient to the composition and the situation, and used accordingly. And appropriately.

My suspicion is that dance is ultimately a point of unification, a point of relationship. When I dance with someone it makes more sense and is far more satisfying than when I witness an event. If I have no sense of direct relationship with another human being I question thusly; "Who am I dancing for?" If I was to go into a public space and dance with someone who was not dancing with me I wonder what it is that I would be left with?"

I wish you all the best with your investigations. And I hope you can extract something useful from this dialogue.


nomads.hat said...

Hi KL,

Justifications aside, thank you for arguing them this far! The process has been extremely interesting and useful for me.

I also agree with much of your commentary: While I am the first to acknowledge that the work has a way to go to make clearer those pathways into what can be seen as recognizable dialogue with the public, I do not recognize perhaps the extent of such a rift between my intent and my actions as do you, but then, as you say I am closer to the pursuit and less able to appreciate the size of the potential gap. Which is why our conversations have been so constructive, because I will undoubtedly seek for strategies which take into account some of the points you make to address this issue.

CI performance in public. A few years ago, I carried out 'field', a multi-media dance installation performance at the Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu, in Nelson. We laid 130 sq mtrs of living grass in the gallery and danced every day from 10am - 4pm for a week. We installed a video projection and had a live camera feed. There was text on the walls, costuming, physical props, sileage bales and 144 glass jars containing origami dragonflies. Concepts revolved around childhood, Phi ratios and diaspora. I carried out monoprinting and drawing between dancing. The work was a collaboration between myself and my partner Fiona, an improv poet and improv 'soundscape' musician. We invited the public into the space with us every day and encouraged people to come back and visit. Every day, we re-installed the physical space (except the grass). We danced and had verbal feedback sessions after every couple of hours or as each improv piece ran its course. We danced and created work well, badly, became exhausted, injured ourselves, experienced frustration, elation, disappointment, satisfaction, unity, fragmentation - but above all this was a process of being in the space both individually and cooperatively. A narrative. The people who came back witnessed this and were able to put this together more readily than the folk who only came once. But you have little control over audiences. Better to be clear about what you want from them and then flexible about not getting it.

I see what I am currently doing, also as a collaborative process accomplished over a longer period of time with an untold number of participants, with far less control over the methods of making the work. Still, I am interested (once again), in that uncertainty of outcome. This does not mean that I think it acceptable to be indulgent, wilfully obtuse, or settle for ill-defined strategies. These are what will create a worthwhile sequence of events in my work. Will ensure an intensity or something which has only lacklustre.

I see a number of perhaps, vignettes within a narrative. This means of course, that each component must still work to articulate the wider narrative. Must be real. Must be a coherent meld between my concepts and my actions. Time, I think, will tell.

'...The danger is the artist discussing things that are of his private interest only ...'

I spoke with a dancer recently who unashamedly said that he made work primarily for himself - and simply invited the audience to come and make of it what they would. He was not only unapologetic about this, but also gave a compelling argument in the defence of this stance. I think as an artist, I occupy middle ground here, but I do not see how one can avoid making work which is about concepts. I have to say that the 'literal' does not interest me. If you don`t see concepts on a stage - any stage - what do you see?

'If I have no sense of direct relationship with another human being I question thusly; "Who am I dancing for?" If I was to go into a public space and dance with someone who was not dancing with me I wonder what it is that I would be left with?"'

This takes me back to the issues above, of working to create a 'real' link with the people with whom I am interacting. Ultimately, there is paradox here, because that particular idiom of wonder is the point - what are we left with? The work is about illuminating discontinuity and contractuality and so essentially, begs that question.

Thanks for your time and energy KL. I really appreciate it. You have given me much to consider.

KL said...

Hi Mike,

I can't help myself...a few more things.

The work you made with your partner sounds interesting. I am wondering if the CI element was the strongest element. Or if it was the text and interaction with the audience that made signifcant impact. What do you think? Do you like watching CI in a performative setting. What do you see?

I think that I am not talking about leaving concepts out of work, that is impossible. But I have seen so much work which is about 'An Investigation of...." and seldom is there sustainable interest or the idea seems relatively undeveloped because its an investigation. My friend was talking about tension, conflicts, paradox's, unsolvable problems that provide interest. He was also talking about cliche' and to a large degree I am talking about that too.

In the discussion of 'who is the work for' i'm sure your friend does have compelling arguments. I make work entiely out of my own concerns also but I always take into a account that it will be witnessed. This is something I do care about, not 'accessibility' (when that word means 'dumbing down'). If I take the position that I am going to have a discussion by talking only about what interests me and choose NOT to listen to you even though I have invited you..i think in that situation you aren't going to want to be my friend after a awhile. I'd lose a lot of freinds that way and not make any new ones. And I think that contemporary dance hasn't made that many freinds for a long time now in part because of people taking positions like that.

Steve Paxton talked about ruminating on the idea of the success of an organization resting on how it communicated to its new initiated people, how it talked to people who didnt know anything about it. Thats someting I think about when I watch dance, to look at it as if I have never seen it before and the readings I get are enlightening. Quite often the work and or the performers don't care about me or any of the other 'me's' who have paid money/time to see the event. I ask why should I care?

My own question of 'what will I be left with if I dance with someone who is not dancing with me' has entered and stayed in my consciousness now. I will probably use that as a kind of koan for awhile.

I am enjoying the dialogue I might add, othewrwise I wouldnt be responding to you!


nomads.hat said...

Hi KL,

I too, am thoroughly enjoying this dialogue. Just the kind of discourse I hoped for when I began my blog in April.

In relation to 'field' , your questions are interesting. CI was the strongest element, I think, but not necessarily all of the time. Each element did not so much rotate as find a voice which fluctuated, depending upon the circumstances governing the day - and even the time of day. Both of the other artists, Grayham Forscutt with sound and Ian MacDonald with his poetry have a strong presence, but managed the ways in which they articulated their respective personna in the space, very sensitively.

I have to say that as the artistic directors for this event - the performance was carried out under the auspices of our dance company, Coriolis Dance Co - my partner, Fiona and I had negotiated a right of director`s veto on decisions made re the underlying structures and concepts and the directions we were seeking for the work to be explored and expressed. These artists and the live-feed video camera person, Patrick Schroeder, whose role was significant, all kindly deferred to our structures beneath the improvisation. Not always an easy thing to achieve when one is a recognized artist and we are indebted to them for their flexibility and cooperative intent. We had clear parameters and a great week.

So the week`s work was a structured improvisation where each individual continually bounced off and interacted with and took their lead from - and totally ignored - the others. We also took our cues from our audiences. I had organized for a number of Degree student groups to come down from where I lecture, to bring materials and treat us as a moving figure-drawing class. At the end of each session, together with the verbal feedback from the groups (and written) we put up on the walls of the gallery all of their drawings as part of an ongoing dialogue with us. We also had large groups of primary school children and we 'tailored' our improv to these groups. Ian Macdonald the poet, very skilfully improv`d long and very humorous/dark stories at these times which were quite different from other audience settings. Every am and pm and every day was very different.

Do I like watching CI in performance? Yes, but particularly in settings which do provide an environment which 'talks' to the dancers.
This can be busy and filled with a landscape of objects or it may be completely empty. When I walk into a space, I instinctively have a desire to listen to the space and then usually, to move - somehow, in it. Often, because of the kind of work in which I am interested, the space is quite inappropriate to what I might call 'mainstream' dance intentions - and this interests me all the more.

I taught a new T`ai Chi Ch`uan class last night in a space I had not been in before. Always intriguing. After 20 years of teaching T`ai Chi I do a lot of improvising in my delivery and before I knew it, I had the class 'streaming' through the space - ostensibly to carry out sunk and centred walking, but the class became temporarily surrogate for me in terms of mapping the space. I told them so and they all laughed, which was good, but in doing so, it supported that notion which is your next question: 'What do you see?'

In CI in a formal setting - let`s say in a 'round-robin' situation or in a formal CI performance, invariably I witness the conversation between the dancers. Usually, this is inward-seeking and so is orientated around the dancers themselves and their duet. No question. So I take your point - there is only a limited way in for me as audience - and this, from an informed perspective. This is why CI and Authentic Movement remain if not aberrant movement forms to 'the public' then usually forms which are unfathomable. The event tends to be appreciated on a visceral level where the technical expertise and the quality of the movement can be admired. (This is why I want more from CI and why often, in these settings, there is no more to be had ... but I don`t accept that this is all there is ... )

Coming back to my T`ai Chi Ch`uan class, if I address this setting as an event and I interpret is as a performance - albeit instructively based, the reason why the class was successful, I think, was due to the cues I provided the class members. There were many: I had something - they didn`t yet know what it was, but they thought they wanted it; they had paid to be there; they were beguiled by the quality of the movement itself, in which they could share, take away and own; we shared talk, touch, concepts, history, laughter, a self-deprecating awareness of our bodies - and the pursuit of a myth. The myth of promise. 'If you practice this art form on a regular basis you will benefit from the wonder and mystery instilled within the movements themselves, the physical well-being, the ability to manage your life in ways which might be complementary to your existing modes of living'. I do not mean this cynically. I also do not mean that by using the word 'myth' I marginalize the art form. I believe we are surrounded by myths and most of them are truer than we think. I mean myth as interactive narrative. A world which talks back to us. So, returning to your concerns about the nature of contemporary dance - does it, can it offer us a world of wonder and interactive myth? I think the best does. I have just been reading a paper on Merce Cunningham`s performances, 'Enter' and 'Biped'.

Retreived from http://people.brunel.ac.uk/bst/vol0101/index.html

I quote a short section for each:

‘With Enter, Cunningham shows us the joy of duly experiencing the evanescent moment, the significance, rather than the meaninglessness, of being a mere grain in the sands of time, and the appreciation of death as an entirely natural element in the life cycle . . You come away from an encounter with such work lighter, freer, less trapped in your self, more connected to a cosmos that may be unfathomable but is no longer forbidding or alien’ (Tobias: 1993, 93).

So Cunningham offers, through the discontinuity of his dancers enough continuity in his concepts - through the movement expressed - enough cues to satisfy and pique an audience`s curiosity. What I think we want though, as audience, is to be able to not just bear witness but to take away something with us. Something we can call our own. I think that for a work to be engaging it offers this. An intensity - or as Brian Massumi (Parables for the Virtual, Movement, Affect, Sensation, Duke University Press, 2002) says, an 'affect' - an element which proscribes a lasting power.


' As with the dances already discussed, many of the most enthusiastic comments on BIPED (which has been extremely well received) emphasize what is seen as the successful fusion of dance and technology in ways which enable the human to triumph over technology. ‘The choreography was a welcome departure for Cunningham, who is sometimes criticized for turning dancers into technicians. In Biped, the dancers were sumptuously human, lengthening their limbs to full extension, fluidly moving through each phrase, and relating to each other onstage’ (Scarry, 1999b). Another critic remarks that: ‘Cunningham’s triumph here is in not allowing spectral technology to supersede live kinetics’ (Hutera, 2000). However, one of the most striking aspects of the piece is the interaction between the ‘real’ and the ‘virtual’. Interestingly, according to Paul Kaiser, Cunningham ‘wasn’t concerned with the technology overshadowing the dancers. He was more interested in the collision between the two worlds’ (Scarry, 1999a). It is precisely because Cunningham (in Derridean fashion) both maintains and undermines differences (here, between the real and the virtual) by constant metamorphoses between categories that his work creates exciting displacements and tensions which cannot be resolved in univocal interpretations. There is, moreover, an experiential dimension of the relation to ‘otherness’ which is not explored in Derridean discussions of ‘spacing’. In BIPED, this involves interpenetration of real and virtual spaces, where, through kinesthetic empathy with the virtual as well as the live dancers, spectators can experience a breakdown of boundaries between human and ‘other’ corporealities.'

Dee Reynolds, the reviewer goes on to say:

' In line with this reasoning, I shall suggest that Cunningham’s dances in fact philosophize in ways which point to consequences more radical than his intended anchoring in ‘the thing itself’. Allowing the dancer to be ‘just as human as he is’ does not assume a stable category of the ‘human’. Cunningham’s choreography in fact forces us to re-think relations, not only between space and time, but between intentionality and movement, the arbitrary and the purposeful, and even between what we conceive of as human and ‘other’ ways of moving, notably involving interactions with animal and computerized forms of movement. The effect is to destabilize – literally – and displace – literally – our received ideas of the ‘human’.'

Cunningham, for me, has always supported the notion of the validity of the virtual in our pre-occupation with mythic activities. It is his enigmatic and ambiguous concepts, full of holes, gaps in the scores but which contain just enough cues for us to survive in that rarefied atmosphere. But this I believe is what is responsible for the discomfort and downright outrage that his works over the years have provoked in his audiences, as well as the adulation. In a sense though, I can reduce the complex philosophical reviewing down to a quote from Cunningham himself, to arrive at perhaps a clearer truism of this myth that as humans, we apparently, so uncomfortably occupy:

' I am no more philosophical than my legs, but from them I sense this fact: that they are suffused with energy that can be released in movement . .. that the shape the movement takes is beyond the fathoming of my mind’s analysis but clear to my eyes and rich to my imagination. A man is a two-legged creature – more basically and more intimately than he is anything else. And his legs speak more than they "know"’ (1997: 86). '

Is this what we relate to? Appreciation of the energetic body and what that signifies? There are some places of instructive suggestion in here for me. I am very interested in the 'virtual signature' and how this manifests as 'otherness' in the execution of our dancing. (See my July blog on the 'other' identity in the CI duet). As Reynolds says, perhaps we as humans want to be reassured that in spite of it all, the stories we have to tell on any given stage, are human stories with which we might empathize or at least, respect. So to my work - I need to ensure the existence, in the doing of the work, of cues which may offer ways in to my ideas for me and for the public on the street. Otherwise, never the twain shall meet and I want us to - almost meet. If I can establish these they will be evident in the signification between us. They will be demonstrably 'real' rather than simply an optimistic hope.

As for cliché, I hope that I will not fall into that mannered mode. One of the things I think my work in its early days as yet, is not, is clichéd.

This is an interesting one - do we make work for people to like, respect, agree with, relate to, to further the cause of our art form and by extension, our own work? I think Paxton is right about making the organization and what it does/stands for accessible to people.

If you have 'community' you have a listening ear and an intimacy. However, people bring to their worlds their own stuff - a non-listening ear, biasses, prejudices and personal associations which lend a tilt to perception. I am not responsible for that. I believe people need to take responsibility for their own aesthetic. Otherwise all will be uncaring. But I do acknowledge the relevance of a genre or wider working awareness having the power to influence a sector of humanity. Reading Dance Theatre Journal a while ago I was excited to hear about the movement of a lot of people to Newcastle on a regular basis to see contemporary dance. People travelling in some cases hundreds of miles to see a show. Quite suddenly a collective aesthetic emerges which keeps folk coming back. Something in the humanity in the myth-telling, the work - or something in the water?

'... what will I be left with if I dance with someone who is not dancing with me ... '

Like you, I might sit on that for a little while ... suffice it to say that this is where my work currently resides - I want to dance dance-work which invites but does not cajole, signs but does not wave limbs around, communicates through cues but does not mind if nothing comes back, because the work is exploring those ways where in public places, due to the contractuality of the public-place mindset, not very much comes back. This is the prevailing condition.


KL said...

Hi Mike,

CI and Authentic Movment (or indeed any thing that is driven by somatic concerns eg; Feldenkrais etc) are internal systems. One martial artist described external systems as something you can learn via observation. It follows that an internal system is something you have to do and experience. Watching an internal system I don't 'get' a lot of information. I can only get it at an experiential level.just like your students in your classes.

As a witness in a performance context however I don't want to watch someone having some kind of internal experience with their leg or a rock or whatever. I end up with a similar experience as watching someone play a Playstation game or sit at a computer. With no externalisation there is no communication with the witness.
Regardless of how deep or profound the experience of the performer if they just have their experience 'at me' then I am on the flipside of the question 'If I dance with someone who is not dancing with me..."

And I'm not throwing out the baby wiith the bathwater here, I am a strong practitoner of CI. The problem with CI in performance is the cliche of it, the performer having a personal sensuous experience with little attention to the performative modality, and also things like the vocab itself is actually quite limited, people tend to perform it in a monochromatic dynamic (fluid), and almost never does it occupy the mythology you talk about.

I agree that there is something more, but I think looking more deeply into these systems you will just find more and deeper of the same. Other fields of information take into account things that these systems do not.

I also have a question about your comment on your work and cliche'. Are you saying that you don't think your work isnt cliched because its in its early stages or just that your work is at an early stage of development but that condition has nothing to do with the fact that you don't think it is cliche? Just wanting clarification there.

nomads.hat said...

Hi KL,

Yes, I have been exploring ways of externalizing somatically-driven work processes. Over the last 7 years I have been taking groups of my degree students out to the Golden Bay west coast to carry out a project I conceived as 'Walk-Work'.

In 1999, I was invited by a dance teacher to take part in a journey, 'mapping' a sequence of Israeli towns on foot. The work was to be a documentation of this process.

I could not go, but I thought I would respond to the notion by putting my own variant in place. So 'Walk-Work' has focussed over the years very much upon the inner workings of the body while travelling over and through wilderness spaces. Ideas and the subsequent making of work have centred on ways in which the body as an organism gathers information about its local environment, assimilates the information and finds methods to express/define/respond to the information. This means that this project could be carried out anywhere. We take video and sound recording equipment. I teach editing of the material using Final Cut on our return and students respond using performance/installation/film and/or traditional visual media. So we have film minimally managing the horripilation of skin in the wind or juxtaposed with the surface tension of water, sound recording of breath and feet walking through a range of textures. Looking for alternative, often abstract solutions to somatic issues. I take the students through a series of 'states' not steps to introduce felt alternative perceptions about the body and space. I take them looking for real 'Weather'. There are references here to my own appropriation (never having done it) of Min Tanaka`s Body Weather. The project is very different from anything else they encounter on the programme. It has been incredibly popular and everyone has found the approach very rewarding and the films/work resulting have been strong. The point is that to make visible a concern for the somatic is not impossible - just very difficult. Once again, the more subtle/internal the communiqué, the more deliberate perhaps, the cues need to be. Don`t get me wrong. Every time is different and a struggle to wrestle with these concepts and body-mind emphasis.

Having spent my life working with hard/external and soft/internal martial arts I know the validity of delivering external aspects that you can see as well as feel to T`ai Chi students. It serves as a beginning. Having acquainted the body with one layer other layers can be assembled and this takes time. Otherwise there is only dilution and confusion. Undeniably you have to have time to arrive with the body 'knowledge' and to have this manifest in the fibres themselves. I agree.

I think though, that having been working for some time with somatic/internal driven movement, when I do witness it in others - bending to another force, resisting or blending - I do enjoy watching it. But it certainly helps to have been there myself. Otherwise I would 'see' something different. Personally, I am still trying to work out if it matters or not. If I witness someone moving in a strange or incongrous fashion I tend to want to know more. I am drawn to it. I just have remember that not everyone else is. I think I have that down now. I have spent years running classes for people with great passion and enthusiasm and always have to remind myself that not everyone feels the way I do about what I do and what I am offering. That`s ok. The hard part comes when you are being assessed by an outside party whose sole purpose is to critically examine your motives and manifestation of your content. Assessed using 'objective' criteria which inevitably must be applied subjectively. That`s ok too. I recognize the need above all to carry out that kind of appraisal myself, on my what I do. Therein lies the rigour and the integrity, I feel. It makes for work which is robust. However, it doesnt make the attainment of it any easier ...

'... With no externalisation there is no communication with the witness ...' This is great. It is at the crux of my conundrum. How do I make work which is about the very truncation of that communication when the 'witness' is also a protagonist in the event, with whom I am barely communicating? If I can approach this question effectively I think I can make some progress into my issues.

I guess that I am, in effect, trying to make work from a somatic standpoint here. I am acknowledging a '... sensuous experience ...' and I do want to pay attention to the communicable modality, but without the 'performance' attached to it. Maybe this is a red herring. Regardless, if the engagement with the person is readable, aesthetically perhaps it is not so important that what I am doing is read as performative or simply communicative.

CI occupying that 'other' place - a connected-with-partner and disconnected-solo connection with a public stranger, I think is do-able. Otherwise, I wouldn`t be attempting it. I may be mistaken, but I am interested in pushing CI`s limits in this direction. It comes for me, from a place of interest in the tensions/dynamics which result from the process of what happens when you engage with and also leave someone in a duet. For me, a duet is still a duet when two dancers are separated by physical space. I have always been intrigued by this aspect of CI. The rolling connection is all well and good, but what about the peripheral, tenuous connections? They are what interest me. This is part of the 'Something more' I have alluded to.

Re the cliché comment, I meant that I see what I am currently doing as not clichéd.

ptrebus said...

so far I agree with kls response to your work. mike im getting flumoxed by your language. mind you my process is usually visual not text based so im not the one to offer interstitial objectivities.

nomads.hat said...

Hi Pete, Thanks for the response. My process is essentially kinesthetic and visual, but I am interested in the ways in which written language can dovetail/play an integral part in my practice.

Everyone has differing needs and ways in to a place of understanding. Know that at this point, although my ideas are arriving at a certain peak of clarity for me, I need to make the time to work them through in my movement, so that I am not either just illustrating my ideas or hypothesizing with rhetoric. In short, I am continually working with murky contexts and this may be reflected by my language.

My November post deals with:

Points of focus for me in moments of purchase in the stream of change in the 'event' of a meeting.

The 'purchase moments' I want to explore, represent points of pause during the process of moving in and out of a given space/approaching a stranger in an encounter which may develop into some kind of exchange.

This process, I am suggesting, rather than arrival (we rarely take enough time to 'arrive') may be governed by an emphasis upon movement out and away from one another. Leaving.

So exchange between two strangers may be the shape and form, colour and content of that 'moment of purchase'.

These moments of purchase - as pauses, may offer documentable opportunities as visible, physical islands in this continual stream of movement in urban spaces.

Anonymous said...

just stopping by to say hello