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Caught by seeing
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Beached
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the Suchness of Heni
and Eddie
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the Velvet Stream
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Caper
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Fragments
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A Tribute to Michael Donaghy 1954-2004
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A tribute to Niki Pollard
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Rosemary Lee – the Velvet Stream    
“The Velvet Stream, an investigation of the muse is an attempt to grapple with the notion of what it feels like to be in the moment of creating. I wanted to hone in on one area of the creative process that can be very slippery and stay with it. It is very much an experiment for me to try to write about this place or state.” Rosemary Lee

An investigation of the muse
On a Roll, or Go with the Flow
Stream of consciousness
or The Velvet Stream

“You have to get on the velvet stream” says Margie Beales; eccentric improviser who jumped on chance and rode it like a wild female Don Quixote through her performances.

I felt I knew what that velvet stream was but I was too nervous that if I started to question or prod too much that velvet stream would just speed away, leaving a void in its place. So rather than scare it, better just try to trust that sometimes I would find myself on it. Chasing it or provoking it was too risky an option. This was much like my attitude to horses—volatile beauties that I secretly wished to enter a partnership with and thereby gallop to places I could not reach alone.

So is this velvet stream the same as the muse? I think of a muse as more like an angel by your side, over your shoulder that pops in from time to time—not a pathway to step on to glide with for a while. Why is that? In dance does it help to see it as a linear journey that is there always if only you could be in the right state of mind to fall upon it, so to speak? I guess it’s a moving muse highly appropriate to dance; if it were stationary you’d dance right by it. Perhaps it’s like those welcome gliding pathways at airports (only don’t you wish they were faster and had gentle hilly gradients so you felt free of that hideous flat held feeling you get in an airport, and in a plane come to think of it?). I think the magic carpet might be the best archetypal symbol of the velvet stream myself.

So now I am a little less scared of losing it, do I dare to prod it? How tentative or robust are these metaphysical aids? I am throwing caution to the wind here to see. I think I know it well enough to entice it back to my paddock—the studio floor but it still feels risky to be disturbing it. Maybe that risky feeling is the residue of a pre deconstructionist era, a somewhat more romantic time—not sure which is preferable.

What’s it like then this velvet stream? It’s like a current of water that you catch and glide swiftly and effortlessly along in, it’s like catching the crest of a wave on your tummy regardless of the salty sandy landing. These may be brief journeys but I wonder if they could be endless. Is it an English or Protestant fear of too much of a good thing that I think I fall off it all too quickly? No wonder that I am mesmerised by surfers and that I could see that the most successful surfer was in fact the most cool (we’ll come back to that later).

The word ‘flow’ comes up again and again as I write and I’m reminded of Sue MacLennan’s nickname for me of Dr Flow, after taking a class with me where her frozen shoulder began to thaw. This sets my thoughts stampeding and I am running to catch up—have I found the jet stream this time? Hit a moment of insight that in tomorrow’s harsh light may seem worthless, but let’s go with it for now. The keyboard feels such a clumsy vehicle for writing at this moment, surely the free steady flow of fresh ink from the nib would be more in keeping here. Too scared to try? Too scared to stop because I feel the proximity of the velvet stream as I tap here.

Flow equals energy maybe
Equals chi maybe
Causes healing maybe
Causes more flow maybe
Is the same as the velvet stream maybe
Is inside and outside maybe
Is two rivers meeting maybe


Is it something to do with connectedness?

“Only connect” said E.M. Forster; how often I come back to that quote in my life and work since Howard’s End A level days. There is definitely something of an affinity to being in a state of oneness with yourself and with the environment that is a similar state to being on that velvet stream, or is it the same as being ready to be on it, or is there no difference? And what is this if it is not connectedness? When in a state of readiness to improvise, you feel as if you are about to dive into the pool; throw caution to the wind, risk the unknown and ride that wave. What do they say—“you become one with the wave”—what is this if it isn’t connectedness?

I sometimes use the word surrender when I teach, if a little embarassedly, as it suggests a vulnerable place that sensible young women brought up by my mother don’t allow themselves to be in. It also smacks of ecstatic dancing that can send the cynical side of me into overdrive. Yet I know that’s it’s only in letting go that you can be swept away, it’s only through acceptance and openness that connection can happen. Joan Skinner describes the state of being released as a supple state—that’s a state of mental and physical suppleness, a state of alertness (counter to the inaccurate view of release as being a state of relaxation, heavy on the lax sense of the word). Perhaps it is a state of release from hindrance to flow in all senses—imagination, thought, sensation and physical flow.

Sometimes that release of flow in the body sends me leaping and falling with an abandonment that startles me, only if I let the startledness get in the way it would interrupt the flow so—stay cool… remember the surfer—witness Borg, Kirsty Simson, Bach and more…don’t rock the boat.

The released state in the body feels similar to the state of being on the velvet stream—so this maybe what I mean by connectedness. Is the stream inside and outside, are they the same or do the two meet somewhere?

Returning to surrender—or perhaps letting go is a less loaded way of putting it. In order to achieve that supple state I would say one needs to let go of:- assumption, habit, expectation, disappointment and negative judgement. You could say these are all time based: lodged in the past or imagined future and because of these you cannot truly ride chance or contingency. Pursuing the analogy of a time line, then the only place left is the present. You want to be able to ride the present, to be in the present; that means in the body, in the present time, in the present space.

Being in the present
Equals being in a supple state
Equals being connected to the outside
Equals being connected to the inside
Equals being present

Being present
Equals being beautiful
Equals embodying intent
Equals being in the moment
Equals presence


I know, I know—it has all been said before: Zen and the Art of Archery, the dancing Wuli masters, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, sports psychology. 70s retro, or what? and I was of the 70s so I have no youthful excuse. Yes, it has been said before but the revelation for me is that this is much the same place one needs to be as a maker as well as an improviser. In other words, I am in the same place when I’m inside the thick of the instant making, that is the action of dancing, as when I’m sitting with my notebook in a rehearsal looking on, preparing for a future performance. It’s a contract you enter into with time and chance. As a maker you need a healthy dose of past, present and future at different times in the process.

It’s a balancing act of preplanning and being in a state of readiness for accident, being ready to pounce and to wait, being able to discriminate and edit, whilst remaining open to the velvet stream.

With experience can we get closer to hopping on and off? Well, the surfer can, so I guess we can too.

When considering that place one is in when improvising well—it is a place of coolness. Abandonment tempered with an ability to sense the whole picture of what is happening in the room, sense the internal rhythm of your own dance and its effect on the whole, sense the need for disturbance or the need for unity, sense the moment for surprise and change without being egocentric, sense the moment for the solo and the group, sense the beginning and the end, the past, present and future, temper your discrimination, trust and let go, accept yourself and the group. You are both outside and inside, intimately alone and intimately together.

I think that is a very similar place to when you are choreographing. It’s a much more interrupted place and the skill comes in finding the thread which maybe the stream in amongst all the interruptions. When choreographing and when improvising I’m trying to grasp the thread that runs through the dance, the dance logic, some might say ‘the dance narrative’.

I have never before linked the experience in my body as an improviser with the experience of choreographing a dance work. Now I think I am some way to understanding the link between doing and making, between my body work and my making—phew. One more thing to let go of.

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