I am attempting to enter inclusively into each studio process, noting my response to what is happening. And from this embodied sensation, to describe what I see.
The atmosphere in this studio is cool, gentle, English. I feel the space between my shoulders and my neck. Alexander creates space. And he has a double act to play right now. He has to finish his piece by today and also find time to translate his movement quality to the dancers.
Falling is key to Alexander’s choreography, falling as a metaphor for uncertainty. As I enter the studio he is exploring a fall with a dancer, falling backwards into a partner’s arms, and then coming back to standing. The dancers partner each other in a fall to recover. Going down to come up. Alexander wants a fall… and then return to standing, not a fall to recover. The recovery is not inevitable. For dancers trained in classical/modern dance, fall and recovery are inseparable. In modern dance students learn a stylised fall that has no connection to letting go, but to an onwards connection to more movement. After all, modern dance is about youthful living – and ongoing fight against the dying of the light – right? To fall is a meeting with uncertainty, with loss, with chaos. And this kind of falling – technically — requires a somatic understanding of letting go … What a paradox for Alexander and this studio process, he has little time left and has to move fast, yet to fall requires a slowing down, a stopping of time. What a challenge!
The dancers are grouped together, looking into the far distance. I sense a searching for something more, a longing, anguish and loss. As I watch I feel this in my body.
I have walked into the very end moments of a run of the choreography.
The next half hour is spent reworking details of timing, hand and footco-ordination, movement dynamics, when to turn energy on or off — the fine tuning of rehearsal process. There is no discussion of feeling, or what to feel. The feedback is technical. Shanshan is precise, exact and sure with her technical feedback.
Yet their bodies seem full of feeling, their eyes are full, their hands reach to full stretch, their legs fully extend, they perform a full pause, heavy with feeling.
Is it the theme of belonging that fills them with feeling? Is it the sound score? Or is it the performance of the movement language itself? If I move my elbow down sharply I experience a different feeling to when I move my elbow down softly. A feeling emerges with the movement.
I am reminded of something I wrote a while ago (2006) about full body/empty body, presence and absence. In choreographic process we can create movement material through fully expressing an emotional connection. It is then possible to empty the body of the emotion, to be left with the movement itself, as an empty shell. In performance we might embody that empty shell of the movement and the feelingre-emerges, without having to emote. Empty body becomes full.
A large space is scattered with mattresses and dancers, talking, falling about, clowning, vying for a laugh, enjoying each other’s interactive performances with the mattresses. Little scenes unfold, improvised meetings between bodies and mattresses. The dancers are wearing what they normally wear to bed – in some cases quite revealing! At one moment mattresses are placed standing up, like walls, one behind the other, with a body sandwiched in between each one. A dancer improvises, climbing up and popping his head over the brow of the mattress, then fainting slowly down again — and the action is so funny. Each dancer plays, joking, finding possible material, appearing above and to the sides of the mattresses and disappearing again. Shu-fenenjoys their play and keeps a firm hand. She knows what she wants. A pleasurable release this is – to laugh. My body relaxes into their joyous games.
What exuberant passionate energy Xiaomei shares with her dancers. She leads them and they follow. I see such open honesty and commitment to her task, to reconstruct, re-enacta shamanistic ritual from Mongolia – a communication between people and god. The shaman, the healer, draws the spirit. And the spirit draws the performers, through the hand held cluster of bells that are passed from dancer to dancer — breathing life into the group, pressing them onwards, driving them forwards. As another kind of empty body, the dancers surrender to allow the spirit of the bells to enter their bodies.
This is powerful stuff. I am down on my knees, I am ready to be taken. I am carried away by the power of the group. The sound score is ritualisitic, throbbing with rhythm and gutteral voices, created by Xiaomei. I observe simple ancient spatial patterns, snaking circles and lines, heel first running with bent legs, women bent double at the waist, slapping the backs of their wrists, the men as warriors of yin and yang. I almost lose myself to the spirit of the dance, my body energised with the pulse of the group dynamic, I want to be closer, closer, surrender to the dance – yet I know I have far too much individual ego to perform something like this!
Wow! what a range of work and what a tumble of embodied experiences for me.