RESEARCH: SDIPT Module One - The Interdisciplinary Performer
October 20, 2013
SDIPT is a professional development programme, directed by Jacky Lansley who is best known for her radical and innovative early works within New Dance practice and Performance Art. Jacky is the founder of X6 Dance Space, Chisenhale Dance Space and her own studio, Dance Research Studio (DRS). SDIPT will take place at DRS which was founded in 2002 and hosts a range of Associate Artists such as Green Candle Dance Company. The first module is named The Interdisciplinary Performer and we began to explore our relationship to our practice, our self and our everyday lives, taught by Jacky and Fergus Early. The Speaking Dancer is both a metaphor and a practice, it deals with the idea of disciplines or practices being separate and it is about us learning how to integrate them. The course lays down processes for us to use in our own development as performers and in our everyday lives. It is about reclaiming parts of ourselves that we may not be so aware of or comfortable with any longer, for example our voice. The course enables us to think about our voice as an ‘and’ rather than an ‘or’.
“Within the west, certainly in the UK, we tend to make a distinction between the voice and the body, between dance and theatre. It is a distinction that can represent either a denial of the body, or a fierce emphasis on virtuosity which denies expression.” (Lansley 2012)
We were asked to arrive with a range of ideas, questions and materials such as a sitting position, standing position and a resting position. We were also asked to select and bring an item of clothing that we are fond of, and a piece of research or text that interests us. In preparation, we were also advised to spend some time monitoring and becoming more familiar with our individual walking patterns, in different situations.
“Choice (daring to choose) is the beginning of a creative process; the materials you select can offer an insight into your own experience and provide the beginnings of a performance ‘text’.” (Lansley 2012)
As soon as we arrived, I was made aware of a very important ‘rule’ for my time at SDIPT, which is to always be disciplined with pleasure. Don’t be a ‘good girl’, be comfortable. Fidget. Readjust. Sit on a lovely beanbag and wrap up in a blanket, where possible. Another ‘rule’ that we have is to shake, shake the body as well as our vocal chords and in turn, our internal body. The shaking allowed me to refocus, waken my attention and to release excess tension. Over the course of the weekend, I discovered how to shift my focus back to basics, in a very deep and complex way, which in turn has allowed me to get to know myself better. At the start of the workshop, we spent some time walking with a partner, observing how they moved, how they looked and also how it felt to be watched. I could notice really subtle shifts in my partner, I felt that I was getting to know her better. My partner observed that I used my gaze a lot, that my eyes were constantly moving and this is something that I was happy to hear as I think about it quite often, particularly when performing.
“The art of performance requires above all else a self awareness: to be a performer you have to know yourself, to understand your heritage, your cultural and personal patterns.” (Lansley 2012)
Jacky directed a Developmental Movement task that dealt with ontogenic (human infant development) and phylogenetic (animal evolutionary progression). We worked through Cellular Breathing, Naval Radiation, Mouthing as well as both Pre Spinal and Spinal Movement. We explored using each cell to breath, relating movement to the naval – like a starfish, initiating movement with the mouth as well as moving through movements that correlate to fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. I rediscovered the stages at which I have learnt co-ordination and primitive reflexes, I began to re-learn learning. through this task I was hit by some memories, deep emotions and a sense of internal complexity. I felt hugely overwhelmed from the whole process, Jacky explained can often happen. Rather than talking about this process, we drew it, we took our responses and feelings and quickly transferred them onto paper. My drawing was like an extension of the process and the emotions that I was experiencing. This allowed me to feel less indulged with the task, but instead freed, by getting it out and onto paper, before sharing them others. We began to discuss that our reflexes are a starting point for movement and we had the opportunity to explore our individual reflexes. We experimented with the sense of balance and off-balance with various objects to stand on or sit on and we tested out our reflexes. Whilst doing so, we had the chance to further explore our own sensory awareness and response to various textures through unpicking the sensory pattern.
Through small task-based improvisations and some time to create, we looked at our prepared positions of sitting, resting and standing and we later explored the vocal relationships to these positions. I worked with Katie Hall, a dance artist and dear friend, and we observed each other’s positions, before reflecting and discussing our findings with Jacky. We were amazed to be able to experience a sense of situation and location through observing these embodied positions. Then working with another partner, I further explored my voice within these positions and it was liberating to break the silence that I often experience through performance. We received some feedback from the rest of the group, as well as giving it to others, always validating one another first before moving onto questions or criticisms.
The text that I chose to bring with me from my research is taken from John Berger’s book Ways Of Seeing (1972):
“Soon after we can see, we are aware that we can also be seen. The eye of the other combines with our own eye to make it fully credible that we are part of the visible world. If we accept that we are part of the visible world. If we accept that we can see that hill over there, we propose that from that hill we can be seen. The reciprocal nature of vision is more fundamental than that of spoken dialogue. And often dialogue is an attempt to verbalize this – an attempt to explain how, either metaphorically or literally, ‘you see things’, and an attempt to discover how ‘he sees things’.”( Berger 1972, p.9)
The text provoked me to think about my use of dialogue for expression, my use of gaze in performance and the idea of ‘making myself visible’. I thought about connectivity through visibility, the exchange of seeing and looking between people (for example performer and audience) and the perception of seeing. I shared my ideas with the group, whilst sat with a cup of tea and a cookie, on my favourite bright red bean bag. Jacky pointed out that actually even if you don’t look at the audience, sometimes you are being more generous by wholly concentrating on yourself and your performance. Also during this discussion, Rachel Gildea spoke about her relationship to performance and beautifully said the words below. We then discussed the idea of going back to the fundamentals of being a human being, noticing and observing ourselves.
“Dance is a way of coming undone.”
During this weekend, we also explored our relationship to our selected piece of clothing, and clothing or objects in general. We looked into our sensory awareness of objects, our perception of them and our physiological connection with them. We improvised with our item of clothing as a performance partner, exploring the possibilities and opportunities that it can provide, this is something that I have never done before and it was a really interesting process. Concentrating on the sensory experiences that an item of clothing can provide opened up my mind to a range of ways to look at and to perceive objects.
On the second day, we were led by Fergus Early and we explored the processes in which he uses within Green Candle Dance Company. Fergus informed us and showed us Green Candle’s work Falling About and Listening Eyes which provided an insightful context for our workshop together. We learnt about the company’s devising process and the ways in which they relate to audiences. One of the songs from Falling About beautifully explains:
“We need to fall, to know where the earth is.”
During the workshop we worked through both movement-based and vocal tasks, to further explore our relationship to our voice and bodies. Fergus instructed us to return to the idea of walking patterns, working with a partner to embody their walking pattern and in turn, getting to know our own body better. We also worked with characterisation and narrative tasks, through embodying animals as characters and then returning them to their human form. This is a way that I have never worked before, and I do tend to stay away from characterisation but I was surprisingly engaged and interested by this process. I discovered a way of very quickly embodying a character that I hardly knew anything about, as a way to understand and perform them. It was a truly amazing first weekend and I can’t wait for the next one!
Lansley, J. (2012) The Speaking Dancer: Interdisciplinary Performance Training, A Handbook by Jacky Lansley. Dance Research Studio, London.