RESEARCH: SDIPT Module Three - Visual Language and The Performer
April 2, 2014
The third module for The Speaking Dancer: Interdisciplinary Performance Training was named Visual Language and The Performer, taught by director Jacky Lansley and multidisciplinary artist Rose English. The weekend allowed me to address and rethink my relationship to visual stimuli, layered sensibilities in performance, perceptual awareness, the exchange or negotiation of images between choreographer and performer, and the importance of space, site and context in performance. The focus of this weekend looked to influences and explorations of visual modern and post modern practices, including performance art and visual art. There was also the chance to further deepen my practice with previous investigations such as vocalisation techniques, developmental movement and naval radiation.
We were asked to prepare some ideas, answers and responses before arriving at Dance Research Studio for this module:
1) How does the performer embody visual awareness and skill – and what conceptual and practical knowledge might she or he need in this process?
2) Is it possible to be simultaneously inside and outside a performance?
3) How as performers do we combine emotional embodiment with the process of integrating ourselves as visual images within a work?
During this module I was trying to understand and question the extent to which I design and sculpt or arrange the body and the space around the body, in the same way that a visual artist or designer may do with objects, textures or colours on a page. Visual awareness allows us to become something else, be it an image, an idea, an emotion, an object or a character. This visual awareness and skill is also present and vital within a technical realm, enabling a dancer to learn a phrase, check alignment in the mirror, or their spacing on stage. It is something we learn to exercise very early on within dance training in particular, it’s almost a given and becomes somewhat subconscious. However, there can also be stronger sense of consciousness that seems to happen in everything that we do as humans, particularly during the performance of daily life, allowing us to move “inside” and “outside” of our awareness or performance. Somehow during the context of a performance, our awareness and consciousness is heightened and it provides the perfect opportunity for us to acknowledge this complexity of internal and external, and the “layered sensibility while performing”. The performer has to do so much, even whilst doing nothing at all. There are so many layers. She’s doing an awful lot of something to be able to let you think that she is doing nothing. This dualism of body-mind or “inside” and “outside” is something that has really intrigued me for a few years. I can’t help but, mid-performance, be fascinated by the fact that I just have so much to do – physically, emotionally and mentally. It’s an extremely complex state of being. Many people I’m sure can relate to a feeling of just “not being there” when performing, often leaving feeling like it was the worse performance ever! It seems to happen when we spend too much time on the “outside” rather than enjoying the “inside”. I personally crave those pleasurable six minutes, thirty minutes or one hour of being “inside a performance”. It helps me to feel alive and it helps me to remember why I do what I do. But as soon as I think “what does this look like”, I am instantly forced outside.
The somatic training and performance research that I undertook during the previous modules were relevant to the concerns and questions of this module. I was finding myself looking to a place of internal expression, as a way of rediscovering myself and awakening new possibilities, allowing me to move beyond reconstructing or reproducing learnt shapes but actually moving from a more honest and organic place. The developmental movement practice allows me to return to both the physical and emotional embodiment of a particular time, place or feeling that has somehow become forgotten or unfamiliar, it allows me to (as Rachel Gildea said a few months ago), become “undone” again. If we can come undone, we can think about using that place as a foundation for becoming made up or as a place to begin the doing.
“I rarely draw what I see. I draw what I feel in my body.” (Barbara Hepworth, Sculptor)
On the first day of this module we discussed our preparatory research and engaged in one another’s collection of images and quotes. We looked at various paintings of Joan Miró and we discussed the importance of contextualising an image and understanding its full capacity of engagement with historical and/or political relations. The image top left is a photograph of a photograph of a painting, a gift from Jacky. This piece is ‘Femmes au Bord du Lac à la Surface irisée par le Passage d’un Cygne’ by Joan Miró, Together we spoke about the possibilities of abstraction and the opportunities of expressing the inexpressible.
“Resemblance is applicable to abstract work, but it goes beyond the resemblance of an image. It is about the suggestions or underlying meanings, as opposed to the images in space. Giving signs or suggestions of meaning or concept, people can take or leave these connections. There is an extremely intuitive and intellectual level of being able to interpret an image or performance, rather than taking it literally for how it appears – it demands a level of imagination.” (Taken from my notebook – 08.02.14)
Through solo and collaborative practical research, we began to explore processes in which Rose and Jacky have worked with previously. We tried to detach ourselves from our chosen images in order to approach them once again with fresh eyes, using a set of questions to provoke our explorations. This research highlighted the idea that we’re not locked into or defined by a particular style of work or disciplines, as performers it’s important for us to learn a variety of approaches and we can pick which to use and when or when not to use them. Similarly to the idea of “mixing up” performer training in which we looked at during Module Two with Anna Furse. As part of my collaborative research with fellow SDIPT students Penelope Boff and Rachel Gildea, we were working with recalling imagery and physical layering of clothing, looking at these effects on the improvisatory movement itself, as well as the relationship to the clothing as objects.
“How, as performers, do/can we reconstitute reality as the abstract painter does? How can we be abstract, elusive. fragmentary?” (Jacky Lansely)
On the second day of Module Three, we worked with Rose English to look at the relationship between place, space, objects and people. Rose originally studied at art school, working mainly with life drawing and with materials in a static way, before becoming interested in images of or with the body. Her work with dance artists such as Sally Potter, Maedee Dupres and Jacky Lansley often explored different contexts of spaces and the physical properties or effects on the body within these spaces. Rose has worked within many different contexts and disciplinary realms, offering a vast and wealthy spectrum of experience to our workshop together. Rose’s practice is the core of SDIPT and she deals directly with many of our similar explorations and interdisciplinarity. During our workshop together, we looked deeply at the body in relation to objects, questioning what this does and opening up opportunities for new contexts, connections or associations. Our investigations were all practice-based, ranging from telling and repeating stories to one another, gaze-following exercises around the space, polka dancing, placing or positioning objects in space without bodies, dressing people with objects (then lifting a very, very heavy mirror and moving it towards them so that they could see themselves), and reenacting or recalling visual memories throughout the day (thank you Rachel for your snail-like entrance at the start of the day, it made a beautiful visual memory for us all). I had a really rich and insightful time working with Rose during this module, working with and considering my practice in a particularly new and valuable way, that has been significantly influential on my more recent collaborative work.
“The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled” (John Berger)
During the afternoon of the last day we all went for a walk along Regent’s canal to explore an urban surrounding that was new and unfamiliar for most of us. We remained aware and engaged with our surroundings, using our eyes and ears to interact or react to the environment around us. By removing the studio-based investigations and placing them into a new context, this allowed me to work through some of the questions I had during the weekend that deal with relationship (or the lack of) to space and objects within space. I was also able to spontaneously work with people in relation to space and objects in space because there were many members of the public walking or sitting along the canal too. Some of whom very much enjoyed our performative presence and our engagement with our surroundings, others looked slightly frightened. However, it seemed that when we were enjoying the space, others were enjoying it too, forming a united group of embodied people within an urban environment. It was such an engaging experience because we gave ourselves permission to be open and responsive to the environment, the pedestrians, and one another. The importance of working in real-time and real-space, struck me during this outing. I was also discussing the frustrations that many dancers face with small or expensive studio spaces, but it’s important to remember that it’s a choice not to work outside.
We always finish our SDIPT weekend together with a “montage” piece of work, working in small groups to recall or remember moments or revelations that occurred during our time together, reshaping them cohesively into a performative piece. For this exercise, I worked with Katie Hall and Katherine Gill where we addressed both recall of images and individual words such as: “Royal, Initiation, Logic and Easy Peeler”, which were selected from various texts that were visually present (but never before noticed) inside the studio.
It was an overwhelming and ground-breaking weekend for me, I feel that I am just getting started with new concepts of dealing with images of the body, space and objects. I particularly enjoyed working with and challenging the contexts of images, removing or displacing them in a way that allows interpretation to be more free or imaginative. On that final note, the next weekend will be in Truro, Cornwall, which will offer some new and exciting images and surroundings for me to deal with visual language, space, site and context within outdoors environments and an unfamiliar studio setting – watch this space (with heightened visual awareness)!