Jamboree for One (Lecture)

I have titled this lecture:

Choreographing the Choreography: a performance installation engaging ordinary objects toward the illumination of (extra)ordinary, extant choreography.

This project is about offering an intimate encounter with my ongoing investigations into the ignition and handling of embodied history in the making and performing of dances. Extending from the premise that the choreographers’ artistic materials, the body and its relationship to space and time, are imbued with extant choreography, I am probing how does the choreographer choreograph the choreography?  And further, How might objects illuminate extant choreography, destabilize the operation of habit and demand a more rigorous state of consciousness in performance?

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My solo performance of Jamboree for One which you have just witnessed takes as its departure point the way inanimate and ordinary objects can transform into animated companions in the life of an isolated or lonely person. In her book, How to be alone, Sara Maitland says, There is a good deal of anecdotal evidence that doing things alone intensifies the emotional experience; we see and notice more and experience both the environment and physical response to it in a very clear direct way.

Focal in the environment I have set up for Jamboree for One is the single chair – this most anthropomorphic of objects offering company for and a mirror of, the solo performer. Other objects engaged include cushions, homemade instruments and a loaf of white bread. For me this work is set in a strange but partially identifiable landscape inside of which I excursion with express logic. Through the slow unfolding of the choreography I hope that I might draw attention to our perceptions of and responses to the mundane or nothing moments of our day-to-day existence.

While tonight you have witnessed Jamboree for One in a traditional sense from beginning to end, it can also be seen, and I would in fact like it to be seen, take up from any point in its duration. Perhaps you can imagine finding me at a random place in the choreography – sliding like a mermaid, pushing the chair, or feeding the birds with my loaf of white bread…

jamboree-2-1

During the 1950’s the choreographer Doris Humphrey wrote in her book – The Art of Making Dances,

“ The choreographer’s medium is the body, which is an extremely practical and tangible piece of goods, much more so than words, musical notes or paint. It already has a definite shape, and is   equipped with a highly complex system of levers, limbs, nerves and muscles, plus a lived-in personality with entrenched ways of its own. I should say that the first mark of the potential choreographer is a knowledge of, or at least a great curiosity about, the body – not just his own, but the heterogeneous mixture of bodies which people his environment.”

I have a great curiosity about the human body, no doubt something that was enlarged during my training as an Alexander Technique teacher. Alexander technique is a technique for psychophysical reeducation and works with changing habitual movement and postural patterns. I am also curious about how to stay curious. Working with objects in my choreographic practice has helped me to stay curious and provided a fresh pallet of movement options.

I have found that ordinary objects used in the context of dance afford movement pathways that would not have otherwise been chosen. These movements lay somewhere between ordinary and dancerly.  Sure, I might pick up a loaf of bread in the same way I usually do, but this is less often the case. Mostly I use rules or scored provocations to trick myself into a fresh handling of the object and a handling that includes my whole body, not only my arms or hands. What also keeps my handling of the objects fresh and in fact applies to the whole choreography, is my undoing of my knowing of what I am doing in order that I don’t become too familiar or accomplished.

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It’s perhaps quite a strange thing to be aiming to not get too good at something, especially as a performer. My practice is very much influenced by my work with choreographer Deborah Hay who is a key figure from the early 1960’s Judson Dance Theatre movement in New York. In her most recent book, Using the sky, she writes,

 “…everyone is consciously and unconsciously choreographed, by culture, gender, locale, politics, race, job, history, and so on. And later…Within the art form we call dance, I experiment with words to disrupt, often violently, conscious and unconscious movement behavior.”

Hay’s choreography is always provided to the dancer as a set of scored instruction along with an overarching performance meditation. Some of these meditations used over the years include:

“What if how you see while you are dancing is a means by which movement arises without looking for it?”

“What if where I am is what I need,” is not an examination of what I need but an examination of the question “what if where I am is what I need?”

“What if less is more is not less?”

I’d like to return now to the chair. This single chair (pointing to chair) as with most chairs, is saturated in a history of postures. We sit on chairs multiple times a day and mostly don’t think twice about them. In her introduction to her book The Chair Alexander technique teacher and professor of architecture Galen Cranz writes,

“We spend much of our waking lives in a chair. In our sedentary culture, we each have a choice of over two dozen seats throughout the routine of a day… We touch chairs not just with our hands but with our whole bodies. Yet despite their intimate place in our lives, we know little about them and their effects on us, physically and mentally. …What is true of the chair is true of all the artifacts we create. We design them; but once built, they shape us.” (Cranz, The Chair , 15.)

This beautifully describes the riches of the chair that I have uncovered in Jamboree for One particularly in terms of its tactile input; its capacity to inform my whole body. In making Jamboree for One I have become intimately acquainted with this chair (point to) – its scale, weight, negative spaces, edges, and surfaces. One choreographic score instruction you have witnessed tonight is to dance the impression of the chair. This is very much engaging with the idea that objects shape and impression our body and mind.

The chair is described as being a highly anthropomorphic object – it has human qualities. In her book Chair, professor in design history Anne Massey writes,

 “The chair has a strong anthropomorphic aspect to its structure with legs, arms, back and seat. … it can represent its designer, or its owner, in their absence.”(Massey, Chair , 9.)

She even suggests that the previous sitter leaves an aura that we can sense.(Ibid, 9.) In Jamboree for One, I have experienced the way that the chair, both in its structure and in the absence of the sitter, offer a strong sense of another being to which I can relate or simply be companioned by.

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I have long been interested in the degree to which my subconscious penetrates my choreography. Jamboree for One is no exception. I spent three months in hospital last year, one month of which was on full bed rest. I had to be wheeled around in a wheelchair. All the days blended into one long, slow rebuilding. The pushing around of the chair and laying under it as you have just witnessed, in my solo are two examples of the way my hospital stay impressed my body and imagination. I have long been a fan of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo whose work quite explicitly expresses medical trauma. I am also interested in Kahlo’s works for the sense of dialogic self or multiplicity of selves they convey. The work, The Two Frida’s (1939) with which you may be familiar, is of great interest for the way it depicts herself, a second chair and a second self, connected through the holding of hands. Historically artists have used chairs particularly in portraiture to represent identity.(Ibid.,181.) Their use ranges from being quite visible to purposefully hidden and also just the chair with the artist absent – for example in Van Gogh’s Van Gogh’s Chair (1889). Anne Masey writes,

“Artists portraits of their own chairs have been used to represent their character and emotions – how they see themselves, represented through this most anthropomorphic of furniture pieces.” (Ibid.,181.)

One more significant offering of the chair is the way that they, as Austrian artist Hans Schabus well describes,

“position us in a fixed frame, circumscribe distances and generate patterns of encounter, bringing people together, creating intimacy within groups, and influencing our actions, sensations and behavior.” (Austrian artist Hans Schabus in Anne Massey, Chair (London: Reaktion Books, 2011), 205-206.)

On that note, I’d like to hand over to you, sitting in your chairs whilst I sit in mine, and answer any questions you may have about the performance or those things I have briefly discussed tonight.

Helmet Head Update

Following on from my previous post, I have now harnessed the Go Pro camera to my chest. This as I anticipated, offers quite a different perspective and quality to wearing the camera on a helmet atop my head.

So what am I noticing so far?

It reminds me of a project I began in Finland last year – Bear Lady, and earlier than that, Naissance.

Bear Lady 2
(Bear Lady, video still, 2015)

Bear Lady began when in the costume storage of the dance school in Outokumpu, I found a beautiful black fur coat. It was particularly appealing to me as Finland experienced a much colder than usual summer last year and the main project I was there for was based in the old copper mine up the road from the dance school. We had some time to work on our own projects and so I donned the coat and found myself a curious concrete hide out with a severely slanted floor. It is unclear what this small shed-like building would have been for in the mine especially given that the floor was so slanted it was almost impossible to stand upon. Wearing the black coat, I found myself laying on the slant, clinging to its edges and just breathing. At times I rested my camera on my belly and just filmed the rise and fall of the fur. There was time on one day to visit the museum display at the mine, and here I was confronted by just how many men were lost during the mine’s history and how many wives and children they left behind. Breathing while lying in the fur coat in the small slanted-floor building seemed somehow fitting. An intimate view.

Naissance
(Naissance, video still, 2007)

Naissance was created across a number of locations, mostly the house of a friend’s grandmother in Sunbury, Melbourne. At this house I spent hours filming – in the back yard, the dark hallways and the bathroom. Most memorable are the moments that were spent perched over the bathtub – it full of water with my friend laying in it wearing a petticoat. Like Bear Lady, much time was spent capturing breathing and subtle shifts, as close as possible to the perspective and experience of the performer.

The camera on my chest is close to having a self-witness as different to an audience or video camera witness, and yet it is different to my usual self-witness. It has made me aware of my typical positioning of my self-witness – far away and above me, mostly. I have never imagined my self-witness as being in the driver’s seat and seeing things through my eyes. The camera view from my chest comes pretty close. This makes me aware that mostly I have worked on a model that I am the dancer, my witness is the choreographer/overseer and together we are attending to the score/unfolding dance.

Hands

Wearing the camera harnessed to my chest more of my attention is on other parts of my body – I am aware of moving and softening my chest area in order that I capture – my belly, my breath, the top of my foot, the tips of my fingers, the top of my shoulder…

“Dance involves a bodily expressivity that attributes to the body what is usually given to the face: expression, intensity, feeling.”

(Brannigan, E. “Micro-Choreographies: The Close-up in Dancefilm.” International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media 5, no. 2&3 (2009): 124.)
Bear Lady 3

The practice of wearing the camera on my chest is helping me to find and connect with those other ‘bits’ of the body, the dead patches. This experience reminds me of the way I have felt doing Trisha Brown’s Locus score and engaging with Deborah Hay’s open practice. There is a lovely jumble in the hierarchy of body parts and a refreshing in the mind with the discovery of ‘new’ parts and patterns.

 “…even more important than muscular habits are your neurological habits, because all the nerve pathways and all the inter-connections whereby energy flows from one nerve centre to another are largely habitual. The energy flows along habitual lines. It’s like water running in an irrigation system in fields. It runs along habitual lines because those lines have become so familiar. That is how energy flows.”

(Carrington, Walter. The Act of Living: Talks on the Alexander Technique. edited by Jerry Sontag United)

My energy can have the chance to flow in new ways.

Earlier this year I was introduced to a practice of articulating the ‘news from the body’ in an intensive with Ros Crisp.  Using this practice and aware of the babble that speaks, the news is that I still need to breath as I dance. If I hold my breath the camera on my chest hardly moves at all or gets to see the rest of my body and the surrounding world. If I breath, the view is so much more interesting and more important than that, my experience of the dance is enormously enriched. Time to review The Art of Breathing.

 

Helmet Head

Recently I have been dancing with a Go Pro camera on my head. This perhaps sounds rather strange and indeed the appearance of me doing so is… odd. I should add that the camera on my head is sitting atop a horse riding helmet (I purchased on eBay from China) and as with all kinds of hats and helmets, makes me look like a little turtle. Appearances aside, the act of capturing this footage and the footage itself is full of interest.

Helmet

The choreography I am dancing is a solo, Jamboree for One and takes as its departure point the way inanimate and ordinary objects can transform into animated companions in the life of an isolated or lonely person. Focal is a single chair, this most anthropomorphic of objects offering company for and a mirror of, the solo performer. Other objects I engage include cushions and loaves of white bread. This work is set in a strange but partially identifiable landscape inside of which I excursion with express logic. In a slow and steady unfolding I am working to draw attention to our perceptions of and responses to the mundane or nothing moments of our day-to-day existence.

Go Pro Experiments 1

The nature of Jamboree for One is such that it can be viewed in a traditional sense from beginning to end but also from any point in its duration. Ultimately I am preparing this work to be installed in a gallery. It is proposed that a schedule of live performances during an exhibition is negotiated with the gallery. Between live performances I envisaged that the work will be left as it remains at the completion of a live performance, the objects used during the performance leaving an ‘aura’ of what has been. During select live performances the helmet camera is worn and captures the performance from my perspective. Outside of performance times this rare perspective is projected into the gallery space. In combination with the objects used each performance, this generates the opportunity for audiences to (re) read between the lines, to choreograph the choreography.

Go Pro Experiments 2

Wearing the camera on my head in some recent evening rehearsals in the local church hall has made me aware in ways I did not anticipate. My orientation to choreography and performance is very much influenced by seminal artist Deborah Hay. Between 2006 and 2010, I closely examined those artists practicing in early 1960’s who formed the original Judson Dance Theatre, in particular Deborah Hay. Hay recognizes and addresses the choreographed body with which the choreographer and dancer must work, through continuous development of processes through which to counter-choreograph the existing choreography.

During my evening rehearsals wearing my Go Pro camera I am practicing what she has taught and coached me in – specific verbal provocations as a way of triggering multiple levels of perception at once.

Within the artform we call dance, I experiment with words to disrupt, often violently, conscious and unconscious movement behavior.

My dance practice continues to seek less stable instances of being and I try to identify those capricious moments through the structure of language, working and reworking that language to best describe the learning taking place in my spewing multi-dimensional reconfiguring non-linear embodiment of potential.

(Hay, Deborah. Using the Sky: A Dance. Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2016. pp.12 & 1.)

This language continues to evolve. The most recent time I worked with Hay she offered, “What if every cell in my body has the potential to be served by how I see?” Previously there was, “What if, “What if where I am is what I need,” is not an examination of what I need but an examination of the question “what if where I am is what I need?” What if less is more is not less? And “What if my choice to surrender the pattern of fixing on a singularly coherent idea, feeling, or object, when I am dancing – is a way of remembering to see where I am in order to surrender where I am? What if how I see while I am dancing is a means by which movement arises without looking for it?” * But the provocation I have been engaging most in these recent times of practice has been that which I was first introduced to during an intensive at Bundanon in 2010 – “Turn your f***ing head” As I understand it, this provocation came out of the experience Hay had of watching herself on video and noting a fixity in her head, a tendency not move it unless the body changed direction, in which case it would follow along. I take this to mean it was lacking the kind of freedom and independence that is oftentimes supported by the study of Alexander Technique – this is my observation of those whom I have taught as well as in my self. Until now, I have felt that it would be immensely helpful to have a recording of Hay giving her provocations while one practices. It is hard work to rigorously impose these on oneself, in particular “Turn your f***ing head.” But rather interestingly, I have found that wearing a camera on my head cultivates a new awareness of my head’s orientation and a concern about the footage I am capturing. These two things work against each other. I wish for my head to move freely and yet my serious concern about what footage I might be capturing or how this might all appear from the outside fixes my head even more.

Turn your fucking head is a single movement direction used in the practice of my work. It is meant to disrupt beliefs that what you are doing matters, whether or not you are conscious that you have this belief. In the context of my work, what matters is not what you do but how you are choosing to engage in the moment.

The regal head is endemic to dance and theatre practitioners. As artists we need to prove we are serious and responsible citizens of the world, committed to our respective art forms, who know what we are doing and want the audience to know this too. This need to assert our value in society lodges the head like a fortress, unwilling to surrender.

I began to loosen up. Rather than my head turning as a consequence of dancing, I found it more effective to arbitrarily turn my head as if in response to someone calling my name, or a book falling on the floor nearby. Coincidentally with every shift in my visual field when my head did turn, my body experienced a differentiation of physicality.

I turn my fucking head to refresh my body palette…

(Hay, Deborah. Using the Sky: A Dance. Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2016. Pp. 103 -104.)
Go Pro Experiments 4

Most dance training assumes that there is a single coherent being who dances. My work succeeds when there is no one “one”, no single moment, or meaning, movement, image, character, emotion, that exists long enough for either the dancer or audience to identify as an “is” that is happening.

(Hay, Deborah. Using the Sky: A Dance. Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2016. p.10)

If I’m honest I must say that during my first viewing of my Go Pro footage I was disappointed. It was so bumpy and lopsided. It made me feel quite nauseated. It was not what I had imagined. For some reason I think I had imagined the smooth, coherent footage we are so accustomed to watching of contemporary dance. Oftentimes, the videoing and editing is labored over as much as processes of developing the choreography and performing it.

At this time I continue to practice and to film and to allow what I am capturing make me feel uncomfortable. I’m not sure if more exposure to this ‘messy’ footage will shift my perception of it… but perhaps I will save that for a post further down the track. The head is also a most precarious of places to balance the Go Pro and I have in mind to purchase a harness so I can secure it to my chest and see what kinds of things this throws up. For now, its time to get that helmet on and get stuck into some more practice.

Go Pro Experiments 3
* Performance meditation from Deborah Hay’s I’ll Crane for You (2008), that I commissioned and performed in 2008 through participation in her annual Solo Performance Commissioning Project.

Intermission

Intermission

Reflections on Maria Hassabi’s Intermission

I recently finished performing in the Australian premiere of New York performance artist Maria Hassabi’s hypnotizing Intermission at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne.

Intermission was first performed at the combined Cypriot/Lithuanian Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale, and is an entirely choreographed installation of slow, sustained and highly specific sculptural movements traversing down a set of stairs. In this Australian premier each cycle of the work (the time taken for a performer to move from the top to the bottom step) lasted approximately 2.5 hours and was on loop for 4-6hours each day for gallery visitors/audience to experience.

 Intermission formed a central; even highlight part of ACCA’s exhibition Framed Movements curated by Hannah Mathew. This was an exhibition,

 Exploring the many ways a movement based approach to the occupation of time and space is practiced not only in dance but increasingly in the realm of contemporary art, the exhibition brings together a series of Australian and international artists who use a choreographic approach in their work.

The following writing is a collage of thoughts I gathered in the weeks of performing and immediately following Intermission, an experience I am immensely grateful for and deeply impressioned by.

 Stillness

 I can be embraced by the very core of who I am, quite still. – Eva Karczag (dancer, choreographer and teacher) in Deborah Hay’s my body, the buddhist.

“Oh, they’re moving…” The woman’s surprised voice trails off as if she’s also just realized that we can hear (what she is saying). She moves more carefully around the gallery space and gradually toward the steps for a closer inspection. I didn’t appreciate until this moment that we may actual appear so still. My mind and body even in the ‘stillness’ are absolutely active. I don’t tend to use stillness (the word, the idea, the embodiment) in my own practice, as it tends to result in deadness or an uncomfortable tension. Intellectually I know that stillness doesn’t mean stiff, frozen, dead or stopped but for whatever reason I seem to feel restricted by ‘stillness’ even when it is self-imposed and thus self-determined. Intermission is certainly asking that I reconsider both ‘stillness’ and the associated ‘discomfort’ I experience.

 There is someone lying down on the gallery floor, resting and watching.

It’s a hard space for people to rest in to be with Intermission for an extended period of time. This is actually quite interesting (or problematic, as it was expressed to me by some who visited). I observe my audience pacing, slumping, sitting and rearranging. They shift between being deeply settled and flitting here and there. Each brings a different energy into the space and necessarily to the work. It impacts my experience of performing to different extents on different days something I consider is dialogical with my own energetic state, porosity and perception. I enjoy that my audience reflect back to me the range of comfort levels I am experiencing (and repressing) as I perform each day.

 Performing & Exhibiting

I notice today that something ‘amps up’ each time someone enters the gallery…

Trained response, perhaps. Human nature, most certainly. When they leave it is not relief, but rather a slight sense of loss and longing that I feel. I hope they will return or soon be replaced with someone to keep us/me company. I have always felt that my audiences locate me in performance. This orientation to performing is significantly influenced by my ongoing interest and practice in the performance practice of seminal artist Deborah Hay. Without my audience I often feel that the choreography and the way that I engage with this choreography is dull. I am quickly bored and hugely judgmental. For this reason, I have adopted Hay’s practice of imagining my audience present in the instances (i.e. developing the work alone in the studio) where they are not. The handful of moments I find myself to be completely alone while performing Intermission I experience as destabilizing – for the work and me. Funnily enough, I don’t so much have to imagine my audience in these moments, as they tend to suddenly appear. The anticipation that someone could enter at any moment means I find myself mostly unable to settle in to any kind of true aloneness which is combined with a strange (but common amongst the Intermission performers and spoken about by Hassabi) phenomena of ‘seeing things’ due to slight visual disturbances caused by sustaining a very different kind of seeing in a stark, mostly white space.

On alternate days I move between wondering about how I am performing and then feeling much more like I’m on exhibition. The latter is a new experience and is heightened as people come close, hold their phones up, clomp around, and talk loudly about what we are doing, as if we are here but not? The set up of Intermission perhaps gives visitors to the gallery a permission to inspect us as an object. While I don’t feel vulnerable, if fact very much steering this ship with all my intelligence, I get a sense that the aesthetics give it a vulnerable facade – purposefully. It makes me think of theatre and performance scholar Kristen Maar’s article, “Exhibiting Choreography” in Assign & Arrange that I have just recently read. The article itself is introduced as one that ‘investigates the modes of exhibiting dance in museum or gallery spaces…’ and in the section Museum, the words ‘ displaying choreography’ have me do a double take. Exhibiting dance. Displaying choreography. I’m not sure that I am doing either as I perform Intermission or that I would ever consider dance or choreography (even) in a museum, gallery or any alternative space as being exhibited or displayed. These are certainly visual art terms that to my mind imply a kind of one dimensionality or non-human quality. And yet, this unfamiliar and slightly uneasy sense of being ‘on exhibition’ is hanging around.

 Alone, on drugs

I look up the steps. I am alone. The others have left for the day and it is the afternoon of Melbourne Cup. I sense I am completely alone. I turn to see the front. I am. Alone. No one coming in, the invigilator elsewhere. Just the artwork and me. It my aloneness I feel more of an artwork, an object. Placed and left here. I ‘rest’ for a brief moment. Allow myself to just be here. Nothing to perform. No one to examine me. Some of these art works are making noise. Some moving a little. I am still and not still. Breathing. Thinking these thoughts. I’m glad I don’t have to stay here. I can keep moving forward and there will come a time, not too far off, when I can leave this space.

 “How did it get so late so soon?” (Dr. Seuss)

“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.” (Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar)

Leaving as it turns out is not so straightforward and becomes a peculiarly observable experience over the weeks. I develop a renewed appreciation for the spaciousness of the surrounds of ACCA. The seemingly too long trudging journey on the gravel (previously cursed when in a hurry to get to a performance at the nearby Malthouse), the length of footpath to the tram stop, is now neither long nor big enough. When I do board the tram I feel utterly self-conscious and ‘other.’ I remind myself this is surely an internal reality and not in any way visible. But I remain anxious that I must appear odd, on drugs even, in my super slowed and spacey post Intermission state. In pharmaceuticals there is a kind of capsule known as a spansule – a sustained-release capsule. Performing Intermission is much less outwardly exhaustive or onerous than I anticipated and than might be read by audience. It is actually quite contained and self-absorbed. To me, especially afterwards, I feel I have ingested something that is slowly releasing in my whole being and through me is affecting my surrounds. The duration of this state is quite unknown. On one day, in my ‘drugged’ post Intermission state, a stranger asks me if I’ve had a good day. I blankly reply yes, trying to think what it is that I have been doing – anticipating there may be another question. Sure enough he then asks what I got up to. I can’t quite find the words and then a frank ‘dancing’ falls out. It amuses us both (likely for different reasons.)

Rhythm and emphases

I fall into the rhythm of her clicking camera. It has the timing of a photo shoot and I’m ‘milking’ each pose. Realizing has me (internally) smiling which is a least more fun than enduring a work that can at times be uncomfortable and taxing due to the physicality, velocity and subsequent duration. I also feel I ought to have known better. In the performances following I am much more aware not only of clicking camera’s, but of my internal rhythm and of a developing hierarchy of parts or ‘shapes’ within the whole choreography. These latter two aspects are considerations in my own practice and it is my experience that the familiarity and confidence that comes with performing a work repeatedly can ensnare one in unconscious rhythms and patterns that have the capacity to emphasis (and de-emphasis) parts of the choreography. Recalling curator Raimundas Malašauskas’s description of Intermission as, “a volcano that moves slow” is useful. I imagine the heat, the tension, the slow pouring lava through the whole choreography, nothing more or less important than anything else, no matter how difficult (or disliked) it is.

Losing (control of) Time

 “Time is an illusion.” (Albert Einstein)

“Time is a created thing.” (Lao Tzu)

Somehow today we lost half an hour. Afterwards, somewhat puzzled, I was able to apprehend that this must be cumulative. Like large scale cooking where the difference between using a 60g and 70g egg is significantly affecting in a way that is not in a normal scale recipe. It also strikes me how much the speed of Intermission on any given day is informed by our bodily physiology. A cup of coffee is not ideal before hand; a cup of herbal tea however is perfect. It seems almost reckless that at the heart of a work that exudes and requires so much control and discipline is an organic, unstable, changeable human being.

A few days after the day of losing half and hour is a solid day. It is my seventh performance. I am able to stretch things to the full four hours (I start in the middle, go to the bottom, exit, return and do another full loop) as planned. Perhaps being sleepy is quite helpful. I actually haven’t been sleeping too well of an evening during this season of Intermission. I find I am gently but constantly moving in my bed and semi awake for large portions of time. I have a different kind of residual soreness in my muscles likely from using slow twitch fibers in a way they aren’t use to. The soreness keeps me in the orbit of Intermission even on the days I’m not performing. When following ‘drape’ I get to ‘sleep’ today in the choreography, I am alone and actually let my eyes close for a bit. It is nice to have a little nap before finishing the final few steps.

 “We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.” (William James)

“Feeling sick today… ” my notes read. “Can’t lay head back worried I’ll pass out.” It is a memorable day for the challenges I faced. I did however manage to settle into things over the duration. I settled into feeling sick. I settled into not being able to mask or run away from my body and its complaints. I perceived the others (Deanne Butterworth and Michelle Ferris) settled also and enjoyed the sense of a collective settling after a (possibly) too fast start. The design of Intermission is such that we don’t talk to each other apart from before each performance. Furthermore, we cannot see each other too well once on the stairs. In fact, it is even challenging to perceive each other energetically (I’m particularly thinking in contrast to dancing in a group on a floor/flat surface). It is this challenge of ‘connecting’ or being with each other that gradually leads me to understand why Hassabi describes Intermission as a solo performance or three solos simultaneously.

 (Un/re) touchable

A woman inspects me at close range announcing, “I’m just checking to see if you are real.” She doesn’t touch me (although I half expect that she might). Rather she just stands and looks with her arms crossed before returning to her partner to announce that she can see I am concentrating very hard.

 “… it’s impossible to get out of your skin into somebody else’s…. That somebody else’s tragedy is not the same as your own.” (Diane Arbus)

Later, a young man begins positioning himself careful and closely. I am curious. Is he going to join in? I consider that such an action could be interesting. I’m on the second last step coming out of ‘monster’ and rotating down onto the last step into ‘misery’. But as I move, I realize he is positioning himself AND his phone in order to take a ‘selfie’ (with me in the background). I’m not sure how I feel about this. Certainly I am surprised and perhaps even annoyed that he has made this part of the choreography more difficult by ‘getting in my way’. A ‘selfie’ is such a safe and strange way of registering an experience.

 Life drawing duet

 “Drawing makes you see things clearer, and clearer, and clearer still. The image is passing through you in a physiological way, into your brain, into your memory – where it stays – it’s transmitted by your hands.” (Martin Gayford)

 Tonight I am performing Intermission solo. At the same time there is a performance by Shelly Lasica, a lecture and a life-drawing group. I am in the ‘background’ as Shelly dances on the gallery floor below the stairs. We are aware of and see each other. The audience is sitting between the two of us, mostly watching Shelly. I am aware of a couple of gazes in my direction. They are sustained, head in a nodding motion between me and paper. It’s interesting how this gaze (not unlike a clicking camera) seeks to inform my timing, at least initially. I feel quite loyal or attached to staying for longer in some ‘positions’, concerned that by moving on the image will be lost (for those drawing). As I continue on I become more comfortable that as I transition through images so too will those drawing. From here my attention shifts to an awareness of the conversation that is now taking place following Shelly’s performance. The first thing I really crane to hear is a definition of choreography. It is beautiful, multiplex and approximate… trailing off at the end and quite well describing what it is I feel I am attending to. And then there is some more conversation on how a choreographer ‘hands over’ or ‘lets go of’ the choreography to his or her dancers. I think of Hassabi on the other side of the world and me here, carrying on her choreography. I have found it to be useful, in her absence, to think of her. Not just her choreography but also the way she taught it performed it and described it. I have also been regularly reminding myself of what may seem a simple thing – the title, Intermission. With ‘intermission’ in mind I relax and settle, do a bit less and find more ease within the choreography. As the evening moves on I begin to notice the coincidence or relationship between words, phrases in the conversation and my movements. Hannah asks, “Are there any other questions?” and I stand. Quickly this standing, always slightly awkward and revealing, has a different reading, at least to me. A child in school standing to ask something… And yet I have nothing to say. My movement is speaking many words as I travel through the conversation and drawing activity. At times I am very close to those sitting on the steps as I traverse a narrow channel on the diagonal that has been left for me. At times I am in a position not too different from those around me – legs crossed, looking forward, waiting for the next thing and shifting when one place becomes less than comfortable.

 Gaze and storage

 Two men, each particular in their own way are noticeable today. The first has a gaze that makes me feel less than easy in my tight denim jeans. The second is demanding to know what the point of this art is and how it is to be stored following the exhibition. He is looking at us on the steps as he asks about storage. It makes me wonder about the afterwards and the highs and lows that most performers experience as we move between performances seasons. I usually dip into a low not unlike going into a little dark storage place…

 A path well worn but never the same

We have worn a path on these stairs.  Like cats that elegantly weave the same pathway through a home, negotiating variables with nuanced organization and ease. It is different doing the same thing in performance to doing the same thing in daily life. Today, as happened yesterday I run down the escalators as the doors of the 5:38 train are closing and today as happened yesterday my heart sinks in the knowledge I have missed it. I feel silly that I have the same response to the same situation as though it didn’t happen yesterday. Today performing Intermission I, as happened the other day, placed my hand too far forward as I sat down. Recognizing I had done this I didn’t think, “I shouldn’t have done this or know better,” I also didn’t have that sense of concern I had when this occurred the other day. Rather, I sat with this moment and called upon my whole cellular intelligence for a solution – understanding that this would likely be similar but not identical to the other day. And so transpired an unfolding newness within the same, a way of being engaged that leaves no place for boredom, complacency or habitual response. It is for this reason I imagine Intermission would remain interesting and challenging for the performer regardless of how many performances were undertaken. I could certainly perform Intermission beyond this four-week season.

Emptying out

 “Emptiness which is conceptually liable to be mistaken for sheer nothingness is in fact the reservoir of infinite possibilities.” (David Suzuki)

Today I finished my 14th performance of Intermission. I have spent something in the area of 40 hours on these stairs, in these jeans and shoes performing Hassabi’s work. In some ways it became easier, in others, harder. For example, the simple act of tucking in my shirt as I left the space at the completion of each descent grew incredibly difficult to do with the honestly and ease with which it was demonstrated by Hassabi. Differently, the once awkward and almost painful ‘drape’ section grew to be my favorite for its pleasurable oddness and ‘newness’ each performance.

I am left with a deep sense of respect for the work and it’s creator and a sense that it could be performed many, many more times without tiring of it.

It has been suggested to me at times in my life that I would do well to try meditation, to, “go on a Vapasana retreat.” I have always declined such suggestions offering that I’m not good at being still or going slowly (which is precisely why it would have been suggested to me). What I now feel I was trying to express was that I don’t do well with being bored. Somehow, until this experience with Intermission I have equated stillness and slowness with boredom. Sure, there is stillness and a similar sculptureness is my own performance works, but never to this extent. The thing I have come to know is that stillness is far from boring, far from easy and is very rich territory to commit to.

 Afterward

 My final notes read, “It’s three hours since I finished but the state I am left in is long lasting. In fact as I write and think, I am wondering about the coming weeks, life after this experience, its impression upon my whole being and how this will be present in the things ahead.”

A few more weeks on and just what this experience has been or amounts to remains both mysterious and definite. So for now, and to avoid undermining it with a neatly worded summary, I am happy to hang up my jeans and experience things from a different place simply grateful for such an opportunity and for those with whom I shared it.

You may also enjoy the insights offered through this video interview with Maria Hassabi filmed at ACCA during her time in Melbourne.

Recovery

Recovery

2-9 December 2014
, The Substation

Direction / Choreography / performance: Nat Cursio + Shannon Bott | Direction / Choreography: Simon Ellis | Light: Ben Cobham – Bluebottle | Sound: Byron Scullin
Contributors to research phases: Pete Brundle, Fiona Bryant, Benjamin Cisterne, Paula Levis, Vanessa Chapple

The other evening I attended a performance, Recovery. In the words of its’ creators Nat Cursio and Shannon Bott, Recovery is dance, ceremony, gathering and living. I was particularly keen to be at this performance due to past collaborations with Nat Cursio, my involvement in one development phase of this work during 2011 and my own persisting interest in the area of loss and ceremony.

Program notes:

Recovery began six years ago following untimely deaths in each of our families. We initially sought to grab grief by the scruff of its neck and drag it into the now of performance. 

Six years on, following a slow-burn process, Recovery is a dance seeking to question and represent the edges of the human capacity to cope, to keep going, to suffer and to imagine that everything is or isn’t OK. Recovery considers how we travel through life in an ‘aftermath’, gathering its audience to see two women coping and living. 

We are engaged in a delicate duel with time – between then, soon and now. Every time death comes to others, and we are spared, we can say “I am still here”, and in that stillness, here, we are dancing. 

Recovery turns out to be a seizing experience that touches and moves me in a way I had forgotten or perhaps lost hope that live dance performance could do.

“ We are dying. We think we are not. This is a good argument for giving up thinking. Spend one night a week in candlelight.

                        Deborah Hay, my body, the budhist, (Wesleyan University Press, 2000), 1.

We are asked to wear black and arrive on time. Two prompts that usually go unspoken because they are implicit in the scenario of a (real) funeral.

The performance has begun as we enter the large upstairs space at the Substation. As requested we gather around Nat and Shannon who are connected in an organic, breathing, morphing form. They too are wearing black. The natural lighting sets the tone aptly. The sun is gone and as yet it is not dark. There are no lights on. It is a little too dim to be without lights and this reminds me of the way a grieving person might sit in the dim, neglecting to turn the lights on and draw the blinds at sundown. In grief, certain cues become less certain or no longer register in the way they normally do.

There is a brief, awkward moment as Nat and Shannon ‘break’ to offer the small group of us a silent welcome with their eyes. It is not unlike how I have experienced meeting family and friends at a funeral. What to say, what to do and how to be all become strangely unknown and leaves one floundering. Fortunately Shannon interrupts to invite us to move downstairs. We follow gently and in single file to enter a basement space. The space turns out to be perfect for the performance that ensues and is evidence of Nat’s residency at the Substation during which she has explored the many formal and informal spaces within the large building.

Upon reflection I really appreciate the short but clear invitation/ explanation spoken at this point by Nat and Shannon. We are all seated and in duet they verbalize something along the lines of, “when we began this process we both experienced significant loss so this is what this work is about… It is also about living which is why we need you here…”

Generally in dance I feel we steer away from working with straightforward subjects and engaging exact explanations either written or spoken. I certainly do. Making a work that is about recovery and which so holds the territory of death, loss, grief, life, strikes me as both rare and courageous. Such directness can be limiting both for the artists and for the audience. And yet in this instance it is nothing other than rich. I am particularly fascinated by how the handling of the territory of recovery here echoes the way that we tend to cope with and respond to loss – with detachment, clear statements and actions, nothing too poetic or involved. This helps us cope and to keep going.

Here in the basement we view the majority of Recovery looking through a patterned, metal shim. In a room usually used for ‘art stuff storage’, Nat and Shannon move through a generous series of images or physical sketches. There is little sense of striving for smooth coherence between each part and rather trust in what is being collectively distilled. For each of us. For all of us.

A combination of (live) bodily and (recorded) electronic sounds and rhythms conjure a sense of the medical involvement in sickness and death, the frailty of the human being and the dependence upon mechanical means in ones final moments.

Music in the form of David Bowie’s ‘Changes’ has an abrupt entry, holds an awkward place and wonderfully conveys a sense of honoring xxxx. It too serves rather humorously as a reminder of the one constant in our lives – change.

There are images of life and of a being human; holding hands, washing dishes, getting dressed, dancing and embracing one another. Energetically things are stirred and shifted with head banging, pushing on the walls, dropping crockery, abruptly exiting and entering, and incessant jumping/pulsing. One can’t help but feel this expulsion of things is healing for Nat and Shannon and for each of us who witness.

It is as the final images (literally) tumble toward us that I find myself choked up, tears threatening to escape. Nat and Shannon alternatively tumble and crash into the metal screen, and in doing so convey a disturbing feeling of brokenness and anger. As Nat adheres magnetic speakers to points correlating with Shannon’s lifeless body I can’t help but recall the story of Nat’s loss. I feel for her and for Shannon and the losses present in this group.

 “At the heart of heuristics lies and emphasis on disclosing the self as a way of facilitating disclosure from others – a response to the tacit dimensions within oneself sparks a similar call from others”

              Douglas, B. & and Moustakas, C, “Heuristic inquiry: the internal search to know,” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 25 (1985): 39-55.

A final journey out of the basement (and the performance) into drinks upstairs provides an easeful way back into life and functions in much the same way tea and sandwiches do at a wake. The stories flow too, and suggest a space had been created for each of us to take a little step further in our recovery. Recovery is a noun used to describe a process of recovering, the regaining of something lost or taken away, a restoration or return. It is a process whose beginning and end, whose very nature is not so easily definable. Recovery is an offering in this spirit, an expansion of two individual losses toward a shared acknowledgement of an aspect of our lives so present and yet largely unexpressed.