A Meandering Reflection on the Chi Session of 24th Jan

Flora said if you stand in a river, you don’t remain separate from that river, you become part of it. Today, we tried to get in a river.

In this session, we began to contemplate a Taoist model of chi, aiming to bring awareness to fields of energy (‘rivers’) at play within and beyond our bodies, with the idea of using this attention to the self as being part of an infinite energy field as a way to heighten our presence as performers. How? For me this is to make more perceivable (although dance is a visible spectacle, I want to avoid saying ‘to make more visible’ for reasons which are still unclear to me) – to make more perceivable the actuality of the nuanced and changing constant of our being here and here and here in the pristine and tangly web of it. Cultivating a mindful softening and opening of the boundaries of our bodies to become vehicles for these energies to be – with practice – recognised in motion by the spectator, so bringing a quality of the unseen into play. Anyway, that is how I aspire to what we are doing. What is appealing is that this attention to the self is about a moving with, a harmony with the (idea of) energy outside of my body, which I am part of.

Our conversation wandered from chi to the idea of ‘thing’, to what is a ‘thing’, specifically in the context of composition. We discussed this in the wake of having seen Jamila Johnson-Small and Alexandrina Hemsley’s ‘O’ last week, in which the performers break off after beginning their piece to interrogate themselves over what they want an audience to ultimately get from it; ideally, that although it will be unfinished, everyone should have a sense that it was still definitely a ‘thing’. Is ‘thingness’ then, a sense of completeness imbued with our and their sense of a compositional worth, whether that is immediately understood or not?

And how does this link up with our exploration of chi and the imagery of a river? Loosely, for me anyway, because one of the qualities that ‘O’ had was a meandering quality, the audience for a substantial amount of the last three quarters of the performance seeming to be witness to a scene of something continuous – a performance of a not-performance, of seeing a thing that was going-on-anyway, and this reminds me of a river. Janine Harrington’s recent review of  ‘O‘ for Bellyflop brings the river imagery back to mind:  ‘Perhaps it is that the whole thing had already begun before the show, and couldn’t be contained by it […]Is that a reason not to begin? We’re already here aren’t we?’ I think one way to see it is that the ‘show’, the everflowing composition became demarcated as a ‘performance’ or composition insofar as the audience was invited to pay attention to whatever it was: maybe attention functions to make an event out of an occurring thing?

I guess this bring me back to reflecting on two sides of participating in the river. On the one hand, performer attention to ‘river’ to bring one’s own presence into being by way of attention to an occurring thing, coaxing its unseen quality into one that can be in some way known by a spectator. And on the other, audience colocation contributing to the ‘making’ of a performance, to the sense of its having been a ‘thing’ (although as with ‘recognising’ a formerly unseen thing, we can’t always describe what that was) through the objectification of a thread of continuousness, of a river of ‘happening’, by simply witnessing it. Something like that anyway!















Session on Thursday 17 January 2013

As promised in my last post, I have been continue working with the concept of Chi and energy direction during the OPENLAB sessions. I plan to work again on this next Thursday 24 (I hope to see you there at Chisenhale Dance Space‘s Small Studio, from 10 am to 12 pm) as I already did once again last week on Thursday 17.

During that session I had some thougths, as I have had before, about what is the connection between what we do during the session and the over-all aim of OPENLAB as a project for artistic development for performers. For me this connection is clear but I understand that a person may ask: “what does directing one’s intention to energy flow in the body (or even just imagining this kind of flow) have to do with developing the abilities that improve one’s artistry as a performer?”

This question does not make me hesitate. For me their relationship is still clear. However, I don’t know if I’m able to answer the question by using just words… I am not so confident in expressing explicitly that thing that I know implicitly. I know because I am a performer myself and I know it because I have engaged with such activities and in an enactive manner I know they are totally related, and I know that only by constantly working I constantly continue arriving to new places in my development as a performer and maker.

So, instead of answering that question I’m going to share with you some of the thoughts that were passing through my head during the session and that I didn’t share with the others as I didn’t want to interfere too much with the process they were undertaking at that moment. I hope this thoughts, which I wrote by engaging with automatic writing (please, spare me from my spelling and grammar mistakes), and I rather not to change too much what I wrote back then unless necessary to make it undestandable.

Presence is an evasive concept, as evasive as it is difficult to pinpoint and confront the concept of performance and performing.

About presence: maybe we can clearly recognise and understand when we are present that we are present… We can even remember that moment, but as soon as we are not in that place of presence in the performing mode it’s hard to explain what that place is; it’s hard to explain what presence means and, therefore, it’s hard to share it. The same could be said of performance.

So, how can I facilitate people so they improve their performance and presence skills, abilities, powers… Well, I’m not totally sure yet but I know that they only way to do it is by not confronting it directly. It’s like hunting a fly in summer or fighting a powerful bull. There is no way of confronting them directly because by doing so we are setting ourselves to lose.

We can only hunt/fight (I can’t choose either because it feels like only a place that is both but neither is the right one) presence and performance by just going around it as though we are not getting closer at all, but sliding away of it just as is about to hit us. by removing our egos but removing the will to do it whilst still doing it.

Please, also remember. As soon as you have catch/defeat it you should let it go, otherwise you would kill it and there we have to start again all from the beginning… they only way of having it (alive of course, because what’s the point of having its carcase?) is by never quite killing it and resisting the temptation of totally get hold to it.

And probably that’s why I don’t use the word presence or performance during OPENLAB, that’s the way I continue the hunting/fight joyfully continuously letting it be alive… by working on all the other staff we have that are the around it.


“Chi.” Bring It On! — OPENLAB session on Thu 10 Jan 2013


These days just about anything might be inspiration for an OPENLAB session.

Few days ago I was reading The Multi-Orgasmic Man by Mantak Chia and Douglas Adams (1996) and the following paragraph seemed suitable to be read as the starting kick off for today’s session:


There is a Taoist saying: “The mind moves and the chi follows.” Wherever you focus your attention, the chi tends to gather and increase. As biofeedback experiments have now confirmed, focusing your attention on an area of the body can cause increased activity in the nerves and muscles in that area. The stronger the focus, the greater the movement of the chi. Keep in mind that you are not pushing o pulling the chi, you are simply shifting your focus to another point. Understanding this is crucial to developing an effective practice. However, you will not just be moving your attention over your skin, you will be experiencing a palpable flow of warm, tingling energy.

(p. 14)

Not being really sure about in which way to start a session from this paragraph I suddenly remember the word V-Spread. The V-Spread is a hands-on osteopathic technique used in craniosacral therapies, which I learned in a course run by the Upledger Insitute. So we worked in partners and started by practicing a variation of the V-Spread (John E. Upledger talks about the quasi-mystical wonders of this technique on his book Somato Emotional Release: Deciphering the Language of Life, pp. 169-170).

The V-Spread is an specific way of applying Direction of Energy as therapeutic modality. According to Upledger “Direction of Energy is a technique … so simple that it is almost hard to believe. It is performed by ‘intending’ or imagining energy passing from one of your hands to the other through a part of a client’s body.” One applying Direction of Energy the hand that receives the energy is placed closer to the location of the injury and the hand that emits the energy is placed in the opposite side of the body.

We didn’t practice the Direction of Energy technique as a therapeutic modality so we were able to play with swapping the roles of receiver and emitter between both hands. In the session one person placed a hand on the breastbone of the other person and the other hand on this other person’s thoracic spine just in the space between the shoulder-blades at the other side of the torso. This person applying her hands followed the next instructions:

. Imagine energy travelling from the hand resting on the breastbone through the body mass of the chest to the hand resting on the back, as if a point draws the channel or circuit through which the energy flows.

. Imagining the whole circuit, feel the current of energy flowing in the same direction.

. Repeat both steps imagining the energy flowing in the opposite direction.

. Imagine the energy flowing in both directions simultaneously.

After doing this, the couples continued holding the position so the person receiving the Direction of Energy was the one imagining the flow of energy following the same steps: drawing the circuit, feeling the whole current flowing, doing the same for the opposite direction, and imagining both directions flowing at the same time.

We swapped roles between partners and now both the person applying and the person receiving the Direction of Energy imagined simultaneously instead of one after the other and followed the same steps described above.

After this we were ready to work individually by using the idea of applying the Direction of Energy technique on ourselves and the exercise evolved towards practicing the openform focusing on the idea of channels of energy flowing through the body. I think it would be a great idea to continue working on flow of energy during a few more sessions.

Are you curious about how today’s session evolved from a static self-application of the Direction of Energy technique to full-body physicall exploration attending also to the time/space continuum that we inhabit? Then you may like to come to one of the upcoming sessions in January at Chisenhale Dance Space: Thursdays 17, 24 and 31 from 10 am to 12 pm in the Small Studio.

If you are thinking about coming I would appreciate if you would let me know by sending me an e-mail.

Related posts:

Session on Thursday 17 January 2013 by Antonio de la Fe.
A Meandering Reflection on the Chi Session of 24th Jan by Antonio de la Fe.


Some Thoughts on The Cold Session

Somehow the cold was white. The whole temperature thing for me was about colour, associations and imagery. We blindfolded ourselves and then the vision began from within. For me, to be freezing was white. Freezing fog. And I felt 7 years old again, sitting frozen in the back seat of a car on a winter’s morning, that was too cold to start – a recurrent event – so that we might not be able to get to school that day.

At OpenLab, I was too cold to move, the white was a static experience. I was not tempted to move to get warm. I felt reluctant, stiff and stranded. On the other hand, I was aware that I was in another world, with the sounds of the others in the room seeming to have nothing to do with me, like the babble of a busy swimming pool heard from the changing rooms before you know what it looks like. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the sound that occurred in the room had been acoustically distorted either, because of this imagery, but it was flat.

It was pierced at one point by laughter that I thought verged on the hysterical. A thought fleeted past (I watched it go): ‘I don’t laugh like that’. Just that thought, as though coming from a neglected ornament on somebody’s mantle piece.

My world at this point incorporated various flashes of imagery, which I experienced as though from their core, but which did not connect with moving. I felt my limbs like brittle twigs, or sticks, bony, stiff, being capable of being moved from an outside source, like wind moves branches of a tree but they do not move themselves.

When I gingerly ‘dabbed’ a part of myself onto a surface, feeling only inclined to ‘dab’, it was infused with colour – blue, green or purple. In fact, I felt like a really Big Wheel, like the London Eye, a substantial part of me plunged into uncommunicative darkness while extremities – even when they weren’t extremities – stomach, chest and central parts I mean, rather than fingertip, knee or toe – lit up with glowing colour as soon as they touched something. Although it gave me no impetus to move or start any movement, let alone continue a started movement, the lights of me had a feeling of sequentiality to them. I was like a display. 

I felt very much like a map during this exercise. Maybe because of a heightened sense of ‘places’ of my body, which were brought to my attention through deciding to expose one or another of them to a surface. At the point of decision-making, they were still ‘my’ body parts, part of a unified sense of me with me at the helm as the mover and master of them. I didn’t ‘need’ a map for that, I ‘knew’ my body, where it was, which bit was which and had a definite idea, a lifetime’s idea, of how the parts related to one another. But when I dabbed them about, and they lit up from the shock of the temperature, this brought about a strong sense of location of these body parts in a way that made them seem as though they had a life of their own, that I was not in fact at their helm and that my lifetime’s idea of how I was construed was just a convenient language which only approximated their locational identity. This ‘locational’ identity also gave me the feeling that their identity had a lot more to it than simply their location. They had secrets.

Some basic thought-feelings that I noticed in my head:

Cold was a foreign territory, warm was home.

Warm was soft, cold was all disconnection.

Cold was stranded, warm led somewhere.

Warm was communal, cold was alone.

Cold was shiny, seized up, warm was orange, red, spreading out.

Yes, some of these images I guess stem from archetypes but I did not decide in these moments to inherit them. They were already absorbed, inherited, available. I feel now that this was the lazy, ‘knowing’ side. Only the ‘approximate’ face of knowledge rather than the ‘true’ one.

Then this was a really big deal: a cold hand on a warm body. The surprise of my body being warm under my cold hand’s touch and the consciousness of what seemed like several seconds of a surprising indistinctness between what was more discernible: my warm body feeling my cold hand or my cold hand feeling my warm body. Or rather, not what was more distinct of the two, but the surprise to notice that the two things could be happening at the same time. That these two things go on opens up some mystery about the multiplicity of my perceptions and makes me aware of how much I am unknown to myself. This is the surprise revelation of the session for me. That I have to catch up with what the hand or the torso knows. That I was enabled to experience the fact that my stomach, my collarbone, and so on, do not need my permission or my acknowledgement to do their thinking, to make their assessment of a given situation, and that my realisation of it amounts only to a catching up. I am a slow witness, an outside witness to their calculations.

I feel that ‘I’ – the ‘I’ that I am aware of – was the bit that allowed the imagination to thread through the experience, providing me with a language of interpretation – imagery of maps and colours and memories – for what my thinking, knowing body was directly discoursing with, whether I was there to interpret it or not.