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!