Working on “The Interesting”

Following our exploration on ‘special’ last week (that session was led by Antonio), today we worked on the ‘interesting’.

Tasks:

1) Do whatever you feel like doing, whatever your body tells you to do.

2) Notice the interesting moments in what you do. Count them…moment 1, 2, 3…

3) Create interesting moments. Don’t just notice what happens but aim towards creating interesting moments. Count them…1, 2, 3…

4) Work in 2 groups of 3 people. One mover, two observers.
Mover: move with your eyes closed aiming to create interesting moments. Whenever you feel an interesting moment has just finished and you are not in that state, stop. Start again to create another
interesting moment.
Observer: Notice moments interesting to you. Raise your hand to identify that moment.

5) Imagine you are in front of a specific audience. Each one can choose their own. Move trying to create interesting moments. Does this change the way you move? How? What are you trying to achieve, if anything? What impact this ‘audience’ might have to your choices and performance?

(We had time for reflective writing after each task.)

My experience:

Questions that raised as mover: What was interesting to me at that point? Was I interested on what was intriguing to me or was I looking with an audience’s eye (i.e. what would I find interesting if I was watching)? I was shifting between the two. I also found it pretty hard to know what my ‘interesting’ moment would be before I would start moving. I would find that moment only through the action.

As observer I was intrigued by different things. I was absorbed by what I was watching and also what my co-observer would find interesting which would not necessarily be the same thing as mine. I found that I was absorbed in watching and characterising as ‘interesting’ different things on each mover. Although I used to think I have pretty much a clear idea of what I like and what not, this made me think that I can actually be engaged with many different things.

Imagining an audience is different than performing in front of a real audience but at times this can be quite a similar experience, if you really engage with the imagination, remaining at the same time at the present moment. That was the fascinating part of it for me. To try to combine the two, reality and imagination.

I feel that many times interesting moments happen and they are very exciting to notice. At other times though, these moments need to be created. Especially when improvising in front of an audience, there are times that I really look for the interesting. Something that would make me feel that what I do at that particular moment would be worth for someone to watch. And maybe this ‘interesting’ moment is just to get away from the habit, the usual, the known.

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Summer Solstice—A special day: OPENLAB session on Friday 21 June 2013

Some days are special and this time OPENLAB took place on summer solstice, a day in which the ancient cosmic choreography between the Earth and the Sun arrives to a radical turning-point within their journey across space.

All of us present in the studio (Evangelia Kolyra, Thelma Sharma, Flora Wellesley Wesley as well as myself) agreed that a solstice then can be considered as a special day. I had come to this session  thinking about the big deal that special dates have for us humans.

When thinking of special times I usually remember about being a kid and having the sensation that “the special” could be felt… independently of what kind of specialness that specific day had. I am convinced that they day before returning to school after the summer holidays was special. I remember being at home the afternoon before and had this feeling of hyper-reality, calmness at the same time that I was terribly nervous,  and that time had certainly slowed down. I can’t explain why but that day was special and I just knew this because my perception of reality from the smells to the extension of the space surrounding me were different. And I didn’t think this was happening to me, but felt that belonged to the moment… as if something atmospherically had changed, something that was manifested in every particle that surrounded me as well as composed myself had changed, something structurally fundamental that would have the power to affect us, and so that that was what I would feel… the effect that fundamental change of everything would have over everything else.

However, I remember other moments which, although being considered special, didn’t arrived together with the feeling of special. I am thinking of (señalados) days such as Christmas or New Year’s Eve. Those days are obviously different, mainly because we behave differently in those days but and not because those days are different themselves (besides different and special aren’t necessarily synonyms). I remember myself as a kid thinking that there was nothing special at all about Christmas besides the made-up conventions of traditions and celebrations with which most of us ascribe to (whether knowingly or not).

Is then special something that happens or something we make?

As a supposedly special day the solstice was

On Seeing Open OPENLAB in photographs + Antonio’s reply

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photo © Patrick Beelaert

Oh wow, the photos are really beautiful.

I see group shapes. People going down to the floor together. People deciding to look in the same direction. I see facial expressions in tune with one another. I see bodies having conversations intended to be publicly readable. I see an awareness of others and an interaction with them that I am not aware of in the sessions. Maybe it is there all along and it is me that is not? Is it that I focus almost entirely on ways of being present or of performing that take me more than anything on an interior journey? (This is quite possible. And I can see how focusing on presence might take me on an interior journey, but not how performing could.)

Last open OPENLAB, I remember experiencing a very different vibe from the session vibe when we came to perform. Isn’t it natural though, that the vibe should change? With hindsight, I don’t know why I am so surprised. I do though: I thought we would just show our thing in the raw and that since its whole focus was on being present anyway, that nothing would be that different. But gosh, this looks so naive written down.

Last open OPENLAB, the fact that we were performing was instantly tangible. You could have sliced the air with it. I experienced a sudden acute awareness of the colours we were wearing and how they seemed to dance together. The group energy was totally different; accelerated. For me I was kind of amazed to experience it. Naively, because we hadn’t prepared a ‘show’, I had thought it would feel the same as a session, except that there would be an audience there this time seeing what we did: “let’s just show them what we do”.

Why did I think that? Since what we worked on anyway was being present (rather than the more current question, which is looking at what it is ‘to perform’), I thought that nothing would need to change for what we were doing to be ‘sufficiently’ performative. It was, in its way, already performative to the max.

I have since experienced and acknowledged some profound shifts in my perspective of what it is to perform, which continue to evolve. But I am still so curious, especially looking at these photos, about what performing is for other people. So I want to put some questions to the open “openlabbers” this time: how did it feel to perform? What is different about performing in a group as opposed to solo? Was there an extra something that you brought into play as soon as you were in front of an audience? If there was, can you describe it?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Antonio replied:
I promised I would answer to Martine Painter’s question(s) and I actually never did.

I’ll try to be brief and concise but also clear at the same time that I attempt to do what I once promised. I apologise in advance for the overuse of scared quotes, but I’m scared today…
I have to say I may be guilty of the differences between the sharing during Cha Cha Cha and the “open OPENLAB” in Agony Art… obviously.

In Cha Cha Cha there was not presentation. I think I was interested on “cooking only for myself.” I’m the kind of person who doesn’t worry about how a dish looks like as long as the food tastes good… With Cha Cha Cha I was interested to see what other people could taste from us just doing the openform practice we had developed by then in the studio when delivered in a rough way to them (wow! I just re-read that but still makes sense to me; tell me if it doesn’t make sense to you). I wanted to show them purely the “thing” without any other extras, without narrative, composition, costume, lighting, etc. but bodies, agents… doing “it”. The pure “performing” without any ads-on. “Performing” bared down to its bones.

Even then, and from the feedback I collected from the Cha Cha Cha’s audience, I started to think that presentation is actually a very important feature of the “performing” work we have been doing… These 2 concepts seem to me now as indissociable as other continua like mind/body, time/space, observer/mover, etc. are clearly indissociable.

Things we worked on after that was on invisibility vs. visibility, making the absent present as well as the obvious oblivious, and making more watching the others but in a different way. We had done it before then already but we started to use much more language and descriptions of what we saw and what we thought we were doing. Basically trying to make it more explicit but this only can happen after making it implicit part of our practice. I guess I have been trying to induce a sort of epiphanic delivery. Giving birth to something out of the studio work that at the same time was the studio work itself. From all the reflexions about this concepts the concept of opening OPENLAB emerged as necessary to make a difference happen.

I still believe we need something extra. We need to believe and trust on the work we are doing…

I think we should follow a suggestion of Mariana and do a viewing of the “open OPENLAB” we did at Agony Art and have a conversation around it. I wouldn’t do it in the studio time but maybe afterwards, or at another point. I think it will be vey interesting for those who were on stage on the 22nd of February, but others may find it also an interesting observational exercise, specially for those of you who couldn’t be there on that day for one reason or another.

Does this stream of consciousness answers your question(s) Martine?

Model and mode of being: notes on the Antony Gormley OpenLab session

February 12, 2013

On 7th Feb, OPENLAB went to the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey where Antony Gormley’s exhibition Model was in place. In particular, we explored the installation piece Model which the show was named after.

Inside the exhibition, our brief –  or at least, the one that I am most interested to explore  –  was this:  ” […] to see the differences/similarities between real life and performance mode”.

Some questions come up for me. They are as follows:

What do we mean by ‘performance’ mode?

What do we mean by ‘real life’ mode?

Being a lazy kind of person at the moment, I googled Wikipedia’s definition of performance.  It says “A performance, in performing arts, generally comprises an event in which a performer or group of performers behave in a particular way for another group of people, the audience.”

I like this description because it makes me think.

Behave in a particular way…?  I guess this means that performers are recognisably acting, singing or dancing or whatever for an audience (and this ‘behaviour’ is rated according to the skill they are judged to have brought to it).

But what about when the performer’s behaviour is concerned with ways to be present in the moment of performance?  Would this always be a discernible quality? Is it a ‘rateable’ quality? And how important is it for an audience to know that the performer is behaving in a particular way for them? The words, or rather the accusative call to ‘make an effort’ spring to mind as something an audience might say if it felt excluded from proceedings.

Under what circumstances might an audience be ‘won over’ if the performer performed all the while behaving primarily in a particular way for themselves? And do we ever do that even when we think that is what we are doing? Would there be extra work to be done to translate this process into a recognisibly performative state? What is a ‘recognisibly performative state’ ? Is it something akin to a state that will satisfy an audience that they are not being cheated out of a ‘performance’? Would we have to step outside of what we thought of as our own level of in-touch-ness with ourselves and what we think we are doing in order to better think we were achieving this?

However, if I aim to ‘perform’ in this state, in this particular way, then it’s because I think it has worth or merit in itself, as a thing to see, as a spectacle. Thinking it’s enough is maybe asking an audience to expect something different. Because the ‘product’, the spectacle, might be discernibly different. On the other hand, it might not. It is concerned though, with the process; with the process as being the product. The ongoing ongoing product.

Is thinking something’s ‘enough’ in this context comparable to offering something closer to a ‘real life’ mode as a performative aesthetic? As in declaring of something that ‘it is what it is’ …

Does that mean that when we think something’s ‘enough’, its more closely related to authenticity than when we believe that what are doing is not enough and strive towards an idea of ‘performance’?

What, generally, if there are ‘general’ notions about it – which of course there must be – are our ideas about ‘performance’ comprised of?

On experiencing people perform

I was thinking about the value of talking out loud that formed part of the score for Friday’s open Openlab. Describing or declaring what you or someone else is doing, or your perceptions and sensations as you are moving – could it help heighten the awareness of the audience too that (our) performance of dance is a conscious effort and that we are there in the space striving for each thing we do to be actively performed?

I was wondering how much of what an audience experiences as performance is a conscious effort on their behalf too, and how much is a given – given for example, simply because of things like traditional protocol: you go to see something and you sit in a designated audience space and then that something that you went to see takes place in the performance space, therefore what happens there is the performance. This is not necessarily a bad thing: it’s just that we get used to things done in a certain way.

It’s not that this way is wrong or not valid. I’m not denying the power of an imposed frame around something to transform it into something theatrical or performative. But presented with what open Openlab does in the space, can an audience experience something else?

What I’m really curious about is whether our attention to keeping presence as performers makes what ‘to perform’ is into a tangible thing for an audience too? If so, is it different from experiencing other strains of performance presence? How is it different? Wait! – are there other strains of performance presence? I’m curious about the ways that presence in itself can be exciting.

Do you have to bring a particular attention or mode of experience to what you’re experiencing as audience member to make a show into a performance? To what extent, if any, does this distinction involve a willing faith or determination or generosity or connection to the people in the performance space to induce it or make it happen for yourself?

Maybe on Friday, you were being there for us, while we were performing for you? Maybe on both sides we are all explicitly or intuitively experiencing ways of tuning in, opening up to being present? In Openlab, we are exploring and practicing what it is to perform. In open Openlab, it is also exploration and practice. But with an audience there to watch us, it is live practice. It is the real thing. And maybe the appeal of what we are doing is that we are explicit about trying it out?

Reflexions before the OPENLAB sessions for June

Lately I have become twitchy about one of my personal flaws. Like for many others as well (I suppose), when looking at someone who I don’t really know, for example when commuting or walking down the street, I rather see a category instead of just a person… please, allow me not to have to give you category examples as I’m trying to break the habit.

As paradoxical as it may sound, non-categorising people allows me to see further, to see more, to understand better. Any kind of categorising is by necessity reductionist and reality it’s much more complex than what we could ever figure out. We just get that bit that it’s recognisable by our perceptual capacities, those patterns of relationship amongst the  informations gathered by our senses out of the world… or something like that (I’m sure an expert would be able to put it in better words).

However, that “tip of the iceberg” isn’t the limit of our potential. The problem is that we assume “getting something” is more like “having got it,” like if we have climbed to the top and so we can set camp.

Think again about my case with categorising people. Doing this isn’t other thing than labelling, than stereotyping people. And by doing so we normally give up about figuring out who that person in front of us really is. Using stereotypes is for sure easier and less energy-spending than being continuously poised to discover who that person is. For sure there are practical reasons that make simplifying a desirable strategy for survival…  but imagine how many interesting people we have never made part of our lives because of stereotyping, how many great friends (or at least exciting accountancies) we have missed.

June has arrived and in OPENLAB I would like to focus and reflect on the subject of stereotyping, because we surely do it not only with our perception of people but also with everything else we perceived. The question is: what’s the best strategy to make ourselves realise that what we have perceived and understood is not everything there is to perceive and understand? I’m sure there are many ways we could try in order to break our perceptual habits; and for sure this ways require that we engage in unfamiliar ways with the world around us and with others.

For the first session in June I thought it would be a good idea to start by “tampering” with our senses. The session is 9:30-11:00AM in the small studio.

Apart from the regular session in the studio OPENLAB will happen being open to an audience. This hybrid between studio session and performance happened so far once as part of Agony Art back in February this year. In that occasion a member of the audience wrote these lines about her experience:

I feel what you offered … was a delight — And I marvelled at the skill! Lots of generosity, freedom for each person to be supported in their creativity, open structure,… and all those moments that were articulated and negotiated as they arose with lovely clarity. Those are the things I saw and I just really enjoyed it and felt very comfortable with being an audience – the involvement you offered me ‘on the benches’ seemed consistent with the principles and agreements that were appearing in your performing — I like that! It has a sense of integrity. It was intriguing all the way through but I did not feel forced to see this or that, my viewing was also improvisatory. This is engaging!

(Alex Howard, personal communication).

This time an open OPENLAB will be part of Pool Nights by Hiru Dance Organisation. Tomorrow, 7th June from 8:30pm (doors and bar open from 8pm) at The Albert: 5 Albert  Rd., London NW6 5DT. Entrance: £3.