On Taking Risk: OPENLAB session on Friday, 24 January 2014; facilitated by Manou Koreman

Rabbit in the headlights

photo by Sylwester Zabielski

With Manou Koreman, Thelma Sharma, Petra Söör & myself.

What is it that stops us from taking risks when performing? Fear? Fear of what I wonder?

I’m inspired by Thelma’s reference to the rabbit today. The rabbit in the headlights! That paralyzing fear performers can sometimes have. I’ve been preoccupied with the place of fear in performance lately. I’m writing about it in my PhD if I can get over myself. Fear seems usually to be talked about as negative, debilitating, paralyzing even – like the rabbit – but what about the more everyday low-level kind of anxiety we experience when performing? Could it be productive? Necessary? Generative? Part of a wider ecology of feeling?

More on this soon perhaps, as this will be my focus when I facilitate the OPENlab session next Friday. For now I am glad that Manou wanted to explore risk because it appears to me to be related to my fear/anxiety preoccupation.

I think I voiced (or thought) at one point today something like: does taking risk offer us a gateway towards a kind of freedom from fear, before turning back in on itself? Ever repeatable: fear / risk / freedom / fear / risk / freedom / fear / risk / …????

Other questions I wrote down during today’s session:

What is risk?

What does it mean to take risks?

Is taking a risk about nearly (or really) hurting oneself?

Is it only about finding oneself in unexpected places?

How do we as individuals facilitate our risk-taking?

Can we do it solo? // Or is it a necessarily collaborative process? // Do we need facilitators to facilitate our risk-taking?

What is risk’s relationship to fear?

Is it a feat even to be here now in this room? (In this small studio in East London?) // How much risk did I take to get here? (On my bike?)

How do we measure the size or scale of the risk?

But what about real risk? The kind of front-line risk art is sometimes supposed to protect us from? (Isn’t artistic space a safe place?) I thought risk was all about proximity to the life-threatening?

Maybe the risks we take in this room are on the life-threatening continuum?

Moving about the small studio with Petra Söör, while Manou Koreman and Thelma Sharma watched, with the idea of ‘risk’ in the back of my head led me to roll awkwardly, get stuck, repeat, thrust, find solace in ‘weird’ tics and breaths. I have a cold. I became obsessed with how my movement could make sound from my chest, involuntarily. The cold has made my chest more vocal than usual. I went with this. I met Petra against the wall. She with her eyes closed, me with my wheeze. We risked touching. Did we? Slightly? Fully? Nearly? Really?

Was this risky? Borderline frisky?

Much later, in the last minutes of the session, when all four of us were moving/dancing I felt the urge to get undressed, to be naked. I didn’t. It felt too risky. Too blatant. Too obvious. Too wrong. Too ostentatious. Too embarrassing. Too unsettling. Too irresponsible. Too unkind. Too selfish. Too manythingselse.

And in this time, I thought, what could possibly go wrong? What’s the worst that could happen?

And then I was saved by the bell.



With Delay – OPENLAB session on Friday, 10 January 2014

I write this OPENLAB update with delay. Just as I often do things. I know they keep sitting, lying, sedimenting, ongoing for longer. And by this I try to make an end. An end for now.

In that session starting off 2014 for OPENLAB, I wanted to explore a sense of time, and a feel for the way we need to punctuate the infinite continuity of time by constructing and observing beginnings and endings, as some sort of ritualization. By this I made a plan like that for the session:   plan OL

Taking part in this OPENLAB were Antonio, Debbie, Jan, Manou, Mark, Robert, Thelma and myself.

I thought that a stream of consciousness for a start would allow me to get everyone into the same place eventually;  people would start themselves off and filter the information they needed from a series of associations coming from my body and mind. Through this streaming I keep remembering how different we are. How much we share in common. Why time and space are so important in the art of performing. Involving us in The Here and Now with more awareness for it, as well as for everything that is Not Here or Not Now. I think the capital letters make these words look like some vultures above a landscape.

2 vulturesLeft to right: Here, Now

I observed that when one speaks in a space, a certain amount of people will want to know exactly what this person is saying; that it is often what goes unnoticed from your big map that gets picked up by others as references and milestones. That concentrating on the contents of our speech and movement contents while trying to answer a question [what did Heidegger mean when, after speaking about a new, more simple way of thinking, he quoted himself: “I step back before one who is not yet here, and bow, a millenium before him, to his spirit”?] through a collective move and talk brainstorm is practically impossible. This, however, has pros and cons. That pre-planned endings bring a sense of expectation and therefore space for disappointment and a certain stress for time, that a kettle full of water needs more time than it feels right for the water to boil.

It is and it was time for what became somehow the core of this session: practicing monotasking, and being watched while practicing monotasking. As I monotask I make a radical choice to not listen to plenty of present elements, I do surrend to letting what I do or perceive reach an end, and not controlling when this happens exactly, I let a thought popping and going, like a bird, and I find fun and hard to have no gap, to keep bringing my consciousness to be aware of something, to notice what one is already doing. What I decide and what happens are constantly crashing and meeting. Here, now. Consequences of the past on a variety of levels. Some projection into a near future, some work towards what one wants to become.

I wanted to keep things simple and I realize how much it is a matter of concentration, hard work and letting go at the same time. You need application to keep things simple.

Images and stories popping back in:

The eggs. The woman is delayed, her eggs are older. To make a step back you need some space behind you and space in front of you.a killing. passing water. all directions, one direction. wimmin. the cyborg who couldn’t see colours but could hear them. tickling. framed stills. the corners of the space. the heat of the radiator and the cold of the window. sweaters flying. these are now only memories.

While observing my partner in monotasking, I became aware of how much the intention and clarity of the activity of the performer and the inner inviting the viewer to watch will direct the senses of the viewer. This is the essence of performing for me; attending to senses meeting, thus creating meaning or lack of meaning.

My teacher Valerie Preston-Dunlop has talked about a binocular vision while describing performance and the act of spectating: during a performance, a display of signs linked to cultural references is established, charged with symbols and meaning, but a phenomenon is in place which can’t be replaced by any other experience The combination of both is the performance.

the end for now.

Is it possible to come back to basics? — OPENLAB session on Friday 17 January 2014

Fragata PortuguesaIs it possible? Can one come back to the origin of something, to the beginning?

Today we were: Debbie Kent, Martine Painter, Thelma Sharma, Flora Wellesley Wesley and myself.

I started from the idea that I wanted to make a session with the aim to invite anybody to follow their own practice, their own exploration around the same question but within their individual history, applied to their own past baggage and future desires. I thought my task was only to construct a session that gave this freedom… and at the same time could provide a certain sense of anchoring or structure.

I still wish to follow this task in the moment of the session… I think the session will result very differently. The thing is that I prepared myself ahead and thought that the answer was to divide the session in closeform and openform.

Openform would serve to invite every individual to explore the possibilities they want to explore. Closeform will allow us to get there, by creating a sense of togetherness and also an opportunity to share with people my own vision of things… to develop my guruness proudly without any prevention of being followed by, but rather hoping that some reactions, resistances, and counter propositions would arise, creating a exchange of ideas, allowing me to continue to develop and mutate my view of what and how things are in this whole mess of performance and what it is ‘to perform’, what does it take…

I rarely use the words performance and perform/ing during the session. But I wondered why not to do so. I tend to think these word resist to be defined, they are sort of ineffable and so I rather to work around them. We work normally with mindfulness, perceptual explorations, mental tasks and scores… you may come with a different list or add other elements (please do, comment on this if you feel like).

Today however I started the session by using that very forbidden (self-imposed prohibition, of course) words. What follows is a series of random elements I suggested during the session, specially during the closeform (beginning) part. The are also a series of thoughts that arouse during or after the session and may relate or not directly with what we did:

“What does define you as a performer?”

The answer doesn’t need to be a final, it can always change. It can be an answered of the past until now or of a desired future. Can be as simple as “I’m a dancer” or as complex/sophisticated as we want to get with it. It doesn’t need to be expressed verbally, it can just be a feeling.

“So, which actions and skills you may want to explore and use as such a performer?”

My idea was to connect this with the openform part of the session. The idea was to give freedom to anybody to explore what does their personal view of performing entail and how they want to develop those entailings.

“So, does it mean that just by deploying those actions and skills that define you as a specific kind of performer (or as a specific distinct performer) you are actually performing? They way I see it you may either be deploying those actions and be performing, or deploy those actions and not be performing. So, does it mean that performing is something else that you do in simultaneity to the actions and skills that you deploy when performing (including actions such as just being, silence, stillness, etc.).”

Here is where many of us may disagree or have different visions to answer the question… I would like to propose here and now an open conversation similar to the one that happened in the session and after the session.

I could talk about specificities of what we did during the closeform part of the class but, to be honest, I think they won’t tell you much… they are the sort of things that need to be done. We worked from the key word ‘relationship’ and we applied to tactile, extended tactile, visual and aural ways of making contacts. It seems that the image of being a Portuguese man o’ war was also helpful; a jellyfish-like creature that it’s actually a colonial organism whiling their time away in their communal floating journey, a group of individuals “attached to one another and physiologically integrated to the extent that they are incapable of independent survival.”

(Source of picture and quote about Portuguese man o’ war: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portuguese_man_o%27_war ).

Last Lab 2013: OPENLAB session Friday 20 December 2013


“Can we change the density of our presence by transferring a physical example into a thought and felt inner process?”

Approximation – Contact – Push/Pressure – Release of pressure – Separation

For this lab I wanted to explore the sequence of events of approximation, contact, pressure/intensity of intention, release of pressure and separation, with special attention to the moment of disengaging pressure and subsequent separation.

When we fine tune our sensibilities we can sense when we enter into the energy fields not just of other people, but certainly of trees, and animals, and I’d even say to a certain extent buildings and places. As dancers and performers we spend years training precisely these sensibilities and as improvisers perhaps this is even more heightened.

For this last OPENLAB of the year we were lucky with the conditions of the room, as the heating had accidently been left on overnight. Had that not been the case I would have suggested some ways of getting warm in order to comfortably proceed with the lab. I did in any case propose a small led warm up, as I find that this helps to create connection and I also felt that I could then comfortably move into the one “key” exercise I wanted to share, for the purposes of exploring the theme for the lab.

This exercise I believe may come from Alexander technique, although I’m afraid I can’t be sure. On all fours, with a sense of a long spine and a connection between the top of the head and the tail, two people come towards each other until head to head contact is made. There is a sense of pressure from the whole being, not necessarily tension but more a desire to continue moving forward from the top of the head, a directional intention, although the pressure is also quite strong (and can be slightly painful for some people). The two remain engaged for a few seconds, until, almost by mutual decision, they begin to release the pressure and slowly begin to back away, leading with the tail.
The moment of release of forward moving pressure creates an extraordinary sense of expansion, almost like lifting off a section of the cranium, and before there is actual separation of the two heads, there is a moment where there is a strong, almost magnetic field-like, sensation and sense of connection with the other, almost a reluctance to part.
After using this exercise repeated 3 times we continued to explore the concept freely, moving around the space, sometimes in contact with each other, sometimes alone, although there is always contact with the floor (we haven’t recovered the capacity to levitate yet! 😀 , and even then there is still always contact with the air).
We went on a journey with the concept, a journey of approximation, intensity and the subsequent release of intensity. Thelma also commented about having once or twice drifted off with the mind, then coming back to full attention, a common phenomenon in any investigative work, where we sometimes drift for moments before coming back to the task. This is also a kind of separation and return, a going and coming, a decreasing and increasing.

In alignment with some of the key ideas about the OPENLAB, there was a sense of awareness as well of the performative aspects. I was left with a gentle sensation, of having delved into a theme that had the potential to go much further than we did in this one slightly shorter session.

(Editor’s Note: In this session they were Susan Kempster and Thelma Sharma).