On Seeing Open OPENLAB in photographs + Antonio’s reply


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?


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?

On ‘Superheroes, Powers & Spellbinding:’ OPENLAB Session on Friday 15 February 2013

I have had for some time now an idea at the back of my head for a series of OPENLAB sessions. However, the idea hadn’t quite taken form.

This kind of seminal idea for a session (without really knowing which tree is going grow out of it) is more rule than exception but although this time I didn’t really know where to start from so I just decided to share with the group and see where would the idea go, how would the group take it, and what would be the reactions to it.

This session was made possible by the presences of Evangelia Kolyra, Martine Painter, Robert Vesty, Flora Wellesley-Wesley as well as myself.

Somehow I didn’t have even a real title for the session, only a series of examples and metaphores, images and comparisons.

I had to summarise it to a sentence first once I started the session; this sentence was something like ‘what if we consider ourselves performers as a group of superheroes?’

So I tried to explain it better but I only could explain things that I have heard and read and experienced recently:

… a quote in Manou Koreman’s MA dissertation draft (I wonder whether she kept that on the final version she submitted) which said something like: “Dance [is] ‘a play of Powers made visible’.”(Langer, 1953, p.44).

… a class I took with Giovanni Feliccione and in which he would invite the students to let the object in front of them to call us to grasp it rather than being ourselves the ones who decided to take it, or would invite us to walk by leaving the space behind rather than approaching the space before us.

… Martine Painter’s entrance to this blog questioning “What is a ‘recognisibly performative state’ ?”

How could I connect all of this?

I didn’t know but here what I did:

1) We practice openform as a warm-up. We focus on dycotomies: focusing (or expanding our awareness if you may prefer) on moving at the same time that we were noticing, focusing on noticing at the same time that we notice ourselves noticing, focusing on noticing ourselves directly through our own corporality at the same time we notice the rest of the world indirectly also trough our own coporality, focusing on inside at the same time we focus on outside, using breath as an anchor for inside and the floor as an anchor for outside, in case we needed one.

We continue with this and then in order to transition to the next part I ask people to utter sounds from the physicalities of breathing.

2) I suggested to practice a closeform (or at least a closer one in realtion to the rest). I ask the people in the session to close themselves from the world by closing their eyes and pluging their ears with their fingers whilst the continue to utter sounds. I aske them to feel what happened, to notice what the notice in theri bodies: the reverberating vibration felt in the body. I asked them to continue moving, never stopping, didn’t matter in which ways they would move, no pressure about in which ways the would move but just moving… I aslo told them to explore the fact that different parts of the body and different types of tissue reverberate and vibrate depending on the qualities of the sound being uttered, their volume, texture, timbre and tone, and the positions the body take, the tension of the muscles, etc.

I also ask them to learn this relationships, to realise that maybe instead of having to think of the qualities of the sound and uttered and of the positions and movements of the body one could actually think of the part of the body one wants to make vibrate and just let the self to make this happen, the sounds and the body will do what they had to do to make those places vibrate.

The task was for us to learn how to control at will and move throughout the body this vibrations, but also accepting what are the physical limitations we have in order to make this happen. Maybe with time and practice we could get better at this but in any case that wasn’t really the poing.

3) The point was that this closeform exercise serves as an example of what a Power could be. The idea of changing the regular way we relate with the world, of changing our habitual and normally logical attitude toward the things that happens. Changing the ideas of ownership and agency, changing our points of view, points of reference.

Moving the vibration throughout the body was the first ‘Power’ we have just learned. Now the question was: how many other powers could we develop? In Feliccioni’s example, the object in front of us was making us move. In that class, we eventually grasp the object not only because our hands are made for grasping but also because the object is made to be grasped, so is it crazy to thing that the appetite for grasping comes from the object instead of from ourselves? In that class, we eventually were moved by the object as it started float up. Our arms started to seemingly efortless follow it… then the head, then everything. And this become true for us, even if we know it isn’t what actually was happening, just because we wanted to accept that this was what was happening. I also pointed out that some things we generally accept (even in a tacit but anofficial way) are sometimes not true. For example for us the landscape in the worlds is rather a fix point and we move around it, but we all have learnt that the world turns and we are moved with it… but we still

I continued by trying to give other examples of possible ways of changing the way we may develope a ‘Power’ but then I realised that it could be also a power the way we may accept we are powerless, or spellbound. For example, what if some other person moves me. That’s my power as a dancer (or performer) but in fact is as though I’m being control, and letting me be controlled by another external power… maybe was another person in the room who controls me?


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!