OPENLAB session on Good Friday 18 April 2014: Off-site session out and around the QEOP

QEOP off-site OL

What are Good Fridays for?

About to turn 33 and being mid-named Jesus, I’m trying to forget their intended aim. Maybe that’s why this year I saw the opportunity to bring the lab outdoors, something we haven’t done now for a long time.

Chisenhale Dance Space, our usual HQ, was ‘Closed for Holidays’ and having opened the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park a few weeks earlier (and having not visited myself the parklands within the Park despite of living in it) the question of what would have happened to OPENLAB on that day was immediately answered.

So there we were at Hackney Wick station waiting for all of those who were attending the session; We were: Galina Kalichin, Susam Kempster, Debbie Kent, Jan Lee, Alisa Oleva, Amaara Raheem, Thelma Sharma and myself.

Soon after our meeting at the station we quickly moved inside the park area and decided first to get a hot drink at Timber Lodge, a community centre/café inside the park. Once there, I shared my plan for the day with all of us. We agreed to stay longer that we first had planned because we were already running an hour late, so we could dedicate a full hour to each of the two tasks I proposed.

For the first hour, we had a simple task: stroll around the park lands whilst being co-independent, i.e. staying together but undertaking each of us our own exploration of the park. The only two prescriptions for the stroll were to stay silent whilst ‘being in the present moment’ and to find moments of sharing our experience with the others.

This first hour felt, at lest to me, like a wonderful present. Aiming towards staying mindful for a long periods of time, leaving aside deadlines and to-do’s, having the chance of fully tasting reality without having to be a step-ahead constantly, always feels like both a luxury and a daily essential for the soul. I really needed this after the last months in which I have been very busy.

The exploration during this hour kept on reminding me of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in the Wonderland, having Alisa telling us her name in English is Alice like the one who had gone through the mirror, and being in a park called after the Queen, filled with all kind of holes (like those in the picture above) for all kind of rabbits… the only difference is maybe that we weren’t actually late, on the contrary time passing became the less important element.

In any case, every time OPENLAB comes off-site a new element is always gained. I don’t mean the obvious element of being in the real world full of real objects to interact with. I mean the element of having other people, witnesses to our actions who haven’t chosen to be one of them, although that’s always the case within the public sphere. Some witness other people and neither group has chosen that… and it is still completely normal because, how could it be otherwise?

But every time OPENLAB happens outdoors the same questions arise: Where does real life ends and performing begins? What are the differences between performing and not performing? Are there any at all? And if so, what are their common characteristics?

These questions lead into the task we explored during the second hour of the lab. These questions and more:

What do I need to do in order to be performing? Does it have to do with the idea of doing things that look different to every day life actions? Or, can I perform despite any type of actions? Is it performing an action in itself? But if so, does the action of performing need to be accompanied by a specific set or type of actions? Can I perform by being every-day-life-like? Aren’t we al,l after al,l performing all the time? At least this is the way in which Erving Goffman talks about human social interactions in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.

So, the way we tried to explore this questions for ourselves during the second hour of the lab was by creating an instant outdoors theatre. Although the park was very busy by this time (and therefore full of potential witnesses), we have decided to support each other by having a group of us watching whilst the rest were performing. The only limitations were to have at least two people at any given time in each group, and that we will finish by 1pm.

The experience was… well, it was hard to grasp because the way we were performing with each other, and the way other people unaware of what were our intentions did interact (or rather pretended not to be interacting) with us was constantly changing.

Goffman’s idea about face-to-face interactions as theatrical performances returned to my stream of consciousness, specially whilst I watched the others performing. What I experienced then wasn’t so much that we were imposing others to become audience members of a performance they didn’t asked for but rather that we have made them accidental performers of a piece they will never know it had taken place. There an idea…


OPENLAB Session: Jumping into the Stream, 28th March 2014

Today’s OPENLAB was inspired by a desire to research the relationship between sound and movement in performance.  The themes were WEIGHT and TIMING.  I’ve noticed that as both a musician and dancer I use these as a base to listen to myself and to other performers.

The people who came today were – Thelma, Ethan, Marina, Lavinia and myself.

We started off walking ‘as something that can’t be helped’, a momentum of nature…  Weight, weight, weight…. Finding the weight in our movements.  Then a short body scan, playing with the delivery of the timing – from each body part, a steady pulse and a calm matter-of-fact way, to sudden lists of body parts, quick quick one after the other.  People seemed to enjoy the contrast between calm reassuring order and sudden pouring in of fastness…

Enjoyment… Do we ask for anything from the audience, that they are enjoying it, and what do we mean by this?…   We played Peekaboo.  The ultimate game for enjoyment, can anyone not enjoy peekaboo?!  (as a baby)  Well, as we found out, yes, not all peekaboos make you laugh.   We worked in partners, one as a adult and the other as a baby – changing the timing of covering and uncovering our faces with our hands to affect the ‘baby’s’ laughter.  Some babies got quite scared…

We took this idea into moving through space.  Working in partners, one was moving and one was witnessing.  Some witnesses experienced having a lot of responsibility for making the performance happen and began to participate in the ‘performance’ – some movers felt like they had to react really fast all the time to the witness and wanted to slow down.  So we added that the witness does not have to be polite and help the mover.  This seemed to open up space for each person to explore the fuller range of relationship between witness and mover, other than just looking for laughter, although this was an anchor.

I wanted to take this into more of a physical focus and to add the element of sound.  I had brought objects which had different kinds of weight and qualities that might inspire ways of moving.  The objects also made sounds.  I brought: a bottle with a bit of water, a big metal ‘egg’ containing rice, a small suitcase of large rocks inside, and objects that could contain other things like a crumply plastic bag, sticky rubber bands, a very furry hat…

We explored touching and moving these objects only with our kinetic sense, feeling the weight moving, the touch of it, and how it made us feel.  The objects created a sound but the task was to listen to the sounds as an outcome not as the inspiration.   I noticed that as a mover I have a habit of translating what I hear in sound into how I move, but in a very particular way and usually the same way… and it was a good discovery to break this and find new ways of perceiving and relating.

The second task was to ‘be’ one of the objects instead of moving it.  To move ourselves as if they were one of the objects.   We noticed types of characters emerge for a moment.  My moods shifted from throwing myself about in joy and drunkenness, to being manipulated by some outside force shaking the living daylights out of me.  There seemed to be a range of ways to relate, each one measured by its timing and weight shifting in space but also how we want to ‘become’ what we have chosen…  Then taking this back to how we could affect our witness by affecting ourselves.

We enjoyed shifting things around for the witness, playing with the ‘weight’ of what we perceive- the weight of thoughts and emotions, habits, cultures, genres and roles we take on.   Image

On Love: OPENLAB session on Friday, 14 February 2014; facilitated by Jan Lee

This time OPENLAB happened to be on Valentine’s Day, and matched my theme of LOVE very well…
In this session I wanted to promote LOVE as an important part of performing, as a practice of seeing myself in the other, and seeing the other in myself.  As a performer I really want to connect with myself, my collaborators, those that direct me, the intention of the performance, and maybe most of all, the audience.  It’s a strong desire to feel affection and to affect others…
The OPENLAB question – what does performing entail?….  at the moment right now, it’s the fine balance of being in love with eyes without trying to control eyes…  Eyes as audience/witness, eyes as our own sense of ourself, eyes as the director on the performer, eyes as the group mind, eyes as the vision of the performance itself…
(Some of the tasks we did in this session I took inspiration from Peta Lily the clown, and neuroscientific choreographer Corinne Jola.)
In this session is myself and Thelma Sharma.
The first task – ‘I only have eyes for myself’.  We close our eyes and perform for ourselves, having the luxury of being the only eyes to see ourselves.  We do this a few times.  Each time, my outer shell dissolves a bit more.  My ‘eyes’ become less about vision and more about filling and emptying energy and spatial pathways inside my mass.  Filling and emptying myself with feeling and intention.
Sometimes my legs would become branches in the air, or my hips a boat rocking in the sea, and the rest of me were my ‘eyes’, still and silent, passive, watching the legs or the hips.  I wanted to fill every part of me with energy.  I wanted my legs to love my arms and my arms to see themselves as my belly…
The second task – to work in a duo, as performer and audience. The performer explores how the filling and emptying of energy and intention can affect the emotional energy of their audience.  Using breath and movement to impact the space inside us, to match our audience’s state or to change the audience’s state…
When does the audience need some change?  Has it been too long that they haven’t moved at all?  Can you change something in yourself as a performer?  Or… does the audience need some space from you?  Stop eyeballing them?  Or maybe they want to be looked after for a moment, give them some time to relax and calm down…  ease their troubles, make them laugh… make them stop in their tracks, think about life seriously…
Affection – to affect, to be affected by
I feel like I am being tickled by Thelma while I watch her breath rise and fall as if she is silently laughing.
I feel the suspense as I watch her almost fall this way and that, letting go, holding on, as I do the same inside myself.
As a performer, we look after the audience, accompanying and matching their physiology.  This is… just… before…. (!) taking them for a ride … !! up and down the rollercoaster till its time to rest.
We invite each other in, and reassure the other that they still exist.  Together on a journey to find tunnels into each other’s worlds.   Do I want to join in?

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.

Making sense of things: OPENLAB session on Friday 6 December 2013


This session, I decided to bring along my newest toy -a service bell, in the shape of a dome, with a button on the top- one that usually sits on a desk to call someone to come to you. We all gave it a go, pressing it, imagining who or what we wanted to arrive. Or as doorbell, waiting for our friend to answer the door for us. Nothing to do, just wait, and expect, or feel how we feel.

This session we were myself, Valentina Bongiovanni, Natasha Weinberg, and Antonio de la Fe.

We practiced a score of moving and noticing the beginning of things (inspired by a score from Rosalind Crisp). Each time I thought of a new thing, each time the detail stretched further and expanded out.  The waiting becoming the doing.

We shared our physical sensations through talking, to our partners.   We talked out loud what we were physically doing, in real-time, while we moved.  We mirrored each other’s face expressions, trying to find the journey together… ‘Do I really look like that?’… The continuing feedback from ourselves and each other gave more detail, more colour, sensation and feeling emerging from the gaps. It was like a metronome of my attention, telling me about my sense of time and action, moving them in and out like a kid playing with a long spiral slinky.

We practiced automatic writing and shared this in speech and movement with each other. Pouring out our body, images, strategies, and conversations through the labyrinth of gaps. I wondered how much of my selection and choice was affected by how I ‘knew’ my witness. Waiting at the door and thinking, what do I know of this person I am meeting, who is meeting and seeing me? I played with different angles of looking and interrogating a thought, of cajoling it or grooming it into becoming present for myself and my audience.

Then, we ended with another score. One person moved, while the other witnessed and let out a stream of words describing feelings and images. I was inspired by Authentic Movement to use a non-imposing phrase to start each sentence, to emphasise the interpretative (rather than prescriptive) nature of the description- “I see you… (e.g. feeling excited) / (e.g. as a bird in flight)”. I wondered, who is making the meaning? ‘You, me, talking?’

Reflections and decisions: OPENLAB session on Friday 8 November 2013


Leading the session on Friday 8th November, I was interested in looking at what happens in our mind while performing, making or improvising.  Therefore I suggested working with a series of reflective ways and seeing what that makes to our performance and how it affects the decisions we make.  We used reflection upon reflection upon reflection upon reflection…  We reflected while acting (doing/moving), and then we reflected (by writing or talking) on what we acted, and then we reflected (by writing or doing/moving) on what we had reflected (by writing or doing/moving). We focused on ourselves, we watched, and we were watched.

OPENLAB session on Friday 1 November 2013

Antonio laying down blindfolded

Photo by Eleanor Sikorski

Things don’t always quite work the way you have planned them…

I have planned a session entirely based on couples working together, alternating the role they are performing. As it happened, we were only 3 people: Manou Koreman, Jan Lee and I.

I have planned to be a stopwatch bitch and keep timings tight. As it happened, I have arrived late after our daily commuting crisis and I was so tired that couldn’t even keep tight by inner mental wanderings.

I have planned. So well I thought I have planned it. As it happened, while I’m facilitating the season the order of events, the instructions, etc. seemed to be so inappropriate.

I promised a session connecting the concept of ‘space’ with the concept of ‘visibility’ and I can’t tell if I delivered what I have said I would.

Time to reflect then… I see the potential, but more planning will be required… I am curious about knowing more about what the other two experience beside this technical side of facilitating a session.

I won’t talk about what we did as I will have another chance to facilitate this session on Friday 22 November. This time I will allow myself to be satisfied with what the session is… for this reason I don’t promise anything. ‘Space’ and ‘visibility’ will continue to be my inspiration; inspiration but that’s it.

Sharing and Dividing: OPENLAB session on Friday 18 October 2013

OPENLAB + Agony Art

OPENLAB and Agony Art’s shared space. Photo by Antigoni Avdi.

Session in an open space. Shared space. The table set with conversation, discussion, shaping an event out of the empty air.

Texture unites my fragmented senses. The touch of a gust of air against my skin, the touch of my bone joining another bone, the taste of my saliva running into the fluidity of my next move, my spiralling body spinning my vision on its own head. Moving so giddily, weaves a rough vision of furry walls, embeds itself inside my eardrums. The soundscape hooks itself onto this texture.

We had to share and divide our space and attention up in our OPENLAB session last Friday. There were three of us- Thelma, Tara and Jan. Well, actually there were twenty of us, including the performers who were meeting together for an Agony Art performance in the same studio.

The generous spirit of improvisation allowed the three openlabbers to operate at the same time as the Agony Art team were forming the basis of a performance, so we all shared the same space. But worked on different things. Dividing the space and senses up and then re-integrating it together again in a new kind of thing.

The sound of three people, the openlabbers of this day, moving feet, some words, turned inwards. The sight of moving bodies, unfocussed colours, stillnesses, shapes. That’s for those at the table. For us, the rhythms of their talk, the highs and lows of tone, the individual voice, the image-heavy words – time, wall, line – jump out to capture us.

The question was, how can I break it all up and then re-integrate it into some new coherent concoction? And what does my movement have to do with it?

Playing with tuning in/out of the words coming from the Agony Art discussions. Allowing the rhythm and narrative sense of the words to feed but not govern the movement. Trying to find an abstract/instinctive response to the word-flow which allows for new stimuli/information to feed back into the ‘sense’ of the words rather than allowing the movement to become pure illustration.

Noticing and losing. Affected by what was around and seeing how attention can move, include and exclude.

Here the three of us cultivate attention, pruning the excess growth of our hearing.

(Excerpts from Thelma, Tara and Jan’s writing)

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?

Square Roundness… Thoughts on Anthony Gormley’s ‘Model’

I am changed. Blocks are human are square are round and need my roundness to balance out their unevenness, which is present in my square smaller me.

Excited like a child I was to go in there. Now, writing this, I don’t want to hear the chatter yet. I don’t care. This is me here. My experience. I don’t want it to dissipate so soon, I don’t want to hear other bodies’ thoughts. Sometimes they can peel away from me, from my experience, chameleon that I might be, so susceptible to other people’s opinions thoughts feelings ideas.

The outer exhibition did not prepare me for this inner experience but of course it is all the same, just smaller or bigger. Building blocks that make up humans. Like atoms. Particles. Square = round. How lovely!

Loved it. An urge to push and experience these walls and corners and lines… A faint smell of iron. And the darkness… The darkness! So scary at first when I slid back on that first dark block, I thought I might fall into an abyss there, a hole in the ground. No ceiling above me, no wall behind me and yet I would slide on my butt farther away until there was a wall, there was a ceiling. All was just dark. When I found my space my eyes got used to the dark and actually I could discern vague shimmers of people. I think. Shadows. It was an eerie feeling, like a voyeur I sat in my little corner, quiet, observing shimmers passing me, feeling their way through the dark. No one knew I was there, it was as if I was hidden away, someone else. Other bodies that could have been illusions, vague spots until other bodies were touching me suddenly. Something grey crawling near me but when I lightly brush my foot over the area there is nothing there after all. I wanted to be sucked up by this darkness somehow, I wanted to be shadow. To be nothing for a little while.

Going further into the maze I want to be upside down all around exploring these corners. Some people there were scared, weird, awkward, talking about laundry and careers, not really observing. A few were. I was too self-absorbed to pay much attention to the attention of others, but I was startled a few times when I found someone, an unknown outsider, watching me. It changed the experience, which became suddenly about showing some sort of relationship between myself and this iron dark or semi-light squareness rather than about me exploring the darkness for me. The difference is subtle yet massive.

Performance presence, supposedly something we can ‘tune into’, a state we can reach for ourselves in individual practice or within a group of trusted openlabbers, and yet as soon as I sense I’m being watched the experience is changed. Almost a longing to go back to the darkness to be alone and move for me, a place where no one can see what I’m doing but it still exists for me. And sometimes wanting to be in the light, wanting to be seen. I am not weird? Am I weird? Are we all? Does it matter?

Not right now, not today, not for me. This is or was more a self-indulgent yearning to explore and then ‘sketch’ through movement than to scream out LOOK AT ME!!! Which is not to say you cannot look at me. You are welcome to be a witness to my experience. But what if I had wanted my being present to pull you in as an audience? Is that not what performance is about? To pull an audience’s eye?