OPENLAB sessions on Friday 11th September 2015: “Out with the eyes – A sensorial smorgasbord” with Manou Koreman

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Last Friday we re-took the weekly sessionS in the studio at Chisenhale Dance Space, and for this re-start of OL’s academic year we had the pleasure of enjoying of Manou’s proposition to have a long session during which we would be blind-folded… e basta così.

In the studio we were Manou, Thelma Sharma and myself.

I have done many different types of sightless explorations and taken many classes, workshops and creative process in which I have been asked or I have chosen to be devoid of the visual input.

However, you can’t never expect what is going to happen. I think most people tend to fall by expecting to have a similar experience to the one they had in a previous encounter with the blindfold. But the expectations are rarely fulfilled, whether for better or for worst.

It is hard to put into words what a blindfolded experience was for you. The raw stream of sensorial input and stream of thoughts and emotions that arise from them are normally very vague when remembered after; even if at the moment felt extremely intense, or even transcendentally profound at times.

However, blindfolding feels to me such a great practice to put into tuning the set of skills that can make your performing richer.

This session with Manou didn’t felt any different in a way but because of that also felt such an important work to do in the studio.

However, my tendencies where at a point overturned by something that Manou suggested. My experiences with blindfolding have had always to do with getting to a much more primal state of mind. I think this is influenced by my previous experiences with authentic movement, which has its roots in psychoanalysis, and looks for the person practicing it to follow her or his inner impulse(s).

Contrary to that other approach, at a certain point I manage to hear a suggestion from Manou to try to do any activities that we would normally would do with the eyes open. My mind suddenly changes from a subconscious-attitude to a superconscious-attitude toward the exploration. And my choices where to write something (picture at the top of this blog) and to take pictures (at the bottom). Both things I managed to do without having to even take the blindfold to find what I needed to find (it was handy that I am a bit addict at using my phone), and the result of both pictures and text impressed me… in an unassuming way, but when I saw them I was quite happy with them even if the are just what they are.

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

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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

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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.

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

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“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).

Start, live, decay: like fire: OPENLAB session Friday 13 December 2013

OPENLAB Friday, December 13th

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Present: Antonio de la Fe, Tara Pilbrow, Verena Schneider, Thelma Sharma

To notice the beginning, development and end of movement

This session raised some questions about what counts as a beginning, how we endow an action with the sense of it beginning, choosing to separate it from the ever-present flow of the moments.

If there was a sequence of repeated actions, how much did that dull the sense of a new start? When was it possible to experience an ending? Could there be a real pause or emptiness of some sort between actions? Were there satisfactory and unsatisfactory endings? Was the idea of musical structures useful?

I attended to the adjustments of my body in space and leant into them, expanded from one place into another, was caught by a sound and took that as a new beginning, while seeing it lie on the momentum from the past. I watched my focus shifting, allowing a mood to expand through the body. The endings of each impulse were cut off , as the new one took over: there was no bell-shaped curve of start, fulfilment, decline. Collage, rather than narrative. I could experiment with seeing an impulse lead to a complete phrase. Within that, always overlapping aspects of breath, mood, spacial occupation, relationship to the environment, including others.

Exercises of leading a partner with eyes closed and pausing, began the session. Andrew Morrish uses these to increase attention. We wrote to assimilate in some way what had been experienced.
There were also exercises to focus on what we attended to or chose to attend to. Rosalind Crisp introduced this type of exercises to me. In partners, we were director and mover, and the directions I used were: leave that, stay with that, let that fade. What I noticed to stay with or leave could be different to what the director might be thinking of. The satisfactions of staying with or letting go of varied too.

It seemed that beginnings were often easier to embrace and realise than were endings. The session also gave only passing attention to the whole development and flowering of the impulses.
So an investigation on the borders.

Thelma Sharma

What if the swindlers are actually weavers? — OPENLAB session on Friday, 22 November 2013

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Today we were: Susan Kempster, Tara Pilbrow, Alina Popa, Thelma Sharma, Bea Theiler and myself. We gather around a circle, sitting on a platform made of aikido mats to protect us from the cold floor at Chisenhale’s small studio, whilst I read aloud Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes (I read it from this translation in: http://www.hca.gilead.org.il/emperor.html).

I tried to have another go, in a different way, to the session I facilitated earlier this month but adding the twist of Andersen’s tale this time. Once I read it and without entering to analyse the moral of the story, I asked “what if the detail in the story are inverted?” Something like: 1) the swindlers are really weavers, 2) nobody sees because they don’t [yet] understand and 3) the kid who points the emperor in the end of the tale says: “look, it is really a precious and colourful cloth made with the most wonderful threads forming the most unexpected patterns!!!”

I’m not suggesting to change the tale (it is wonderful as it is) but it seems to me that the paradox emerging from accepting both versions could be a very interested one…in the Andersen’s version people proof themselves stupid for being ashamed of being honest and admit they can’t see, but if the swindler were real weavers, disregarding their cloth as just a myth will prevent us from see it ever. Maybe a mid-place position towards it would be a more interesting one. Maybe we won’t see the clothes we were promised but something totally different and unexpected.

Following this logic and after practicing some authentic movement, and variations of the form with open eyes and simultaneous moving-talking being watched, and watching-talking whilst witnessing I ask people to come in and out of the space and try to have the  binomial question “what do I do?/ what do they see me doing?” both whilst moving in the space and watching others move. Andersen’s story and its antithesis seem to place us in a perfect place to let go from the binomial question and the conflicts between the possible binomial answers, at the same time that letting go is not synonym of fading it into oblivion.

Reflections and decisions: OPENLAB session on Friday 8 November 2013

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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.