Choreography and Corporeality Working Group

 

Amy Voris

Independent Dance Artist

PhD candidate, University of Chichester

 

skirting & winding

 

As a choreographer, I am currently exploring the resonance between Authentic Movement and dance-making, how these pursuits share the same processual ground.[1] In the context of my practice as research PhD, this exploration will be eventually be developed with reference to a wider field of choreographic practices. What follows here however, is an initial mapping out of Authentic Movement principles as brought to light through my practice.

                  My choreographic practice includes the multiple processes of moving, witnessing, reflecting, writing, drawing, reading and collaborating. Such multi-modal activities constitute an expanded practice that remains based in attending closely to movement itself. Authentic Movement offers a way of generating, contemplating and documenting choreographic material that resonates strongly with this multi-modal process. Reflection on my creative practice in relation to Authentic Movement has led to the distillation of four processual qualities:

1 witness consciousness

2 opening & articulating

3 deepening & layering

4 time generosity

 

It is hoped that the distillation of such processual qualities might operate as a kind of feedback loop through and around the practice (Bacon & Midgelow 2010: 5). The reflexivity embedded in this feedback loop might allow the practice to become itself more fully through the modulation that it enables. Perhaps it lends a precision to the creative process that arises out of the process itself and provides the practice with a critical dimension that isn’t arbitrary or extrinsic but results from seeing the practice refracted through itself.

 

This writing has been designed to accompany an Open Mic durational practice / performance, skirting.

 

What is Authentic Movement?

 

Authentic Movement was first developed in the 1940’s by Mary Starks Whitehouse, a dancer and Jungian analyst who sought to explore Jung’s notion of Active Imagination through movement. Her practice, which she initially called ‘movement in depth’, sought to enable the unconscious (or that which we do not know) to surface through open-ended movement exploration. Since Whitehouse’s time, the development of the practice has been described in terms of its ‘three root systems (or theoretical underpinnings) – dance, psychotherapy and mysticism’ (Adler cited in Bacon 2014).

                  In its ‘ground’ (or dyad) form, Authentic Movement involves closing one’s eyes and allowing movement to arise in the presence of a witness. Explicit boundaries related to time, space and roles offer a clear counterpart to the openness of the practice. Following moving there is a focussed period of reflection that seeks to discern the experience of moving and witnessing in the presence of another.

                  When I first encountered Authentic Movement[2], it struck a deep chord with me as a dancer / maker. I was excited by the way that the practice embraces different modalities of attention (such as movement, sensation, emotion and image) and by the way that the practice ‘tracks’ the movement and the layering of attention. The practice seemed to offer a way of encapsulating the more mysterious dimensions of the creative process through dialogic cycles of practice and reflection, making such processes its very subject. I felt attracted by the language that surrounds Authentic Movement and in particular the characterization of the practice as an ‘offering’. Right now, I am most drawn to the relational creativity that the practice engenders. Authentic Movement embodies an approach to process that is relational, multilayered and time generous.

 

skirting

 

skirting is an improvised and durational practice for the peripheral spaces and transitional times of a building or event. During the IFTR conference we will be practicing during three programmed occasions (plus a few non-programmed occasions).  Movement material and photography are resourced from the felt-sense of the body, drawing on sensorial and imaginal input of the site as it is experienced. With this practice we seek to offer a presence that belongs to and stands separate from the space it inhabits. 

                  The underlying concept for this practice surfaced during a ‘long circle’ (which is a kind of durational group practice of Authentic Movement). During this circle, I found myself on the edge of the space feeling weird. I imagined my moving (which was upright, disjointed and writhing) to offer a counterpart to the rest of the group (whom I imagined to be low-down, still and elsewhere). Witnessing distilled the image as a ‘strange’ peripheral presence, further crystallizing it as a creative proposition.

                  Around the same time that the concept for skirting emerged, I was beginning to locate my research in terms of Authentic Movement. Early explorations into the development of a movement practice which comes out of Authentic Movement principles (in collaboration with dance-artist Natalie Garrett and photographer Christian Kipp[3]) began to grow towards and into skirting. This was simultaneously an attempt to explore the adaptability of the methodology while also experimenting with a means to practically participate in certain events (such as this conference). skirting is, then, an amalgamation of a choreographic idea with processual qualities of Authentic Movement practice.

 

1 witness consciousness or ‘a quality of presence’

 

The notion of ‘witnessing’ or ‘witness consciousness’ underlies the practice of Authentic Movement. As Adler (2002), Hartley (2004) and others have explored: witnessing intends toward compassionate presence practiced in relationship between a mover and a witness. The phenomenon of witness consciousness has been described in a number of ways. Borrowing a term from Arnold Mindell, Hartley (2004) describes witnessing as a ‘meta-skill’ or an ‘embracing attitude which both guides and contains’ (Hartley 2004: 66). According to Adler, the witnessing presence is internalized by the mover as ‘the inner witness’ (2002). Intending toward witnessing while moving supports noticing how one notices which, in turn, affects the choices that are subsequently made, like revving up receptivity prior to activity. In relation to performance practice, Penny Collinson characterizes witness consciousness as a ‘quality of presence’ (2005). From the perspective of Body Mind Centering, this orientation towards potential could be described in terms of the nervous system as ‘sitting in the synapse’ (Bainbridge Cohen 1993). This sensing into the moment prior to action – into contingency – is akin to the sensitivity that surrounds some kinds of artistic decision making (and live composition).

                  Witness consciousness has affinities with the attribute of reflexivity which is characterized by Kim Etherington as a ‘self-awareness...[that] creates a dynamic process of interaction’ (2004: 37). Although witness consciousness (or reflexivity) is identified here as a core value of Authentic Movement practice, it is worth noting that reflexivity is also recognized as a key constituent of practice-as-research. When applied to the research context, reflexivity is described as a ‘circulating energy between context of researcher and researched’ which creates transparency regarding the underlying ideologies of our research (ibid). With regard to dance practice as research such as this, reflexivity is key to dealing with the complexities that arise when one’s practice is both the means and the subject of research.

 

2 opening & articulating

 

Central to Authentic Movement is the intention to enter the practice in a state of ‘not knowing’. Bacon suggests that:

Authentic Movement is not a codified form of dance, and it relies on the individual having a particular attitude of openness towards the process. The mover waits and then allows herself to give shape and form to whatever arises not checked or mediated by a conscious attitude of what one should look like or how one should behave (2010: p. 68).

 

From this opening – which has also been characterized as ‘listening’ (Collinson 2005) or ‘waiting’ - something arises. Attention moves toward and into whatever that might be. In closing the eyes to begin, there is a widening of attention. This ‘attitude of opening’ raises awareness of sensations, feelings, stories in the body and, in my experience, also intensifies the presence of other bodies and of the surrounding environment. Although this is sometimes characterized as a turning inward, there is also a turning outward or maybe a turning inside out. By closing the eyes and maintaining the intention to open, it is my experience that the innate relationality and porosity of the body becomes heightened.

                  Within the practice, there is the attempt to sensitively bridge the gap between experience and language, to ‘speak from’ rather than ‘about’ experience. Speaking from experience is a practice or discipline in its own right. One way of doing this is ‘tracking’, which is the attempt to give retrospective shape to experience in terms of movement and the body. Such articulations from experience give weight to certain dimensions of experience over others in that what gets articulated is what gets taken forward or further unfolded.

 

Synergies with RSVP cycle / scoring

 

This approach to forming a creative articulation from a wide field is echoed in Anna and Lawrence Halprins’ RSVP cycles (1969). Formulated in the 1960’s in partnership with Halprin’s husband Lawrence Halprin (who was also an architect), the RSVP cycle offers a model for collaborative working across disciplines. As its title suggests, the cyclical nature of art making is intrinsic to this process through and across four key stages termed as Resourcing, Scoring, Valu-action and Performance whereby the creative act is understood as an ongoing dialogic spiral of activity. Implicit within this model is the celebration of collective response and an undoing of hierarchies between art forms and artists. An investment in reflection as an integral aspect of the creative process is also highlighted in this model of collaborative making.

                  Informed by the RSVP cycle as a working method, we began to formulate movement scores resourced by this intention to open to what is present while also incorporating the concept of skirting – that is, cultivating a strange presence on the edge of a space or event[4].

 

skirting

 

Beginning at the edges of a space

 

What arises…?

 

In attention

In body

In space

 

Edges of awareness

 

Layers of experience

 

 

- score as of 6 February 2014[5]

 

 

 

Through practice and reflection (or in RSVP terms ‘valu-action’[6]), the score develops and changes.

                  Central to our creative process is the continuous review of our practice, an activity that has been ‘plumed out’ in a slideshow comprised of close-up images of notebook pages that accompanied an early version of this paper (the slideshow is at the end of the page below this popup). The slideshow is a documentation of documentation that mirrors back the hand-made, messy and circulatory nature of the process of making.[7]

                  Photography by Kipp emerging from the practice also appears on this web page. In the collaborative and spirallic spirit of the RSVP cycle, these photographic images simultaneously operate as ‘Resources’, as ‘Scores’, as forms of ‘Valu-action’ and they also instantiate a mode of ‘Performance’ by Kipp.

 

3 deepening & layering

 

Adler, Hartley and others in the realm of Authentic Movement sometimes refer to different modes of attention when moving, or “being moved”. In her teaching, Hartley (2010/2011) differentiates these modes into the realms of tracking / proprioception, sensation, emotion and image – an artificial separation of intertwined phenomena which nevertheless allows for the recognition of patterns, of preferences and of what layers of experience are being foregrounded. As movers, we (Garrett & Voris) use light awareness of these modes of attention as potential entry points and as ways to deepen engagement with material.

                  As a practice, Authentic Movement offers the potential to ‘unfold’ layers of experience. Teachings by Adler and Hartley encourage participants to delve into a single moment and ‘unfold’ its layers or multitudes. In such an instance, the description of the experience of a moment can generate lengthy exchanges of witnessing. This process of contemplation or of deep research into the particular (characterised here as the quality of ‘deepening and layering’) finds its way into the reflective exchanges (moving and witnessing) of our practice and through the various phases of the RSVP cycle as we form and transform emergent material.

                  We are now focusing our research around deepening and layering certain dimensions of the score to do with the materiality of the body, to do with the relationship with site and audience and to do with the compositional shaping of time. Each of these ‘hidden dimensions’ is like an accordion which, when opened, offers up a range of possibilities. For example: through focused exploration of sensation and proprioception, the perceptual interface of the moving body with the environment becomes vivid. Direct engagement with the senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching) brings to light the body as a site of absorption and reflection.

                  Just as the embodied relationship with score gets deepened and layered with practice, so does our relationship with the guiding idea behind the project. Our understanding of its originating concept (offering a strange presence on the edges or peripheries of a space or event) expands and becomes more complex. ‘Edge’ is a flexible concept; seeking out an edge illuminates the between-spaces, or sites of change. Collaborator / photographer Kipp has suggested that edges are ‘elusive’ and ‘there is no such thing as an edge: only and forever surface.’ skirting defines edges through the act of experimenting with where they might be. We imagine that the flow of communication between our trio webs the edges of the space with a low key intricacy which is aware of and plays with its own visibility. As well as being witness to each other, we imagine being witnessed by the site. As well as being an offering to the edges of a space / event, we have begun to imagine the score as a dedication to the edges of our awareness.

 

4 time generosity

 

The approach to dance-making described here is emergent and time generous. Although insights can arrive in an instant, the practice is concerned with long-term enquiry. For the time being, a durational format suits the exploratory and nascent status of skirting and the slow-cooking atmosphere of Authentic Movement. What tends to emerge from the practice overall are patterns of change or a temporal chain of material threaded by transitions between energetic states. In this durational practice, we sense time as open and immense: a palpable environment.

 

skirting

 

discovering the edges of the space or event

 

the materiality of the body meeting the materiality of the site

 

being witnessed by

each other and

the site (including its people)

 

allowing

sensation

movement

emotion

image

 

to come and go

(some things linger)

 

time as a material

 

saturation

diffusion

development

transformation

layering

shifting

 

the accumulation of detail

 

 

- score as of 6 June 2014

 

                  Through this play between our current condition and the edges of a space – as mediated through a score – the materials of the body and of dancing are laid bare. Perhaps the ‘choreographic work’ is located in the creative movement between open and closed structures and in the process of deepening embodied engagement with an embryonic idea (skirting). Traces of this practice are offered in public-facing performance and in other modes of documentation that both accompany and participate in our understanding of it. Authentic Movement and the RSVP cycles offer potential means (or methods) by which the creative process - based in the act of dancing - can be articulated. From these perspectives, a ‘process’ is something that the work (as a web of relations between artists, activities and context) endures and accretes via moment-to-moment navigation of its conditions. The emergence of the work is prolonged and winding.

 

From these practices of dancing and choreographing, methods and methodologies emerge through which we can investigate dancing and choreographing. Such methodological alignment is significant for McNiff et al (2013) who point out that methodologies which are aligned are likely to yield insights about arts practice which are unique to arts practice. In this spirit, the reflexive dialogue with my own choreographic practice, using frameworks that are already movement oriented such as Authentic Movement and the RSVP cycles, is an appropriate basis from which to illuminate choreographic practices more generally as well as highlight their more emergent and elusive dimensions. In this sense the ‘know-how’ and ‘know-what’ (after Nelson 2013) of a practice are not necessarily distinguishable (Bacon and Midgelow 2010: p. 12). Rather, through the fluency between the two (know-how and know-what) a mode of enquiry evolves which enables the creative process to grow ‘through its own logic, its own methodology’ (Bacon & Midgelow 2010: p. 12). It also enables creative processes per se to be understood in terms of their own emergent logics (rather than through extrinsic approaches).

                  In explicating the internal logic or methodology of a deliberately ‘open’ practice, my intention is to offer a language for it without detracting from the non-rational, fluid and mysterious nature of the creative process. In a way, this paper is an extension of that process.

                 Exposure of a project at such an early stage always feels risky – especially when the open ended nature of the practice concerned raises questions much more than it answers them. Practice as research is not productive of definitive explanations, but of increasingly more precise ways of engaging in and reflecting on both my own and other creative practices. To borrow an adage from Andrea Olsen who writes in the foreword to her experiential anatomy book Bodystories: ‘the function of a book about anatomy is not to demystify the body – it is to help embody the mystery’ (1998: i). So here too, rather than de-mystifying the creative process, it is hoped that this project enables a deeper and more precise creative engagement with its mysteries.

 

skirting

discovering the edges of the event / space

moving witnessing the site
and each other

allowing
movement
sensation
emotion
image

to surface

surfing and selecting
something to linger with

attending to time as a material

 

- score as of 10 July 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


References

Adler, J. (2002)  Offering from the Conscious Body, Vermont: Inner Traditions.

 

Bacon, J. (2007) ‘Psyche moving: “Active Imagination” and “focusing” in movement-based performance and psychotherapy’, Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy 2: 1: 17-28.

 

Bacon, J. (2010) ‘The voice of her body: Somatic practices as a basis for creative research methodology’, Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices 2: 1: 63-74.

 

Bacon, J. (2014) Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices 7.1 Call for Papers ‘Authentic Movement: Defining the Field’ [email circular] to A. Voris [4 July 2014]

 

Bacon, M.J. and Midgelow, V.L. (2010) ‘Articulating choreographic practices, locating the field: An introduction’, Choreographic Practices 1: 3-19.

 

Bacon, M.J. and Midgelow, V.L. (2011) ‘Writing the self, writing the choreographic’, Choreographic Practices 2: 3-7.

 

Bainbridge Cohen, B. (1993) Sensing, Feeling, and Action: The Experiential Anatomy of Body-Mind Centering, Northampton, MA: Contact Editions.

 

Collinson, P. (2005) See and Be Seen: A Quality of Presence, An investigation of Authentic Movement in Creative Process and Performance. Unpublished MPhil thesis. Manchester: Manchester Metropolitan University.

 

Contact Quarterly – Authentic Movement special issue, Summer / Fall 2002, Volume 27, Number 2

 

Davis, J. (2007) Maya Lila: Bringing Authentic Movement into Performance, The Process, Norfolk: Elmdon Books.

 

Davis, J. (2007) Maya Lila: Bringing Authentic Movement into the World, The Offering, Norfolk: Elmdon Books.

 

Discipline of Authentic Movement (2014) http://www.disciplineofauthenticmovement.com/

 

Enter & Inhabit (2014) http://enterinhabit.com/

 

Etherington, K. (2004) Becoming a Reflexive Researcher: Using Our Selves in Research, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

 

Halprin, L. (1969) The RSVP Cycles – Creative Processes in the Human Environment, New York: George Brazillier.

 

Hartley, L. (2004) Somatic Psychology: Body, Mind and Meaning, London: Whurr Publishers.

 

Hartley, L. (2010/2011) Authentic Movement and Therapeutic Presence [workshops] module 2, four weekends across 2010 / 2011, Kelling, Norfolk: Institute for Integrative Body work and Movement Therapy

 

Ledger et. al (2011) ‘The Question of Documentation: creative strategies in performance research’, Research Methods in Theatre and Performance, in B. Kershaw and H. Nicholson (eds.), Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

 

McNiff, S. (ed.) (2013) Art as Research: Opportunities and Challenges, Bristol, UK: Intellect.

 

Meehan, E. (2011) Somatic Practice in Performance: The Maya Lila Project of Joan Davis. Unpublished PhD thesis. Dublin: University of Dublin, Trinity College.

 

Meehan, E. (2010), ‘Visuality, discipline and somatic practices: The ‘Maya Lila’ performance project of Joan Davis’, Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices 2: 2: 219 – 232.

 

Nelson, R. (2013) Practice As Research in the Arts: Principles, Protocols, Pedagogies, Resistances. New York: Palgrave MacMillan

 

Olsen, A. (1998) Body Stories, A Guide to Experimental Anatomy, New York: Barrytown Press.

 

Pallaro, P. (ed.) (1999) Authentic Movement: Essays by Mary Starks Whitehouse, Janet Adler and Joan Chodorow, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

 

Pallaro, P. (ed.) (2007) Authentic Movement: Moving the Body, Moving the Self, Being Moved, Volume 2, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

 

Pitches et. al (2011) ‘Performer Training: Researching Practice in the Theatre Laboratory’, in B. Kershaw and H. Nicholson (eds.), Research Methods in Theatre and Performance, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

 

Poynor, H. and Worth, L. (2004)  Anna Halprin.  Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

 

Poynor, H. (2014) http://www.walkoflife.co.uk/helen.htm

 

 

 



[1] The potential links between Authentic Movement and performance practice are well articulated by Penny Collinson (2005) and by Jane Bacon (2007). See also the artistic work and writings of Joan Davis (2007) and Emma Meehan’s research (2011, 2012) concerned with Davis’ work. Contact Quarterly dedicated an edition to Authentic Movement in 2002 (Volume 27: 2). Bacon (2010) proposes Authentic Movement as a creative research methodology.

[2] My practical understanding of this practice is derived from the work of Janet Adler, Linda Hartley and Jane Bacon.

[3] Garrett and Kipp are long-standing collaborators as part of the Enter & Inhabit project.

[4] Further contextualisation for this practice can be found in the scoring practices of Lisa Nelson and Deborah Hay and in the site-responsive practice of Helen Poynor.

[5] Collaborator Garrett has described this score as: ‘a crucible of attentiveness where everything’s in the mix…’

[6] ‘ “Valuaction” is a neologism that encapsulates the combination of reflection on / evaluation of performance and the action that results from these responses’ (Poynor and Worth in Pitches et al, 2011: 151).

[7] A fuller discussion of the format / function of documentation is beyond the scope of this writing. However this project seeks to incorporate documentation strategies which are ‘integral’ to and ‘aligned’[7] with the practice (Kershaw / Hulton cited in Ledger et al 2011: 166-167).