At dusk, the collaborative spills and cycles of L219
Cath Cullinane, Natalie Garrett Brown, Christian Kipp and Amy Voris
This viewpoint seeks to articulate the choreographic and performative strategies of the work L219, framed by the work of practitioner-scholars who explore the relationship between collaborative writing and making processes. Text and image are arranged to reconsider the practices that have given rise to the work, shown as part of the Dance and Somatic Practices Conference 2013. This collaboratively authored chapter considers the resources that have enabled previous versions, suggesting that this writing is perhaps another incarnation of the work. The poetic approach to experiential anatomy within Body-Mind Centering, the witnessing practice of Authentic Movement and the RSVP cycles following Halprin and Poynor are discussed for their contribution to the work’s emergence.
This writing is offered as a viewpoint on artistic practice. It seeks to articulate the choreographic and performative strategies of the work L219 using image and text to constellate the practices and ideas that have given rise to it. In doing so, it ‘wrestles the slippery fish’ of collaborative and re-collective writing in order to develop our conscious understanding of a nascent project (Poynor and Worth in Pitches et al, 2012: p. 148).
It is intended that the relationship between text and images is poetic rather than being directly illustrativei. This dialogic relationship between image and language extends the collaborative character of L219 which, in its most recent incarnation at the Dance and Somatic Practices conference in July 2013, encompassed nine artists experimenting with the adjacent spillover of their materially-oriented making processes. Those artists involved were lighting designer Cath Cullinane, jewellery designer Zoe Robertson, photographer Christian Kipp, two filmmakers Stephen Snell and Steve Chamberlain, two sound artists Daren Pickles and Nicholas Peters and two dancers Natalie Garrett Brown and Amy Voris. Within this configuration of artists, the repeated ‘multiples of two’ points to the pre-existing collaborations brought to bear on the project. All of the artists involved were curious about how their existing practices would permeate each other in this souped-up rendition of the work.
The words in this chapter were written by Garrett Brown and Voris and are focused around the dance / movement dimensions of the work. The images, which feature all of the artists involved in the project, are Kipp’s. Lighting designer Cullinane is the ‘artistic engine’ of the work, responsible for originating the project and co-ordinating those involved. Thus, for the reasons just named, Garrett Brown, Voris, Kipp and Cullinane are named as official authors of this chapter. However, we (Garrett Brown and Voris) feel uneasy about officially naming only half of the team as authors in a project that is so collectively driven. Therefore special acknowledgement is given here to the distinctive artistic practices of Robertsonii, Snell & Chamberlainiii, Picklesiv & Petersv.
L219 began with lighting designer Cath Cullinane’s desire to fill the Lanchester Gallery with its blue-green tones projected through nine humming slide projectors at dusk. About the colour, Cullinane states: “L219 is not a pretty colour. In fact it is very artificial. If electricity could be seen I think, in my mind this is the colour it would be. I am interested in how this colour can sculpt energy, whether it be potential or kinetic, a body or a space.”
The Lanchester Gallery, Coventry is marvelously porous and its surrounding pavements are marvelously peopled. Owing to its slightly shaded glass walls, during the day the interior of the space is somewhat invisible. At night the space reverses its identity and, when lit, becomes intensely visible. During the work, the colour L219 slices, diversifies and spills out of the gallery while, on the inside, the very human activities of artists making and doing becomes evident.
As dancers, we (Garrett Brown and Voris) share a site-responsive practicevi with particular influence from Anna and Lawrence Halprin’s RSVP cycle (1969) and from the environmental dance-maker Helen Poynor. An overarching concern of our practice is to reveal a site through the offering of our danced-relationship to it. Informed by the RSVP cycle, we follow a pattern of generating scores that are called up or ‘resourced’ by direct relationship with the site. Through practice and reflection, the score develops and changes.
The particular site of this project, the Lanchester Gallery, holds many identities. It was originally intended as a retail space that has since become an art gallery, sitting inside a brand new university building (‘the Hub’) directly next to an office termed “The Centre for Applied Entrepreneurship”. The interior of the space has a concrete industrial feel; it is literally unfinished, the intended floor never completed. Directly outside there is a constant stream of pedestrians and cars. The artistry of skateboarders often occupies the neighbouring ramps. We came to consider the shifting light, the duration of time and the wealth of companion activities like another landscape. As movers, the site conjured up in us the desire to dwell and daydream alongside the urge for mischievous and sometimes intensely physical outbursts.
In order to deal with the expanses of the site and of time, we felt we needed a very ‘open’ score that at the same time would ground us in the materiality and connected-ness of the body. So we turned to body-based resources that would enable us to meet these ranging conditions of the work. Such physical resources are “somatically-informed” (Garrett Brown, 2012) – inspired by the poetic approach to experiential anatomy and developmental movement in the practice of Body-Mind Centering. The score from the 11th July performance 2013 read:
Playing with changes from
empty to full
inside to outside
the contents and container of the body
from centre to periphery
webs of interior connection
fluid & solid
the layers of the midline
intervals of space
sitting in the membrane
forming and dissolving
practicing the ability to invest or to drop
scenes, coming and going
a laboratory of live composition
spillage between artists
in the moment of making
between being, doing and performing
The dancing body revealing and intervening with
a site of constant construction
In Job’s Body (2003), Deane Juhan writes:
Touch is the chronological and psychological Mother of the Senses. In the evolution of sensation, it was undoubtedly the first to come into being. It is, for instance, rather well developed in the ancient single cell amoeba. All the other special senses are actually exquisite sensitizations of particular neural cells to particular kinds of touch: compressions of air upon the ear drum, chemicals on the nasal membrane and taste buds, photons on the retina. (p. 29)
As part of our practice, we exchange hands-on work that then leads into moving, witnessing and dancing together. Typically such hands-on work is focused around a certain system or coordination of the body. The quality of contact stirs a certain awareness from which movement emerges. One of our artistic curiosities, in a general sense, has been how to direct such qualitative awareness into live composition. How does this felt sense of the body – awakened through touch – extend into what we do when we ‘touch’ the site with our dancing? Juhan (2003) writes:
Every time that I touch something, I am as aware of the part of me that is touching as I am of the thing I touched … at the moment of contact, two simultaneous streams of information begin to flow: information about an object announced by my senses, and information about my body announced by the interaction with the object. Thus I learn that I am more cohesive than water, softer than iron, harder than cotton balls, warmer than ice, smoother than tree bark, coarser than fine silk, more moist than flour, and so on … By rubbing up against the world, I define myself to myself. (p. 34)
Amidst the sea of collaborative activities, we wondered what resources in the body would be called up or ‘touched upon’ by the environment?
In order deal with the multiplicities of this particular site, we were drawn toward physical-poetic resources that cultivated a sense of substance and coherence in the body alongside a sense of inner readiness and flexibility. For example this led us to explore the sense of the body as container and contents – the ‘container’ being the skeleton and the ‘contents’ being the organs and soft tissues of the interior. (Bainbridge Cohen, 1993: 28-53) We also explored the “navel radiation pattern”vii which, according to Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, is the second basic neurological pattern to emerge in utero. Linda Hartley (1995) writes:
The ‘mind’ of this [the navel radiation] pattern … involves openness, spaciousness, receptivity, communication – these interchange and merge with boundaries, limitations of space, enfoldment, and self-containment. There is an experience of integration, wholeness, oneness, and unmanifest but infinite possibility. (p. 40)
We have found that consciously working with this pattern supports a sense of self-coherence in meeting the environment.
We also explored the presence of connective tissue. Juhan (2003) describes connective tissue as a kind of ‘meta-membrane’ that binds the body together:
Connective tissue … forms a continuous net throughout the entire body and constitutes the immediate environment of every cell in the body, wrapping and uniting all structures with its moist, fibrous, cohering sheets and strands … from scalp to soles and from skin to marrow. (p. 75-76)
From jellyfish to human beings, connective tissue is the primary organ of structure, gluing cells into discrete colonies, defining their shapes, forming them into functional units, and suspending them together in the correct relationships within the organism. (p. 87)
We have found that connective tissue supports a sense of the body’s own intricate interweave and inner volume.
In the wider and roaming reality of L219, we (as dance-artists) have been asking ourselves: What holds this work together and what is it that we (as dancers) are offering to the space?
We are still figuring this out, but our work in the work seems to be about opening to the different currents of the space and of ourselves, allowing something to emerge and then following that something through to discover its particularity until it dissolves. In the context of the improvised, durational, shifting and disparate activities of L219, we have felt in our bodies a ‘call’ for containment and coherence that the aforementioned physical resources seem to offer. Perhaps we have felt this call most deeply when something isn’t ‘working’ or when we are lost.
But, what else could we call upon to cooperate with this open practice? What might help us ‘hold the tension’ of entering the unknown?
Voris’ personal movement practice is heavily influenced by the practice of Authentic Movementviii. This practice involves establishing boundaries of time and space, then closing one’s eyes and responding to the movement of attention in the presence of a witness. There is no intended focus to the practice but rather an intention toward ‘opening’ to what is present (however mundane and unappealing that may be). Key to the practice is reflection afterwards in equal proportion to the moving.
The notion of ‘witnessing’ underlies the practice of Authentic Movement. As Janet Adler (2002), Hartley (2004) and others have explored: witnessing intends toward non-judgmental and compassionate presence usually practiced in relationship between a mover and a witness. This witnessing presence is internalised by the mover as “the inner witness”. (Adler, 2002: xvi) Cultivating an inner witness is the work of Voris’ regular practice. 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)
Intending toward witnessing while moving supports noticing how we notice, which, in turn, affects the choices that are subsequently made, like ‘revving up’ receptivity prior to activityix. In addition to the physical resources named earlier, we began to turn consciously to the notion of witnessing while dealing with the shifting weather systems of L219.
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. Garrett Brown and Voris began to use light awareness of these modes of attention as potential entry points and as ways to deepen engagement with material.
In L219, the meta-awareness of witnessing supports the capacity for zooming out and zooming in, for hanging out with moment prior to action and for feeling the contingent creativity of live composition. This was succinctly expressed by Garrett Brown in the shorthand advice for us as performers: Don’t push it out too soon.
As a piece of work, L219 is fluid and sprawling. It spills across spaces and media revealing cycles of making and un-making. As dancers we have been wondering how to engage with the multiplicities of the site, of the collaboration and of our own moment-to-moment condition. The image and feeling of connective tissue, of the navel radiation pattern and the attentional quality of witnessing arouse in us a feeling of fluid holding which supports the step ‘into the unknown’ without abandoning the sense of self-coherence and agency necessary for live composition. As resources, they also seem to allow for spells of ambivalence and failure that belong to any good experiment.
As part of the emerging identity of L219, we have begun to notice certain sets of dualities in the work, such as:
light / dark
surface / depth
yielding / pushing
movement / stillness
everyday activity / specialised activity
industrial / human
togetherness / separation
Awareness of these dualities and movement across and between them seems to reveal processes of construction. A time-generous approach to generating material calls forth the durational identity of the work. We have come to see the movement of our attention and, moreover, the witnessing of the movement of our attention as a key resource or ‘modulator’ of the work across time.
However, all of this language feels speculative and strange – akin to what Bacon and Vida Midgelow (2012) describe as “the double vision” of being reflexive. (p. 4) Nevertheless, the process of assembling this writing has helped us to articulate our emergent working process and to get to know the work, or as Rosemary Lee and Niki Pollard (2010) put it “to grow” the work (p. 34), which maybe also means getting to know the work differently through language. This writing functions, in Halprin’s (1969) language, as a form of “valuaction”x in preparation for the work’s next rendering. As Bacon and Midgelow (2011) suggest “the forming of language informs the moving body, and in a cyclic process, each forms and then re-(in)forms the other”. (p. 6) Writing from, about and alongside one’s practice can be both “disruptive” and “purposeful”. (ibid)
Likewise, the very process of selecting images has informed us about how we would like the work to continue to emerge. For example, the visual nature of photography has reinforced a choreographic interest in generating imagery which comes from an embodied engagement with site and which also seeks to have a visual impact within its environment. This writing is perhaps another incarnation or ‘offshoot’ of the work, which makes use of photographic imagery and language to activate memory of the live event while also germinating the work’s next iteration.
Adler, J. (2002) Offering from the Conscious Body, Vermont: Inner Traditions.
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Enter & Inhabit (2013) http://enterinhabit.com/
Garrett Brown, N. (2011) ‘Disorientation and emergent subjectivity: The political potentiality of embodied encounter’, Journal of Dance & Somatic Practices 3: 1+2: 61-73.
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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
Institute for Integrative Body Work and Movement Therapy (2013)
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Meehan, E. (2010), ‘Visuality, discipline and somatic practices: The “Maya Lila” performance project of Joan Davis’, Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices 2: 2, pp. 219-232
Lee, R. and Pollard, N. (2010) ‘Writing with a choreographer’s notebook’, Choreographic Practices 1: 21-41.
Pallaro, P. (ed.) (1999) Authentic Movement: Essays by Mary Starks Whitehouse, Janet Adler and Joan Chodorow, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
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Pitches et. al (2012) ‘Performer Training: Researching Practice in the Theatre Laboratory’, in B. Kershaw and H. Nicholson (eds.), Research Methods in Theatre and Performance, pp. 137-161, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Poynor, H. and Worth, L. (2004) Anna Halprin. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Poynor, H. (2013) http://www.walkoflife.co.uk/helen.htm
Stromsted, T. (2009) ‘Authentic Movement: A dance with the divine’, Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy 4: 3: 201-213.
i Here, “poetic” refers to the adjacency of materials which, through their relationship, generate meaning and resonance.
iii Steve Chamerlain and Stephen Snell are sellotapecinema:
iv Daren Pickles, sound artist:
vii Hartley (2004) describes this pattern as “facilitating the differentiation of the limbs of the body, and their integration through the navel centre into a whole body pattern”. (p. 107)
viii See Pallaro et al. (1999, 2007) for collections of writings tracing the development and various applications of Authentic Movement. Voris’ research is concerned with Authentic Movement as a “container” for the fluidities and complexities of emergent choreographic process and takes its cues from a number of practitioner-researchers named here. Janet Adler (2002), Linda Hartley (2004), Tina Stromsted (2008) among others have written about Authentic Movement as a spiritual practice. 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.
x “‘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, 2012: p. 151)