Marie’s reflections on Two Trainers Prepare project

Dear Maria,

Thanks for the invitation to share my thoughts on Two Trainers Prepare. I’m delighted to have the chance to do so!

As it happens, my partner Alan, who is an academic and works creatively with films, has asked me to join him on a shared project and he has been very interested in your and my collaboration. We have been considering ways in which Two Trainers Prepare might inspire our own joint venture. I therefore wrote my reflections based on questions Alan had been asking me, in order to clarify what aspects of Two Trainers Prepare he and I could use and take forward as well as to reflect on the project as such.

Now that this stage of the Two Trainers Prepare project has finished, what are your immediate thoughts?

I am sad to leave behind a project that has had a big impact on my daily life. It has created a routine of creativity and reflection and being-in-my-body that I have not experienced before, at least in this consistent and durational way. The project has been an anchor for me. Letting it go will leave an empty space. Every second week I had a task I needed to carry out that was also a reason to get myself away from the computer and into my body to work stuff out.

And then at the same time I must say I’m relieved! This is because the project has been very time consuming and perhaps I have not been very good at sticking to the rule that says ‘not to be precious’ about the tasks or the writing/construction of reflections. I have taken a substantial amount of time to do the tasks – sometimes several days to respond and reflect on a single task – and I often worried about doing a ‘good job’. But any relief I feel at the project coming to a close is overshadowed by the a sense of sadness that I am no longer positively held accountable for my creative practice on a fortnightly basis.

What were the day-to-day workings of the project?

I would usually read your tasks at some point during Monday but rarely had time to do much about it till Tuesday or Wednesday, as teaching and other jobs had to take  priority. Interestingly, even before carrying it out, the task would have a subtle impact on my day-to-day life. It would simmer in my head. Sometimes with excitement to get started (if the task spoke to me) and sometimes with apprehension (if I had no idea how to respond to the task). Here are a few of the very enjoyable tasks: Yoga Lore for task 30, creating compositions for task 36 and playing with dancing skin in my video for task 14. These all had me really excited. All of these have photography, film, composition and editing at the heart and so confirm my discovery of filmmaking as a core part of my artistic interests. At the opposite end, I felt unsure about how to respond to task 32 and 34 which had me focus on breath and gaze but found some tasks, like  28 and 5, puzzling at first but very satisfying once I got to grips with the reflections. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your reflections. Particularly your response to task 36, where you re-staged my yoga images, and your response to task 25 where you involved Dimitris; and after I gave you cryptic task 39 you gave an insightful and elucidating response that helped me to grasp new aspects of the project.

Tasks would impact on how I would walk down the street or my interaction with my daughter and would often feature in conversations I had with others. I would begin the task once other work chores were out of the way . There was no time to dawdle, plan or reconsider tasks which was quite liberating actually. I would grab my camera, get on my bike or get to practice my yogasana.

What can you say about the time limits and frequency of tasks?

The project has worked a little like a tennis match. You serve and I return – I serve and you return. Our eyes are on the ball, perhaps even hoping to deliver a devastating smash to the game partner! On occasion a task has caught me on the wrong foot and I only managed to strike the ball enough to edge it over the net.

The comparison with tennis is useful, I think, to illustrate the extent to which our collaboration has kept my focus on developing creatively and my ability to think ‘on my feet’. We discussed some months into the project the possibility of extending the response-time from one to two weeks, to give a bit of air to the reflections. But we both agreed that it would only mean that we might defer doing a task or that we would spend more time on writing the reflections and therefore feel more precious about the outcome. The point was not to think but simply to return the serve to the best of one’s abilities.

Was what we did ‘substantial’ enough or could the work have been developed more?

I considered this question for a while, tried to answer it, and then realised it is the wrong question to ask. The purpose of the project was never to be ‘substantial’ but to investigate how a quick turnover of tasks and responses could reveal ways to integrate different styles of yoga with other (artistic) practices. The ‘substance’ was a function of the accumulation of tasks and responses rather than of the ‘depth’ of any individual response to a task. In addition, and although the emphasis of the work and of the bulk of the blog entries is on engaging physically with the instructions and reflecting on this process, the essence of what we have produced is in the tasks themselves. The tasks are the artistic outcome, not the reflections.

What could be improved?

I did have weeks where I would have liked to spend more time on a particular task and where perhaps I felt I only brushed the surface of what I could have come up with had I had more time. With no real guidelines as to when or how to investigate a theme, we managed to include a broad variety of practices: types of yoga, dance, philosophy, photography, feminism, drawing, inventing new words/postures/meanings, to mention a few. The project has been a negotiation of our relationship and a way of getting to know each other. I wonder, though, whether out of politeness and not having a history of working together (and therefore being unsure of each other’s strengths, weaknesses and habits), we have been reluctant to be prescriptive. Could we have demanded stricter rules of each other?  What if once a month we had prescribed a new location for carrying out the task… or a body part to work with… or a book to become a central object? Would that have given us a more focused and distilled outcome? I am not sure any of this is true but I will bring these thoughts with me for the next stage of our collaboration or to other joint ventures to come. What I am sure of, is that the project has fostered an intellectual and creative intimacy between us, which is immensely valuable.

What was it like to work together?

You have been punctual and reliable and received my tasks with openness and this has developed a trusting relationship which I think is worth mentioning as a crucial component for this type of work.

Still, in the last months of the project I became more aware of my own shortcomings in relation to academic writing and written reflection. I have not always felt I was able to match your level of writing and this has tipped the power balance for me. I am primarily a practitioner and an artist and the format of the TDPT blog post invites a certain mode (ie. academic prose!) of responding. It leaves me with a question of whether — despite our intentions to foreground physical investigation, process and creativity — the format meant that writing triumphed over the somatic practice. In addition, the project is work— and while I do it with passion, I am an unpaid artist trying to be equal to a salaried academic. I don’t mean in any way to sound ungrateful for the project but I want to acknowledge the different status of our positions and to signal the impact it may have had on our working relationship and on the form and content of the project itself. Again, this aspect is something I will consider for future collaborations, perhaps as something to be foregrounded.

Did the project change my relationship with Yoga?

Yes, for sure. Ashtanga Yoga has always been my core practice, and this has not changed since doing this project. What has changed is my attitude to it and my ability to see it in a wider context of other (somatic) practices, but mainly in a wider context of my own everyday life. It is hard to place a finger on precisely how the project has impacted my daily practice as the collaboration was never about learning a specific skill or to become more adept at doing yogasana. But there is something about the texture of what I do that has shifted in my own practice and my teaching. One aspect that I believe has had an impact is how the tasks invite a new way of seeing or experiencing. I found this paragraph below from task 5 in October 2017 (I had been cycling around an unfamiliar area of my town) which illustrates well the connection or progression between the two stages of a task (the first part asking me to map a place with a word and the second part lie in Savasana and notice sensations) and the written reflections, and gives an insight in to the mechanism of this (inter)relationship:

It is several days after my exploration on bike that I get a chance to do the second part of Task 5. I lie down for a prolonged Savasana and undo the cycle trip with some yoga postures. […] I still feel the residue and imprints of the first exploration. As I lay down for Savasana I feel a heaviness in my body that I haven’t experienced for a long time in this posture. An image of anchoring comes to mind, like the anchoring experience I had when catching sight of the fjord inlet on my journey. From that image, I spontaneously start to trace my awareness through my body as if I’m mapping a landscape. I follow the curves of the spine and move my awareness into my legs and take a trip through my body to uncover areas that seem like blind spots.

I feel this paragraph illustrates the way a task could move my awareness though a bike trip into a yoga posture into a reflection and each step make an imprint on my body. And I’d like to think that this progression of awareness is continuous, still, as I write these words. 

What have you achieved? What aspects of Two Trainers Prepare could be adapted and taken forward, by us or by others?

We have accumulated an interesting body of work on the blog and I can see it being used in new contexts. I can imagine academic outputs in the form of conference papers and articles but also workshops where some of the posts might be used as starting points for participants’ own investigations. I would like to think that the blog could have an artistic output as well. Perhaps a kind of art book that is also a textbook similarly to Miranda Tufnell’s Body Space Image where tasks, images and musings on process from the blog could be developed as a handbook for creative inspiration.

But mainly I feel the project is successful from a methodological point of view and that the format could work as a template for future creative collaborations. For ourselves and for others. Perhaps the project will be able to contribute towards new models for practice as research. Models that bridge academic and artistic practices and fuse them into new forms. The contract we made in the first week where we agreed to ‘summon’ each other every week and hold the other accountable for a response to a task is the first crucial element in this model. Opening this process of investigation for the world by publishing it online is the second crucial element. With these two elements in place there are many possibilities of how the model could be used across disciplines.

What I will bring with me in to a potential collaboration with Alan is

  • the continuous rhythmic rally of tasks and responses
  • posting online and making the work public
  • explicitly addressing inequalities of experience, background, gender and financial status
  • considering a platform for the project that is neutral where inequalities mentioned above can be eliminated

This project has given me a deeper awareness of my artistic personality and strengths (for example, affirming that I enjoy working with (moving) images). It has improved my work ethic and increased my confidence as teacher and practitioner. And despite feeling inadequate in my writing skills, I think these have matured because of the regular practice. Self-awareness, discipline, routine, and constant inquiry… Thank you for such an inspiring year, I am excited to see what we do next.

Call for Contributions: Performer Training in Community and Applied Theatre Contexts

The Theatre Dance and Performance Training Blog is creating a new section to investigate the role of training in applied and community theatre. We are looking for contributions from practitioners, scholars, teachers and others interested in exploring the intersection between training and community for instance, how training might be used in relation to theatre for social change, the relationship between training and some of the prominent themes of applied practice, or how we train for working in the community.

Augusto Boal discusses training bodies in the practices of Theatre of the Oppressed as a form of consciousness raising. He describes using theatre to train the body of the participant:

That is, to take them apart, to study and analyse them. Not to weaken or destroy them, but to raise them to the level of consciousness. So that each worker, each peasant understands, sees, and feels to what point his body is governed by his work (Boal 104).

Training allows the participant to become aware of how alienation has impacted upon her body: how economic, cultural and social structures mark the body. Training is a training in noticing how the world marks the body and accordingly changes the subject’s relationship to the world.

Through the blog we want to explore the complicated relationship that training has to practice in non-professional settings, considering the broader questions that this practice raises in terms of representation, cultural recognition, power and domination and social change. On the one hand, following Boal, training can be an act of consciousness raising, re-distributing skills and resources and accordingly giving participants the means of the production (bodily and vocal production). On the other, training can be a homogenising practice, eliminating cultural difference and perpetuating certain dominant ideas of ‘correctness’. The blog will explore the complexity of training, neither dismissing it as culturally domineering, nor fetishizing its value or social good. Continue reading

Welcome to New Blog Team Members

Maria, Bryan and I are delighted to welcome three new members to the blog team.

Our new team members enhance the geographic diversity and the range of expertise of the existing team, broadening the blog’s diversity.  Our two new editors are Sarah Weston, a recent PhD graduate of the University of Leeds and I-Ying Wu, a self-employed artist and freelance researcher based in Taiwan and Canada who recently completed their PhD at the University of Northampton in the UK.  We also have a third new team member, Nazlıhan Eda Erçin, an advanced PhD candidate at the University of Exeter, who will be occupying an Assistant Editor role as she has just moved to the USA for a new post. Continue reading