Somaticity within and beyond arts praxis: Inviting your witnessing

This is an illustration of how Mike Medaglia received my practice in the opening of The Somatic in Theatre and Performance Research Gathering.

When I first saw my illustrated self, I felt uncomfortable with how I seem ‘bigger’ and ‘higher’ than the group.

Figure I Illustration on the workshop Text and Somatic Logos by Christina Kapadocha. Corfu, 23.08.2018. ©Mike Medaglia.

Hierarchy, I thought, the exact opposite of what my work and this project aims at.   

I sensed though that my physicality and my expression (or, in one word, my soma) carry something completely different.

I felt my witnessing.  

Now I see me and feel the warmth of looking back at people and processes that still grow in me.

Now I see me growing and imagine the next steps.      

Introducing the project

The above illustration-text dialogue, to which I will return in the second part of this post, is part of the dynamic interactions between modes of practice-research documentation and my reflections on a four-day gathering project that took place from the 23rd to the 26th of August 2018 in Kato Garouna village in Corfu, Greece. It opens this discussion as the intended nature of this post is to allow a form of a present re-enactment of the project through the additional contribution of your own input. It also aims at setting the ground and inform the shaping of a longer reflexive article that will focus on a theme that became mostly present for me during and after the gathering. 

I would intentionally like not to name this theme here as I wish to test out if and how it may resonate with your own witnessing. To do so, I use the dynamic potentialities of this blog and more specifically the ‘Leave a Reply’ option in order to invite your witnessing on some visual documentation of the project. I explain how in the second part of this post. The chosen documentation does not aim at conveying the content of the explorations from which is drawn but some overall qualities that emerged from the nature of the project as a whole.  Before moving forward to details on how you are invited to offer your input, I wish to go through some information on the context of the gathering.[i]

The Somatic in Theatre and Performance Research Gathering was the first of a series of practice-research meetings that I hold as part of my ongoing research on somatically-inspired practices in the field of theatre and performing arts, beyond the relatively established dialogues between somatics and dance.[ii] My curiosity and investigations are part of a current burgeoning interest in the dynamic interrelations between somatic methodologies and contemporary research on embodiment in multiple fields, within and outside scholarly environments (see among others Shusterman 2012, Farnell 2012, Hockley 2014, Eddy 2016).

The gathering was simultaneously a series of workshops offered by nine contributors as well as a Practice-as-Research (PaR) project developed around two main questions: what can be somatic in arts praxis? What can be the difference between a body and a soma? Subsequently, as the title suggests, I am looking at why somatically-informed research in theatre-performance and beyond may be significant here and now.

I introduced these questions to the group in the welcome discussion. Without using any definition, apart from acknowledging that the word soma in Greek is used to identify primarily every living body, I invited contributors and participants to allow the two main questions to be present in their explorations throughout the activities. In this way, I wished to activate openness to what the practices would evoke for each individual, beyond what may be already familiar in various somatic discourses, within and beyond the so-called field of somatics.

I connected my intentions with three main qualities identified in Performance as Research (PaR) by Jonathan Heron and Baz Kershaw (2018), which I also find relevant to somatically-inspired methodologies: 1. the openness to the not-yet-knowing, 2. the significance of un-learning and 3. the importance of somatically-informed reflexivity (2018, pp. 46-47, 54-55). In resonance to these qualities I also explore various modes of documenting practice research in order to most productively reflect and disseminate the distinctive nature of each project.

For the specific gathering, I used video documentation (with simple means such as a portable video camera and smart phones), stills, written reflections (by both contributors and participants) and some sketches. Particularly in relation to sketching, I invited an additional side documentation by the illustrator and contributor Mike Medaglia, whose work is included in this post. I was very interested in Mike’s perception of the activities as his comic arts and design evolve around practising meditation and mindfulness through a combination of illustration and writing (Medaglia 2015, 2017). 

Apart from the opening image, which will reappear with a different focus later on, for the practice-oriented purposes of this post I also use a short video, two photos and one of my own sketches. Similarly to my intentions in the opening of the gathering, I wish to navigate your attention towards you own understandings of how the chosen documentation of the project might evoke for each one of you perceptions of somaticity and its possible significance within or even beyond artistic contexts. The only piece of information I would like to add here is that I explore the notion of somaticity, the literal translation of which is corporality (the state of being in or having a body), in order to expand upon perceptions of embodiment in the twenty-first century.

Based on the above, this post could primarily be of interest to practitioner-researchers, artists and advanced students in theatre arts and performance practices. The invitation, however, does not require any sort of expertise and it is open to every person that has access to the material of this blog and would be generous to offer their invaluable witnessing.

Introducing the invited witnessing

Witnessing in my work, as both notion and practice, is inspired by processes studied in Authentic Movement as part of my training with Linda Hartley.[iii] Briefly, witnessing in Authentic Movement and other somatic practices, suggests an individual’s integrated perception that is not confined in one’s cognitive understanding or interpretation. Instead, it aims at supporting an interrelational, multilayered and experiential reception that draws from one’s intersubjective experience by combining an individual’s senses, feelings and imagination. Therefore, it is usually navigated through the following structure, which I will further explain in the end of this section: I see…, I sense…, I feel…, I imagine….

As practice, witnessing could be applied in multiple dynamic situations and contexts that aim at shifting focus on one’s embodied perception. For instance, in Authentic Movement, somatically-inspired witnessing contains the verbal and/or physical interaction between movers and witnesses primarily towards therapeutic potentialities. In my work, it aims at heightening each actor-mover’s present perception during improvisations and mutual explorations as well as allowing a sensitive verbal interaction between actors while avoiding a possible sense of judgement.

During the gathering, the specific mode of witnessing was used by Fabiano Culora in the second workshop of the first day of the activities. Working on his Orientation Score as embodied and relational practice for interdisciplinary performers, Culora divided the room into performing and non-performing space. Based on this clarification the participants were also invited to become either performers or active spectators and they were offered the structure indicated above in order to navigate their verbal input. In the following video (39 seconds) you could observe the interaction between a moment in performers’ improvisation and an offered witnessing by an active spectator.

From Fabiano Culora’s workshop on Orientation Score. Corfu, 23.08.2018.

Returning to Figure I and the text in italics in the opening of this post, you could notice that I use the exact same practice but in a more flexible and free form. Through my direct experience of the project, I also combine my past and present witnessing of the same illustration. I would like now to invite each one of you to attune to your own present experiences while witnessing the images below.   

Figure II Moment from Konstantinos Thomaidis’ workshop on Physiovocal Composition. Corfu, 24.08.2018. Photo by Maria Fotiou.
Figure III Moment from performative reflections as part of Lisa Woynarski’s workshop on Ecological Landscapes. Corfu, 26.08.2018. Photo by Maria Fotiou.
Figure IV Detail from Mike Medaglia’s illustration during Christina Kapadocha’s workshop. ©Mike Medaglia.
Figure V A drawing by Christina Kapadocha made during the last workshop of the project.

If you wish to offer your witnessing, you could choose one of the following options or allow a more flexible combination between the suggested modes: a. write a theme that comes up for you as you receive the images b. offer your responses in any sort of mode you would like to. Feel free to play around with words and possibly your own audio-visual material c. use the following verbs in first person and present tense for the opening of your sentences and complete them drawing from your own experience. The questions below could be of help. You may also refer to my own witnessing on the first illustration or the active spectator’s feedback in the video.  

I see…: could you focus on what specifically draws your visual attention? 

I sense…: could you expand your attention to the rest of your senses and any possible physical responses?

I feel…: would any feeling come up for you?

I imagine…: how does this trigger your imagination?

You could offer your witnessing on the content of each picture, the ones or the one that draws most your attention using the blog’s ‘Leave a Reply’ feature at the bottom of this page. Feel free to combine your input with attention to practice-research documentation, if this is part of your interests.

Many thanks for your time and invaluable contribution!

Figure VI On the introduction to the gathering. Corfu, 23.08.2018. ©Mike Medaglia.

LIST OF WORKS

Eddy, M., 2009. A Brief History of Somatic Practices and Dance: Historical Development of the Field of Somatic Education and its Relationship to Dance. Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices, 1 (1), 5–27.

Eddy, M., 2016. Mindful Movement: The Evolution of the Somatic Arts and Conscious Action. Wilmington: Intellect.

Farnell, B., 2012. Dynamic Embodiment for Social Theory: ‘I Move Therefore I Am’. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Heron, J., and Kershaw, B., 2018. On PAR: a dialogue about performance-as-research. In: A. Arlander et al, eds. Performance as Research: knowledge, methods, impact. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 43–61.

Hockley, L., 2014. Somatic Cinema. Abington, Oxon: Routledge.

Kapadocha, C., 2016. Being an actor / becoming a trainer: the embodied logos of intersubjective experience in a somatic acting process. Thesis (Ph.D). Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London.

Kapadocha, C., 2017. The development of Somatic Acting Process in UK-based actor training. Journal of Dance & Somatic Practices, 9 (2), 21321.

Kapadocha, C., 2018. Towards witnessed thirdness in actor training and performance. Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 9 (2), 203–216.

Medaglia, M., 2015. One Year Wiser: 365 Illustrated Meditations, London: SelfMadeHero.

Medaglia, M., 2017. One Year Wiser: An Illustrated Guide to Mindfulness, London: SelfMadeHero.

Shusterman, R., 2012. Thinking through the Body: Essays in Somaesthetics, Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press.

[i] For details on the programme of the activities, the content of the workshops and the contributors to the project, you can access a PDF document using the following link https://www.academia.edu/37063916/The_Somatic_in_Theatre_and_Performance_Research_Gathering

[ii] On these traditions see among others Eddy 2009, 2016. 

[iii] For more information on witnessing in somatic practices and the influence upon my work, see Kapadocha 2016: 66-70, 2017: 217-218, 2018: 206-208

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About Christina Kapadocha

Christina Kapadocha (Ph.D.) is a Lecturer in Theatre and Movement at East 15 Acting School. She is a London-based theatre and somatic practitioner-researcher, a Registered Somatic Movement Educator (RSME) and founder of Somatic Acting Process®. Her current practice research and publications concentrate on the application, modification and impact of somatically-inspired practices into theatre-performing environments and beyond. Christina has worked as an actress, director and movement director in Greece and the UK. Prior to her full-time appointment at East 15, she has also taught at other major London-based drama schools such as RCSSD, Mountview and Rose Bruford. She is supervising and examining projects on her expertise at various institutions.

14 thoughts on “Somaticity within and beyond arts praxis: Inviting your witnessing

  1. Dear Christina,

    Thank you very much for sharing this project with us and inviting us to engage through our witnessing.

    The project as a whole sounds very interesting, and I’m quite jealous of the experience of the direct participants engaging in this work in such a setting.

    Below are the results of my witnessing — I look forward to see how others react to the images.

    Kind Regards,

    James

    Figure II: Moment from Konstantinos Thomaidis’ workshop:

    I see…: A warm cluster of people in an airy settled landscape.

    I sense…: A closeness and solidarity, physical and emotional support.

    I feel…: Protective and nurturing.

    I imagine…: An organism in hibernation, budding just below the surface of the earth, ready to flower back to life.

    Figure III: Moment from performative reflections as part of Lisa Woynarski’s workshop:

    I see…: Human forms sheltering or supported by physical objects

    I sense…: The enduring physical objects providing continuity through the different ages of human life.

    I feel…: Drawn in, a desire to come closer.

    I imagine…: A spirit of the place being nourished by the people inhabiting it.

    Figure IV Detail from Mike Medaglia’s illustration

    I see…: Human bodies in vibrant colours testing the range of their bodies’ movement.

    I sense…: Fun, energy and surprise.

    I feel…: Warm and engaged, playful.

    I imagine…: Intriguing and comedic characters — like an after-school cartoon.

    Figure V A drawing by Christina Kapadocha

    I see…: Vivid colours and human forms between the earth and sky.

    I sense…: Vital core energy of the people coming together in communion.

    I feel…: Inspiration and community.

    I imagine…: A shared meal around a campfire.

    • Dear James,

      I’m deeply moved by the generosity and engagement in your sharing-thank you so much!

      If I can get so much richness from the first reply, cannot wait for the rest too☺

      More in due time.

      Many thanks again,
      Christina

  2. Dear Christina. Thanks so much for getting the TDPT Blog readers to interact with the gentle clarity offered by these simple prompts. Thanks also for sharing your project and the documentation – the combination of illustration, video, still and prose is very effective and chimes with work I have done online, encouraging students to use different forms of documentation, and to be thoughtful about why and how they effect responses. I think documentation is always strategic, and by that I mean it has a purpose embedded in it and a perceived audience (even if that is just oneself).

    I am drawn to Figure 111, from Lisa Woynarski’s workshop.

    I see…. Two people together and apart, connected and unconnected, both aware of one another and (seemingly) unaware
    I sense…. A slippery uncanniness
    I feel… Warmth tempered with uneasiness
    I imagine… An intergenerational duet, drawing a crowd into the square and down the street.

    Reflecting on these prompts, I very much like the difference between describing what one senses and what one feels. These often seem to be conflated in discussion, but here there is a definite difference. Sensing is more imaginative and switches on that mode of thinking in preparation for the last prompt.

    Many thanks for an excellent exercise.

    Jonathan

    • Dear Jonathan,

      Many thanks for your generous input touching upon all these different and significant aspects-I am very and deeply grateful!

      I’m also particularly excited about your image choice and perception. It is striking how your words resonate with the actual experiences and I’m so curious about that.

      I very much appreciate that the nuances between sensing and feeling resonate. I guess the word emotion (which I barely use, even if I fully acknowledge as part of our overall experiences) can complicate things at times.

      Many thanks for an excellent witnessing,

      Christina

  3. Dear Christina,
    thank you so much for sharing your process and for inviting us to join in!
    Being there was a wonderful experience and it’s so beautiful to re-witness it in that way!
    So, here are my thoughts:
    (fig.II) I see heads and figures leaning towards each other, I feel a strong connection and the presence of a supporting net. 
I sense the warmth and intimacy as I imagine a world where people rely on and trust each other.

    (fig. III) I see a woman protecting what’s of value. I see rotation, movement. I sense the spiralling. I feel embraced, protected, taken care of.

    (fig. IV) I see people moving, I try to find myself. I see myself in every one of them. I sense the potentials of each and every move.. the characteristics, the intentions. Freedom. I feel freedom. Freedom to be whoever I chose… Whichever form, structure, level, choice. I feel open and accepted. I imagine women leading.

    (fig.V) I see shapes that look familiar, look like people and situations I’ve witnessed. I sense the importance of communication. People shaping bonds. But they also look like flowers.. blossomed poppies under blue skies. I feel empowered and connected and I imagine of a big fest that lasts for days!

    🙂

    • Dear Anna,

      I am aware of the fact that I have been trying to send through my first response to your generous words for a while now but technology didn’t want to collaborate..So, I take a new breath and I’m going through them once more..

      I am so grateful we are sharing this re-witnessing..

      I wish to echo ‘freedom to be whoever I choose’..in resonance with other discussions I have been invloved in today and among other multiple things, it seems to me as the simplest and most valuable definition of acting..:) I think at times the basics are overlooked..

      And so many other words that resonate..

      To our next celebrations,
      Christina

  4. Dear Christina,
    What a beautiful and playful way to bring us back to summer 2018!
    Such a wonderful gathering full of beautiful encounters. I feel grateful I had the chance to witness it then, and so lucky I get the chance to reflect on it now after the pass of a year.

    (fig. II):
    I see a meeting point.
    I sense unity, togetherness.
    I feel the need to connect and become one with the others.
    I imagine a world where people are connected and rely on each other.

    (fig. III):
    I see a moving body and a static body.
    I sense different qualities of movement and different qualities of life.
    I feel the distance between two generations.
    I imagine the future by knowing the past.

    (fig.IV):
    I see shapes and colours, I see a composition.
    I sense playfulness and the presence of a common ground.
    I feel joy and happiness.
    I imagine people dancing together.

    (fig.V):
    I see people facing towards the same direction.
    I sense a crowd fighting for the same cause.
    I feel the urgency, the anticipation. I feel I belong there.
    I imagine a world were “I” becomes a “we”.

    Thank you for this lovely invitation to interact and reflect on last year’s gathering. It brought back so many memories.

    With warm wishes,
    Chrysanthi

    • Dear Chrysanthi,

      There is something about allowing different ways to remember, right?

      I cannot but see your words in relation to current sociopolitical challenges around the world..

      And so precious to read a witnessing of yourself in relation on fig III..

      Let’s belong 🙂
      Christina

  5. Dear Christina,

    I would like to thank you for sharing this project and particularly through your personal mixed-medium delivery. Your words, the different sketches, photos and video create an idea of your own witnessing, and resonates with my own work into embodied and somatic practice, which I explore through similar varied methods of documentation. I also use journaling, which I find a powerful embodied tool and way of actively witnessing the self making a journey of discovery, and I encourage my students to reflect on their embodied learning in their own ways.

    I am drawn to image II and use your prompts:

    I see: A spiral of individuals creating a single organic presence.
    I sense: The warmth and calm of being part of this movement moment.
    I feel: An almost imperceptible pull from somewhere inside my shoulders as I want to be included in this creative community.
    I imagine: The movement of the group unfurling, echoing the early-morning unfurling of the flowers on the bush in the background.

    I really like the progression of the prompts from seeing, which is often over-privileged, to feeling, sensing and imagining.

    Thank you again for this beautiful sharing!

    Mo

    • And thanks again! It seems that you returned (I assume technology made you questioning whether you posted the first one 🙂 ) So grateful you did, a few more words here but so significant!!Yes, the overpriviledged seeing in relation to the rest of the experiencing..We’ll get there!

      Many thanks again,
      Christina

  6. Dear Christina,

    Thank you for this mixed-media sharing, which in itself gives an insight to your witnessing and resonates with my own methods of documenting embodied and somatic practice-research. I particularly enjoy journaling as I find it a way of self-reflecting on personal learning and journeys of discovery.

    I find myself drawn to image II and use your prompts:
    I see… a spiral of individuals creating a whole.
    I sense… the warmth and calm of this moment of movement.
    I feel… an almost imperceptible pull from somewhere inside my shoulders as I lean forward, wanting to join this group.
    I imagine… the next moment of movement as the group unfurls, echoing the early morning unfurling of the flowers on the bush in the background.

    Thank you again for your generosity in sharing your experience and enacting further sharing in return.

    Mo

    • Dear Mo,

      Many thanks for taking the time to engage and so glad we can open up a discussion on these modes of documentation. I may as well use it as material for a particular teaching module next year and I entirely echo your ‘journeys of discovery’!

      I find mysels smiling as I am going through your witnessing of the image..I am with you through this pulling from somewhere inside the shoulders-I’m wondering if it comes from the heart..

      Thank you for responding! Sharing something is one thing, receiving generous responses is another-it changes completely the first..

      Warmly,
      Christina

  7. Dear Christina, I am most drawn to Figures II and III and try hard not to look at previous responses while trying to immediately tune in to my own witnessing of them.

    Figure II

    I see a gentle and protective huddle of people

    I sense empathy with one another

    I feel vulnerable

    I imagine creating this and being a part of it – a community.

    Figure III

    I see the distance between youth and age

    I sense an acknowledgement of sadness

    I feel loneliness

    I imagine an embrace.

    • Dear Fiona,

      Many thanks for attuning to your immediate witnessing-I so much appreciate you tried not get influenced by the rest of the responses and for sharing this challenge! The process of softly seizing our authentic-present perceptions can be so interesting.

      I really resonate with the integration of opposite qualities in your witnessing-I am thinking about life as unity of differences-I imagine I embrace you 🙂

      Warmly,
      Christina

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