Reflections Task 41 and Task 42 – A Lexicon of Experience

Dear Marie,

many thanks for Task 41. Below you can see my response and below that you can find your Task.

Video by Francesco Cochetto

Video editing by video artist, Hannah Baxter-Gale.

Task 42 – A Lexicon of Experience

More and more I find that the vocabulary I have available to me cannot capture my experience of working with the body. I experience sensations I cannot describe in words. They are thus condemned to a tacit/nonverbal realm. This might not be a problem necessarily, but it can be frustrating when I am trying to explain how or what I sense/feel to someone else. Also, it makes it more difficult to find these sensations again, because without a linguistic anchor I have to rely solely on body memory or mere chance.

I am also quite disappointed at the very dry, cause-effect language that marks the Iyengar Yoga approach on the one hand, and the kind of New Age blather than is often used in other approaches (what I mean by this is poetic and comforting words which however again do not capture the here and now of the somatic experience).

So, your task is to first of all find moments/experiences/sensations in your yoga practice that you do not have the words to describe. Then you have to come up with new words that you think might capture what has so far remained unnamed. You can make up new words, create composites, borrow from more than one language, use sounds etc. I hope you enjoy and who knows you make come up with a new verb to capture what we mean by ‘enjoy’ in this project!

Reflections Task 39 – Task 40 – Together

Dear Marie,

many thanks for Task 39. Below you can find my reflections. Below this there is the description of Task 40.

Reflections – Task 39

I thought you asked me what is my relation to the Blog. Then I read your post again and I realised that the question is far more interesting: how would I dance with the Blog if it were another body? Well, if it were another material body, because, I think, we both agree, that this Blog is a body, albeit an immaterial one. There are three immediate relations I have to the Blog. One spatial, one temporal and one psychological.

Sedentary: the blog sits me down and in front of a screen. It is not entirely the Blog’s fault,  I could be working on an ipad in bed.  Yet,if the source of your frustration is the two-dimensionality of the types of material the Blog affords, I get frustrated with the seated bodily posture that seems essential to using it. But down I sit, thighs parallel to the floor, shins at right angle to the thighs, head in line with the spine and arms resting in front of the keyboard. There is, of course, an orthoperformance to this relation, not unlike the ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ ways of doing a yoga posture. If the blog were a body, we would be dancing a finger dance, I think it is called typing! 

Weekly: The Blog pops into awareness sharply on Monday mornings, time and space needs to be made if I have to post my reflections. During the ‘receiving’ week,  where all I have to do is read your reflections and receive my task,  the relation is calmer, but there is still excitement: ‘what will you post?’, ‘what will you ask me to do?’. As each week we alternate in taking the lead with the project,  there is a  sense of the responsibility being shared (I wonder if there is a similarity here to caring relations: you take the kids one week, I take them the other; you spend Christmas with our ailing mother this year, I will do the next; I take Uncle Bob to the doctor’s, you take him to buy a new hearing aid.) How far can we extend this metaphor of the Blog being something that needs regular ‘checking’ and taking care of? If the Blog were a body we would be dancing a Polka dance, tentatively.

Mutual: The Blog is like a window. Digital technologies, especially those involving screens, are often likened to a window (see for example Galit Wellner’s title A post-phenomenological inquiry of cell phones, 2015); they afford looking out and looking in. By posting the entire project on the Blog, we decided to share it with anyone that might chance upon it. Anyone, might look in through the windows of our imaginary studios. We are also, however, looking out. We refer to other people’s work, we share links with colleagues and friends, we develop a repository of the entire project, to remain after the project is gone. There is another thing that windows do though: when it is dark outside and there is light inside, windows reflect back the life that takes place in the rooms they are windows of. My relation to the Blog is reflective and reflexive. Before anyone encounters the posts, the Blog reflects back to me my relation to a form of practice that has come to define me and through it my relation to myself. Often these reflections take me by surprise, sometimes  they confirm what I thought I knew and yet others they lead me to stuff I do not even know are there. And maybe these ‘stuff’  – realizations, insights, pains, frustrations – were never ‘there’ but only emerged out of the relation.  I wonder how long  they will last for. If the Blog were a body, we would be doing the mirror exercise.

Task 40 – Together

Your task for this week is to meet me at 15:30 in front of the Union on the University of Leeds Campus. Breaking with etiquette, for this task we will work together.

Reflections on Task 37 and Task 38 – Modern Relational Yoga

Dear Marie,

many thanks for task 37. Below you can find my reflections and below this the instructions for Task 38.

Monday: I am excited and inspired by the pictures you post and look forward to doing the task (which I am not sure exactly what it asks, because I read the instructions very quickly).

Tuesday: I do understand that the task has to do with some form of re-construction, re-staging, adaptation. I am thinking about the re-creating of past choreographies and the function of scoring. So, the photos are my score and I can change anything I want in the composition. A little something nags me, but I am not too preoccupied with it: I have never done, or be taught,  Natarajasana, the posture you are doing with the diggers. I will have to find a way to somehow address this.

Wednesday: I do a bit more reading on the commutation test. It sounds a very interesting methodology. How might the thing, or series of things, I will change in the composition reveal insights about both the original and its reconstruction?

Thursday: SNAP. My back goes and with it all the plans I have for the task.

Friday: I can barely walk or stand. I am medicated to my ears and have no idea how I will respond to the task. Dazed by the pain and the effect of the painkillers, I am thinking about asking for an extension. But this has never happened before. The frequency (yes! the rhythm of the posts) is one of the threads that makes this project what it is. One thing, however, becomes clear: my injury reveals the very thing that was taken for granted in the task and the photos: ability.

Saturday: The pain has eased somewhat and with it comes an idea. What will be changed is scale.

Painting by Margarita Samara

Task 38 – Relations

The last practice I had before I injured myself yielded an insight. Asanas are not postures, they are relations. This may not sound particularly groundbreaking on paper, but it took me nearly 20 years to break the mould of the idea, and practice, of postures and realise that what is going on is in fact relations. What is the difference? Postures are fixed, relations are fluid. Both the translation of the term asana as posture, as well as the photographic representation and instructions of ‘Modern Postural Yoga’ (see De Michelis’s excellent History of Modern Yoga 2004 and Singleton’s Yoga Body 2010), create the impression that yoga involves the doing and holding of fixed positions (even if in practices like Ashtanga Yoga there is a lot more emphasis on the movement between the postures).

Here is your task then: what kind of visual and linguistic representation might we have if we think of yoga asanas as relations? Relations between body parts, between the body and the space, between different weights and pressures, between inside and outside etc etc. How might a relational yoga practice be represented and disseminated  through language and imagery?

Reflections Task 35 and Task 36 – Composition

Dear Marie,

many thanks for task 35.

I engaged with the task quite a lot during the week through the way it conditioned my intentionality (this is a fancy way to say that I basically started noticing a lot more the rhythms around me). However, I only got round to actually doing it yesterday. It was then that I discovered that the task required quit a bit of skill, which I evidently do not have (I did suspect this earlier in the week but I was hoping that I will find a short cut. I did not).  The video below shows a very poor attempt to at least keep two rhythms at the same time: with my feet a rhythm that is mercifully recited for me, and with my arms another one (it doesn’t matter which, as long as it is different!). Having these two actions in a syncopated relation was beyond the tricks I can master in a week, or indeed this lifetime. 

Beyond my apparent failure, your task made me think about both syncopation and rhythms. First of all I thought about the various rhythms that go on in the body: circadian rhythm, menstrual cycle, the heart pumping the blood round the body, the secretion of insulin and other hormones etc.  So, the body is made of rhythms and is of course situated within rhythms; day and night, the seasons, the cycle of the washing machine, the football world cup every four years and on and on. However, syncopation is slightly different, because, from the little I figured out yesterday, in syncopation the two rhythms are in relation to one another, the syncopated rhythm fills the spaces between the full on. It complements and complicates the rhythmic structure. I tried to listen or feel instances of syncopation arising spontaneously but I did not manage to trace anything.  The following task is partly an attempt to continue with this search but in terms of visual rhythms, rather than auditory ones.

Task 36 – Composition

I saw an image by Joan Jonas dating from the 1970s. A performer is standing in Vrksasana (Tree Pose) holding a piece of paper that has a painted triangle on it. The performer is part of a wider environment, and probably the still is an image from a recorded performance.

This, and my experience of Task 35, form the basis for Task 36.

Develop structural forms/sculptures with your body in one of the yoga postures positioned in relation to an aspect of a background, foreground, texture of your environment and/or in relation to something you hold or wear, for example an object, a painting, a drawing, a costume etc. Think of a. your body-in-yoga, b. the surrounding environment around and behind the body, and c. the object, if you decide to use one, as one composition. Do this with as many postures, objects, places as you wish. Take a picture of the compositions and bring them to the blog.

Reflections on Task 33 and Task 34 – The Breath and the Gaze

Dear Marie,

many thanks for your reflections on Task 32. As it happens often with this back and forth between Task and Reflection, your response to Task 32 took me entirely by surprise. Reading the post again, it strikes me that you have put together a score and I do wonder how this score could with different kinds of material, say torn pages from a diary, and how it might shape into a piece. Maybe something to return to?

And thank your for Task 33. Below you can find my reflections and below that the instructions for Task 34.

Reflections on Task 33

The task still doesn’t make sense and I suppose this is part of its charm: an incredulous ‘What If?’ barely making it through the barriers of meaning. I wonder if it is precisely because the task is unwieldy to intellectual understanding that it may open up different ways of making sense.

I have no idea how to go about the task. Perhaps, the easiest way is to let it be. I read it once, I get confused, there is so much information coming at me that day, I turn the Blog off and move onto something else.

Every now and then, the task reminds itself to me. What if…the words jumble, what are the instructions again? What if every cell could feel every breath? Before I even manage to put the words in order, or check on the Blog to read the task again, something has happened to the breath. One breath, this one breath  becomes fuller and seeps deeper. So breath in-breath out, a week passes again, punctuated by Task 33, which –  it seems more accurate to say – engaged with me, rather than the other way around. This leads me to think about the duration of the tasks. Is Task 33 finished then? Have a I done it? Is it done with me? Is this reflection a marker of its/my accomplishment? Or, once planted, the Task takes a life of its own, demanding to be done, meddling with the horizon of those things that rise to consciousness? Maybe something to return to?

Task 34: The Breath and the Gaze

I am aware this sounds like the name of a pub and maybe a pub should be named thus. This task takes you back to Task 33, which this time I would like you to do following the instructions of the task and adding one more step.

Without planning in advance, you decide on the spot and say ‘Now I am going to take a breath’. Wherever you are, close your eyes and take one breath. Try to inhabit and be present to this one breath as best you can. The first day you take one breath, the second day two and so on until on day 5 you take 5 consecutive breaths.

I invite you to pay attention to the impact this task may have on your gaze. How do you look at the world before and how  do you look at the world after the task? What happened to the eyes and the musculature around and behind them? What is the connection between breath and gaze?

As an additional and final step to this task, I would like you to  photograph the first thing you see once you open your eyes after the breath. You don’t need to take the photograph straight away. You can go back and search for this exact thing you looked at and take a photo of it later. Bring the photos and any other aspect of your response back to the Blog.

 

 

Challenging the Challenges Facing C21st Theatre Training: Technology in Learning and Creative Contexts

The following post is part of a series of responses that are framed by Jonathan Pitches here.

Previous posts can be found here.

Technology in Learning and Creative Contexts

Let me start by saluting Zazzali and Klein’s chief aim to ‘offer initiatives for revising an undergraduate theatre curriculum’. Indeed, such an aim resonates with ongoing discussions taking place in the UK, both across the Higher Education sector, for example at the TaPRA Performer Training WG, as well as specific institutions, such as the PTPP Research Group at the University of Leeds, which frames the set of the responses this post is part of. I also support the authors’ decision to position theatre training in relation to the pressures academic institutions are facing on both sides of the Atlantic. However, despite this solid set of aims, I find the positions argued by Zazzali and Klein problematic on a number of fronts. The focus of this blog post is on the way technology is presented in their article. Specifically my aim is to foreground the contradictions apparent in Zazzali and Klein’s view of technology.

First some caveats: I am aware that the use of digital technology and especially investment in digital technological infrastructure in schools and universities has often been related to a neoliberal agenda and a concomitant drive not only to privatise and instrumentalise education but also prevent students from developing their identity as citizens (McCafferty 2010; Monahan 2004). My aim here is neither to apologise for the use of various technologies in academic institutions nor suggest that technology is in and of itself a bonus in learning. Rather, my intention is to problematise the implicit assumptions that seem to underpin Zazzali and Klein’s view.

A general overview of the article demonstrates that Zazzali and Klein oscillate between a rather uncritical repetition of negative, and often alarmist in tone, accounts of technology on the one hand, and a kind of reserved acceptance of the possibilities offered by digital technologies, especially social media, on the other. Adjunct to these predispositions, is a fairly obvious dislike for Blackboard, an online platform for distant and blended forms of learning often used in undergraduate degree programmes.

Let me start with the negative position, which also appears first in their article. Drawing on Giedd (2012), Junko and Cotten (2012), Zazzali and Klein suggest a cause and effect relationship between the use of social media and a decline in academic performance. They make the explicit claim that ‘multitasking with social media […] further harms the ongoing physical maturation of their [students’] brains’ (2015: 262). Later on in the article they repeat Mark Bauerlein’s assertion that current college students are ‘“the dumbest generation” while depicting troubling declines in their skills relative to what employers require’ (2015: 263). Zazzali and Klein are concerned, in other words, not only with the long term cognitive effects that use of digital technologies may have, but also with the way these effects may jeopardise even further the already restricted employment opportunities of theatre graduates.

In accordance with the negative impacts of technology on the brains and lives of young people, Zazzali and Klein are also concerned with the role that live theatre can play in a technologized world. They ask: ‘What can our field offer a society in which technology outpaces the more natural rhythms of daily living? (2015: 263). A similar tension is evident in the dichotomy they draw between ‘“off stage” activities’, like the ones taking place on the Blackboard platform, and ‘“onstage” classroom time cultivating students’ imaginations and creative skills by researching, developing, and producing live performances […]’ (2015: 264). It seems to me that Zazzali and Klein situate theatre, both as product and training process, as an antidote to the ills of technologized life. They are not alone in supporting this view. Theatre director Mike Alfreds goes as far as equating the use of technology with junk food and accordingly positions the genre of theatre storytelling as a form of detox (2013: 33-34). A similar position is repeated by Kathryn Hunter, who in an interview on her collaboration with Peter Brook in The Valley of Astonishment argues that ‘there will be a time when people will wake up because they will have grown bored with the isolation that technology has brought on to our lives. […] In the future, theatre will be even more popular, because people need it’ (Hunter in Loverdou 2014: 3, my translation). We might do well to remember, that despite their negative tone, these articulations are expressed against a background of technological infrastructure in theatre buildings, including University theatre spaces that is taken for granted, for example, central heating, house and theatrical lights, sound systems and illuminated exit signs. I will return to this point, but let’s first have a look at the positive effects Zazzalli and Klein identify in technological use.

This is expressed in relation to social media, especially when the latter are used to foster interdisciplinary learning communities. Drawing on several examples of theatre projects across various institutions, Zazzali and Klein argue that ‘a selective and strategic use of the internet and social media, for instance, could help reframe theatre courses by empowering students to connect to one another and have greater ownership of their work’ (2015: 264). Social media and blogs then can help both students and educators to transcend ‘disciplinary and geographical divides toward creating learning communities that are as diverse as they are distant’ (2015: 266). As long as, of course, that the use of such media is limited to the educational and creative purposes it is supposed to serve.

Let us pause for a moment to take stock of the evaluations of technology presented in the article: on one hand, technology renders students ‘dumb’ and even less prepared for employment; on the other hand technology – once harnessed – can serve ‘desired learning outcomes’. In addition to these two positions, Zazzali and Klein purport that ‘students are wasting valuable time using inflexible learning-management systems (e.g. Blackboard) […]’ (2015: 262). I have no wish to argue for the existing or imaginary benefits of virtual learning environments. (The interested reader can look at Selwyn’s 2016 article who pays attention to the language in which these systems are often described and calls for an evaluation of the actual benefits they are having.)

What I wish to point out is that Zazzali and Klein’s thesis is underpinned by the implicit assumption that technological devices are ‘neutral’ tools, the use and impact of which can be dictated by (intelligent) human agents. Put simply, the good or bad use of technological artefacts is a matter of human decision, if not will. According to such conception then, when social media use becomes a source of distraction and impedes academic performance, this is seen as a failing of the students to be disciplined enough and impose their will on the technological device. It is in this way, also, that Zazzali and Klein resolve the apparent contradiction of their argument. By suggesting that social media use within a theatre project needs to be ‘selective and strategic’, Zazzali and Klein can both accept the position that social media render students ‘dumb’ and advocate for the very same technology to be used in the classroom.

We could assume that the way this pronouncement would translate in an actual project would be that a student would be expected to ignore notifications coming on the social media feed that are irrelevant to the project and only engage with the relevant ones. Similarly to the binary between a destructive/distracting technology and a beneficial theatre expressed by Mike Alfreds and Kathryn Hunter respectively, such a position fails to acknowledge that western societies are technologised to such an extent that a great number of devices and functions have been rendered invisible. And even if we take into account those technological devices that are not yet transparent, there is no consensus which of these devices or cultures of use should be permissible and which should be banned and under which circumstances. If for example, our imaginary student, let’s call her Sarah, receives a notification that has not been posted by the project team, but is relevant to the project, should she ignore it or engage with it? Who or what is going to guide Sarah in making this decision? Should this guidance be part of the kind of broad theatre education, Zazzali and Klein are arguing for?

Alongside this lack of normative criteria and established protocols, a more immediate concern is that Zazzali and Klein’s ‘strategic selectivity’ position fails to account for the intentionality of the technological artefact. This is not a shade of technological determinism. It rather aims to elucidate two important aspects of technology. One is that technological devices may not determine, but ‘inflect’ the way we use them (Ihde 1990: 102-3). The other is that our relations to technology are not only informed by the actual functions a device might offer, but also by the potential actions we know are available to us (Kiran 2012). Let’s return for a moment to Sarah. Even if Sarah is determined to use social media ‘selectively and strategically’ and even if she is really clear about what a selective and strategic use amounts to, an educational project would need to take into account that a) social media feeds are optimally designed to attract the user’s attention; and b) that the user has already been conditioned to expect frequent notifications. I do not mean to let Sarah off the hook. But I do wish to argue that ‘selective and strategic use’ is not a solid pedagogical recommendation either.

Finally, another assumption that underpins Zazzali and Klein’s approach to technology relates to the issue of attention. The studies that Zazzali and Klein cite early on in their article are often premised on an understanding of attention that is based on an economic model. Drawing on such studies, Tiziana Terranova notes that ‘statements about the attention economy and the crisis of attention point to the reconfiguration of the attentive capacities of the subject in ways which constitute attention at the same time as scarce, and hence a valuable resource, while also producing an impoverished subject’ (2012: 7, emphasis original).

Echoing Terranova’s challenge to such a model, Katherine Hayles (2007; 2010; 2012) argues that theses on the effect of digital technologies on cognitive abilities are often steeped in specific assumptions about the nature of attention and specifically the kind of attention that is required/expected by Humanities. Hayles (2012) challenges these assumptions – including Bauerlein’s work, whom Zazzali and Klein cite – by pointing out that modes of ‘hyper’ and ‘machine’ reading cultivated by the use of the internet may enable the development of a different set of skills, which might also be useful in Humanities. In other words, both Terranova and Hayles emphasise that a valorisation of deep attention and a pathologisation of hyper or scarce attention are no longer adequate explanatory frameworks. More to the point, Hayles further suggests that in Humanities we often grapple with texts that would benefit from a ‘hyper’ mode of reading, now associated with the internet, rather than the deep one associated with the novel.

I propose that this is a fruitful question to ask in relation to theatre education. Are there aspects of theatre practice that would benefit from the fragmented mode of attention apparently demonstrated by the Millennials? Can theatre education become a ground where students and tutors can rehearse alternative relations to technology? Can theatre education enable students to think/use existing domestic technologies in new (unexpected) ways? This is not intended to cultivate some kind of ‘edge’ that certain graduates may have over others. It is rather proposed as a contributing factor towards developing performing arts pedagogies that have at their centre notions of citizenship, activism and public engagement. And this brings us full circle to the key aim of Zazzali and Klein’s rationale for a revised undergraduate curriculum, which, as I said already, I heartily celebrate.

– Dr Maria Kapsali, Lecturer in Physical Performance, University of Leeds, School of Performance and Cultural Industries

References:

Alfreds, M. 2013. Then What Happens?: Storytelling and Adapting for the Theatre, London: Nick Hern Books.
Giedd, J. 2012. ‘The Digital Revolution and Adolescent Brain Evolution’, Journal of Adolescent Health, 51 (2), pp. 101-5.
Hayles, K. 2012. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
________ 2010. How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine. ADE bulletin, 150, pp 62-79.
________ 2007. ‘Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Divide in Cognitive Modes’, Profession, 13, pp 187- 199.
Junko, R and Cotton, S. 2012. ‘No A 4 U: The relationship between multitasking and Academic performance’, Computers sand Education, 59 (2), pp. 505-14.
Ihde, D. 1990. Technology and the Lifeworld, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
Kiran, A. 2012. ‘Technological Presence: Actuality and Potentiality in Subject Constitution’, Human Studies, 35, pp. 77-93.
Loverdou, M., 2014. Interview with Kathryn Hunter, To Vima, 24th April 2014 (translation mine).
McCafferty, P. 2010. ‘Forging a “neoliberal pedagogy”: the “enterprising education” agenda in schools, Critical Social Policy, 30 (4), pp. 541-563.
Monahan, T. 2004. ‘Just Another Tool? IT pedagogy and the commodification of education, The Urban Review, 36 (4), pp 271-292.
Selwyn, N. 2016. ‘Minding our Language: Why education and technology is full of bullshit…and what might be done about it’, Learning, Media and Technology, 41(3), pp 437-443.
Terranova, T. 2012. ‘Attention Economy and the Brain’, Culture Machine, 13, pp 1-19.

Reflections Task 31 and Task 32 – Breath

Dear Marie,

many thanks for Task 31. Below you can find my response and below that the instructions for Task 32.

 

You asked me to develop an installation that captures the research I am currently undertaking. That got me thinking: what is the research I am actually doing? Yes, I am writing a book for nearly two years now and I am doing research as part of this. But is this my research? It feels to me that my research is a lot less defined; something I have been involved in all along and still remains inchoate and without a name. Yes, it involves writing and performance making and practising yoga, and dancing but is neither of these things alone nor all of these things together. In a way these practices feel incidental to something more urgent, more fundamental. In some ways, this project feels part and parcel of this ‘research’. Employ an interdisciplinary methodology, play at and with boundaries, and sharpen a practice of yoga that has been nourished for so long and now at long last it feels available to me, serving me at every turn of the yellow brick road.

What you will see below is a game/installation I played with a group of second-year theatre and performance students at the University of Leeds. It is informed by an exercise by American choreographer Susan Redhorst and described in her book A Choreographic Mind (2015). Redhorst’s exercise is simple: in a pair you choose a set of objects, and you take turns arranging them in a space marked between you. I love playing this game, and every time I invite others to play it with me it is totally absorbing. In the beginning I thought of it as a way to develop compositional skills, but as I went along I realised it also exercises responsiveness, imagination, new ways of seeing, and an appreciation of affordances. More importantly, the exercise is extremely gratifying but without being competitive or strenuous; maybe because it develops a sense of co-presence between human as well as non-human partners in a situation that continues to unfold.

So Redhorst’s exercise formed the basis of a piece that a group of students were creating for a larger performance that took place at the Leeds Art Gallery in May 2018.

Their piece, called Re-arrange’ was a response to Anne Hardy‘s installation Falling and Walking (phhhhhhhhhhh phossshhhhh crrhhhhzzz mn huaooogh) that was shown at the Gallery during the same time. Responding to Hardy’s piece, which used made and found debris to create an installation the visitor could walk in, ‘Re-arrange’ similarly used mundane objects. Unlike Hardy’s piece, though, the visitors at ‘Re-arrange’ were invited to move and position the objects in the space. Also, unlike Hardy’s piece that had a prerecorded soundtrack of found sounds that marked the duration  of the installation, the objects used in ‘Re-arrange’ could produce two types of sound: natural sounds generated out of the object’s material and movement and recorded sounds that were generated by sensors located in the objects, which responded to the visitor’s movements (at around 2:50 of the video you can see both sounds working together).  The video captures an impromptu play that took place, when we were testing ‘Re-arrange’ prior to its installation in the Gallery. I consider this to express my research as articulately as it can get (which is not very much): my research is the process that unfolds between people as they engage in a creative exploration, which has neither a pre-determined shape nor expected results, and seek to relate with whatever reveals itself to be on offer.

Players are: Ed Coulden, Jacob Justice, Joe Kent-Walters and myself. Video by creative technologist Christine Farion.

Task 32 – Breath

It suddenly struck me that we have been doing this project for some time now and we have worked with the breath very little, if at all. I know the breath cycle is part of the asana practice in Ashtanga, but in Iyengar the approach to the breath is very different: you leave it alone for the first few years, and then you begin to practise Pranayama (Breathing exercises) in a meticulous and technical manner on par with the postures. I studied Pranayama for 4 years with Silvia, but the practice never felt mine. I experienced the breath like a wild horse, kicking and running away the moment I tried to tame it. The last couple of months, though, my breath surprises me. It comes and sits cross-legged right in the middle of my awareness. It fills me, and lifts me and occupies me with a clarity and generosity I never felt in the Pranayama practice. Maybe it’s the spring.  So your task is this:

On day 1, decide on the spot and say ‘this is the moment I will take a breath’. Wherever you are, close your eyes and take one breath. Try to inhabit and be present to this one breath as best you can. On Day 2, do the same but take 2 breaths instead. Increase one breath per day until you get to 5 breaths. You can do this anytime of the day at any place, and it should not be planned in advance. Bring back to the Blog traces of what happened.

 

 

Reflections Task 29 and Task 30 – Lore (Invented)

Dear Marie,

many thanks for task 29. Below you can find my answer to the equation and further down the instructions for Task 30.

Reflections Task 29 – Yoga + Female=? 

Reflection 1: If there ever was a can of worms, this is the one! I have no idea where to start, and I am worried that whatever I say or do will inevitably cause offense. This probably says quite a lot already!

Reflection 2: I decide to take menstruation as the most obvious way in, most obvious to me that is! Menstruation, pregnancy and more generally ‘women’s health’ is an area that is well covered by Iyengar Yoga.  There are clear do and dont’s, but then again there is discrepancy in the way these guidelines are followed.

Memory: In classes with Silvia, we had to go and tell her when we had our period. Then she would ask: ‘Beginning, middle or end?’ and according to the answer she would say something like ‘take it easy today’. If you were found out doing strenuous standing poses on the first day of your menstruation, you would get a proper told off. In a class with another teacher I trained though, any aberration from the class she was teaching was unacceptable.Everybody was doing like everybody else and if you had your period and didn’t feel well, you should have stayed at home!

Reflection 3: There was something empowering about going to Silvia and letting her know about my menstrual cycle. There was an intimacy I enjoyed but also a sense of pride: yes, everything is working, everything is tick-tocking, I am a woman and yoga is doing me good.

As my way into the task, I revisited the short essay The Practice of Women During the Whole Month written by Geeta Iyengar and published by the Iyengar Yoga Association UK in 2009. This was probably a lecture Geeta gave for an Indian audience but through its publication it also reached practitioners in the UK.

Reflection 4:I am surprised to find that Geeta sounds a bit tentative at the beginning, maybe she had the same walking-on-egg-shells feeling that I got when I received the task. She asserts that ‘as far as the practice of yoga is concerned, there is no difference between men and women’ (2009: 1). And then she continues: ‘however, we must recognise some basic differences as far as the biological body is concerned’ (2009: 1). The question then is ‘how we adapt the practice so that it brings a proper balance’ (Iyengar 2009: 1). The rest of the essay gives a brief account of the hormonal changes that the female body undergoes during a month and then offers suggestions and programmes of practice specific to the various points of the menstrual cycle.

Reflection 5 (With apologies for over-sharing): I roughly calculate that I am in the middle of my menstrual cycle, and since I haven’t experienced problems with my fertility, I can do all the poses without adjustments. Again, there is a sense of empowerment and pride: I feel good that I am able to take care of myself and that I am doing something which seems designed to keep me healthy, and would I wish for it, fertile.

By this time, the equation is looking something like this: Yoga + Female = Mother.

Reflection 6: In view of the psychological and physical toll that infertility can take on men and women, it would feel callous to find anything wrong with this. What can be at fault with a practice that has a good understanding of the reproductive system, it is non-invasive and can help with the maintenance or restoration of hormonal balance?

But something nags me.

Reflection 7: There is something Apollonian in the equation. I see in it the glow of health, I hear in it the laughter of children (to come), I sense in it the deep satisfaction that comes from a body that works well. Hormonal imbalance is to be treated; yearnings, misfits, bad moods, pains and aches are to be minimised; the body, and with it the woman who owns, is, and takes care of this body, needs to be regulated.

Reflection 8: Add a bit of early Foucault in the mix, and the equation turns into a recipe for governmentality. Yoga becomes a method for disciplining the (female) population. But this is early Foucault and if anything, we know now, as Foucault understood, that there can be (em)power(ment) in discipline. But the nagging continues.

Reflection 9: It crystallizes around a sense that not enough space is made for suffering. Not that yoga shields one from it.  Rather, that the practice does not offer the space to sit with it, to acknowledge it, to see it, to find meaning in it.

Why am I surprised? Yoga, is after all, supposed to shed light onto our darkness. But what happens to our darkness, I ask? Does it by default remain that which we are running away from, one sun salutation at a time?

Task 30 – Lore (Invented)

Publications on yoga asanas tend to consist of photographs and written text.  This often describes how the posture needs to be done, then there is a list of the health benefits and in some cases there is a bit of information on the name of the posture and its position within the Hinduist pantheon. B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga is probably the first publication that set up this model.

With this task I would like to invite you to invent your own lore for postures of your own choice. Feel free to arbitrate on what a posture may be good for, when it should or should not be done, which parts of your culture it might echo and which aspects of your history it is connected to. You have to choose existing postures, but you can choose any ones you want. You have total freedom as to what can go in the text.

Reflections on Task 27 and Task 28 – Inconspicuous

Dear Marie,

many thanks for task 27. You can find my reflections below and then the instructions for Task 28.

Let’s start with a quiz.Have a look at the two pictures below and tick the right answer (pictures by visual anthropologist Vanja Celebicic):

a.

.

  1.  the posture shown in both pictures is Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I).
  2.  the posture in the left picture is a variation of Virabhadrasana I, whereas the posture in the right picture is the ‘classic’ pose.
  3. the posture on the left is a bad version of Virabhadrasana I, whereas the posture on the right is done ‘correctly’ (or at least this is the intention).
  4. the posture on the left is the original Viravhadrasana and the posture on the right is a later, more athletic, development.

b.

  1.  the posture shown in both pictures is Garudasana (eagle pose).
  2. the posture on the left is a variation of the posture on the right.
  3. there is no connection between the two postures.

I hope you got my drift by now…

It is funny that in some ways I started doing task 27 before you set it for me. On Sunday the 22nd of April I went to a yoga class after 7 years. It also happened that this was the first  non-Iyengar yoga class I attended in 19 years. I enjoyed the class a lot, but I often caught myself thinking ‘this is not yoga’. Of course, since I had not attended any classes for 7 years, it is highly likely that I am out of touch with developments in the curricula, let alone the emergence of new schools and approaches.

Then I received the instructions for Task 27  and I decided to attend the same class again and try to capture how what I was being taught mapped onto what I knew already. And the answer is that the relation between the two is neither direct nor definitive. Yes, both the thing I know and the thing I encountered the last two Sundays are called yoga; yes, we all had a mat and a bolster; yes, we all placed ourselves in neat lines and a teacher sat in front of us; yes, there was reference to a set of postures I knew already and invocations of OM.

But apart from that the class was very very different to everything I knew. Which is very annoying for someone who is tasked with finding the ‘right’ posture. Moreover, I feel that your question about the conditions under which a posture is right, as opposed to ‘wrong’ is at the heart of a larger question: what is yoga? And I mean the question in two ways: what is this thing called yoga? Which of the things we know and do would count as yoga?

To this question, one might say that the postures – their shapes, their lines, angles, duration – is less important and what counts more is the intent, the frame of mind with which one practises these postures whatever they might be. In fact, in its aphorism of yoga, the Archbishop of Albania, Anastasios said precisely this: ‘in the same way that genuflections are not simple movements of the body, but they are related to a wider belief system and express a specific attitude and psychic disposition that has a spiritual purpose, in the same way – as far as this kind of comparisons can be made – the more complex yoga exercises are related to Hinduism  and aim towards spiritual, religious experiences’ (quoted in Savvidis, protothema.gr, 21/06/2015, translation from Greek mine). 

Not bad for someone that has never practised yoga, right? There is, I find, in the Archibishop’s statement  a certain clarity and  insight, in that he acknowledges the  nexus between complex physical movements, spiritual experience and religious belief. And although yoga practitioners might not be comfortable with references to Hinduism, if we substitute Hinduism for a more open, ecologically driven New Age spirituality, then I don’t think the Archbishop is far of the mark! (It is also worth noting that exclusionary tactics are not restricted to the Orthodox Church. One of the teachers I was taught by not only would deride any other school of yoga other than Iyengar; she would not permit her students attending the classes of other Iyengar Yoga teachers. At least, she knew what a ‘right’ Virabhadrasana looked like and had no doubts about what yoga was.) 

I, on the other hand, don’t. And I don’t even know to what extent the rightness of the posture matters in the end and to whom…When we do a posture badly, do we still practise yoga? Can we practise yoga without doing any postures at all? Does the practise continue when we get off the mat? When does yoga begin and when or where does it stop? So, with these questions in mind, I invite you into Task 28.

Task 28 – Inconspicuous

Your task this week is to practise as many postures as you can in public and/or social settings as inconspicuously as possible. So you have to find ways to do postures of the existing syllabus in public places but in way that allows you to merge with your surroundings and thus preventing others from recognising what you do as ‘yoga’ or indeed as anything else other than what is expected in the specific social situation you will find yourself in. Pay attention to the moment you start the practice of each posture  and the moment the practice comes to an end. Your reflections on the task can be in any form.

Reflections Task 25 and Task 26 – MYOYP

Dear Marie,

many thanks for Task 25. As the task necessitated the involvement of another person, below you can find my reflections and the reflections of my friend, Dimitris, who joined me in the last part of the task. Below these, you can find task 26.

Dimitris and I trained together in Iyengar Yoga for a couple of years in early 2000s and he has been following our project for some time. When I last spoke to him in summer 2017, he was eager to re-connect with his yoga practice. Dimitris has been living in a Christian Orthodox monastery for four years now. He is therefore aware of  the Orthodox Church’s position that  condemned yoga as ‘incompatible with the Christian Orthodox faith’ (Savvidis in protothema.gr, 21/06/2015). In a comment he made on task 20, he invited us to: ‘Do the next task as if you were living in a monastery where yoga is considered demonic and while you are doing it say the names of the poses loudly!!!!’. So when we connected on Sunday the 15th of April through WhatsApp, Dimitris and I shared a common practice, which proved very influential for us both,  but were in diametrically opposite cultural contexts, at least in terms of yoga. My culture is one that has embraced yoga and turned into a staple of ‘busy’ western lifestyle. Dimitris’s  environment – to put it mildly – has remained immune to such influences.  I practise in my bedroom overlooking the drive of a quiet northern English urban street; Dimitris practises in one of the storerooms of the monastery overlooking the Aegean sea. 

 

After some deliberation, we decided to do the following five postures:

  • Setu Badha Savargasana , supported.
  • Downward Dog x2
  • Trikonasana x2
  • Parsvokonasana x2
  • Tadasana

Going against the convention we have followed so far, i.e. addressing our reflections to each other, Dimitris’s reflections are addressed to me and my reflections are addressed to him. Both texts are below in italic.

———————————————————————–

Dear Maria,

I feel grateful for the chance you gave me to collaborate in this task.

The part of practicing together at the same time was a great motivation for me, because I haven’t practised for very long and it was something I really needed to do, but I wouldn’t do it by myself. So, the highlights of practising together definitely are this great motivation to practise. Secondly, it was really beneficial that I had to keep myself in a specific and well timed sequence because I usually have a very vague and chaotic way of practising. Thirdly, I felt it as a very nice personal communication with you in a such unique way. Fourthly I had a glimpse of being in a yoga class, an experience which I miss a lot!!!

On the part on practising the sequence by myself I focused a lot on how setu bandha savargasana supported adhomuka svanasana when done in this order. I am so amazed by the fact that setu bandha makes my body do such a better dog pose. So inspired from that I tried to bring the feeling of setu bandha in all the asanas of the sequence and indeed it was so successful!!!!!! I was very happy and amazed. I don’t know if this effect happens due to my specific body needs or that it can be generalised…. It would be very interesting if you try as well and tell me.

In terms of the second part of the task, to imagine that someone observes, I chose to imagine to be observed by a friend who is an osteopath and I am planning to collaborate with her in order to apply osteopathic treatment on the body while doing asanas. Although throughout the practice I kept reminding myself that I am being observed, this didn’t influence my practice, because I was very concentrated on the practice itself and on the fascinating investigations of how the setu bandha feeling influences the rest of the asanas.

That’s all! 

Thank’s again a lot for giving me this beautiful chance of distance training – practising. I have never imagined how nice it can be.

Yours, Dimitris

———————————————

Dear Dimitris,

many thanks for agreeing to do this task with me. It felt as a way of (re)connecting with you and did take me back to the classes we used to attend together 15 years ago. I did not like the idea of starting with Setu Badha Savargasana, but I did enjoy having my practice hijacked/altered/influenced by you. The practice of the remaining  postures had a more focused quality than usually. Every time I found I had slipped into a mechanical execution of the movements, I thought of you in two dimensions, simultaneously: one was the present we were sharing during the very moment of the practice. The other was the past. I would imagine that I was in a yoga class and you were somewhere nearby in the studio, totally absorbed in your doing. 

Both of these helped me staying present. A particularly strong moment was in the end when I stood in Tadasana looking out to the familiar view of  my window. There was both a sense of inhabiting my body – in that moment, in that position – as well as a sense of dispersing, extending into space and time, becoming relevant to someone else. I think what I am trying to say is that, after years of solitary practice, I felt in someone’s company. 

Task 26: Make Your Own Yoga Posture (MYOYP)

I have been thinking for some time the wider questions and legal battles that have emerged in relation to yoga copyright: who owns it, who can make a claim and eventually money out of it, who is its rightful proprietor? The radical differences between my and Dimitris’s environs also makes me wonder about the cultural context in which the practice is situated, grows, and changes. Finally, I got inspired by the work of Polly Penrose, who created a series of photographs of her own yoga postures.

So your task is to create a set of 3-5 yoga postures that are new, i.e. not part of the existing syllabi, and relate to your everyday environment. You have to name the postures and practise them for a few days, before you bring back your reflections to the Blog. You do not have to do the postures naked, unless you want to!

 

 

CfP TaPRA Performer Training Working Group

TaPRA Performer Training Working Group

University of Aberystwyth 5th  – 7th September 2018

 Performer Training Working Group

The Performer Training Working Group has been meeting for thirteen years and has produced several collaborative outputs, including a variety of contributions to the thrice-yearly journal, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, dedicated to training in all its manifestations, and the associated blog http://theatredanceperformancetraining.org.

The working group co-convenors are delighted to issue a call for contributions for the forthcoming 2018 TaPRA conference.

We are interested in a range of presentation formats including the following:

  • provocations or position statements (max 10 minutes)
  • laboratory explorations rooted in practice research e.g. workshops, demonstrations, performance lectures or other appropriate formats (30-60 min)
  • formal papers (max 20 minutes)

 

2018 Theme: “Who are we training for?”

This year we invite proposals that respond to a purposefully provocative, playful and open question that the WG Convenors have derived at to address a very particular set of current concerns and debates in our field.

As was experienced at the conference last year, in which ‘the end of training’ was explored, ‘training’ in itself remains an open, ambiguous and contentious term.  Whatever form ‘training’ takes (i.e. however it is experienced or defined) it will not conform into one neat homogenous experience, nor should it. Indeed, training can be understood and experienced in numerous ways: as a self-practice; a collective endeavour; a means to an end; a means in itself; a discovery. It can be embarked upon to fulfil an ambition; to land a role; to develop a particular skill, craft, or discipline.  However, something that remains unclear, yet applicable to all forms of training, is who the beneficiary of this endeavour is.  Indeed, who or for whom are we training?

This question, and its series of sub-questions, call for equally urgent critically framed responses. This Call for Papers encourages contributions positioned, although not exclusively, in light of one or more of the following contexts:

 Institutions and Pedagogical Approaches

Specifically with reference to the rapid decline of access to arts provision across core compulsory state education in the UK and the predicted knock on effect this will have on the viability and perceived value of ‘training’ in our field in Higher Education.  (See numerous recent  reports and studies based on Government and independent research, including for example: BBC, January 2018, which states nine in every ten schools has significantly cut back on its arts provision: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-42862996 and Arts Professional, June 2017 https://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/news/devastating-decline-arts-schools-surges)

 Industry and Professional Organisations

Particularly in light of an industry that has been globally disgraced, outraged, and left searching for solidarity and solutions through committing to the mass movements and global campaigns of #Metoo and ‘Time’s Up’.  (See, for example, numerous recent industry guidelines and statements by organisations including Society of London Theatre (SOLT); Equity; and many independent theatres)

Employability

With reference to agendas that demand trained graduates to be multi-faceted practitioners who can readily devise, perform, self-produce, fund and promote their own practice, as well as desperately seeking to improve and address diversity quotas and credentials. (See, for example, ‘Skills for Theatre: Developing the Pipeline of Talent’ 2017 and Arts Council England ‘Creative Case for Diversity’: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201617/ldselect/ldcomuni/170/170.pdf

http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/how-we-make-impact/diversity-and-equality)

In relation to this background, we invite proposals that may address, but are not limited to, the following questions:

  • How do performer training approaches and regimes understand and frame ‘the Other’ and/or questions of otherness?
  • At what point in training does a consideration of ‘an audience’ arise?
  • How do I consider and position myself in relation to those others that I am in a training situation with?
  • To what extent is training recognised and experienced as a solo endeavour?
  • Can training respect and work through marginality or does its very process and logic cultivate homogeneity and conformity?
  • When and how might training become ‘counter-training’?
  • How might a trainer or trainee be experienced as ‘other’ and what impact might this have on my experience of training?
  • How might performer training practice and discourse relate to recent theorisations of marginality, queerness and otherness?
  • How do we experience training in relation to our social media selves/other personas?
  • How do we train in relation to a digital other? How do I relate to and experience/feel a training mediated through digital technologies?
  • How has intersubjectivity in performer training practice and discourse been framed?

We are particularly keen to receive proposals where responses are situated inside critical frameworks as well as recent cultural policy related to the aforementioned questions.

Additional Note

This year, the Performer Training Working Group will be collaborating with the Performance and New Technologies Working Group by holding a joint session, addressing performer training in relation to digital/networked technologies. If you believe your proposal is most appropriate for this session, please indicate this, though final decisions will be made by working group convenors.

Submitting a Proposal

Please email all abstracts (no more than 300 words in length),  along with an additional few sentences of biographical information. Please also include precise details of your resourcing needs, for example, any audio-visual technology, or a particular type of space (e.g. drama studio) that you will need to make your presentation.

Email abstracts and information to Kate Craddock (kate.craddock@northumbria.ac.uk), Maria Kapsali (M.Kapsali@leeds.ac.uk), and Tom Cantrell (tom.cantrell@york.ac.uk).

The deadline for the submission of proposals is Friday 20th April 2018.

Please note: only one proposal may be submitted for the TaPRA 2018 Conference. It is not permitted to submit multiple proposals or submit the same proposal to several Calls for Papers. All presenters must be TaPRA members, i.e. registered for the conference; this includes presentations given by Skype or other media broadcast even where the presenter may not physically attend the conference venue.

 Early Career Researchers Bursary Scheme

If you are an Early Career Researcher, then you are eligible to be considered for a TaPRA ECR Bursary. Please follow this link for more information, and please indicate on your proposal whether you fit this criteria and wish to be considered for the bursary scheme: http://tapra.org/bursaries/

 Circulation of paper-based presentations in advance of the conference

Papers are circulated in advance of the conference, so paper contributors should be prepared to have a full paper by early/mid August.

Please note that our group also welcomes participation from colleagues who do not wish to submit papers or other presentations. However, if you do wish to participate in our working group, but are not delivering a paper, please email us your name and details so we can ensure you receive papers in advance.

We also warmly encourage, that where possible, contributors attend over the 3 days, so that conversations and experiences can grow and develop collectively during this time-frame.

Theatre, Dance and Performance Training journal (TDPT)

TaPRA Papers may be considered for further development and publication in the Routledge Journal TDPT, http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/rtdp

We very much look forward to hearing from you.

Kate, Maria and Tom

 

 

 

 

Reflections Task 23 and Task 24 – Confirmation?

Dear Marie,

many thanks for Task 23. It really came as a breath of fresh air and opened up a possibility I had not previously considered. Below you can find my reflections and then the instructions for Task 24.

So the bottom line for my engagement with Task 23 is that I failed entirely. The task made a lot of sense to begin with.  Before doing the task, I began thinking  whether treating visual images of the body as a cause/source  of its objectification is in and of itself a conditioned response and whether, as you rightly suggest, I can move away from it.

Pictures of me were taken while I was doing my practice and this time I was a bit more prepared for what I was about to see.

I looked at the pictures after my practice and I look at them again now. I try to quieten the ‘discriminatory mind’ (do you remember Task 2, Andrea Olsen?) and resist the ease with which it identifies shortcomings. Once this mode is switched off (I know. A totally mechanical metaphor, but how else can I talk about this?), I simply have no connection to the image. It could have been someone else’s body, for all I know. Nothing stirs in me by looking at the photos, there is no memory, there is no response.

It happened by chance that during the week I watched a video of the dance class I take every week. Again, my first and predominant attitude was to spot deficiencies and corrections (what are my shoulders doing so close to my ears???), but there was nothing beyond this. I could not remember the sequence from which the movements came from, I could not remember doing these movements,  and watching myself doing them brought nothing back, apart from criticism.

I do wonder if there is any point in trying or hoping to rehabilitate some kind of visual connection to my practice. It seems it has been completely taken over by the logic of orthoperformance. But I have no idea of how to go about this. Maybe another medium, say sketching,  would be more expressive and allow for a better connection? Or maybe the time lapse between the actual practice and its encounter in photographs needs to be longer?

In addition to this wall, it seems, I came up against, there is also something else that happened and this might be potentially productive.

Task 24 – Confirmation? 

While I was doing my practice yesterday and before having the photos taken, I began to imagine the work of the camera. How the person who was about to take the pictures might zoom in on specific body parts, how they might take pictures from angles I could not possibly access without a camera. While I was playing with this, I also noticed that awareness of those body parts, on which I imagined the gaze of the camera, was greatly heightened. Imagine a camera over my toes and there! they come to life, they respond, they press, they lengthen, they become active in preparation for the photo that will be taken of them. The pose for a selfie!

So, I would like, if possible, to test this with you. You would need to have someone with you when you are doing your practice and ask them to take photos of you while you are practising. If you cannot find someone to do this, then you can just imagine the camera in the way I did. Notice what the presence of the camera, there and then, does to the practice. You can bring back to the blog any part of the process.

 

Reflections on Task 21 and Task 22 – Corrections (with apologies)

Dear Marie,

many thanks for task 21. In the following you can read about the process and below there is a link with some visual responses to the task. Then, there are the instructions to the next task.

Task 21 proved a lot more difficult than I expected. In a less known publication, The Art of Yoga (1984), Iyengar notes how he saw yoga postures in his surroundings, such as sculptures and iconography in temples and caves. He also talks about the postures figuratively, for example he refers to Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior 2)  as the Scales of Justice (Iyengar 1984:42). In a respect, he did something very similar to what we have been exploring: he saw the shapes of postures in both everyday and religious objects. So, I expected that I also would be able to recognise postures everywhere. To my surprise, I wasn’t.

On Wednesday and Thursday all I could do was look bewitched at the snow. By Friday,  I began wondering whether there are any caves in Leeds or whether I should go searching for a Hindu temple. I dismayed that the exercise was pointless, the snow had simply coated everything. I look more intensely: the trammelled snow, the  pasta in my bowl, the soap in the sink, the chimneys, the cars, a piece of string.

Frustrated I  cannot see anything remotely resembling a yoga posture. I try a different angle. Maybe I should not be looking for shapes after all; maybe I should be looking for sensations and movements that somehow resonate with the inner sensations generated by the practice of different postures. This does not yield any results either. I run out of time.

By Saturday morning,  I begin to get worried. Armed with my phone, I go out determined to find these images no matter what. 

Perhaps a more assertive attitude, a sharpened intentionality, or simply fear that come Monday I would still be empty handed, opens my perception a bit more.

Reflections Task 21

I go back home and I practise these postures. But I do not so much think of this practice as an instantiation of the object I photographed. I am thinking more about the end result: how we, the object and I, can fit together in one frame. And here is a word I often feel when I work outside: I want to merge with my surroundings. An impossible thing in reality, I try to realise this longing by merging the images.

Yet, make no mistake: the images are also strategically superimposed to cover deficiencies in my practice. And this brought me to the next task and to a place I wish we had not reached.

Task 22 – Corrections

There was often bewilderment and frustration, when I was taking yoga classes. My teacher’s instruction to stretch more, to turn more, to do whatever more, felt absurd: but I am turning, stretching, pressing, lifting. And yet, there was more space, there was more movement. Since I stopped taking yoga classes, I work with a knowledge of how things feel and how they are supposed to feel. I do not know how they look. And I never wanted to.

I always thought that looking at the posture from the outside leads to an objectification of the body and to an attitude that focuses too much on technical perfection rather than kinesthetic intelligence. So, when I had to look at photos of my postures for Task 21, I did not like what I saw and I did not like that I did not like what I saw. The postures simply felt much better than how they looked. This not only hurt my ego; it also opened up a methodological question I thought I had answered. Long ago I had decided to trust the body, its impulses, its responses, its yearnings as a way to navigate reality. This project is part of this wider decision.

The photos were deeply unsettling, therefore, because they showed that things, and my body included, do not look the way I think. Actors have this problem often, but so I think everybody else. So here we are. In one of his most famous quotes, Wittgenstein argues that ‘a main cause of philosophical disease is an unbalanced diet: one nourishes one’s thinking with one kind of example’. So heeding Wittgenstein’s advice, I am asking you to do something I would never have thought I would ask you to do.

Pick a series of postures. Practise them while you take stills or a video recording of them. Study the visual material and look for areas where the posture can be improved. Identify specific things you think can be worked on more in each posture and do the postures again. You can bring back any aspect of this process to the Blog.

 

 

Reflections on Task 19 and Task 20 – Find the Yoga Postures

Dear Marie,

thank you for task 19. Below you can find an audio recording I did the first morning I took the weight off, after wearing it for two consecutive days, and then some written comments. Further down you can find instructions for Task 20.

 

 

You asked me to attach a weight on me and you gave me the opportunity to choose the side and part of the body where the weight would be attached.

I chose to work with a handful of coins, set in a plastic bag, which could be easily tied around my ankle. I chose to work with the left side. There is a big bad knot on the left side just under the left shoulder-blade, I think,  as a result of scoliosis on the right side. This, I think, shortens the entire left side and the left leg. So I thought that a weight on the left ankle could nudge this side down.

Now that I write all this, I realise that I chose to approach the whole task as a corrective procedure. Attaching a weight somehow had to have a rationale, it had to make sense, it had to be ‘good’ for something. And I also realise that what the audio clip captures is my attempt to convince myself that there must be some benefit to this. And yet, the task was not set as an exercise of correcting anything. This is what I brought to it, in my attempt to make sense of its absurdity: the only way to make sense of the task was to somehow construe it as an orthopedic procedure. And although I am critical of such an approach, I now see how deeply ingrained it is: of doing and undoing stuff to the body in order to correct it, in order to make it better. Such approach is not limited to yoga, but it is exemplified by it. 

I did not do Urdva Dhanurasana with the weight on. I barely practised yoga the days I was wearing it, I was too tired!  Yet, I was convinced of the necessity of it, in order to undo all the tensions that were set up after carrying the weight the entire day. So there we are, I approached the task entirely through the orthoperformative approach that underpins yoga, and this created the need for doing yoga…I think I will continue doing for all my life, but  I would like to start doing yoga for other reasons.

Task 20 – Find the yoga postures

I want us to play a bit with the idea that invitations for movement are everywhere and all we have to do is see them. Have a look at this sculpture by Austin Wright: https://library.leeds.ac.uk/events/event/1900/galleries/12/austin-wright-emerging-forms

and find all the yoga postures that may be in there. Create a sequence of them, in the same way postures are sequenced in Ashtanga. Share the sequence, and anything else you would like, in the Blog.

Reflections Task 17 and Task 18 – Secrets

Dear Marie,

many thanks for Task 17. Below you can find my reflections, jumbled as you asked, and then Task 18.

I am lying on the yoga mat. The room is dark and it is late. Outside the leftovers of the super blue blood moon still shine brightly. The back of my wrists are against the skirting board and my elbows are bent and facing the ceiling. I am about to go into Urdva Dhanurasana (bridge posture).

Secret No 1: I haven’t done Urdva Dhanurasana for more than six years.

Thoughts are circling: Matisse, Iyengar, the effect of the moon on the waters, and a persistent whisper: ‘you will get injured’. I note the irony between my predicament and the movement of celestial bodies. Quite literally I do Urdva Dhanurasana every blue moon. ‘You will get injured’. 

Secret No 2: I practise back bends so rarely, I can no longer remember the names of basic postures.

I have prepared somewhat by doing some thigh stretches and ______ (can’t remember the name). I do remember how the posture should be done though, and how it  should feel when it is done ‘right’. ‘You will get injured’. 

Secret No 3: I tried Urdva Dhanurasana about two years ago. My shoulders were so stiff I couldn’t lift up. I hovered over the mat for a few seconds, my elbows helplessly locked. I came done defeated. I have not tried to do the posture since.

When I first looked at Matisse’s lithograph I  saw an imperative. The acrobat was to all intents and purposes doing a bridge.

I do the preparatory posture, whose name I can’t remember,  and try to evaluate the likelihood of an injury.

The two acrobats side by side conveyed to me a sense of ‘before’ and ‘after’. First was a body full of contours and mountains. After was a shape devoid of the exuberance of its surfaces, a body devoid of its unevenness.

I also remember to take a deep breath as I lift into Urdva Dhanurasana. To my surprise I notice my elbows straightening without a hitch, my thighs stretching, my feet remaining in parallel. I come down and wonder if I will manage to go to sleep. I lift three more times. 

Observing the two images  from right to left there is a slow realisation. I ‘know’ what has happened here. There is an elision of surface I can recognise. The changes from one acrobat to the other have an uncanny resemblance to the instructions of Urdva Dhanurasana:

  • the ankles need to be in the same line with the knees.
  • the flesh of thighs needs to move towards the thigh bone and the thighs should stretch.
  • the buttock flesh needs to move away from the lower back and flatten towards the body (have chapatis buttocks, Silvia used to say, not rotis).
  • The armpits need to open.
  • And the most virtuosic detail of all: the lower back needs to be at a right angle to the sacrum.

I play with the idea that Matisse knew about Iyengar Yoga. Or maybe Iyengar saw the Acrobats?

I make a mental promise to you Marie: to practise Urdva Dhanurasana more often. 

Task 18 – Secrets

You need to find a space that somehow can contain you, a hole in the ground,  the hollow of a tree, a corner between two walls. You need to be outside and alone, even if you are surrounded by other people.  Place yourself in this place with your face looking in and away from the world. You can close your eyes. List out loud all the injuries you ‘ve had. Stop when you can remember no more. Make sure you have some time afterwards to do your yoga practice. You can bring back to the blog any aspect of your experience of the task in any form.

 

 

Reflections on Task 15 and Task 16 – Uneven Surface

Dear Marie,

many thanks for Task 15. It is very relevant to work that I have been doing on movement sonification, so I really welcomed the opportunity to explore and reflect upon sound in relation to my engagement with yoga. After some thought, I decided to take literally your instructions to ‘invite’ sounds into my yoga practice. So I started thinking of ways to sonify my practice and I came up with the idea to use bells. There is a phrase in Greek that translates as ‘people will hang bells on me’. It is a playful phrase referring to some sort of social sanction when someone is breaking  the rules or behaves in an unconventional manner: when someone says ‘people will hang bells on me’, they mean that people will stop taking them seriously, they will laugh at them. And I really liked how this idea of hanging bells on my self made a yoga practice, which often takes itself too seriously, a bit ridiculous. So I hung bells on myself.

I chose two Christmas ornaments, made of cheap metal with one tongue each. Silver and guy. I attached them on various parts of my body using pegs and elastic bands. I am positive I looked ridiculous.

I knew that doing yoga invites quietness. I knew that some schools of yoga, and Iyengar especially, work with duration. Each posture is diligently entered, maintained – while attention is given to the breath and all sorts of minute movements – and  released dynamically and carefully.  Yet, I was little prepared for what I heard:

Ding -a- ding -a- dang-a- ding

Nothing

Ding -a- ding -a- dang-a- ding

Nothing

Ding -a- ding -a- dang-a- ding

Nothing

The bells were clear: when I am in a posture there is no sound. Or at least the bells are not sensitive enough to capture the micro-movements that take place. There is  a lot of commotion before I go into a pose with the bells responding to every step and every movement of my limbs and then there is nothing. After a while, the racket becomes annoying – the silence equally loud. The bells tell me that when I do yoga,  my body is quiet. I wonder if it is also mute.

Task 16 – Uneven Surface

The video you posted as a response to Task 13 worked slowly on me. I did not understand what the video was capturing, but after a couple of days, and as I was thinking how I was going to respond to Task 15,  I found that I became more sensitive to textures. First to the textures I was stepping on and then  – wild with joy – noticing that there are textures above me too. As David Abram observes: ‘we are in the world’. Walking on a route I have been taking for years, I also observed that the texture of the surface was uneven. (All these years, I am sure my feet must have known this but kept it to themselves). And what hit me then was another thing I knew all along: that we practise yoga on even surfaces. The artificiality began to bother me. I started thinking that in this way yoga already sets us upon a futile search for a utopian place. A place with even surfaces that does not exist, unless you make one for practising yoga.

So your task is this: Do your yoga practice, any poses you choose, any time of the day, on uneven surfaces.  Try to work with and against them. See how they affect your practice and what you might be doing in order to accommodate them. I hope you will enjoy the task.

Reflections on Task 13 and Task 14 – The Dance of the Skin

Dear Marie,

many thanks for Task 13. It offers an opportunity to look back. Below are my reflections and further below you can find Task 14. We agreed to take a break from the project for Christmas, so reflections on Task 14 and Task 15 will be posted on Monday the 15th of January.

Reflections on Task 13 

I only looked at my own responses and there are several themes, which also resonate with key aspects of yoga practice in and oft itself.

Iteration: There is a sense of ‘repetition with difference’ in the tasks and sometimes tasks evolve from previous ones. If anything, iteration is the very building block of yoga practice. Same poses – in your case – the exact same poses are practised every day, often at the same time and same place, but the  body – self is different. The weather is different too.

Time: This is an important aspect for me, and it underlies this project in a number of ways: taking the time to do the tasks; changing one’s very experience of time (and of what is important and what is not) by doing yoga. I feel yoga produces an experience of time as duration, whereas dance, especially contemporary, prioritises an experience of time as speed. Time as a good we have little of and yoga, indeed this project as a whole, as an alchemical process that changes the very consistency of time.

Language: I feel language, both written and verbal,  is a key part of this project, although we have not directly reflected on it. I can neither see you, nor hear you. I can only read your words and write mine. I can translate my experiences in different mediums, but ultimately, they will be shaped in some kind of linguistic reflection. I hope you understand and if you do not, then that the mis-understandings will be useful too.

Background and foreground: I find that I often refer in the posts to fleeting moments, moments that stand out from the flow of experience. Perhaps, this is what I think ‘discovery’ feels like.  There is a sense of background, how something appears against something else. The two are co-constitutive: what is experienced as a background comes to be experienced as background only when something stands out from it. Something can stand out only in relation to something else. I have a hunch that this relationship can be shifted, but I am not sure what would be the result or value of such shift.

What is my yoga practice?: It is funny, but I have never asked my self this, at least not in a certain way. I ask the question less in the sense of what comprises my yoga practice, i.e. what my yoga practice is made of and more in the sense of what my yoga practice means to me. And the first thing I can say, is that it is a need. I do not think I am alone in this. I have heard other practitioners refer to their practice in similar terms. And this reminds me of Silvia Prescott‘s  suspicion of any attachment, and her advice not to be attached even to our own practice: ‘what will you do’ she would often ask ‘if one day you won’t be able to do yoga?’. Let’s come back to this…but later…I can’ t deal with this question now.

Task 14 – The Dance of the Skin

The skin is an important, if slightly mystical aspect of Iyengar Yoga. Iyengar would often bring attention to the movement of the skin and how it can guide the practitioner: is the skin stretching? Is it relaxing? Does it follow a particular direction? So here is the task: 

Take 2-3 hot water bottles and attach them to different parts of your body. You would need to wear at least one layer, otherwise the touch of the bottles on your skin will be uncomfortable. Keep exposed parts of the skin that do not need to be covered, such as the hands, the face, even the arms. Go outside on a cold day wearing as little as you can, having the water bottles on. Open up to the sensations of the skin and the extremes in temperature. Move in response to these sensations. 

Once back inside, do your yoga practice and note if the skin is more prominent in your awareness. See after how many days, hours, minutes this awareness begins to recede. I hope you enjoy.

Reflections on Task 11 and Task 12 – Likes and Dislikes

Dear Marie,

many thanks for the task. Below you can find the reflections for Task 11 and further down the description for Task 12.

  • Savasana with book under the head: A symphony of the intestines.

Once the mind quietens down a bit and the space in the neck opens, the body begins sounding. John Cage said that listening to a busy avenue never ceased to surprise him. I would say the same for my bowels: rumbles, growls and gurgles in all sorts of duration and pitch produce. A deep sense of gratitude emerges: ‘thank you for letting me speak. This is the song I have been writing the whole day and now I can finally sing it’.

  • Crouching position (not exactly a yoga posture, looks a bit like Malasana): WOOOAAAA

If I spend enough time in this position and bring my attention to the small of my back, it  lets go. It says ‘Fiiiiiinaly’.

  • Downward Dog: Aaaaaaah

Hamstrings and calf muscles give a big yawn whereas the shoulders make a ‘hamphhhh’. ‘You do realise we have been working all day long’ – they say – ‘and now you push us further’. But after the first complaint they grow quiet, especially when the armpits silence them with another yawn. ‘Ahhh’ the armpits say as they flatten and get a good perspective of the world.

  • Tadasana: Back to mute

I come to standing and this standing feels different from all the standing I’ve done during the day. The heels murmur to the floor ‘I am smitten, I want to become one with you’. The front pelvic rim comes out from its hiding place and says ‘Here I am’. The shoulders lose their grip on the neck and retreat without a sound. The neck says to the shoulders: ‘I appreciate this. I would be really grateful if you stayed where you are. You don’t need to wrap me and hold me. You stifle me, you know? I can stand by myself! I do not need your protection!’. It continues murmuring a bit more – sometimes in a language not fit for a blog post – but I can’t blame the neck. The shoulders can be bullies sometimes. Once it lets off steam, the neck does what it knows best: it puts my head back in its place. ‘Go on you can do all the talking now’ the body tells me ‘and I will withdraw back to absence’.

Task 12 – Likes and Dislikes

The above sequence is one I repeat more or less every day. It feels nice and as you can tell it does not ask a lot of the body, in that it is neither vigorous nor athletic. The task below comes from this place of comfort as well as a certain perplexity I keep grappling with.

I remember my yoga teacher complaining that we (the students) tend to practise the postures we ‘like’ and avoid practising the ones that feel difficult (as you can see in my case, she is right!). There was the assumption that if we only practise those postures that feel ‘nice’ we keep deepening the same old furrows in the body and mind and thus miss the opportunity to move beyond and outside the very habits that the practice is grooving. There is often this sense in yoga, at least in Iyengar,  that a posture, when it really ‘works’, i.e. when it takes the bodymind to new territory, should cause discomfort, a bit of pain, or at least a sensation of unfamiliarity. It should have a bit of ‘grit’. Hence, my teacher’s admonition that we ‘shouldn’t be lying on bolsters!’.  When I started working with somatics, I encountered a different approach. Here comfort was not only accepted but sought for as a ground of exploration. At least, lying on bolsters did not make me feel as guilty…

I have made discoveries in both ways, and I still cannot tell for sure whether one way of working has to offer more than the other. But I do wonder what are the differences between the ‘easy’ and the ‘hard’ way in terms of what and how one learns. So that was my big preamble for a simple task:

Make a list with the postures you like and the ones you don’t. What you like and what you don’t like depends on whether the posture feels comfortable and you want to do it or whether the posture feels hard and you would rather avoid it. You can have a third category with postures that do not fall in any of these two categories. Once you have made the lists, next to each posture write the ‘thing(s)’ that define your predisposition.

Reflections on Task 10 and Task 11 – Bodytalk

Dear Marie,

many thanks for the task. Below are my thoughts and further down Task 11.

I did the task with Alice Oswald’s poem A Short Story of Falling. Oswald’s poems are intended to be read aloud and following the previous task, I recorded myself reading the poem and then played it over and over again.

It is evening. The studio is a cleared space in a shabby living room. The mover is a cluttered mind in a shabby body. It will do. The poem suggests falling, mentions and sounds like water, follows the cycle of a drop of rain.

Midway through the poem, the cycle is disrupted by an ‘I’ who speaks a wish to be like water:

‘if only I a passerby could pass

as clear as water through a plume of grass […]

then I might know like water how to balance the weight of hope against the light of patience’

It is this part of the poem that had an effect on me – a sense of warmth in the chest – and it is this part that made me choose the poem.

The recording loops on the computer and I move to the poem again and again. A deeply ingrained mimetic impulse kicks in and my first response is to do the movement suggested by the language. Words like ‘falling’,  ‘pass’ and ‘balance’ are immediately kinetic and it is very easy to move according to the meaning of the word. But the task asks for something different.  I try to work away from this immediate response but without imposing another one. There are moments, so fleeting I can hardly register them, where the word amplifies a sensation that is already in the body: ‘every flower a tiny tributary’ enhances a sense of opening as my sacrum rests on the floor; ‘rises to the light’ increases my awareness of an ever so tiny difference between making and closing space at the bottom of the skull.

I re-read the poem and I find in its tale the same paradox that keeps me in an upright position: ‘Oswald’s poem is ‘the story of the falling rain that rises to the light and falls again’. How can something rise while it falls? But isn’t this what happens in standing? When I stand – the words of the poem dripping on me like rain – I feel the back of my heels falling into the floor and it is from this fall that a greater sense of lift comes into the spine. Does this also make me a drop of rain?

Task 11 – Bodytalk

This task is a continuation of task 9 ‘Do As You Normally Do’, in that it focuses on the habitual patterns the body follows in its daily dealings with the world. So, the task invites you to work in and with those moments where the body becomes ‘absent’ (Drew Leder 1990) to the self.

Begin by picking those movements that feel the most ‘natural’, those movements where bodily sensation completely disappears, either because the attention is on the task the body is engaged in or because the mind is entirely elsewhere.  I find activities in my morning routine, like teeth brushing and making tea are like this, probably because I am still half asleep, but you may find that other moments are a lot more habituated and hence a lot more ‘absent’ for you.

Whilst in the doing of such a task, begin to describe out loud what the body/self is doing using a first pronoun (I, my leg, my arm etc) and present continuous tense. Do this bodytalk every day for a few days for the same routine(s). Try to describe those things that come to your attention most immediately. However, as you do the task each day,  see if other aspects of the movement/doing become present to you. Capture them in language, however roughly or quickly. Once you do the task a few times, see if you remember any of the phrases you said during the bodytalk. Write a poem using these phrases.

Reflections Task 8 & Task 9 – Do As You Normally Do

Dear Marie,

many thanks for Task 8. Below you can find reflections to the task and instructions for Task 9.

I was sceptical to begin with about the whole business of opposing the physical relation to the floor to the meaning of the text. My first response was to work with the ‘To Stand’ text lying on the floor. But then I started thinking about planes and how I could explore surfaces that simply would not allow me to stand. I ended it up working with a tree in my neighbourhood I was a bit familiar with. Once I climbed the tree, I first listened to the ‘To Stand’ text while moving on the tree without standing. I then tried to hang from the branches of the tree for as long as I could while listening to the ‘To Be Supported’ text. 

What I experienced often amounted to  a sense of cognitive dissonance: the words alien – but spoken in my voice  – simply did not match my pro-prioceptive reality. Yet, there were quick moments where a phrase or two would fit with my physical sensation perfectly. Amid the midst of dissonance, those flashes of resonance, well… stood out. In those moments, the physical reality deepened and there was almost a relief that the dissonance between physical sense and textual significance had finally stopped. (Quick search on the internet tells me that our tendency is to reduce cognitive dissonance, either by altering our beliefs or by  tailoring reality to our needs. I wonder whether any  word, apart from the exact opposite of what I was sensing,  would have had the same effect of relief. Whether, in other words, I was prone to interpret my physical reality through the text, as long as the two were not entirely contradicting). 

Images by visual anthropologist Vanja Celebicic.

 stand behind

understand

standing into falling

TO BE SUPPORTED

Asthechairimmediatelyaftersupportsmyweightmyheadisheldupbythecolumnofmy

spineandtheblissfulSavasanapositionreverberatesinsidemeSun

Task 9 -Do As You Normally Do

This is inspired by Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), who apparently, from middle age onwards, stuck to the exact same routine on a daily basis. I think he did this so that he did not have to think about all the little choices we have to make throughout the day, and thus he could spend his time philosophising. Or maybe he did it so that he could observe the differences that appear once as much as possible of everything else remains the same.

Think what makes up your yoga routine: the postures, order, duration, pauses, use of props etc. You may not have one single routine that you follow every day, but the task is that you create one out of those things you tend to practise the most. Once you put the routine together, do it every day, preferably at the same time and the same place. Do the same routine even if your body asks for a different one. Try to find and stay in that space between what the routine prescribes and what your body needs. In other words, use the same routine as a form a background that is as flat and homogeneous as possible, so that you can get a better sense of the different body and self you encounter every day. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Reflections Task 6 & Task 7 – To Stand and to Be Supported

Dear Marie,

many thanks for task 6. Below you can find reflections on Task 6 and instructions for Task 7.

The task made me think a lot about the routes I am taking and my attitude to them. I realise that a route is a means to get from A to B and time is of essence. The route, however pleasant, needs to be completed in the least time possible. The key constraint that has to be satisfied then is time and every possible change in the route I could think of entailed making the route taking more time. The task also made me think about Mithila Folk Painting. The practice originates from Bihar, India, but when I was in South India I remember seeing women, at the break of dawn, drawing with chalk intricate shapes in the front of their house. As I understand it, the shapes were drawn as an offering and a means to ward off evil. I thought about these women and whether time was also of essence to them, in the same way it is for me.

So, this the constraint I came up with:

On a short and very familiar route, I put the timer on my phone to ring every 3 min. The moment the timer goes off, I have to stop and draw something on the exact place I stopped. The first thing I draw is a fish, as done in Mithila Folk Art, but at subsequent stops I play with the texture of the paving stones. At the last stop, I am facing a weak sun, that is just breaking from the clouds. I wonder if my drawing is an offering to this timid autumn shining.

Later in the day I do the same route with the 5 year old. I show her the drawings and tell her that she can add to them and/or do other ones. The constraint this time is this: we do not leave the place until the 5 year old suggests so.

More than the self-consciousness of stopping chalk-in-hand on a really busy road, the suspension of cajoling/instructions/threats to ‘let’s go’, ‘move on’, ‘come on’ leaves both of us confused. The 5 year old looks at me and waits for the usual phrase. I have to stop my self every other second from actually saying those all too familiar phrases (at one point the words come out out of sheer habit before I can stop myself).

Eventually, we move on.

When I do yoga, the move from one position to the next feels as familiar as the route I took earlier in the day.  If anything, yoga is about taking time and making it one’s own. But is time of essence here to? Or is every stop, every position an offering? 

Task 7 To Stand and to Be Supported

Do a set of standing postures, Tadasana, Vrksasana, Trikonasana, Virabahdrasana I and II, all of these poses can work quite well.

Immediately after write a piece of text on standing. What it means to you to stand? What does standing mean? How is the word ‘to stand’ used in language?

Then do a set of recuperative poses, preferably with support, such as Badokonasana, Supta Virasana, Savasana. Write a piece of text about when and what makes you feel supported. See if you can use passive voice.

I hope you enjoy it.

 

 

Reflections on Task 4 – Pen & Scissors and Task 5 – A Word for a Place

Dear Marie,

Many thanks for Task 4. Here are my reflections. Below the images you can find Task 5.

Out of the studio, right into the corridor, down the stairs, left through the doors, across the car park, into the cab, the dance continues. Even though my body becomes immobile into the seat of the car, the beat of the drums still lingers. The speed of the car matches the inner rhythm. I dance vicariously.

Not this time. This time the cab is late, and the rhythm that is already working inside me becomes frustrated as I scan the empty road and pace up and down. Once inside the car, I am overwhelmed by a sensation similar to the one  I have whilst executing a fast sequence: will I make it? Will I make it on time? In both cases, time feels too fast, while I become despairingly slow.

Reflections on the class can only be written a long time after it and as I ponder on the hasty car trip, I think that to dance is to tame time.

With the collages I tried to capture some of the shapes that the bodies make in the space, fleetingly as they move from one position to the next. I got inspired by Nathan Walker’s talk at the University of Leeds on his recent book Condensations, where he talked about the way the arrangements of the words on the page of his book responded and reflected the landscape from which those words originally emerged and/or were written for.

There is nothing of the fleetingness of the dance in these collages, just words glued on paper. As I cut my reflections late into the night, I think that the breaking up of sentences, the shaking up of the words, their re-positioning is not dissimilar to dance, and yoga: how it can take the body apart and put it back together again. And in this taking apart and putting back together, meanings and experiences become re-arranged, weights shift, and new relations emerge. Yoga and dance as a practice of collage of the self?

Task 5 – A Word for a Place is inspired by Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, but I wonder if there is a whiff of the Situationists here too. I think it is a good one to do when one visits a new place, but perhaps it is also appropriate for a familiar one. I always had a sense that this is a task for a city, but maybe it can work just as well in the countryside.

Think of a word that captures the sense you have of the place (if the place is an unfamiliar one) and/or what the place means to you (if it is one you know well).

Following the paths, roads and grids that already exist in this place, write the word by walking.  You can trace possible routes on a map, so you can see in advance how you might create the letters. Or you can trace your route on the map afterwards and see whether you managed to write the letters you thought you were writing. (You can also follow your changing position on the map of your phone as you walk but this will not record a  permanent trail).

You can walk the word as many times as you wish and the walk can encompass as much of the actual area as you want/or are able cover. For example, you may wish to cover with one word the entire city or just one neighbourhood. You can take pictures along the way and/or audio-record sounds, memories, impressions.

Straight after you finish the walk, lie down in Savasana and note the sensations that emerge. What kind of imprints did the walk leave on the body and mind, if any?

Then do a sequence of yoga postures of your own choice that undo the imprints of the walk. Take the body apart and put it back together again.

In your reflections, you can comment on the whole task and/or use the material you  have created during the actual doing. I hope you will enjoy it.

The Camera and the Trained Body

Performance Lecture by Judaica Lab with Ben Spatz, Nazlıhan Eda Erçin, Agnieszka Mendel

hosted by the Performance Training, Preparation and Pedagogy Research Group

31 Oct @ 5:30-7:30 pm Alec Clegg Studio, University of Leeds


The Judaica research project (AHRC 2016-2018) is designed around a new method of ‘configurations’ for structuring and documenting experimental embodied practice. Drawing on discoveries made during the 2017 intensive laboratory phase of the research, the trio of international researchers will present new ways of thinking about and working with embodiment, vocality, songs, and identity in a multimedia experimental context.
The lecture performance consists of a laboratory session of the Judaica trio followed by video screening and discussion through which the questions below will be addressed:
• How is training situated in the method of configurations? • How does the method of configurations change the experience of training for the practitioner?• How does the dramaturgy of the director/instructor/teacher/trainer role interact with the dramaturgy of the videographer in co-creating audiovisual documents? • What is it that the camera makes visible, enables and simultaneously conceals or blocks in relation to the moving and living body? • What can theatre, dance, and performer training offer to contemporary conversations about digital and audiovisual media?

For information on the Judaica project, please visit: www.urbanresearchtheater.com.

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Reflections on Task 2 & Task 3 -Standing on Paper

Dear Marie,

Here are my reflections on Task 2. Below them you can find Task 3.

At the beginning I felt I needed a lot more instructions/clarifications with this one.

After I have observed my breathing cross legged, do I just sit around, continuing being aware of my breath (for whole five minutes!)?

What on earth is the discriminating mind?

Can I have a book under my head? (And if I do, am I practising yoga or Alexander Technique? Or perhaps the basic position of Alexander Technique is nothing other than Savasana with a book under one’s head?)

I tried to keep the instructions in my mind and follow them, but I forget them along the way. I do the whole thing with my eyes closed and when I finally open my eyes, I realise I am facing in a completely different direction than I thought/felt.

I do let my weight go and I do feel the claim gravity is making on me after a very long day. Giving in feels heavy and thick, a big wave of tiredness coming to finally settle on the floor. The moment I allow gravity to claim me, that moment weight passes through me: it leaves my body and comes to rest on the floor.

Thoughts come and go, including thoughts about how to make this reflection interesting. I let these thoughts go too.

I think I am observing the breath. I realise afterwards that I simply tried to do a very poor version of a pranayama exercise, where the inhalation becomes longer and the exhalation remains the same. I tried to deepen the breath, and the moment I started interfering all flow and synchronicity was lost. I accept that I still find exercises with the breath very difficult, and I decide next time to simply let the breath be.

Why is Savasana the most difficult posture? (Iyengar says the same too).

Where does the difficulty lie? In becoming able not to do? To abdicate from the head, as my teacher used to say?

To inhabit what is otherwise called the corpse posture? I remember Dorinda Hulton talking about Savasana in relation to King Lear’s line when he re-enters holding Cordelia’s body: ‘I know when one is dead, and when one lives; She’s dead as earth’. Dead as earth. Dorinda observed that the earth is fully alive, there is nothing dead about it. Maybe something similar is happening with Savasana? Maybe our conviction that we know when one is dead and when one lives become a little bit unsettled?

Task 3 – Standing on Paper

Stand on a piece of paper with your feet hip width apart. Draw or get somebody to draw the outline of your feet.(You still face a tree, if you so wish).

Then go through the instructions of Task 1. Allow the neck to flow down and create space between the base of the skull and the top of the neck. Feel the scull floating up and the whole head moving forward and up. Let the shoulders melt away from the ears, and the shoulder-blades moving away from each other so space is created in the dorsal spine.

Allow the lower back to widen and lengthen and imagine drops of honey dripping from your coccyx perpendicular to the floor.

Let the soles of the feet spread and open on the floor. Let the Achilles tendon lengthen and feel the back of the heel going into the floor. Feel the cushion between the base of the big toe and the second toe going down into the floor. Feel the outer edge of the whole foot also flowing down towards the floor. Let the metatarsals turn from the little toe to the big toe, and down to that point between the big toe and the second toe. See what happens to the arches when all above points are active.

You can spend as long as you like playing with these instructions. Once you feel you have explored and/or established these points observe where your weight is and the contact between the different parts of the foot (the front/the back/the inner/the outer or any other point that may come to your awareness) and the floor.

Step off the paper and fill in the outline with the different weight imprints.

You can do this task as many times as you wish, but it would be good to try and do it at least twice and preferably at different times of the day, so you can compare between different imprints.

Once you are done you can also look at the imprints in relation to a pair of shoes that are worn out and carry a mark of your weight placement.

Hope you enjoy!

 

Task 1

Dear Marie,

this is your task:

Find a place where you can stand in front of a tree in a distance that allows you to hold the entire tree in your visual field. (A window on the first or second floor of a building would work well). 

You can stand either with the feet hip width apart or feet together. 

Go through the following thoughts/actions: 

Allow the space where the base of the neck meets the base of the skull to open. Allow the neck to flow down and imagine the skull is floating up. 

Allow the shoulders to melt away from the neck and imagine the neck free and the head going forwards and up. 

Imagine that drops of honey drip from your coccyx. Let these drops drip perpendicularly down to the floor. 

Keep the legs straight but make sure that your knees are not locked back.

Let the Achilles tendon lengthen and feel the back outer edge of the soles of the feet moving down to the floor. 

Let the entire sole of the feet spread onto the floor. Observe where the weight tends to go and how it might oscillate.  

Do all of the above keeping the tree in your visual field. Once you go through them, keep these actions/sensations going and bring your attention to the tree, how it is rooted down and how it shoots up. 

Leave the spot and the position when you feel ready to. 

 Hope you enjoy it! 

 All best, 

Maria 

 

 

Two Trainers Prepare

TDPT Blog community, Hello!

Marie Hallager Andersen and I are embarking on a year-long project exploring the space between creative expression and our respective yoga practices (I have been working with Iyengar and Marie has been working with Ashtanga Yoga ).

Our intention is to use this project as a preparation towards integrating different styles of yoga and other art forms in an interdisciplinary pedagogy. We wish to inhabit the edges of our respective disciplines of dance and theatre by using yoga as a shared point of reference and by employing tools from artistic areas we are less familiar with. We will do this by employing a task-based methodology and by sharing the process on this Blog.

The title of the posts plays with the well-known title of Stanislavski’s book An Actor Prepares. Unlike Stanislavski’s book though, we wish to both bring attention to the preparation of the trainer, rather than the performer, as well as emphasise the inter-subjective nature of the current project: we will prepare together on our own. (We are also aware of the images of athletic footwear invoked by the word trainer, but we do not wish to play with this, at least not now).

Furthermore and by making our process of preparation public, we wish to de-mystify the idea of the trainer as an expert and develop, do, and reflect upon a series of tasks the potential of which we do not know in advance.

So, this is how this is going to work: Each Monday one of us will give the other a task that will be shared on the Blog. The Monday after the person who received the task will publish her reflections on the given task and give a new task to the other. The next week we will alternate. You can find the rules we have set up for developing and doing the tasks below.

We invite you to follow us on this journey, do the tasks with us, and/or comment on our process.

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Extended deadline for TaPRA Performer Training WG Event

Dear all,

We’ve extended the deadline to Friday 7 April for proposals for the TaPRA Performer Training Working Group Interim Event. Please send your abstract through if this area is of interest to your research. You are also very welcome to attend, without presenting a paper. The event is free, but you need to be a TaPRA member.

TaPRA Performer Training Working Group

Interim Event

Monday 22 May 2017, 11am – 6pm

University of York

Performer Training and Media Ecologies

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Tools and Material(itie)s Research Seminar, University of Leeds, March 7th 5-7pm

You are warmly invited to the next School of Performance and Cultural Industries research seminar –

Tools and Material(itie)s      
Dr Scott McLaughlin (School of Music), Dr Maria Kapsali (School of PCI), Dr Joslin Mckinney (School of PCI)

Tuesday 7th March 5pm-7pm
Lecture Theatre 2, School of Music, University of Leeds
Please book a place with Linda Watson l.m.watson@leeds.ac.uk – All Welcome

The three papers in this seminar aim at highlighting the way in which theories and discourses on tools and material(itie)s inform practice and thinking in music, somatic work and scenography. Apart from positioning the overall enquiry in relation to specific disciplines, this research seminar also aims to put forward a set of questions that deal with wider, cross-disciplinary themes: In what ways do theories of materiality shed light on artistic processes?  What is the relationship between tool and tool user? How does a non-anthropocentric view inform understanding of experience and perception?

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Yoga as/in Performance: A Research Lab hosted by the Centre for Psychophysical Performance Research at the University of Huddersfield

With Dr Deborah Middleton (Huddersfield), Dr Maria Kapsali (Leeds) and Dr Bernadette Cronin (Cork)

Saturday 22nd October 2016, 0915 — 1715

 There are a few places still available for this one-day event in which Bernadette Cronin, Maria Kapsali, and Deborah Middleton will each share their research into Yoga and its relationship with performance. The day will involve short positions statements, a workshop led by each practitioner, and time for sharing and discussion (and resting).

Contact: f.chamberlain@hud.ac.uk for further details

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Theatre and Performance Research Association 2016 Performer Training Working Group: Some Personal Reflections

Just back from the annual three day meeting of the TaPRA Performer Training Group and would like to capture some thoughts and reflections before they evaporate in the maze of the semester that lies ahead.

Before I do so, one note on the very activity of writing a blog post. This year’s executive curated panel was entitled ‘Digital Media and the Future of Theatre and Performance Research’ and set out to examine, amongst other things, whether ‘academic research [is] a rival to these [digital] forms of dissemination – [whether it is] a gold standard to maintain against wikiknowledge’ or whether academic research ‘will and should change to make use of these new technologies’ (TaPRA, Conference Programme 2016, np).

Undoubtedly there is a lot to be said about the different forms of knowledge that different forms of dissemination may produce, in terms of economy, pedagogy, cognition, cultural habits and power relations to say the least, but during the panel I started thinking, or perhaps paused to think, about labour. It is work, I thought to myself, to produce and disseminate research in the standard formats of journal articles and books. For a lot of theatre practitioners and researchers, this work can be understood both in terms of contractual employment (or as a move towards it) as well as in terms of the effort that goes in it (which does not exclude the pleasures of writing). It is also work to write a blog post. But here is an important difference: to write a blog post is work in terms of the effort exerted but not, at least not yet or not explicitly, in terms of contractual obligations.

Granted, this distinction is not clear cut (after all blogging does look good on a CV), but to me it feels important. Perhaps, because of the cultural tropes of playground and play with which the internet is often associated, perhaps because I hope that practices of peer-to-peer production and user-led creation will bring us closer to different paradigms of economic transaction and social relations, on the afternoon of the 6th of September 2016, I discovered, and very inarticulately tried to argue, that it is paramount that within the academy blogging remains a choice and that we actively make sure that it does so. That it remains an activity, a space, a zone that allows me to step out of the imperatives to produce research, and envisage first and foremost you, the readers, with me, around a table drinking wine, in a studio rolling on the floor, in a playground swinging from monkey bars.

For these reasons, I want to start by saying this: I chose to write this blog post.

The theme of the Working Group’s CfP for this year was Speech and Text in Performer Training, whereby ‘“text” is not meant to refer only to words in a printed play-text, but rather to the expansive range of sources in our work’. In particular, we invited delegates ‘to consider the link between the different notions of text and speech. What are the key interventions that are being made in these areas? How do we, from our different and overlapping disciplines, teach, train, and theoretically engage with text and speech in our work?’. Four intersecting areas were proposed as subthemes: The actor and the text; Dance and movement: the physical and verbal body; Text and Aurality; Intersections between text, speech, and technology.

The final programme consisted of a diverse set of papers, provocations, workshops and lecture demonstrations. Its actualisation over three days of panels, formal discussions and informal exchanges foregrounded a set of additional themes/observations, some of which I will try to capture here. In no particular order:

Interdisciplinarity and, after Pauliina Hulkko, multimodality

A lot of the trainings we experienced, heard and talked about this year had a pronounced interdisciplinary character, both in the combination of different performing arts disciplines, as well as in a very conscious, strategic choice of employing other art forms. David Wiles talked about and showed pictures of historical and idiosyncratic practices of scoring text dating from 17th and 18th c European theatre and oratic practice. Bryan Brown and Olya Petrakova examined the development of two frameworks they developed with ARTEL (American Russian Theatre Ensemble Laboratory). ‘Playstorming’ is a framework for working with playtexts through improvisation, whereas ‘Bodystorming’ seeks a way to develop on-the-spot responses to discursive text through movement and sound.  Hannu Tuisku demonstrated an exercise on facial relaxation as an entry point to voice production, and Marie Hay demonstrated the simultaneous production and scoring of movement and speech/text. Debi Wong talked about the creation of operatic-dance-music productions and her aim to develop methods that enable the artists involved to penetrate and allow to be permeated by each other’s practice rather than working alongside one another. Christina Kapadocha shared through a practical workshop her own way of employing Body Mind Centering in movement and voice training/practice.

In the second category of working with practices beyond the performing arts, one could position Petronilla Whitfield’s sharing of her evolving method of working with dyslexic actor-students on Shakespeare’s text through movement, drawing and mark making as well as Goze Saner and Scott Robinson’s interactive installation on an ongoing research project towards the creation of a DIY toolkit that centres around the aural and oral transmission of different versions of an exercise  – for want of better term – through acoustic technologies.

The conscious and strategic combination of art forms as training tools led to a recognition not only of the way other arts forms may deal with pedagogical problems, but also the emergence of new kinds of performers/artists that such trainings may render possible. It also raises questions about the role of the sensory modalities and hierarchies training pedagogies attempt to engage and pointed to a possible re-thinking of such hierarchies, in the light of the cultural, cognitive and embodied experience of individual students (as well as trainers).

It further allows performer trainers to think beyond their expertise and specialism and as Debi Wong remarked employ and ‘curate’ different aspects of their self, rather than remain within the limitations of a specific professional artistic identity.

Diversity

There was no way of escaping the strong connections between voice and notions of being heard and having the right to speak. Diversity emerged as a theme in various ways and was considered from a number of lenses. I have already mentioned Whitfield’s conscious decision to explore ways of training that are better suited to the needs of dyslexic students. In a performative presentation that framed the working group as a new cohort of actor-students that have English as a Second Language, Evi Stamatiou communicated the sense of inadequacy that foreign speakers might be experiencing. By utilising her Greek accent in order to create the persona of a native speaker of imaginary, but canonical. Chesire-cat English, Stamatiou raised questions about who is in fact this ideal speaker and how he/she/the cat exercises power. Carol Fairlamb took us through her own personal journey of becoming aware of traits of ‘dysconscious racism’ in her teaching and received pedagogy as well as the active steps she took towards developing an approach that utilises the heritage of BAME actors in voice and speech training.

Pauliina Hulkko and Tiina Syrja talked about the merits of training actors to work in a language they do not speak and shared a recent project where Hulkko and Syrja travelled with Finnish students to Udmurtia, a Russian Federation, in order to stage a play in Udmurt, an Ungro-Finn endangered language. Their point about the possibility of a foreign language to defamiliarise the actor from her own phonetic and vocal habits was aptly communicated by allowing the group to taste the vowels and consonants of the Udmurt language in a short sentence.  Withholding the meaning of the sentence until the very end of the exercise, also showed how sound and voice can set one free from – or indeed make one anxious about the loss of – meaning.

Breath

By being an inextricable physiological component of voicing, speaking, and generally staying alive, the training of breath offers immense possibilities not only towards the development of voice and speech, but also towards the actor’s relationship to text and character/dramatic situation. Dennis Lennon and Eric Hetzler in their respective ways looked at breath as a way of such training. Lennon brought attention to the position that breath holds within voice and speech training practices of acting and speaking Shakespeare and left us with the tantalising possibility that breath could become a catalyst towards apprehending rather than comprehending the Shakespearean text. Equally, Hetzler complemented a formal paper on the use of Alba Technique in theatre practice with instruction in two exercises that allowed the group to try out two of the breathing patterns.

Logocentrism and Au/Orality

By taking the work of Greek speech trainer Dimitris Vayas as a case in point, Konstantinos Thomaidis brought attention to the danger of treating voice in a logocentric manner, whereby the aim of training is to clear the voice of the cultural manifestations and biological imperfections of dialect, accent and tonality, in order to communicate text in a presumambly pristine way. Thomaidis, however, further problematized the way in which logo-centrism can be detected within a training practice and cautioned against a tendency to regard uncritically and at face value old-school approaches to voice training as logocentric. Complementing Thomaidis’s paper, Jane Boston offered an alternative to subjecting the voice to the service of idealist textual clarity by exploring the work of Alice Oswald, a poet who writes with the intention that her poems are read or recited aloud. Duly, Boston read and briefly cock-a-dooddle-dooed an extract from Oswald’s recent collection of poems.

Resistance to Training?

A resistance to training, a need and an urgency to re-think what training is and what it is for, underpinned a number of papers, but was most emphatically present in Mark Smith’s presentation on the work of Frantic Assembly. Smith reflected on the company’s founding members’ assertion that are ‘untrained’ as well as their conscious exclusion of vocal and speech training from their educational activities. Is it is because work with text could possibly alienate the teenage audience Frantic are trying to reach? Is it because, despite the interconnection of voice and movement, expertise is by definition a careful demarcation of a specific area of knowledge and needs to have identifiable boundaries? Is the exclusion of voice a manifestation of a historical moment during which, arguably, British theatre had enough with the word and concentrated on performance making through movement? And if this is the case, do we witness a new era, whereby word finds its place, as Marie Hay demonstrated, within movement practice?

Post-script: The Group is Open and Training is Ongoing

Delegates of all walks of lives, institutions, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientation, cultural affiliations, disciplinary expertise, and religious practice are welcome. But a toddler? Two-year old Mercan patiently sat through presentations and discussions, experienced the intermittent dislocation of her mum and dad’s attention away from her and towards the conference, even put up with her occasional removal from the room, and looked at the group and its individual members with eyes wide open. What do they know about training? I would wager that Mercan goes through intensive training the whole day every day. Imagine that she turns eighteen and following her parents’ steps decides to study theatre. She begins to train, whereby discovers that all the training she has been doing all these years not only is left untapped, but in some cases is considered to be out rightly wrong. If anything from the presentations stays with her, Mercan could potentially reply to anyone that tries to ‘correct’ her that yes, she would not mind trying out new ways (of sitting, standing, talking, looking, thinking) but training is also about honouring what she so painstakingly acquired through daily practice for the most part of her life. That her training, past and present, to borrow a metaphor that Carol Fairlamb used, is her home.