Where’s the Human Connection Gone?

My work is primarily site-specific and last month as part of a wider experiment (http://www.eyecontactexperiment.com) I stood on the high street of my relatively small commuter town in Hertfordshire with a cardboard sign which read, “Where has the human connection gone? Share one minute of eye contact to find out.”Although I didn’t have many takers (you can read all about the details of my experience here http://ant179.wix.com/newnessyoga#!Wheres-the-human-connection-gone/cz7q/5620fe590cf2c3576e616661); it was fundamentally an immediate, meaningful connection shared with others. From the perspective of performer (and specifically contemporary dancer) training my concern is the cultivation of human connection. My research to date has framed this connection within the idea of phenomenological intersubjectivity; but big words aside, what really matters in training to me is a way to get at the fleshy, immediate, shared, open experience of our human-ness.

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Pilates and Voice Training for the Actor

By implementing core stability exercises in voice training, the actor not only obtains more awareness of their own bodies, they develop the important muscles needed for breath control and stability. Pilates has been embraced by dancers for many years, and, like the Alexander technique, Suzuki Actor Training Method and Feldenkrais, has been incorporated in many performing arts programs. Pilates has also been incorporated with other methods in movement training for the actor in order to ‘improve posture [and alignment, to] gain strength and avoid injury’. (Smith, Kelly & Monks 2004, p. 51) However, core stability training has been ignored in voice training. The method was created by Joseph Pilates (1880 – 1967), and since his death, many teachers have modified the 34 exercises and made them more accessible. It is now commonplace in most gymnasiums and health and fitness centres, and is now as popular as ever as an exercise method to tone and lengthen muscle, increase flexibility and improve general well being. The other crucial factor of Pilates work is breathing. ‘The most active part of the body as we vocalise is the breath system’ (Rodenburg 1997, p. 6) and without breath, we do not have the power to carry the sound through.

Pilates and other core stability exercises are usually taught in movement classes in a performing arts curriculum and are generally ignored in voice classes. Joan Melton, renowned practitioner of voice and movement integration and the Director of the One Voice Centre, believes that ‘communication among voice and movement specialists can be a critical factor is the success of [a] program’ (Melton 2001, p.2). The lack of communication creates confusion amongst the students’ as the specific technical methods of each discipline are in fact, contradictory. In relation to movement, order for the actor to maintain their alignment actors need to activate their ‘postural muscles, such as the deep abdominal muscle…the transverse abdominis’ (Smith, Kelly & Monks 2004, p.53) to support their lumbar and sacral spine in order to maintain stability. This core stability is crucial for basic movements such as running, throwing, bending down and walking. In voice work, this notion is dismissed. For example, in self breath observation when the actor is in a standing position, they may be encouraged to release the abdominal area and solely rely on the spine for alignment. If this is the notion, what is supporting the spine?

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Welcome

Featured

Welcome to the Theatre, Dance and Performance Training Journal blog! Our online, interactive presence is designed to encourage a growing community of artists, academics, practitioners and researchers to share practice and debate issues that are currently alive within the disciplines of theatre, dance and performance training. Our blog engages a new audience for the TDPT journal, creating an online space that promotes spontaneous and productive conversation and debate. As we grow further it it will represent a productive and discursive teaching ‘tool’ – or forum – within all levels of education and training preoccupied with dance, performance and theatre.  Please explore our site. “The Studio” space is specifically designed for sharing of audiovisual training materials while our “Comeback” section invites previous contributors to return or “comeback” to an idea they discussed in a TDPT article and new contributors to respond to an idea. “My Training” is a space where individuals can reflect on their own personal experiences of training. The “Home” blog page publishes any other contributions that people wish to offer. Please share the blog link with anyone you feel may find it useful as we continue to develop an engaged and active community over the next months and years. We hope you enjoy the blog and many thanks to the artists, academics, and practitioners who have contributed their work already in the first year of its life. We appreciate your willingness to be at the forefront of TDPT’s digital emergence. We post material at regular intervals so please do register with us on the blog and check our social media apps for regular updates.

Performance. An ontological analysis

‘Performance’ is a ubiquitous term commandeered by and used in a range of academic disciplines and practical fields of human activity. It operates, more or less, as a semiotic tag within a set of conceptualisations that is part of a specific discipline and field of discourse, and functions as an epistemological frame within particular discursive practices. This tagging is discussed in six examples below, through the breadth of usage is far greater than is suggested in my exemplars.

First, in the academic discipline of performance studies, ‘performance’ is generally seen as a descriptive term encompassing complex representational embodiments that signify a range of meanings for observers or audiences, who become both interpretive aesthetic readers of such meaning and also engage with performance work affectively. These representational embodiments may refer to artistic endeavours, from music, dance and drama to installations, photography and art works; but the term’s usage can be broader than even these sets of specific creative phenomena, extending to everyday acts of social engagement, cultural exchange and sporting endeavour. As such, performance is constituted in what might be viewed as ordinariness as much as it is in specialisations of human activity and communication. Arguably, however, in this academic field the tag is especially, but not exclusively, about creative representation and embodied performance practices, as reflected in the work of scholars such as Richard Schechner and Victor Turner

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We must embrace the digital: Massive Open Online Courses as performer training tools.

I’d like with my first ever blog entry to offer a challenge to the field of performer training. Let’s face it the current state of secondary drama education is in crisis. Much quoted figures include a drop of 23% in GCSE numbers in Drama from 2003-13, an 8% drop in Drama teachers in schools since 2010 and a 23% drop where an arts subject has been withdrawn. All of us will have anecdotal evidence from our colleagues of falling numbers at A Level and of systematic closures of (very successful) courses. How are we to arrest what many have called an ideological attack on the creative arts through changes to education? How are we to respond to the assessment of the Chair of the Warwick commission’s report on cultural value, that: “not enough is being done to stimulate or realise the creative potential of individuals, or to maximise their cultural and economic value to society. Improvement requires a greater degree of investment, participation, education and digital access’ (2015: 9)?

In this context, my assessment is stark:

Performer training will not survive in any guise of inclusiveness unless it diversifies its infrastructure and fully embraces the rise of digital culture.

Let’s consider this statement by considering the development of Massive Open Online Course, and specifically, one I have recently run on Meyerhold’s Biomechanics.

Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs – short, free-to-access, learning modules, delivered entirely online – are particularly interesting in terms of their organisation of ‘studio’ time. MOOCS are first and foremost ‘an EVENT’ and yet they also endure in perpetuity, contributing to students’ lifelong learning.   This interesting mixture of momentary eventness and longitudinal impact is one of a number of temporal idiosyncrasies associated with Massive Open Online learning or what I have called elsewhere digital training [1]. These include

  1. Time as it is constructed within the MOOC platform (e.g. FutureLearn).
  2. Time as it is designed by the educator (including the improvement of user engagement using learner analytics).
  3. Time as it experienced by the teacher during the MOOC.
  4. Time as it experienced by the participants during the MOOC, within and beyond the MOOC itself.
  5. Differing time zones of the participants.
  6. Differing ages, backgrounds and trainings of the participants.
  7. Time as it is experienced after the MOOC finishes.
  8. Time as historical content in the MOOC itself.

For now, let’s focus on points 3-6.

The eventness of MOOCS is created by the time-limited delivery of the courses – normally anywhere between 2 and 8 weeks, with specific content associated with each week. In some platforms this content is no longer available after the the course has concluded; in others, including the FutureLearn platform I used, the materials are available indefinitely – to review, download, rehash and reuse without restriction. The time-limited delivery of the course, allows for students to have a level of parallel experience, building to the same goals at the end of each week and opening up conversations about the same learning materials in the comment threads alongside materials:

1

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Closed Laboratory to Open Laboratory: Examining the Process of Making Training Public

My own practice is influenced by laboratory traditions, informed by contemporary performance and ‘devising’ methods. I am working with an emergent performance ensemble using task-based methods of training and performance.

An underlying dilemma that faces my practice is the process of taking work that has been formed in a closed environment into a wider and open context: making the private public.

Within my own practice I have been, as a member of the ensemble, working in a closed environment for an extended period of time. Until we held a participatory work demonstration, open to the public to enter and interact with both us and our work.

Within our closed environment we use objects such as paper, string and balloons. These objects are then utilised to create task-based fragments of performance, these tasks are detailed with complex and meticulous rules and sub-rules. One such task involved the use of homemade paper aeroplanes.

The ensemble are in the closed laboratory throwing the paper aeroplanes from one end of the room to the other whilst following complex and unnecessary rules and sub-rules detailed here:

https://movementstillness.wordpress.com/2015/03/16/layering-planes-week-18/

When this task took place in the closed laboratory the ensemble became immersed in the task, following the rules and sub-rules. The ensemble were working interdependently, mutually dependent on each other to complete the overall task, whilst independently moving through their own stages of the task.  During this task the ensemble demonstrated an intense and focused state, as their body(ies) repeatedly moved through the task concentrating on the task in the present moment. As a member of the ensemble, I was able to observe them loop though the repetition, continually throwing, aiming and repeating.

However, when this task was demonstrated in the open environment the ensemble’s approach and method for completing the task shifted unexpectedly.

It was noticeable that the ensemble were now individually driven to show their own skills, they were no longer moving through the task, they were performing rather than doing the task. Even breaking away from the task to explain the rules to the public, this direct interaction created a distinct division between the public and the ensemble and suggested that the rules and sub-rules had become fixed rather than remaining open.

This highlights that when in the closed environment, for me, the focus is on the functional actions, enabling the focus of the task to be on doing. The emphasis in the closed laboratory is on the process not the product and the act of creating one singular participatory work demonstration resulted in the process becoming a product. In order to make the sharing of work part of the process, we might be led to believe that this sharing should not take place in one go but use multiple platforms for continual sharing, never fully closing the laboratory (door?).

Jennifer Willett