Somaticity within and beyond arts praxis: Inviting your witnessing

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

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

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

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

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

I felt my witnessing.  

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

Now I see me growing and imagine the next steps.      

Introducing the project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing the invited witnessing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I imagine…: how does this trigger your imagination?

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

Many thanks for your time and invaluable contribution!

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

LIST OF WORKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Limits of Training: The Songwork Catalogue

I have previously argued that ‘the concept of training is limiting insofar as it emphasizes the transmission of knowledge over its creation, discovery, or production’ (What a Body Can Do, p. 117) and suggested that we need to go beyond performer ‘training’ if we are to adequately represent the depth and complexity of what takes place in our studios and embodied practices. Here I would like to share a document — actually a catalogue of documents — that for me illustrates both the power and the limits of training as a concept around which to organize sustained embodied practice.

The Songwork Catalogue is a set of nearly two hundred short videos documenting embodied studio practice. Its focus is the various kinds of work — especially psychophysical, interpersonal, and cultural/political — that can be done around and through songs and singing. About half of the videos (‘Songwork II’) were generated during the Judaica project core laboratory phase using a narrowly focused methodology with three practitioners alternative between the roles of practitioner, director, and videographer. In addition to this core set of videos there is an older set of selections from materials dating back to 2010 (‘Songwork I’) and a more recent set of videos produced through an expanded methodology involving the presence of additional guest artists in the laboratory space (‘Songwork III’).

Do these videos document training?

I am certain that the kind of work documented in these videos is precisely what we aim to address when we talk about actor and performing training; and also that the people reading this blog are the most qualified to understand and assess this practice and this archive. At the same time, I am certain that the Songwork Catalogue is not a catalogue of training but of research.

A crucial point of difference is in the method of producing the videos. As seen in the image above, each video has a title. These titles did not exist at the time the recording was made. They do not name the tasks we set for ourselves in the studio. Rather, they name what happened as articulated from a later perspective. Additionally, these short clips were selected from many hours of footage. We did not set up a video ‘shoot’ and choose from one or two ‘takes’. Rather, we thoroughly integrated video into the studio process and then made selections from a large corpus of material, sharing via the Catalogue perhaps only ten or fifteen percent of what was recorded. This reversal of standard videographic practice is crucial in shifting the focus of the Catalogue from performances or demonstrations of established exercises (training) to unexpected outcomes of dynamic improvisational and interactive processes (research).

I know what it means to render songwork pedagogical in a training context and that is not what we have done. I therefore notice a tension between concept and community: Our community is gathered around the idea of training, but on its own this idea undervalues and underserves what we actually do. In emphasizing the pedagogical and transmissive dimension of embodied practice, we risk being complicit with the dominant reductive view of embodied practice today: namely that it is an optimization of the body rather than a mode of knowledge, discovery and thought.

I am not suggesting a simple shift from training to research. Although I am committed to exploring the possibilities opened by an explicit focus on embodied research, there is a risk here too: Without training, research disintegrates and becomes a free-for-all of unstructured voicings. Rather, as I argue in my most recent article, we ought to put more attention on the phenomenotechnical research edge between the technical (known) and the epistemic (unknown); between embodied training and embodied research.

Concretely:

1) All research involves training. We need to acknowledge this, for example by more clearly specifying and articulating the bases and lineages of the embodied training that underpins any given PaR research project.

2) All training involves research. We need to acknowledge this, for example by expanding the kinds of epistemic claims we make for what we do and continually tracking the points at which repetition is interwoven with difference.

How do you trace the edge of training and research in your practice?


Six selections from the Songwork Catalogue:

partner contact through shared associations (J017)
Practitioners: Ben Spatz, Nazlıhan Eda Erçin
Director: Agnieszka Mendel
Videography: Gary Cook
Date: 11 May 2017

perezhivanie or structured delirium (J029)
Practitioner: Agnieszka Mendel
Director: Ben Spatz
Videography: Ben Spatz
Date: 17 May 2017

structure with songs and movement qualities (J032)
Practitioner: Ben Spatz
Director: Agnieszka Mendel
Videography: Agnieszka Mendel
Date: 18 May 2017

five songs, five associations (J043)
Practitioner: Nazlıhan Eda Erçin
Director: Agnieszka Mendel
Videography: Ben Spatz
Date: 23 May 2017

following through voice (J049)
Practitioner: Agnieszka Mendel, Nazlıhan Eda Erçin
Director: Agnieszka Mendel
Videography: Ben Spatz
Date: 24 May 2017

kaleidoscope (J095)
Practitioners: Nazlıhan Eda Erçin, Agnieszka Mendel, Ben Spatz
Director: Nazlıhan Eda Erçin
Videography: Gary Cook
Date: 15 June 2017

I Set My Foot Upon the Air – A Thinking-Moving-Reading Practice

The special issue 7.2 of Theatre, Dance and Performance Training was themed on ‘showing and writing training.’ Edited by Mary Paterson (with Training Grounds contributions edited by Dick McCaw), this issue includes contributions that show themselves beyond the realm of the written page.

One of these contributions is Elke Mark’s paper, ‘A Moving-Thinking-Reading Practice.’ Mark describes her performance practice as a type of knowledge production that interweaves sensory experience, the potential for difference, and participatory relationships.  Her practice therefore blurs the lines between academic thought and artistic training, suggesting they are collaborative elements in a holistic process of learning and discovery.

She describes her philosophy as follows:

The more I succeed in understanding plans, ideas and concepts that have been well thought through as a mere framework, in putting them aside when a performance begins, when I start to work intently, and to allow intuition and chance encounter to carry me along from one moment to the next, the closer I feel to unintended actions – a form of working that has scope for the unthought, scope for unfurling processes that evolve unpredictably, processes which I follow and accompany: a knowledge that opens itself up to anyone moving attentively, that finds potential in encounter. My horizons broaden, extend all around me, meet with points of intersection, resistance and centres of attraction in space and in my activities. If I succeed in following the rhythm, in finding the tune, in taking it up and developing it, a powerful coherence unfolds, one that both attracts and includes the viewer unintentionally.

Elke Mark, I Set My Foot Upon The Air Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 7.2 pp. 216-230, p. 219

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As part of her artistic and training practices, Mark’s writing expands beyond one medium. Her paper for the printed journal was also an installation, which required audience members to read and move in relation to its words. She describes the work as follows:

These images show part of an installation at the Künstlergut Prösitz in summer 2015, which was developed whilst I was participating in an Artist Residency for female artists with children. The pictures show an essay-installation, in which the essay appeared as one long, paper tape, installed inside the building and in the garden.

In order to read the text, the reader had to start outside, first winding round and round an empty potato sack. Then, she could follow the text line, to be guided step-by-step through the whole installation. The act of reading was therefore also an act of movement, making readers aware of the subtle differentiation in their attention between alertness and passivity, as experienced incidentally within their own bodies and in relation to other people’s moving-reading practice.

An edited version of this essay is printed in the special edition of Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, ‘On Showing and Writing Training’ (7.2).

Photos (c) Elke Mark

“Sequence of Four Exercise-Actions” (physical training led by Ben Spatz)

“Sequence of Four Exercise-Actions” is a dense linear video document based on an extract from a session of physical training held at the Centre for Psychophysical Performance Research, University of Huddersfield (12 August 2015). The session was led by Ben Spatz, Senior Lecturer in Drama, Theatre and Performance, and is based on a form of physical training developed by Massimiliano Balduzzi, which Spatz previously documented and analyzed in Theatre, Dance and Performance Training 5:3. This training can be used to enhance a performer’s physical precision and sense of musicality as well as the ability to integrate dynamic movement with interpersonal awareness and imaginative associations. Also participating in the training session are Sobhia Jones (undergraduate alumna) and Chris Lomax (second year undergraduate).

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