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

Practice, Reflect, Share Event at Rose Bruford College

Dr Joseph Dunne, Research Assistant at Rose Bruford College

The impetus for organising the Practice, Reflect, Share at Rose Bruford comes from a recognition that the research culture in UK HEIs is undergoing significant changes. The program for the day included a keynote presentation by Miguel Mera, a plenary, and round table discussions on the subjects of mentoring, networking and publishing, collaborating, and practice and research.

Taken together, the REF, the increasing student demands on resources and contact time, technological innovations, new government funding formulas, and the as yet unknown impact of Brexit compel academics to reappraise the ways practice, teaching and research activities can co-exist and, indeed, enhance each other. The definition of “practice research” will remain ongoing, fuelled as it is by innovative methodologies and diversifying outcomes of projects. However, it is important that we try to articulate some common understanding of the term in order for genuine knowledge exchange to take place.

In his presentation, Miguel cited Nicolas Till’s critique of artistic practice as research. It is well worth reading for its highlighting of the dangers inherent for artists in justifying their process in terms of theoretical investigation in order to work in a university. This runs the risk of artistic practice being subsumed into a system that overwhelmingly values text-based products over embodied or visual material. Moreover, argues Till, many of the activities described in the rubric of practice research are in fact examples of professional practice, not research. He concludes that a new method of evaluation is required for practice research distinct from theoretical scholarship.

Till’s analysis is intertwined with questions relating to how the value we attribute to knowledge is dependent upon the form such knowledge takes. In order to prove one can ride a bike it is not sufficient to merely state it, it must be done. Books and articles remain the dominant form of evidence in the academy that a research process has been carried out and knowledge has been produced as a result. But documents are more than evidence of a past process; for the reader, they often come to constitute the research because it is the only material made available to them. The means by which the author produced it are not usually made public. For many disciplines this is entirely appropriate; it is in fact difficult to see how a historian or a physicist could open their work out. But all artists know that much of their process is the work itself and so attempts to transcribe the sometimes messy, random, and – especially for performance practitioners – collaborative nature of investigating through practice into text can distort the knowledge they have generated into a codified system that risks distorting it’s meaning.

Issues pertaining to documentation of process and dissemination of outputs was a subject that came up consistently. There was a general recognition that the internet create many exciting new avenues of public engagement but a culture shift needs to occur if it is to be fully utilised. Specifically, the authority of written text acts a barrier to experimenting with the visual formats of video and photography as a means of positing a theory or citing evidence of process. A related issue concerns the publics to which research targets and reaches. Open access online publication platforms are a potential way of increasing the impact of one’s research, but there are risks involved. The inability to oversee the transmission of the knowledge one has generated can lead to its distillation. Moreover, it is worth asking what the other functions dissemination can fulfil beyond impact. Ben Spatz opined that an awareness of the publics a piece of research is intended for can enable academics to build constituencies and communities. This approach certainly increases the likelihood of research being a catalyst for collaborations between different disciplines. It was also mentioned that dissemination can be expressed as a form of inviting people into an ongoing process into knowledge production. The public, in this context, have a reciprocal relationship with an author’s developing corpus.

A page on RBC’s Theatre Futures website has been set up for delegates to share information.