New Blog Artist Awards

Following the success of the first TDPT Blog Artist Awards, we are delighted to announce a call for a new round of these awards.

The first TDPT Blog Artist Awards were launched to help artists, practitioners, students and freelance performance-makers to engage with the blog.  We aimed to mitigate the financial barriers facing those who did not have the institutional support that university academics are accustomed to.

Accordingly, with the generous support of Routledge and the Theatre, Dance and Performance Training journal, we were able to offer small pots of money (£50-150) to support artists who contributed to the site by investigating an area of performer training of interest to the wider community. Continue reading

Two Trainers Prepare – for what? Status after 14 tasks

As one would expect when embarking on a (for us) untried project, the focus and intentions shift and questions come up. In late December 2017 Maria and I met in person – speaking for the first time since starting the project in September 2017– to talk about the collaboration and to check in with each other. How are we getting on with tasks? How do we manage time? Should any of the rules for tasks or reflections be tweaked?

In our meeting, these are some of the questions and thoughts that came up:

What is a Task?

Is it necessary for a task to have a clear outcome?

We discussed the difference between a task that asks for a specific type of response and one that is completely open. We both agreed that reading reflections that divert from the task they respond to are more exciting and inspiring to read. Can we be aware of not turning expected or desired responses into tasks?

How do you give a task? 

Does a task need to be written with clear intentions? Could a task simply be a few words, a Koan, a conundrum? How can we explore the widest spectrum of task-giving from very detailed instructions to abstract ideas?

How do you capture the process? 

An  blog related to an academic invites a particular way of responding. Both of us spend time writing and re-writing reflections in order to be clear about what we want to say. Could a response be more intuitive, more personal, less coherent? Could a reflection also be capturing the process of thinking about how to respond to the task and thereby making decision-making and choices more transparent? Could a reflection simply be quoting or rendering thoughts, images or ideas from someone else?

What is the role of time between reading and carrying out the task?

What happens in the gap from reading a task to carrying out the task? We both experience the challenge of not planning how to respond to a task between the moment when the task is read Monday evening till the point when one finds time to try the task out. If an immediate response to a task is essential, perhaps the beginning of task can specify that only when the person has time to carry it out, can the full ‘instructions’ of the task be read.

How does environment and space influence how the tasks are carried out and what part do they play when we construct tasks?

How does furniture, trees, people and busy streets obstruct or liberate tasks? How does one carry out a task, say about sprinting, if one has only 5 x 5 sf to move in? How is use of space and environment when carrying out the task reflected in the responses we give on the blog?

How can we question or challenge the tone and phrasing of reflections and tasks to push our habits of working?

What are our individual habits of setting tasks and responding? What is the tone of writing? How do we make sure not to fall into a ‘groove’ of responding in a customary way or to anticipate that the other will do so and perhaps therefore interpret their task accordingly?

Is the project moving in the same direction as we set out to do? Are we still working towards a pedagogy of training or are we moving into an artistic practice? What is the difference between the two? 

In the initial post, we described the project ‘as a preparation towards integrating different styles of yoga and other art forms in an interdisciplinary pedagogy’. The project has certainly taken a more creative course than the original idea intended. So, what are we as Two Trainers preparing for?

As we are based in different countries (Maria in UK and me in Denmark) the gap between us feels like an added dimension to the project: What does it mean to work on practical tasks with someone every week when we never meet in person or hear the other’s voice? Does the physical distance have an impact on how we read each other’s tasks and reflections and how we ‘sense’ each other? Not having the opportunity to talk and ‘perceive’ the other allows the question of ‘which direction the project is going’ to remain open.

I’m right there and you’re there

Prologue: Training and Motherhood

I went through pregnancy and became a mother over the course of my MA Creative Practice degree, an experience that encouraged me to think about the meaning and character of training. This experience led to the Motherhood In/As Training film project as I wanted to explore the tension I felt between developing my creative practice and being a mother of a young child. In my first two films of the project – I don’t want to dance and 1, 2, 3… 4 ­– ‘training’ was conceived in opposition to ‘motherhood’. I began the project feeling there was a dichotomy between the two states: my training in dance required a physical body-mind dedicated solely to the creative work but motherhood meant that time and space were not exclusively at my own disposal. This was expressed in different ways in the two films, posted in May and July 2017. In the first film, I don’t want to dance, training was disrupted by the obligations and demands of motherhood, as my daughter, Lisa, pushed her way into the centre of my film. For the second film, 1, 2, 3 4, motherhood challenged the temporality of training, as the film considered the notion that training is ‘for the future’ where motherhood is ‘for now’.

This project has progressed over seven months, during which I have interrogated an assumption that time and space for training can be achieved only in a specific environment and at the appropriate moment. The making of I’m right there and you’re there puts this assumption to the ultimate test: this film and essay is created in the turmoil of moving from one country to another, settling into a new place and adhering to a different daily rhythm. Creating the final film under these circumstances meant there was no choice but to be ‘in training’ and creative development in the times and spaces available with or without my daughter being present. As a consequence, I’m right there and you’re there steps out of the dichotomy of ‘training’ and ‘motherhood’: the oppositions and tensions I had conceived between them cease to be relevant when I learn that training and motherhood are interdependent and that they continuously co-exist in my everyday life.

 

I’m right there and you’re there

My final of the three films under the title Motherhood In/As Training has been created over an extended period of time due to my changing circumstances. I relocated in October 2017 from Leeds to Denmark (where I grew up) and I now live in Horsens with my daughter Lisa, to be joined after a time by Alan, my partner and Lisa’s father. The transition has brought up many questions for me about how I relate to the idea of ‘home’ – in the sense of belonging to a place but also belonging to a family, family being implicit in motherhood. The film seeks to define and to reflect on what home means when places and people must disconnect and then reconnect. And while the focus of the film is directed towards ‘home’ I learn that training is happening in every step of the process of making this film.

The Place of home

During the summer of 2017, during a holiday visit to Denmark when I was preparing for my definitive move, I tried to pinpoint places and times where home could be said to be present. Was it possible for me to define an area which was only home? Should our flat in Leeds or the place I was born be exclusively defined as home? Could my body, which is home to my dance training and yoga practice and was home to my daughter Lisa when I was pregnant with her, be the boundary of home? Or did ‘being home’ simply mean being with certain people, loved ones? 

Cycling between home

I started the investigation for my film by cycling through Leeds and, later, Horsens in order to record ‘my’ cities. It became apparent, as I was enjoying the cycling, that I was less interested in arriving at places or landmarks and more curious about tracing the trajectories my body had made over the past years. What felt like home were the journeys that connected the destinations. I was tracing time, paying homage to the city by highlighting the ‘in-between’, connecting physically with the place by climbing hills, revisiting paths and negotiating traffic, by putting my body into the familiarity of cycling.

Home between other activities

The more I failed to trace a precise boundary of home, the more I came to describe home to myself as an experience less in its own right than as an interlude, a place that connects other activities – but that seemed to mean that home didn’t have its own space, didn’t even have its own time. Was home, therefore, failing to be seen or heard? I thought: perhaps if I started a dialogue with home, this could be a way to give home shape and to acknowledge its existence as an entity in itself? I wanted to address ‘home’ by speaking to it directly: Dear Home…

 Surface tension

As I was figuring out how home could exist in its own right, I came to think of a moment I had been part of in a large group dance improvisation: this was a moment when all the participants were reluctant to be on the edge of the group. This phenomenon of preferring to move towards the middle of a structure was pointed out by science writer Philip Ball, who was witnessing the improvisation.[1] He described how, in physics, edge positions are considered vulnerable as they always have to be ready for change. The molecules on the edge of a closed system (e.g. a drop of water) have high energy relatively to the molecules closer to the centre, leaving those near the surface more unstable then the ones in the middle (this is surface tension).

The image of the drop of water, and the idea that molecules are closed systems with a constantly shifting surface, helped me to clarify my relationship with home. I came to understand that perhaps home is not the absence of other activities, it is the sum of them, it is the sealing material that touches them all. The power of home is, in fact, that it accommodates all aspects of my life: its identity includes family, friends, my body, Leeds, Horsens, training, dance. It’s a system that joins those places, people and experiences together. This makes home malleable and in constant change.

Home: a system of falling

Training, like motherhood, relates to home in the way H2O relates to O2: they are different elements that serve different purposes (for us) yet they share a basic component. Motherhood presumes a devotion to being present with Lisa in everyday life, while training depends on a dedication to challenging the state of ‘knowing’, but they share the same foundation; both take place in my body, in Leeds, in Horsens and with friends and family. The changing circumstances of daily life mean that motherhood and training take turn being at the surface of my awareness even as they co-exist.

Home: an ecology of mutually determining relations

My investigation for the film started as an experiment on my bicycle in Leeds and Horsens as a sort of ‘training for’ the film itself. As the cycling footage features in the film, the ‘training for’ and the ‘outcome of’ the film are indistinguishable, and the edges between maker (me) and product (film) start to blur. The editing of the film, the writing about it and even the film itself as an outcome, form an ecology: a complex network that consists of numerous co-dependent and mutually determining relations. Motherhood and training are precisely co-dependent elements that, like molecules at the surface of the water drop, continuously meet and part and find new ways to co-exist. Like a group of people improvising together.

Home: the sealing material of the film

I shared the idea of writing a letter to home with my partner Alan (an academic who works on cinema) and he pointed me to the essay film Sans Soleil (1983) by Chris Marker. The script of Sans Soleil takes the form of letters which are narrated as voiceover by the woman who receives them. The beginning of the film came to inspire the format for I’m right there and you’re there. Its first minute shows two unrelated pieces of film footage with the following voiceover:

‘The first image he told me about was of three children on the road in Iceland in 1965. He said that for him it was the image of happiness and also that he had tried several times to link it to other images but it never worked. He wrote me:

‘One day I will have to put it all alone in the beginning of a film with a long piece of black leader. If they don’t see happiness in the picture, at least they will see the black’.’

The juxtaposition of two unrelated pieces of footage, which seem ‘irrelevant’ to each other, are linked together by the voiceover, asking the viewer to consider them as relational. I thought: are motherhood and training my two unrelated ‘pieces of footage’? When we are asked to ‘see the black’ we are invited to see the ‘in-between’, the sutures, that seal and stitch the film together. As I (re)watch and edit I’m right there and you’re there, I start to tune into the links between the cycling footage from Leeds and Horsens and the sutures in the editing in relation to the voiceover. These cuts are intended to bring to light the sealing material that touches all the other elements: home.

Training myself

The opening of Sans Soleil gave me licence to include the footage that I really wanted to share, the footage that summarises how home feels, or how I feel home: a summer’s evening in a quiet garden with Alan watching Lisa on a swing. Lisa is in training in her appearances in all three films, using performance, dancing and balancing on a swing as a way of training to be in the world. These images link the works together with motherhood at the centre but with training as the underlying process that feeds and shapes the content of each of the films. I look back at the process of all three creations and observe that ‘training’ is happening in every moment of making the films. I train myself to develop a concept for the films, I train myself to film, to edit material, to write, and not least, how to make a ‘process of creating’ visible.

For more information about my work please go to http://www.mariehallagerandersen.weebly.com/

 

[1] I worked with choreographer Vanessa Grasse on dance and performance research project MESH in Leeds in July 2017. As part of the research process Vanessa had invited science writer Phillip Ball to respond to the working process with his theories of formations in nature, critical mass and nature as self-organising.

Refections for Task 1 + new Task 2

Dear Maria,

So here are my reflections on task 1. It ended up being a longer response than I intended. Below the reflections you will find task 2!

Task 1 reflections:

I stand with my feet on the wooden floor of my living room, take in the view in front of my floor to ceiling window from my flat on the fifth floor, and follow the instructions you have given me: Find space between top of the spine and base of the skull, check. This automatically lifts my skull up and I can feel the shoulder blades release and relax my shoulders. I trace sensations down my spine and reach my coccyx. I follow the ‘honey-drip-line’ down to the floor feeling the back of my calves lengthen as I gently lift up through my legs. My awareness has reached my feet. I observe their connection with the floor and allow them to become wide for a while and at some point, my weight starts to shift from left to right to left to right. For a long time, I simply observe the different sensations of my feet spreading out on the floor, notice the metatarsals of my right foot are tighter and won’t soften down when I shift my weight to the right. It’s a wonderful sensation of tuning in to this subtle awareness and practice not judging or trying to change but simply letting my body find its own way, by giving it time. I envy the tree across the road that stands tall and secure with its big trunk rooted firmly into the ground. The outer branches and leaves sway and bend in the wind, creating a dance that follow the laws of nature, without wondering whether it’s doing it right or not. I guess it doesn’t get to sit down and drink a nice cup of coffee in a minute. There are some perks to being a human being! And then my head drops forward, my spine curves, and as I roll towards the floor my breath suddenly comes in. How could I have forgotten my breath? I let out a sigh and the breath brings movement to the torso, I roll back up and my arms float up into a little dance with my feet still in the same position.

Afterthoughts

As I begin the first task of our collaboration I realise how much I have pre-empted my response to it. Before beginning the task, I have already half written my reflections to you. I have done this task many times before: standing with my feet on the ground, paying attention to sensations of weight, of contact surfaces with the floor and of the skull rising up from the spine. This is in no way a criticism of the task, on the contrary, it makes it more interesting to encounter my own expectations to how I will carry out the instructions. The use of vocabulary is deeply embedded in my own teaching and perhaps for that reason I find it difficult to distract myself from the familiarity with the exercise.

I decide to embrace the comfort of the exercise but then something happens. As I carry out the task a few times, my experience of embodying the task, blends with other thinking processes that are present to me. I am currently thinking about how we as bodies and entities define the edges of our form. Is it the skin that defines the edge of me and the bark that defines the edge of the tree? I have a brief moment –as I stand in front of the window looking out on the giant tree across the street– where the tree and I only exist in the space-time between us. It is only a momentary sensation but I realise, that the metaphor of the tree and I as one and the same –standing, grounded into the earth, moving up and out of the top of our ‘branches’– means that we only exist in our relation to each other. I have been doing this exercise of standing and noticing weight etc. many times, but never has it occurred to me that the tree and I each take form in the interaction with the other.

Task 2

Please read the following instructions in the image below. The task comes from the book The Place of Dance by Andrea Olsen, on the chapter Dance and Yoga, page 219.

Enjoy…

Reference

Olsen, A. with McHose, C. (2014) The Place of Dance. Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press

1, 2, 3… 4

1, 2, 3: The footage
For this second film, I wanted to think about training as a studio-based activity and set myself the obstruction of using only video footage recorded in a dance studio.

1) Northern School of Contemporary Dance (NSCD), Leeds, June 2005. I recently rediscovered this recording on a Camcorder DV tape. It contains footage of a contemporary class taught by Sue Hawksley and a ballet class taught by Vivien Wood, both for 3rd year students. I had got a friend to film the classes to keep a memory of our final days as students at NSCD.

2) Independent Dance (ID), London, May 2016. The footage shows the sharing from my assessment on the ‘Investigative Practice’ module, the final taught element of my MA Creative Practice at Trinity Laban. The module was a ‘research intensive’ that allowed each student to challenge their own practical research and dance-making through the encounter with the practice and ideas of an artist—in my case Siobhan Davies. The assessment was the culmination of this five-week creative project.

3) University of Leeds (UoL), April 2017. The footage shows my daughter Lisa and myself playing and dancing, and was filmed with the intention of making a record of the negotiation of our relationship in a studio setting. I brought paper, markers, string, food etc., to create an environment where we would want to interact with each other and investigate the materials within the scope of the studio space.

I initially thought this last footage (number 3) might work on its own for this blog entry, to link to and follow up the previous film and post, which has Lisa at the centre of the film. The rediscovery of the NSCD material changed my mind: I seemed to me the old footage had relevance to my theme. Once I managed to get hold of the ID recording, the composition of the studio training film started to crystallise.

1, 2, 3: Types of training
Training in a formal sense of ‘being in training’ usually has an outcome in mind (training for). It has a purpose. It is undertaken with the intention to develop or perfect a skill using a pretested form or structure of activity.

1) The ballet and contemporary classes in the NSCD footage are a good example of the development of technical skills seen as essential to becoming a proficient dancer.

2) With regard to the ID footage: technical dance skills were a prerequisite for the MA Creative Practice, which took these for granted, so that study could focus not on technique but on the develop of artistic ideas. The footage does not directly show the process of acquiring artistic skill, but nevertheless gives an insight into an early stage of the creative development of material.

3) Dancing and playing with Lisa felt like stepping out of training. We played without a specific outcome in mind and came closer to being equals as we took turns to lead play and generate ideas. ‘Being in training’ with a child does not work like formal training. Lisa does not enter a game or play with the intention of ‘getting somewhere’: she simply ‘does’. Momentarily I had the experience that our mother/daughter relationship was suspended and that our usual roles were put on hold. When I look back at this footage I watch myself go along with Lisa’s play and encourage messiness in the studio to a greater extent than I would do at home. The mother/daughter relationship never really ceases, of course – as is evident in a moment in the film – but perhaps in the ‘neutral’ studio setting it was overlaid by another connection between us where we could be creative co-players.

… 4: Mixing time
Playing with the footage in the editing process and confusing the chronological timeline shifted the meaning of the material. By ‘stacking’ the clips, commonalities between footage was highlighted and I stopped seeing training for something and began to see training as play. As the individual bits of material became detached from the timeline, the content of the training was ‘presenced, revealed in itself and not only as a piece of ‘historical’ evidence. The decision to edit extracts of the material together in a non-chronological order, and to compose in split screen, reflected my interest in playing with temporalities. I suspended the temporality of chronology—the sequence and gaps of time between the different footage—in order to favour temporalities of simultaneity and rhythm. I decided to foreground shared timing between images, analogies in the use of space in the studio and matching actions. This, I felt, challenged the idea of training as an activity that always ‘looks forward’ and instead allowed the juxtaposed images to give each other new meaning in the ‘present’ of training-in-itself.

1, 2, 3…. 4: Motherhood talks back
The film revealed to me a paradox that only became clear after its making. I took motherhood into the studio to investigate being with Lisa within the setting of a training space: by doing so a clash of temporalities emerged. Being with Lisa is about being ‘for now’, while dance training is ‘for the future’. The dance studio commonly frames the training that is concerned with a forward trajectory but in the case of Lisa and I, the studio became a playground where training is being-for-now, so being in the studio with Lisa meant the framing of one temporality in the space where another typically takes place. And so, for me, the composition of 1, 2, 3… 4 adopts the structure of motherhood as a non-linear and playful activity, a being-for-the-present. The question then becomes, if the footage of Lisa reveals the playful and being-for-now in the other footage, what does that other footage reveal about the footage of Lisa and I? How does that other footage talk back to motherhood?

Motherhood In/As Training
1, 2, 3… 4 is the second of three blog posts under the title Motherhood In/As Training. This project explores the correlations and tensions between being a dance artist in training and a mother at the same time. To read my first post and get an introduction to the project please read here.

I dont want to dance: Motherhood In/As Training

Introduction for the viewer/reader

‘I don’t want to dance’ is my first of three blog posts under the title Motherhood In/As Training. Each of the three blog entries is composed of a short film (at the end of the post) and accompanying text. I’m a freelance dance artist and a mother and this series of posts is about being both at once.

I completed an MA in Creative Practice at Laban Conservatoire in London in September 2016 which required me to work in dance training while becoming a mother (my daughter Lisa was born in 2014- my first year as a part time student) at the same time. In this way, the experience of becoming a mother and being in creative development happened simultaneously and that experience is the foundation for this project.

I have experienced a tension between my dance training and training in motherhood. A dance practice traditionally requires time in the studio and a physical body-mind dedicated solely to the creative work. Being a mother affects these aspects: time and space as well as my body-mind are not exclusively at my own disposal. Motherhood pushes me out of traditional working methods in my dance practice and challenges my assumptions of what I believe training to be.

To challenge these assumptions my project asks: What is considered to be ‘training’ and to what degree does training begin or end when I step into or out of the studio? Who trains who in a mother/child relationship? What and how does the artist in me see from the point of view of what I call the ‘motherside’?

Motherhood is not linear and consistent. I respond to my daughter’s needs in the moment they occur, as unexpected and inconvenient as they might be – interrupting me in a train of thought or a meal half cooked. In a similar way, the blog texts and short films aim to give the viewer a sense of fragmentation, of spontaneity, of being stuck in repetition and again and again being interrupted, stopped, confused.

Feminist-academic-artist-mother

In her manifesto Mothernism Lise Haller Baggesen outlines the tension between the various aspects of her identity. ‘As I tried to figure out the relationship between the different aspects of my life (…) defining myself as a feminist-academic-artistic-mother increasingly felt like playing a complicated game of rock-paper-scissors-boob. (…) I felt increasingly provoked at this demand “to check my motherhood at the door.” So much so that instead of “covering” that part of my life , I opted to “come out” as a mother, artistically and academically.’[1]

Following Baggesen, I want to challenge my own assumption of the artist being someone on a lonely individual journey and that the nurturing nature of the mother is in opposition to the romantic ideal of an artist as a singular genius. I want to let go of the idea that in order to lose myself in an artistic process I have to give up motherhood.

Paradoxically, motherhood is precisely a lonely journey where I lose myself as I venture into the unknown. A lonely journey that for me started in the intimate experience of pregnancy where I felt removed from the sense of self that I knew, as my slender agile body was replaced by a grotesque version of me. Giving birth was lonely and unpredictable and although the shared responsibility with Lisa’s dad when she was born was a relief, I was always the last point of call when he was no longer capable of offering her comfort, because only my breast would do.

As I begin to acknowledge the common points of reference between the roles of mother and artist, this polarisation dissolves. If there is no polar opposition between the mother and artist and I can be both equally at once, what creative process and outcome will I have?

What does motherhood see?

Inspired by the documentary Cameraperson (2016), directed by American filmmaker Kirsten Johnson, my thoughts on how to make this investigation happen started to come together. Johnson’s documentary shows footage from her 25 years as a cinematographer, telling a story about her, the cameraperson, almost without showing her in the film. I was fascinated by the idea of using artistic tools of filming without purposely putting the person in question directly in the frame. Cameraperson shows what Johnson sees through the lens but only on a few occasions do we actually see her. It tells a story about the person who is seeing. Could my film show motherhood without the mother in the frame? I was not interested in depicting my experience of being a mother, I wanted the film itself to ‘be a mother’. My project shows motherhood in/as training by letting motherhood look through the camera. What does motherhood see? How does motherhood see?

 Seeing through a viewfinder

The filming is not planned in advance; nothing within the frame is directed. I don’t seek out to film dance but to allow the dance to come through in the juxtaposition of shots, camera movement and pace. For this reason I don’t use complex equipment: being able to improvise my filming means to simply point and shoot.

I review my footage and observe that Lisa is often in the (centre of) the frame. I try and see beyond Lisa and beyond the loving gaze of a mother looking at her child as my film is not intending to be about Lisa, I’m not interested in portraying her. But in reality she is in the viewfinder when I film. She becomes the obstruction for the project: always there, pushing her way into my film, into my consciousness even as I try to see past her, in a way, illustrating how her presence fills my time, my space and my being. I wonder how the process of training is taking place and to what degree Lisa’s presence in my film is an element of her training me to be a mother and /or an artist?

The making of the film becomes about seeing movement and choreography, contrast and colour in the footage I have gathered and not just seeing my child. I allow the choreographer in me to shine through in an interest in framing what I see in the viewfinder in a particular light, in shadows or against a contrasting background. 

Seeing beyond Lisa 

In the film ‘I don’t want to dance’ I try to let the motherside of my daily life merge with the artist. Lisa is dressing up and role playing, using ‘performance’ as a way of training for ‘being in the world’. At the same time she is refusing to be trained as the voice track reveals.

As a consequence of embracing motherhood in the creative process I find the centre of the film becomes about the actual manifestation of motherhood, my daughter. Here lies the tension of the project for this first blog entry: can I make a film that has Lisa in the frame without it being about her? What can my intention to see beyond her show me about how motherhood sees?

[1] Lise Haller Baggesen, Mothernism, p. 12 http://www.spdbooks.org/Content/Site106/FilesSamples/9780988418554.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phillip Zarrilli: Pre-Performative Psychophysical Training of the Actor/Performer

Inspired by Jerzy Grotowski but seeking his own pathway as a young theatre director working in Minneapolis, over forty years ago Phillip Zarrilli began a life-long project of exploring an alternative approach to the pre-performative training and preparation of the actor/performer using the techniques and underlying principles of Asian martial arts (taiqiquan/kalarippayattu) and yoga which would move actor training beyond Stanislavsky.

Over the years, Zarrilli developed a rigorous, in-depth, immersive process of training and preparing the actor’s bodymind for performance through the in-depth use of these traditional exercises—applied specifically to acting/performance problems. Continue reading

Epistemic Objects: Four Channels

I have been showing versions of this edited montage for the past five years. These four videos document not just highly skilled embodied practice but more precisely embodied research: practices that produce new technique. The ‘objects’ in question are modern postural yoga, aikido, dance/movement therapy, and the plastiques. These epistemic objects did not predate the practices and practitioners shown here, but they have lasted beyond them: Of these four pioneering embodied researchers, only Adler is alive today, but the technique they invented/discovered is still available and taught more or less widely.

Continue reading

Futures (and pasts) of Performer Training: by Murray, Evans and Pitches

Anyone attending the Future of Performer Training conference at Coventry on November 4th and 5th 2016, might want to take a look at this joint paper by Simon Murray, Mark Evans and Jonathan Pitches.

And if you’re not coming, then we’d love some feedback. It’s a layered vision, imagining the pasts and possible futures of performer training.

Download it here: theatre_training_beyond_theatre_ideas_ch

 

CAGING – Foundational Training for a Performance-Parkour Ensemble

Background

The UPG Team has spent 10 years developing performance-parkour or 2PK; as a distinct language of dance-theatre. Our work has now travelled over five continents and includes several tours for the British Council, alongside UK touring for the Without Walls consortium, commissions from a variety of festival partners, and more recently our own strategic tours working with at-risk communities of young people.

Recently we received a small grant from the Arts Council to spend time as a company, including new members and guest artists, playing and sharing skills. It occurred to me during this process that I’ve never written up a description of our foundational training, what we can describe as the basic or daily training of a 2PK company and one we return to whenever we take stock of where we are as an ensemble or invite new artists and participants to join us.

Caging is the name of a game I first attempted within the informal context of Seafront Freestyle. This was a regular meeting of parkour enthusiasts which took place at different outdoor spots around Brighton and Hove each Saturday morning for around four years from 2005 onwards. Brighton is now considered to be one of the primary parkour cities globally with increasing numbers of PK professionals moving in, and visiting, and the strong community here can be traced back to these informal sessions and their continuation in various guises beyond Seafront Freestyle into Urban Athletics and the current Brighton Parkour Training webpages and the increasing international influence of Brighton based groups such as Storror.

One regular Seafront Freestyle spot was the stairwell at the top of an underground car park in Regency Square. Around the stairwell a foot high wall was topped by a much larger fence. The solidity of its black metal frame gave the appearance of a cage and the game developed there was named for this.

Processed with Snapseed.

But anything can be the cage. The cage is the agreed playing area for the game. It can be delineated by a series of obstacles and is more usually defined by the circle of players. Before I explain Caging though, I want to explain the various trainings on which it was based.

The UPG Team grew from a project of Prodigal Theatre. Miranda Henderson and I founded Prodigal in 1999 to combine her contemporary dance background with mine in laboratory theatre, through physical adaptations of classic texts. As a laboratory actor in Serbia I’d experienced various trainings drawn from the Grotowski and Odin legacies and variously based on Grotowski’s ‘Plastique Training’. Miranda’s work as a contemporary dancer was grounded in the daily classes of various choreographic techniques and she was exploring her own style of release based movement. Prodigal’s company practice took this release technique as the foundation of every day’s work, starting from the floor and slowly building up from individual explorations to group improvisations. We soon developed a complimentary exercise that would follow the floor sessions. We called this ‘The Waiter’s Tray’. It is fundamentally aimed at advancing individual and group spatial awareness, and serves as a ‘blank canvas’ of a training in to which numerous rules can be added for an ever more sophisticated play. Ultimately it becomes a means of playing characters in a pre-textual setting for exploring relationships and dramaturgy, status and hierarchy, extremes of movement and so on.
Alongside the work with Prodigal I had also spent a considerable time studying and teaching Capoeira and remained fascinated by the idea of a ‘joga’ that could capture diverse relationships between human beings through a relatively simple game of shared space. All of this work was present in my practice when I suggested the first version of caging and the success of that first session meant the game entered our company practice quite rapidly. Since then it has been endlessly ‘tweaked’ by the company into the foundational training it represents today.

Caging: The Game

Parkour training can often fall in to repeating single movements, endlessly, whilst one or two practitioners look to ‘break a jump’ or overcome a particular obstacle. This is fine for a couple of people, but not for a larger group. In the early, pre-UPG days of my Parkour practice I often became quite bored when this would occur. A group that had warmed up together, explored a space together, grown excited together, would suddenly splinter in to smaller groupings or pairings in which, at any time, more than half those present would be rendered audience to another’s attempts at ‘getting it right’. Inevitably the youngest, smallest, least experienced would be the most disenfranchised whilst the older, bigger, fitter participants got to taste success. I was never convinced this was how it was supposed to be.

I have a very clear recollection of when Caging started, as we had a reasonable turnout on a very sunny Saturday morning and there was quite a broad spread of ages and abilities. As always, I was the senior by around 10 or 12 years, so when I suggested moving off from the crowded seafront into the quieter Regency Square garden the dozen or so present all followed. The top of the car park, we discovered, represented a great spot. But it was small. Getting in to wasn’t so easy either, and involved climbing over the fence, or opening a door in it which necessarily altered the space. Within the fence was a brief landing, from which a staircase descended to the next level, turning once to create a half landing mid way. The entirety of the staircase was bordered by a handrail in the type of scaffold & KeeKlamp that is now so very familiar to me since our UPG sets are constructed from it. I could see a load of great movement possibilities, but also some real risks. It was important to govern the number of people inside the Cage, without losing the interest of everyone else. So we set some rules.

One absolute aim of parkour training is Flow. It has been described as the holy grail of parkour and whilst flow has come to mean different things in different contexts, for parkour it represents seamlessly transitioning one movement to another with no interruption or loss of momentum, rhythm, or pace. The biggest mistake most make in seeking to attain flow is that they go too fast. Flow can also be found at medium pace and even in slow motion, though slow motion parkour training is tough. Caging is best understood as the training for flow. The fundamental rules are simple, and all were intuited in that first session.

  1. The group makes a circle around the playing area
  2. One person enters the circle and continues to ‘flow’ a line of movement until it is natural for them to leave it
  3. When they leave the circle, they ‘high-five’ the person nearest them who then enters the circle.
  4. Those at the edge of the circle will move to fill gaps and keep the circle balanced, so that there is always someone ready to come in when a player steps out.

What is probably apparent straight away is that Caging depends in part upon a shared vocabulary. At Seafront Freestyle we’d built that up over weeks and months of training together, it wasn’t something we needed to discuss. In the UPG Team where Caging is our basic training, we are constantly working together to find new movements and improve older ones. When a new performer joins the company, Caging is the place they get to unify their knowledge with the group and also present themselves to the company. In Caging no one is meant to do the same as anyone else. No one is meant to look the same as anyone else. You might see another player put together a line that you like, but unless you’re entering from exactly the same spot as them, and have the same kind of physique as them, and the same movement preferences as them; that line won’t make sense for you. More importantly, underlying Caging is a game of invention. In following flow as the aim of the game, we seek to move away from a training based on technical acquisition of prescribed movements. Caging is the game in which the transitions between techniques become far more visible, far more important than those learned techniques themselves.

You can play Caging anywhere. You can apply this set of rules to a chair, a bench, a table, a train carriage or a classroom, a simple coaching block or a complex gym. We have played this game in trees, on rooftops, in designed parkour training sites and as the way of ‘christening’ every new set we’ve worked on for ten years. Over time the rules have developed. We would now say that there are principles – the rules always in play – as well as optional rules, or tasks that can be added.

Some of our principles are:

  • Every player must remain in a position of readiness to enter the cage
  • There is nothing to be gained by staying in for a long time
  • You do not have to stay in any longer than you wish
  • You cannot refuse the invitation or hesitate to enter
  • You must enter from where you are in the circle to the nearest part of the obstacle.
  • Once in you must keep moving until you leave
  • Let the movement lead you, don’t plan your moves
  • There may be contact, but no impact
  • Each new rule is in addition to the last
  • Move in silence
  • Activate your bullshit detector – if you stop flowing; get out, if you have a ‘brain freeze’; get out, if you try something and it doesn’t work; get out. You’ll be back in soon. Don’t worry!
  • Pick up the rhythm & pace of the player before you. Continue their Flow.

Once everyone has had a go, and the means of play are understood, the next step is to add further players. We can, on one of our touring sets, take up to a dozen players moving simultaneously through a shared environment. Obviously it takes a little while to build up to this, often days, but certainly where we have groups to whom we return or with whom we work over an extended residency this can be achieved quickly and with total safety. Adding multiple players requires unpicking some of our principles above:

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TDPT Blog Artist Awards

The TDPT blog was launched last year 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. In November to mark the one year anniversary of the launch of the site we will be launching a series of blog posts supported by the new TDPT Blog Artist Awards.

One of our aims was to engage a new audience for the TDPT journal while also creating an online space that encourages spontaneous and productive conversation and debate. We are grateful to everyone who has posted their work on the site to date and we are looking to further grow our network of artists, researchers and performance-makers. The blog currently has around 1000 visitors a month from around the world.

We are keen to encourage artists, practitioners, students and freelance performance-makers to engage with the blog and are launching the TDPT Blog Artist Awards which aim to facilitate those not in full-time employment and students to be able to contribute to the site and the community. We have small pots of money (£50-150) to support artists who pitch an idea for a contribution to the site, either audio-visual, text-based or audio that disseminates an area of performer training that may be of interest to the wider community. To apply, please write a short proposal (no more than 300 words) outlining your suggested submission, format and any media you intend to use. You should also include in your statement how you intend to disseminate your post to your networks and help build new audiences for the blog.  Please email proposals to the blog editors: Maria Kapsali M.Kapsali@leeds.ac.uk, Bryan Brown B.Brown@exeter.ac.uk and James McLaughlin jimmyacademy@gmail.com.

A different lineage

When I was writing ‘Encountering Ensemble’ (1), I came across an obituary of Joe Chaikin, written by his collaborator Jean-Claude Van Itallie. Van Itallie writes of his first meeting with Chaikin at a rehearsal of The Open Theatre:

‘I go to an old industrial building near Eighth Avenue on 24th Street. … I enter the big dilapidated loft. Unbidden, I sit in a detached row of empty falling-apart theatre seats. Some 10 people drift in – mostly young, mostly from downtown.’ (2)

Some scrappy kids in a dilapidated room. Doing things they did not understand. Making it up as they went along.

I read of Stanislavsky feeling that he should contribute to the growth of ensemble in his new company by helping clean the floor. He had no idea how to do it. I read of Copeau, a conservative Catholic, bewildered by the permissive energy of his youthful cohort of collaborators. Both of them, quite lost.

Odin Teatret emerged from a coming-together of Drama School rejects. Their training began with an assortment of acquired exercises.

Some of this might be apocryphal. Some exaggerated. Yet there is a truth here. Scrappy kids in dilapidated rooms. Continue reading

Verbatim practices, the acoustics of training, and giving voice: a voice studies afterthought

Coming out of the 2016 TaPRA Interim Event of the Performer Training Working Group, ‘Training to Give Evidence,’ gracefully organised by Kate Craddock and hosted by Northumbria University, certain provocations around the ethics of verbatim, documentary, and auto/biographical performance still resonate with me. To navigate such a rich landscape, I would briefly like to outline some thoughts in relation to voice.

Voice and vocal practices were, implicitly or explicitly, a recurrent trope in many of the papers and practical demonstrations. As part of his opening provocation on mimicry and impersonation in verbatim theatre, Tom Cantrell shared interviews with actors that have engaged with the genre. Ken Drury, in an attempt to distance his approach to acting from impersonation and the creation of exact copies, stated that he was mainly interested in the (real-life) person’s behaviour. By contrast, Jason Watkins started accessing his character through locating the accent and was mainly preoccupied with rhythm – not necessarily of words, he hastened to footnote, but rhythm of thinking. There is an intriguing underlying assumption perhaps emerging here; acting has to do with behaviours, actions, feelings and thoughts, but the role of vocality in training and performance is at best acknowledged when recast in the shadow of the above, or, at worst, implicitly equated with mimicry.

As a voice studies practitioner-scholar, I constantly come across deeply embedded assumptions about voice, and, when interacting with scholarly environments more closely affiliated with performance studies, sometimes these assumptions transform into a certain type of polemics. Bodies speak the truth; voices can hide it. Actors are trained into speaking classical/mainstream/canonical texts; performers/artists honour their own voice or prefer to work with the untrained or the amateur. Body-first approaches to text are (ideologically) valued more, and the trained actor as a ‘talking head’ has been criticised consistently by a lineage of influential practitioners and makers in the UK.[1]

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Some Pedagogical Provocations

Jen Harvie argues in Fair Play: “social, economic and political contexts, in England in particular but also more widely in the United Kingdom, are radically reconfiguring what an artist is expected to be and, in so doing, putting the value of being an artist at serious ideological risk” (Harvie, 2013:62). How can learning experiences which focus on creativity, community, and social engagement exist within a culture that “obliges art relentlessly to pursue productivity, permanent growth and profit”? (Harvie, 2013:63).

I am beginning to co-write an article about performance pedagogy and am interested in hearing from other arts educators about the following:

  • How do you “teach” creative practices within your institution?
  • What are the limits or challenges facing practitioners and academics who deliver performance training?
  • How do the wider institutional aims and objectives relate to the pedagogical approach of specific performance programmes?
  • Do you feel the “value of being an artist is at serious ideological risk”?
  • Do “growth and profit” models affect pedagogical approaches towards the training of artists?
  • Are academic structures “creatively constraining” or limiting?

As the TDPT blog editor I am also keen for this site to generate discussion and debate over some of the issues facing practitioners and academics working in the field of theatre, dance and performance training so please do “reply” to share your responses.