Report on Conference at the University of West London: “Making the Impossible Possible”: The Feldenkrais Method in Music, Dance, Movement and the Creative Practice

On 30 April 2016, Marcia Carr and I organised a conference at the University of West London entitled Making the Impossible Possible”: The Feldenkrais Method in Music, Dance, Movement and the Creative Practice. Speakers came from around the world: from North and South America, Australia, Europe as well as some homegrown talent. This in itself was testament to the spread of Feldenkrais’s thought, but what was most pleasing, and what in many ways represents a great continuity of Feldenkraisian thought, was the welcome unorthodoxy of the approaches on show. This I think shows something profoundly potent about Feldenkrais’s thought: it is intellectually malleable, durable and that it is a hinge towards the advancement of thought and practice for the mutual benefit of these arenas.

One of the pleasures in fact of forming a Feldenkrais event such as this is in the non-homogeneity, diversity, and in ‘going with the flow’ that could come both from the podium and from the audience: Feldenkrais gives permission for a certain kind of rigorous sensitivity to possibility. This was demonstrated in the first session where Paolo Maccagno (University of Aberdeen) demonstrated how the idea of a constriction or a barrier (like a whiteout) provides a form of educational impetus to find another educational path. On the day our second group Iaci Moraes Lomonaco (Angel Vianna dance university – Rio de Janeiro and Fundação Getúlio Vargas, São Paulo, Brazil), Larissa Padula Ribeiro da Fonseca (Federal University of Bahia (UFBA) Salvador, Brazil), and Beatriz Kaysel were having a little trouble getting their technology to talk to ours. They had come a long way, so after a break, the audience, refreshed by the injection of caffeine, came back (somewhat ironically) to a startling performance that applied the idea of restriction, of stopping and changing direction. This was followed by a presentation of Ingrid Weisfelt’s film “Intimacy”, again about the way limitations, in this case of a dancer with MS, can actually become the enabling properties of great expressive movement. Ingrid joined us from her home in Melbourne to discuss this via the magic of skype.

After lunch, Libby Worth’s keynote (Royal Holloway, University of London) sounded out how the Feldenkrais Method can ease and enhance cross-disciplinary communication through an investigation of stability, a shift in self-image and the re-direction of focus from ‘correction’ of to curiosity about our movements. So often education can be about judgment rather than being a safe space for exploring possibilities, learning through trial and error and staying focused through inquisitive interaction with material (in any discipline). Feldenkrais brings with it a salutary reminder of the curious mindset and the permission this facilitates ‘correct action’ as Feldenkrais puts it, not only for students, but also for experienced people who always need to begin again.

Corinna Eikmeier (University of Hanover) is a cellist, and her work explores precisely this possibility through improvisation. She reported on some enlivening research that facilitates musicianship and expression through quasi-controlled experiments in improvisation. Her work therefore focuses on the dialectic between inner sensation and action, between an inner attitude while playing music, and the perception, listening and the willingness to completely embrace the present situation. This is important because (again) judgment often means that too much of the focus in institutions is on the result rather than the process, or event the incremental improvement made by students. Marilla Homes, a lyric soprano who teaches at the Victorian College of the Arts, then gave a lively and amusing account of exactly how students can think through the process of self-judgment and come to appreciate the uniqueness and malleability of their own gifts.  Lisa Burrell (Lone Star College, Houston) then gave a marvelous demonstration (with video evidence) of how the Feldenkrais method can be a lifeline for the performance health of artists, and how it can change bodies and therefore lives.

In the final session, UWL’s own Marcia Carr gave an entertaining and lively exposition of how Feldenkrais can be used in a collaborative teaching environment for the training of the actor/singer at the London College of Music. She showed how the method provides a hinge for the development of the reflective (or ‘self-thinking’) performer, a performer who is ready for the challenges and spontaneity required in the ‘marketplace’. Finally Jessica M. Beck (Canterbury Christ Church University) emphasised the cultivation of a state of perpetual readiness offered by the method, challenging fixed notions of self-image in the rehearsal processes of performing artists: a fantastic note to end on!

We have had wonderful feedback from many people about the day, including some undergraduate students. The event was, in the words of one person: ‘wide-ranging, stimulating and very encouraging.’ Central to the day according to this respondent was

‘performing and narrating the self, and the place of awareness in an actor’s self-development as a person in parallel to their development as a performer. To borrow ideas from Laban, much of the training of a performer is to promote the free flow of inspiration and skill. But what happens when actors meet their limit, professionally or personally – when that flow is broken or at least bound? The excellent presentations from the musicianship side of things addressed this in fascinating ways for me and made the link to the performing arts medicine world’.

Thank you to those people who came to the day. There will be another conference, most likely in March next year, where other themes central to performing arts are developed. This area is ripe for research of all types, and here at the University of West London, we want to provide students and professionals with the stimulus and opportunity to participate in this catalytic process.