Understanding how feelings affect movement

The way we move is directly affected by our feelings. Our physical stature each day expresses how we feel in the moment as well as how we feel in general. Someone who is feeling confident will have a more outward, open body position and be more physically active. Someone who is feeling sad will be inward looking, resist eye contact and be happier by hardly moving at all, moving only in small slow efforts. It is all subjective of course, but there are tendencies to certain types of movement.

How can we define this movement from a movement analysis perspective?

We can look at Labans’ Movement Analysis techniques to see how each type of emotion can be defined. I will qualify this here in saying, I have not formally studied Labans theories. I may be wrong in some of the expressions and definitions and this is just my understanding through my experiences as a dancer/teacher/choreographer.

To look at emotion, an approach would be to define characteristic movements dynamic qualities — Time (fast, slow), Space (direct, indirect) and Energy (Strong, light) with Flow (controlled, uncontrolled) as well as its shape or posture qualities — Rising, Sinking, Spreading, Enclosing, Advancing, and Retreating.

So taking a feeling like confident that I just previously explained:

My definition:

Confident - Slow, Direct and Light combined with Rising, Spreading and Advancing movement.

This is totally subjective, as I can see how someone may want to portray confident with Strong energy. My opinion is that would then be the feeling of powerful but that is open for discussion.

To note is that by changing one component one accesses a different feeling. Also that it is a generalisation of the type of movement a feeling produces, not the complete picture. ie. more slow than fast…

What else is there to define here?

One could define emotions on positive/negative polarities. They can have the same action dynamics but different shape/posture qualities. Positive emotions will want to rise spread and advance while negative emotions will want to sink enclose and retreat. This is obviously another generalisation rather than a rule. Someone who is fearful may fulfil the negative side, but for instance resignation or shock would want to spread rather than enclose.

I have been and will be working on this idea with my students over the next months as it’s an interesting way to address the feeling side of dance (see previous posts on dance being a cross between form and movement). There is much to explore here and I haven’t as yet found any literature that goes into this kind of use of movement analysis in detail.

Another aim is to work on is not only how emotions can be defined, but then how to apply them then to dance. Of course a feeling is quite a strong point to work from. If I feel here happy, then I will naturally want to move faster… etc. Yet, say I have a certain choreography, how can I transpose happy onto the form? Or does the form need to be based in the emotion? What exercises are there to develop this skill both from an education, research and choreographic perspective?

Plenty to think about!

Feelings in Dance 2 - Beliefs

In searching for answers and ideas to develop my ability to teach/inspire the feeling side of dance, I read some research papers that inferred one doesn’t actually have to feel a feeling to express it as a dancer. I’m trying to be open-minded about this idea, yet instinct says that this is academic rubbish!! Yes, we don’t need to feel actual pain to express pain… but conversely wouldn’t it help? It comes down to the authenticity of emotion and the depth of performance one desires.

I have the belief that the movements (within reason) are less important than the emotional content behind them. The form is always there but it can change and evolve with the emotional content. The power and meaning in movement comes from its intention, what one desires to express. Movement in itself can be done in different ways so as to express different emotions (there will be natural variations, but in essence it will be the same steps). That this is the power of live performance, not the actual technique but the raw presence and feeling.

We are lucky in dance that we have both form and feeling. It makes dance unique and the crossover between the two gives it its power. I teach a lot of ballet to younger kids. I see the disinterest when a class gets to dry and technical and the excitement and joy that creating movement or expressing an idea through working with feelings gives. You of course need to teach kids both and ideally combine the two in exercises.

To get to the feeling content, one thing that I started a number of years ago was writing down a table of emotions and their basic movement qualities described in dynamics (Laban movement classification). Feelings are subjective, as each person feels slightly differently and also reacts physically and expresses themselves differently to certain emotions, but there are broad generalisations that one can make to do with different feelings. I will add some of the ideas over the next weeks as I refine and work on them.

Feelings in Dance 1 - Reflection

This is most likely going to be a theme for me for a while as it is something that I’m unsatisfied with and want to grow into. There is a general knowledge gap here. I struggle to integrate the ideas of what I want to know with any serious answers. It links into yesterdays topic: Feelings in dance.

In reflection on the last project, I was unsatisfied as to how much of a struggle it was to find the emotional content the dancers were trying to express in performing the movement. The ideas were there but there was a gap between the idea and the practice. I have many questions that I need to work out answers to, but as always it comes back to an examination of my own processes and beliefs.

It was strange to me, yet shouldn’t have been that unexpected, that the way to find emotional content of a dance in the project was difficult. I was myself more focused on the form from the beginning than the feeling. Transposing the feeling into the dance at the later stages proved difficult.

So why was this the case? The content of the dances I had explained at various stages in the process. There was a written protocol with the emotional content/keywords to do with each dance that one could reference. I did engage and encourage feeling in the movement, but obviously from the rate of development, not enough. Somehow it was a struggle. I would talk to the dancers about how they felt and the answers I received also avoided the question asked which was either a reluctance to connect or a lack of understanding. eg. “how did you feel while performing… x… dance? or what did it mean to you as you were performing? The answers received were “I liked this moment/such and such step worked well, this was good…” Valid answers yet mostly devoid of emotional content!

Now I will qualify the situation a little. I was working with amateur dancers, but I don’t find this an excuse. We all are humans, no matter our training, with emotions and feelings. In the end I take responsibility as the choreographer for what comes out. We are only as good as each other and that is the reason we continue to strive for growth and development. That we had mountains of. The idea is to focus it better next time!

Capability and a willingness to connect with our emotional sides can sometimes be different, but I’m not too sure this was the case. It was a group of 10 women and group dynamics can be tricky. Yet my feeling was they felt comfortable with each other and connected so the surroundings were not adverse. At one stage we talked about having an awareness for the others with which one dances and from the moment I placed the focus on this area, it came straight away and was amazing!

Sometimes there may be a lack of willingness to be vulnerable in front of ones peers, yet it also didn’t really strike me as an issue. Though that is only from my perspective that I can judge it. We have known each other for over one year, some for 3 years and more. Generally, I receive well thought out feedback when I ask questions or leave space for the dancers to reflect on their experience of an idea or exercise that we have just performed.

So I am drawn back to the disconnect between the knowledge of emotion and how to put them into dance in a meaningful way — to at the same time create a stronger connection with oneself.

There was a wide range of feelings that I was asking for throughout the piece.

So what do we need to connect with the emotion of dance?

Here are my first thoughts as to a checklist/steps (it needs development):

  • Connection with oneself

  • Willingness to be open and vulnerable

  • Able to tap into/connect to desired feeling through pictures, memories or personal experience

  • Allowing the feeling to be embodied — letting go and surrendering to the feeling/emotion

  • An understanding of what a feeling is and how it affects movement

  • Being able to transpose the concept/idea/theory into actual movement/performance

Dance - an unproductive expenditure of energy?!

Earlier in the week I was reading about dance philosophy. Just a taste of a book by a French man Frederic Poulillaude. It came about because I was asked to recommend a book on choreography to a friend and I couldn’t think of one in particular that I would recommend! But that is a topic for another post.

Unworking Choreography has some really interesting ideas and theories in it. I’ve never delved too deep into dance philosophy so this is actually new for me. I have strong beliefs and ideals about dance, but they are built from experience not from analytics or an academic perspective. And the ideas in this book crystallise some of them and shed new light on others.

I was surprised to read that dance was omitted by Kant from his classification of the fine arts in the 18th century. To him it was problematic as it didn’t fit his models of classification of the aesthetics of art. Dance is more transcendental being part of both polarities of classification in many areas. It is in itself actually transcendental due to the fact that it bridges the different art forms. I shall try and explain.

The first description that brought a chuckle from me was the idea that dance is an ”unproductive expenditure of energy”. Think of it like this: to dance we move and expend energy in doing so. There is nothing left after “dancing” save for the memory or experience of what has happened.

To explain this further let’s look at Kants’ aesthetics of fine arts.

Arts are classified as: form or experiential/sense based

For example, a picture has a fixed form that one can see and does not change, as does a sculpture. There may be many iterations of a picture but there are lines or strokes or dots that are fixed in time and space producing a visual form.

Experiential/sensual art is that which touches the senses such as a music performance or a play. It is experiential as the senses are engaged in listening to the piece or the actors portray a character, though usually this comes from a set score or text.

So how does dance fit in this formula? Well it is both in essence, yet does not fulfil either fully. It is a visual art very much based of forms that we see. The shapes our bodies make as we dance are clear and part of the aesthetic beauty — think ballet but also modern dance in its many forms. This is something music and plays do not usually have.

As an experiential/sensual art, one has to be present to experience dance as a performance. There is a choreography (text or score equivalent), yet it is very difficult to notate sufficiently. There are methods of notation that do capture the movement but do they also capture the essence sufficiently? If one thinks about the movements that are created today, there is no defined form or technique that can directly classify many movements adequately. Dance in itself over the years has shied away from being notated (there have been many attempts, yet nothing that has become mainstream, a la music or dramatic texts), so apart from videos today in the digital age, there isn’t much that is left over from a dance performance. The performance itself is unique as it is a living moment and even with video, it is very difficult to reproduce the same performance say 10 years later if you weren’t involved in the original, knowing the intent. Even today in rehearsals dancers argue about what the steps were, or the meaning behind them (I put my hand up!). If you weren’t there to experience the performance then you missed it. And even if you did, how much does one remember months or years later? A great tune one can hum and sticks in ones head. So does a classic line of a text. How many dance sequences can an audience remember and reproduce?

The sensual side of dance one experiences from being in the live performance, demands the use of ones senses to perceive the expression of feelings and connection and relationships between dancers. This is so important for the experience and without the energy that is produced by dancers performing, it becomes mechanical. It is the difference between being there live and watching a video of a performance. Sure you see the same thing but the experience is very different. And in our digital world these days the live performance is very valuable.

Expressing dance as being unproductive expenditure of energy, I think the theory misses the point. Dance transcends both classifications of the aesthetics of art in that it is both yet it 100% fulfils neither. Maybe that is what makes it so special!

This is to me why dance is so interesting. It’s more than one type of an art/experience. There is often a debate about form and feeling in dance, whether one is more important than the other. In having both, it raises what dance can be. For great dance you need both. Great dancers and great performances have emotion stirring the senses and a visual form that is aesthetically beautiful. You can have one more than the other, or be proficient in one side and still have value, yet the magic is in the two combined, enriching each other!

Frustration and Creativity

It’s a Friday evening and I’m feeling frustrated. Stuck at home with little that I want to do (there is always plenty to do!). Yet this feeling of frustration is my own making and usually leads to me to start being creative.

Why is it that sometimes I have to push myself to be so unsatisfied so as to start something new? It is a little nonsensical, but for some reason my motivation only comes when I have procrastinated so much that to get out of this feeling I need to express myself or let out the energy in some form. ie. this blog post. I’ve been putting off posting for about a week. I’ve had plenty to write about but I’ve avoided it.

Actually I don’t mind posting and feeling open and vulnerable with my thoughts. They are mine and they change and develop as I type. Self-reflection is always a good mover of my beliefs and just by expressing myself they evolve to new places.

A couple of things I have been working on and thinking about:

I’ve been editing a 3 angle film from the Lebendige Landschaft performance. It’s been fun being a film director. With Final Cut I can click and choose which picture I put into the film. I was a little click happy at first, but slowly I am finding a balance. Ever since I taught myself video editing about 14 years ago I have wanted to do a multi-film cut and finally I have the opportunity! I think it was a new feature (or streamlined feature) back then, yet I never had 3 films of the same piece. This time I’ve needed the 3 angles just simply because one camera is too narrow to capture everything that is going on in the performance. I’ll post some snippets once it is done!

I’ve been doing some reading too! Earlier in the week I was reading about dance philosophy. More about this in the next post!

Beliefs of Others

Now that the Light Art Dance Project is on hiatus, I suddenly have a little more free time and space to focus on other interests. Back to doing some personal development!

I was writing about beliefs that I hold, as I was working through the Leadership Step by Step book from Joshua Spodek.

The next exercise in the book, after examining my own beliefs, was to examine those of others. It’s a very interesting exercise! The exercise is simply writing down what I perceive the beliefs of others to be. It has had a profound effect. I feel a certain sense of inner-peace and a depersonalisation towards the beliefs of others. Yet how does this all relate?

As I examine my own life, I see how I am affected by the beliefs of other people, especially those close to me. Their opinions have meaning and weight as do those of my peers. Though it’s never been something I’ve really wanted, I do have a natural urge to please or place my worth inline with those opinions. Intellectually it’s quite silly, as growing up and maturing I’ve known (or told myself) that the opinions of others are unimportant and comparing myself to others is something to let go of. Yet try as I may to ignore or consciously move away from this external influence, it still seems to persist. We don’t live in isolation and I value the friendships and relationships that I have. There is always a balance to be found between being self-centred and other orientated. Or so I have believed!

So in doing the exercise of examining the beliefs of others, it has opened my eyes and awareness. Perhaps it is the task of identifying beliefs that makes them real and clear rather than a tendency to generalise bringing up certain feelings inside me that I can not quite attribute to any one situation. As a result, the exercise has given me a feeling of release and inner peace. I feel a lot more compassionate towards others and empathise with their opinions and beliefs even those of which I don’t personally share. I don’t necessarily find others beliefs even rational, but somehow there is an acceptance that they are what they are and are important for that person in their life. I also feel no need to change them or convince them otherwise.

Perhaps most important for me personally is that I don’t feel threatened by others beliefs or that them having positive opinions of me is an important thing - depersonalisation. I must admit that up until quite recently, I would have been influenced or emotionally affected. By examining the beliefs of others I seem to be able to order them in the bucket of “not a threat” and there is a lot of freedom created in this new perspective.

As with every exercise there is obviously a lot more to get out of it… we shall see in the coming days!

Lebendige Landschaft - Light Art Dance Performance

We had our Premiere of Lebendige Landschaft and it went well!! A big thank you to all those involved. It takes a team and plenty of dedication to put together such a production and for that I am truly grateful.

From my text for the program:

Landschaft - einen kulturell geprägte, subjektive Wahrnehmung einer Gegend als ästhetische Ganzheit, oder ein Gebiet zu bezeichnen.

Landscape - a culturally characterised, subjective view of an area as an asthetic form or a region.

A picture of a large space limited only by what the eye can see. A space full of texture, form and feeling that slowly through time reveals itself the longer it is observed. In Lebendige Landschaft the dancers use their bodies to form the landscape, living and breathing before our eyes. Integrated together with the projections from Jürgen Weiss, the landscapes are rich in texture and dynamic, alive like the world we live in.

The evening arrived and the hall quickly filled up as we opened the doors for the audience. We had to add extra seats above the 100 we were anticipating to the available space and still there were people standing and sitting on the floor! The 70 mins long piece in 17 scenes, moved through different moods and atmospheres, exploring ideas of landscape. It had dance, performance and projection elements that combined together to create an integrated evening. The performance was well received and in itself went off without hitch.

For myself, being the choreographer and director, by the time the premiere comes there is not much I can do other than encourage the artists before the show and let go. After years of experience at this, I enjoy this moment more and more, letting go of control and taking pleasure at what has been created. In the end the performance is a snapshot of how far I/we have come with the piece and how far the ideas have been developed. The process is the success and the performance is the harvest of the effort that has been put in by all.

Throughout the process I try to actively learn through reflection both creatively and as a teacher/mentor. There were many things that were a first for me which were pleasing. It is always about allowing myself to be vulnerable and the extent that I can handle it. That’s where courage comes into play and the real growth occurs! There are always moments that work better than others and ideas that shine where others deceive, yet the variation and subtlety of what was created found a consistent harmony without deviating too far from the mood of the piece as a whole.

The growth for me was to trust in my ideas and to create a piece that had a little more space to express itself, defined by abstract rather than quirk. Less of the need to entertain and more of the need to experience and take people on a journey. I impressed myself by being open to listen and take in ideas that I previously would have dismissed without exploring them fully. They developed into scenes that enriched the piece as a whole.

It was a team effort as it always is and the choreography of quite a few of the dance scenes were created by the dancers themselves. It was always within the framework of a theme relating to the landscape idea. Their trust and inspiration helped a lot.

During the performance it was interesting watching the audience, as one of the experiments I had was to have them sitting with a wide rather than a narrow focus. Seeing people looking in different directions, at the same time taking in all the movement and pictures that were being created before their eyes was a sight to see. On one hand it shows our individuality as our focus is attracted to different things (projection, dancers moving in different areas) as due to the width it is barely possible to take in it all at once. This is one way of managing to offer a unique experience. It was one that I intended to create - that each seat having a different view whether from one side or the other, left, right or centre.

As to the dance - thank you to the ladies gave it their all and I thought it was the best run/performance yet! I am very grateful for all their effort and dedication to the project! It was good to see that having a full audience added to the energy and atmosphere inspiring them to perform. They were expressive and physically present, dances as a group and shined in their individual roles!

A big thank you goes to Maria my partner for doing the lighting and supporting me throughout the whole process.

Thank you too to Gerrit for the organisation and the tireless work on the web-site and Jürgen for the creative inspiration with his projections. They made the evening happen and were a very supportive team. Our creative differences and distinctive views added to what we achieved.

More photos and video will come over the next days as they come to hand. :-)

Stage managing tanzmainz Soul Chain tour to Brugge

At the moment I am sitting in an ICE train to Brugge. Over the next 2 1/2 days I will be on tour with tanzmainz stage-managing their production of Soul Chain. I’m feeling quite excited about the adventure!

Over the last few weeks I have attended their rehearsals to learn the piece and the cues. Soul Chain is one of those magical pieces that just blows you away with its high energy. Sharon Eyal created a masterpiece! 50 mins of intensity that is complex yet repetitive like the accompanying techno music, bringing everyone involved - audience and dancers, to trance like state. The movement is fine and detailed yet extremely expressive. There are no breaks with constant movement from every dancer sometimes smaller, sometimes larger. There are lot of messages from the constellation of dancers, their personalised gestures and how they react to each other. They are raw and very powerful. How she has choreographed the dancers onstage as a group for 45 of the 50 mins is such a fantastic use of an ensemble, .

To stage manage the piece is another skill that I am personally working on. Being a choreographer and also working my own dance projects, the managing and giving cues is all part of the process. Working out what they should be (to do with light plans that I have created and their timing), how they coordinate with other moving parts of the stage, the choreography and the music is a task that every creation involves. Giving the cues in real time is just a small extension of this function.

Two years ago I had a fantastic experience with tanzmainz stage-manageing their Shift performance which was choreographed by Rui Horta and performed in the Church of Christ in Mainz. Different because it was a new creation so I was involved in the process and learned a lot from Rui at the same time. So when the offer came to join the team for some performances spread out over the season and with such a great piece I said yes straight away.

Exciting!!

Dancer development between Haunted House and Lebendige Landschaft

Recently I have been thinking a lot about how I have been working with the ladies who are dancing the piece. It’s getting into psychology here and the more I think about it, the more I should really just ask them how they feel!

The ladies are doing amazing! To think of what we have achieved and how far we have come makes me really proud.

A year ago we had our first project together “Haunted House”. It was different in that it was in an outdoor setting and there were seven short dance numbers - two main group pieces mix with solos and duets. Everyone had a few moments each, yet there was ample break between each one to take a breath and focus.

This time is different. They are all present in the room from beginning to end. There are moments to breathe and relax, yet the whole hour they need to be present with many group numbers and a continual line between each part. If they are not dancing, they are helping out by being part of the scenery in fixed poses, lying down sitting or seeing to tasks that are physically visible. It’s not to underestimate how much effort and concentration this takes! All that is all aside from the varying dance numbers they are performing with the differences in expression quality and feel.

On top of this challenge, there is no front or back to the choreography - a typical fourth wall which even for professionals can disorientate. There is also the challenge of filling out a large room.

I have always loved large spaces. Coming from Australia where distances are larger and personal space is too, the feeling of spreading through a room and moving in space is one of my loves of dance. Stretching a movement to its limit, trying to go from one side of the room to the other in a few steps, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible has always been a passion. The Naumann-Saal is 24m by 12m and our dance space is 18m by 8m. In coming from a rehearsal space where the width is only half the size, it means larger steps, stretching out more, moving through the room and realising that there is space.

As I say, it is amazing how well it has all come together and how they have all developed through the experience!

Lighting the Naumann Saal

After setting up for 2 hours in the Friedrich-Naumann-Saal with the lights and sound system last Monday things are moving forward quite nicely.

Wow, the lights make such a difference to the piece! In general I find lighting makes about 40-50% of the effect as to how good a piece looks and this time it is no different. Yes, I have thankfully had some help (thank you René and Maria!) to light the space as people with more experience have usually better ideas! After the first rehearsal in the space with a couple of lights placed in different positions, I was at a loss as to how to light the piece. Having three sides out of four with sensibilities (2 with the audience and one with the projection screen) I wasn't really sure where the light could come from or where it could shine to without blinding the audience or taking away viewing areas (reducing the contrast of the projection screen). There is also no rig to hang lights from the ceiling nor that wasn't ever going to be part of the budget!

So here is my setup:

The 6er Pars on both sides shine down and fill the room like front lights. The Profilers come from the balcony and create a side light from above and also a “street” with the centre on one channel and left and right on another. I have PCs on both ends of the room, one either side of the projection screen and one in the opposite corners. The PCs next to the projection screen were a bit of a worry but when they are correctly positioned and focused, their light doesn’t take away from the projection at all. Having a professional projection screen also made the world of difference as the picture is clear and the contrast is high meaning a little scattered light doesn’t detract at all.

Now the challenge is to build combinations that reflect the texture and feel of each dance number - the creative, fun part!

Further thoughts the rehearsal process

It is an interesting time in the final stages of rehearsing a piece. There is a balance to be found between cleaning and correcting and letting a piece grow by itself. The perfectionist in me wants to focus on the former and the artist wants to focus on the latter.

Every piece needs adjustments and clarification. It’s like writing an essay and not proof reading the original text, something that would be unthinkable. It helps a lot to organise and make sure the dancers are on the same page, with the same basis of knowledge in the steps, musicality, dynamic and intention of the choreography. Each individual is an artist and will approach it in their own unique way, yet dancing together and speaking as one voice through movement requires a connection, making sure they are all on one page.

Allowing the piece to grow is where the magic happens. I think of my creations often as a seed that I plant. Sure, I bring the ideas or collaborate to develop them, but the tree grows by itself. It’s my job as the choreographer to nurture and take care of it, to shape it and form it without removing its unique identity. It’s a delicate process.

In connecting with the feel of a piece, a scene or a dance is the place where its identity can grow. An honest connection that is born within, is then expressed. It’s perhaps the most important part, allowing dancers to embody their roles in their unique individual way. It’s what makes the difference between a good and a great performance.

Dance has evolved over the years away from direct engagement through performing to and for an audience, to embodiment where we allow the audience to observe and be in a performers presence. Both types of performance have their own magic yet the latter is much more powerful. It pulls an audience out of themselves into the performance, rather than have it delivered to them on a platter.

On to the next rehearsal!

Rehearsal photo for  Lebendige Landschaft  Martina Mensching - Photo R. Fischenich

Rehearsal photo for Lebendige Landschaft
Martina Mensching - Photo R. Fischenich

Light Art Dance Rehearsals 2

Rehearsing in the space at the Friedrich-Naumann-Saal was an interesting experience. The space is long and narrow, highlighted by the way I have chosen to place the audience. They are sitting along the sides of the hall on both sides. I took time during the rehearsal to sit in all parts of the audience to get a feel for each different view on both sides and ends. It has an interesting effect. The side on view is really reflective of a landscape. Think printing a page in landscape form or the horizon as one looks out across a field. This is a conscious decision from me to widen the space, rather than have it focused in one clear picture. Of course it creates a challenge as to where to focus ones attention, though that is my job as a choreographer to highlight moments attracting the audiences eye. It also has the effect that I was looking at the dance with a broader gaze which makes it more atmospheric rather than specific and intricate. I’m interested to hear from others if that is also their experience as they see the performance.

Provisionally I placed some lights in the room, yet it is a conundrum how to light the piece. We are not really creating spaces this time, rather using light like side lighting to pick up the bodies in space. Yet there are restrictions because I have the audience on both sides and also the projection screen at one end. The screen in itself is not an issue, but when I have light coming from the same direction, the contrast of the projection is diminished. So as usual it will be about experimenting in the limited time that I have. My original plan was to have as a basic setup 4 lights on tripods in each of the four corners, high enough that they are not in the direct view. It’s still worth a try, but I also found lighting from the floor was more effective, bouncing it down into the wood floor and using the reflection in the room. Floor light bars as an extra are an option, yet due to the space, they would have to come from under the seating so it is questionable if they would be effective. Lots to think about here.

The piece itself is split into 17 moments, some combined, some separate, all around the theme landscape. I could categories them as dance scenes, performance scenes and projection scenes though each scene has parts of all three. With the selection of the music, I have tried to create a homogenous soundtrack that still has contrast to create the ups and downs of a journey, while still reflecting each individual moment.

Choreographically I am through the production (well there are always small changes) and now the intensive work really begins! Cleaning and defining in greater detail the how and why of the movement for the dancers is the next step. It is working on the quality of the movement and deepening its meaning by explaining what the parts are about, giving examples, metaphors and pictures to connect them with its feeling and help them express and interpret the moments we have created. I will also be making subtle changes to improve flow and increase the dynamic of the piece. It’s a never ending process to grow, refine and develop the choreography. In the end, the performance itself is just a snapshot of how far we have come.

First Rehearsal in the Friedrich Naumann Saal

First Rehearsal in the Friedrich Naumann Saal


Light Art Dance Project Rehearsals

LIGHT ART DANCE is a project group that together with Jürgen and Grit and the lovely dancers of my contemporary class at Westside Studio have been working on.

It’s been an interesting process this time. It’s the second project we have done together so there is quite a bit of familiarity yet also expansion in what we are doing. The first project we did together it felt personally quite calculated. I’d never worked with these people before and working with amateur dancers is always a different process to working with professionals. Yet the scenes that I created and choreographed had clear distinct ideas with my usual quirkiness. It was very much a potpourri of ideas that mixed together to create an entertaining evening. Though the ideas were new, they drew on past experiences and were put together with moments that I was quite certain would work. The challenge was also the integration of the projection art, but the novel idea of using a gallery window to project onto and having the dancers enter and exit from this “Haunted House” created a great illusion and helped keep the two art forms interacting. The biggest challenge then was to get the dance and the projection timed together so that they enhanced each other. It took time but was well worth the effort and experience.

Now we have come to a second project! This time we are indoors, but not in a traditional theatre. The thing that I found most interesting in the first time was the space in which we performed… a square with the gallery window facing out into it. The audience was positioned at the end of the square and because of a slight slope we had rows of benches to give everyone a great view. This time we are in a church hall. It has a balcony at one end and a white wall at the other. The length of the hall creates a fascinating space… 10m wide but 24m long. My initial instinct was to seat the audience at one end and have the performance at the other. But it seemed to presented and direct. There is always more to a space than the obvious use. Being that it is a church hall it reminded me of my time in my childhood that I attended mass, when the church was full. Being in the shape of the cross we were most often looking at the priest and celebration side on. This idea of different perspectives stuck with me. So the idea came to position the projection at one end like an altar and have the audience on both side along the length of the room. The two sides naturally see each other and the dance is in the middle. It has a bit of the performing “in the round” feel and I am very interested in the reaction of the experience. The idea is to bring the audience closer to the dancers and to take away the 4th wall idea that a traditional theatre presents. This lends itself to modern dance too as there is the philosophy that we don’t perform explicitly to someone (one directional) rather the performance is observed (multi directional).

More to come….

For further information, see the project page here.

Baby steps to sustaining joy

It’s great sometimes to just sit back and take the time to go through important things. There is so much going on in my life that demands my attention, that often I miss the things that give my life meaning. It’s not that they aren’t there, but that they don’t jump out at me saying “give me your attention”.

It’s a little like the difference between sustaining joy and instant gratification. Instant gratification is great, the sugar rush of eating an ice-cream or watching the drama of a sporting event, yet it comes and goes and isn’t sustainable. Really involving myself in a project, taking the time to write this blog or spending time in nature are all these things sustain joy inside myself that can last for days. It’s that feeling of achievement and purpose, no matter the result, that gives my life meaning and keeps me curious as to what’s next or what the possibilities are.

These thoughts come about because, after writing about feeling overwhelmed, I took my own advice, wrote down tasks that I have coming, so as to have an overview and made time and space to prepare for my classes and project rehearsals. The effectiveness of the preparation can be questioned, but not the fact that I did it. It’s the process of putting in the effort, looking for inspiration as I quiet my mind to focus and then making decisions that really brings satisfaction in my actions taking small steps forward. All of this by choice rather than necessity. It does feel good!

Overwhelmed

Here is a post that is personal. It’s something that I want to write about, yet it’s a vulnerable subject. I’m doing it because I think it is important.

There is a state that I sometimes find myself in - feeling overwhelmed. The feeling is extremely powerful and stops me in my tracks. It’s a type of panic. In the moment, I don’t know what to do. I feeling like I want to escape by any means possible yet somehow I am able to continue. It’s an internal feeling that I doubt is obvious on the outside, yet its power is immense.

I don’t have a need to run away from feeling overwhelmed though it is the feeling that I get. Perhaps I should try this figuratively speaking! Anyway, somehow in the moment I manage to continue by nudging myself forward step by step. In the end being overwhelmed is a mental/emotional state. I realise that the feeling and moment doesn’t control my life and there is actually nothing that is an immediate present danger. Yet the feeling does reoccur more often than I would like.

Overwhelming feelings come from three distinct situations that I can identify: being underprepared, splitting my focus and lacking an overview of the necessary tasks in front of me (feeling like I have too much to do).

Lack of preparation is really my own responsibility. Most tasks that I have to do each day are known. I don’t always know the contents of the tasks but an outline is almost always there. Why do I not prepare myself enough even though I know it helps to avoid this feeling? It’s a very good question! I am all about effort and preparation is a necessary effort that really helps me in my life. Perhaps it is simply because I can get away with minimal preparation. There is also a side of me that likes the spontaneity of just making it up as I go. I never really lack for ideas so that is also a reason. I do believe however that being prepared would lead to greater quality in all that I do and I have proven this many times to myself. So it is a decision that I am very much in control of, how I want to feel in relation to preparation.

Split focus is a big issue. It comes down to the number of different tasks I do. The number of different classes I teach is an issue. Kids to adults, different genres of dance, people from different backgrounds. Then mixing this with everything else… choreography, market information, management and organisation of my work and my own life (paperwork), bringing up my children, being a great attentive partner, organising the household, keeping up social relationships, my own personal development in reading and learning. It’s a large and very broad amount of different focuses that don’t always interconnect. Most of them are part of my life and ones life in general. There isn’t a lot of room to adjust without making sacrifices that I am loathe to make. I could teach less classes, but this means less money. I do enjoy the variety of people who I teach, which is what attracts me to the different jobs. Creating is a need which I neglect often simply for other tasks get in the way, but it is my passion and a refuge when, due to its immediacy, is my main focus. My relationships are very important to me and the effort there is always worthwhile. Learning about the markets is something that I am also very passionate about and the time I put in I feel is also very valuable. Monetarily not so far, but the amount I have learnt about myself, my behavioural patterns, discipline, beliefs, mindset, process, the need to be right vs. accepting failure as a learning experience… the list goes on. I have no easy solutions to my split focus conundrum.

There is the philosophy, which I do believe in, that says do one thing give it your total focus and do it well, rather than doing two or more and only achieving mediocrity. It is a place where I feel I am a little stuck right now and something that I will write more about. Perhaps it comes down to my lack of a desire to make a firm decision on my life’s direction. Leaving dance full-time created opportunity, but also expanded my interests. I do enjoy the variety and “freedom” of multiple focuses I have even though it creates some adversity.

At the moment everything I do feels like a jigsaw puzzle. All the skills that I am learning are slowly fitting together for a more concrete purpose. Yet where is it that I am actually going/what are my goals in life? Another topic for a new post.

Keeping an overview of my tasks is a simple enough and can help me to be more organised and provide me with a better structure. The moment I feel overwhelmed by the unknown, just simply taking the time to write down my tasks, make a plan and visually being aware of everything that is coming up - through a diary, releases the feeling of being overwhelmed. This is quite easy to do and get on top of.

So the three drivers of feeling overwhelmed are actually interrelated and connected. I have set out some goals here to plan better and take the time and effort to prepare that can move me forward. Life focus is something to sort out and an ongoing process. It provides me with much growth and I am consistently learning and growing. The effort is worthwhile!

Beliefs continued

In working with my beliefs over the last 10 day, something has become apparent - I have a lot of them. There are many that I didn’t realise I had and many whose effect I didn’t think a lot of. There are also some beliefs that I realise are unhelpful, but I still have them and though I “know better” somehow believe them deep inside myself. Working with my beliefs has been an eye-opener and has a lot to do with where I find myself in life at this moment. Just awareness of them consciously and a simple affirmation in the opposite direction seems to have a strong effect.

Something that is also apparent is that they are just beliefs… models in my mind as to how things work or function. Often they are generalisations that don’t explain or represent 100% of the information. If I question any of them with rigour, I see their flaws or weaknesses. They are more opinions than facts.

As I read through social media and media in general, there are so many opinions. In fact most of the things I read, even if they are presented with statistics are simply opinions. Statistics are so easy to manipulate to ones view and even “facts” can be misrepresented depending on what one wants/chooses to believe. This is the kind of information that my beliefs (or those that I question) seem to associate with.

It is a long process to identify and evaluate the beliefs I hold. Yet even starting has been worthwhile. I seem to be developing a process to work with them quickly and efficiently, though it will still take a while to develop and become good at.

Project Rehearsal

This evening I had a very productive rehearsal for my up coming project “Lebendige Landschaft” (there will be more information about the project on this website shortly). As I have been writing in this blog, a lot of what is created comes down to effort. Yes, I need to think and use my time wisely, but putting in effort to pre-plan and be prepared for a rehearsal really is worthwhile.

The project itself has had a break over the summer as we gear up for a performance in September. I’m working with amateurs, but they are giving their all. There is always room for spontaneity and thinking on ones feet, but nothing beats having thought about what I desire to do and going in with a concrete plan.

The piece is at the stage where the overview is there, the ideas are more or less complete, it is just about filling in the details. Yes, there are still a couple of key pieces missing (musically and/or choreographically), but I trust through the process this will come. Time is always key and using it wisely!

The one difference between working with amateurs and professionals that stands out always is: with amateurs, getting the steps is their goal and being confident enough to perform them. With professionals, the steps are only the material and the real goal is to develop how, where the real personal growth comes.

Though we have limited time to rehearse, I plan to take the how as far as possible with this group. It is a commitment to development from my side and I will stress to the dancers how important it is. Using the time we have to get the best possible out of the process and continuing to learn and grow.

The performance in itself is a snapshot of the work that we have done. It is also a celebration of the achievements of all involved and a chance to share with an audience ourselves (whether as a dancer, choreographer or artist).

Growth Mindset

After reading Karol Dwecks book “Mindset” (link) a couple of months ago I was very impressed by its content and way of thinking. It talks about two types of mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.

The fixed mindset is the belief that basic traits like intelligence or talent are fixed and can’t be changed. This can also apply to situations, relationships, problems and skills among other things.

The growth mindset is the belief that these basic traits can be developed and changed through effort and hard work. Talent is just the starting point for growth and change.

After learning about the mindsets and being aware of them in my life, it has changed my perspective on many situations and things. It has reminded me the importance of learning and helped me to accept failure as a learning experience. This in turn allows me to be more vulnerable as failure is allowed and seen as a valuable lesson rather than a question of my worth.

I also am noticing where I have a fixed mindset and trying to change the thoughts that I have in regards to these subjects. It is often quite surprising and can be contradictory within a certain subject, such as work or relationships. It is a way to question my beliefs and to line them up with the type of life I desire. As I do this questioning, it has the effect of releasing me from situations where I feel stuck and has given me greater determination and resolve to achieve my desired dreams and goals.

Looking at life from a growth mindset has also reinforced the importance of effort in my life. Nothing happens without effort and effort is definitely worthwhile. Especially if I have given it my all. Coming up against resistance is natural, but then it is what I learn from the experience that counts. If it is a failure (or failure to move as fast as expected), I learn from and question what I am doing. Evaluating the results of effort is then the process of decision making and working out whether to continue. Is there is a better way to do it? How can I grow from this situation and develop my skills or even myself? Is it a pattern that I am repeating? Sometimes to even question if this is still a goal I wish to achieve. It is an appraisal of the time and effort put in.

Something that I am a big believer in is that we should give everything a try before deciding whether it is right for us. And by giving it a try that necessitates putting in effort.

Creations

When I am creating what is the goal or purpose?

My purpose in my creations is self-expression. I feel often a burning desire to express myself, just as I am doing with these words. It’s about creating a choreography that expresses an idea or situation, story or feeling that is often part of my current and actual experience. Be it inspired by an actual theme/experience in my life, a book that I have read or my personal opinion on a topic, it is a process of making sense of my environment and the world in which I live. Capturing its essence, I then explore the possibilities of many different perspectives to expand, develop and refine its meaning and reflect on what it means to me.

My goal is always to create an experience that is accessible to all, understandable and deep in meaning. That means a multi-layered message. Every person experiences life in their own way from their own unique perspective. The way they experience life is valid as it is their own experience. The same thing I believe happens when one is watching a piece of theatre or art. It will have a general effect, but people will feel differently about it as they interpret the piece they engage with, as it relates back to their own personal experience. To me a reaction is important, not what the reaction is. This is engaging, as an artist, with ones audience.

Effort

Effort, everything needs effort. In a good way too, as I engage with whatever I am doing or thinking about.

There is the effort that is a pleasure. Effort that actually feels like no effort at all. Concentration pure and thought, as I follow a process or the next logical step with a goal in mind. It’s like a habit, if I know what I am doing or have a very good idea about how to do it, I don’t even question the effort it takes to move forward.

There is also the effort that is a struggle. Total resistance as each effort is met with a depletion of energy. Why is it a struggle? Maybe down to beliefs, maybe due to desire… Maybe just a lack of interest or the defensive mechanism inside that creates resistance or causes me to resist. It does come down to what I believe about a certain situation, whether my heart is in it or what purpose it serves. Having a meaning in anything I do certainly does help with motivation to keep going or inspiration to just jump in. They are my beliefs after all!

There is a question of mindset that can help with effort that is struggle. It’s to stay in a growth mindset and see the struggle as a learning opportunity. Realise what is going on and try to change the way I go about a task. See that the effort is creating resistance and try to can find another way that is more effective. In a sense it is looking to succeed in a difficult situation by developing myself, rather than giving up if a situation is too hard. This can be really satisfying!

One thing that I have noticed as being self employed is that I need to put the effort in and motivate myself. There are many things that I do and need to do where without them my life would not be possible… writing bills, preparation and origination of classes, etc. It all takes effort and is necessary to enable me to do the things I enjoy. Seeing the tasks as enablement is key here and makes them easier! In the end anything is what I believe it to be and holds a purpose that helps me to reach my goals.

It is important for me to keep the big picture in mind. Setting and refining goals, as well as holding a vision of my creations with meaning and purpose. This is something I will write about in the next days!