Whilst exploring my practice/research of the ‘visible choreographer’ and the consequences of being present/active in the performance event, my yoga practice (Ashtanga) has become more and more part of my daily practice. Only recently I have made the connection between both and how they feed each other.
I’ve started an email conversation/debate with Marie Hallager Andersen about this topic and I will soon post it here as well.
But first an introduction below.
The authentic practice of yoga is an unremitting attention to the present experience, whether in body, mind or heart. (…) According to yoga philosophy and psychology, the only place to begin an investigation of yoga (…) is the present moment, because this is all that is actually occurring. (Stone, 2008, p. 8)
Stone highlights the focus of yoga on the present moment. This clearly links to key elements within improvisation. Midgelow states,
I hear the sounds of the world about me and nothing but the absorbing ‘now’ exists, for I am entering fully into the moment (Midgelow, 2011, p. 11).
As my research on the ‘visible choreographer’ overlaps with aspects of improvisation, yoga helps me to be more in the present moment and not getting caught up in planning ahead. Within my role of the choreographer I am used to structuring and planning ahead. Even though I can be focussed on present creative processes there is always a part of me that plans ahead, imagining how different elements can unfold and link. Yoga offers a rest from this and allows listening inwards without jumping ahead. Focusing on the breath and following the series of postures in silence (Primary series) challenges me to stay in the moment, listening inwards and becoming conscious of the business of the mind.
The challenge when being the ‘visible choreographer’ lies exactly here: I observe the happening and what it suggests, trying to prolong the moment before I decide. By focusing on the moment I can react more fluently to the dancers’ responses. I can observe where the work wants to go, can follow its lead. However, my role differs from the other performers, as I at the same time have to imagine an overall dramaturgy of the performance. Both modes stay in conflict with each other and the unexpected responses/interactions of the dancers force me to switch between both.
Being in the moment and staying with it can also mean that I get confronted with situations of not knowing or being bored with the happening, having to stay longer in the place of not knowing. Referring to yoga Stone states,
As we slow down and investigate our experience from moment to moment, we are, in essence, studying the way we organize and construct our experience. Slowing down gives us an opportunity to get to know what it is we are investigating, rather than the usual tendency of superimposing our theories on whatever it is we see (Stone, 2008, p. 36).
Rather than jumping ahead and superimposing decisions, the challenge of the visible choreographer is to listen for longer and see what the moment suggests. This is not always easy, especially when being watched by an audience, but the frustration and vulnerability this causes intrigues me and plays an important part of making the choreographer’s thinking visible – the visible choreographer and her way of organising and constructing experience becomes visible.
When working with my dancers we start each day with a yoga practice, tuning in on being in the moment, listening inside, becoming sensitized towards the subtlety of each moment. For the dancers the challenge of the work lies less in being caught between planning ahead and being in the present moment but in making decisions/changing the pathway of the performance process in relation to what is there in the present moment. Making a decision truthful to what is there can cause insecurity of being judged. The element of overcoming judgement plays an important part within yoga. It emphasises on listening inwards to one’s body’s need without following preconceived ideas of what should be done, finding the edge of challenging the body without pushing it too far. A great amount of sensitivity is needed for it – the confidence to follow what is needed.
Stone calls this the non-dualistic perception and explains,
Yoga is the inherent union and interconnectedness of all existence before we split things into subject, object or any method of categorization. (…) It is being so fully present in an action (or non-action) that you don’t need to create a self (Stone, 2008, p. 11).
By being in the mode of a ‘selfless self’ the fear of judgement dissolves and decisions can be made truthfully to the present moment. This clearly links to the dancers’ challenge of reacting in the moment without the fear of being judged. Taking ownership of the happening and reacting to what is there without using it as a way to present the self, helps to overcome the fear of judgement, places the focus back to the work and the possibilities it presents.
This is only the beginning of a longer exploration. Look out for the upcoming conversation with Marie Hallager Andersen!
MIDGELOW, V. 2011. Dear Practice … : The experience of improvising. Choreographic Practices. 2, pp. 9-24
STONE, M. 2008. The inner tradition of yoga. Boston: Shambhala Publications Inc.
Photos: Ulrike Heuer