01 – Write a concise description of your studio project

The focus of my studio project was developing an improvisation movement practice that would lay a foundation for future projects. This practice is a guided meditation on ‘exiting perception, and activating projection’, in an attempt to inhabit my body differently, and also teach others how to do the same. By the end of the project, I had used this practice to make a performance trio, a handbook of choreographic scores, and the beginnings of a sound piece, and video work.

My advisor brought me to the question: how does a person inhabit his/her body in the first place? To answer this, I decided to work from what I considered a familiar, everyday, or neutral state, where minimal differences stand out (from the perspective of the doer), and could be considered a general state of being at the time. However, a shift in attention, focus, or intention could serve to change that state entirely. Therefore crafting these shifts in attention became the methodology of the improvisation scores – a methodology akin to meditation techniques. I questioned how I would find the words to both describe, and teach, this practice, so I decided to let them emerge through movement exploration, and then edit afterward.

As I was moving, making up, and being affected by my meditation score, I was also describing it and documenting it with an audio recorder. I used the audio material to make a sound collage that acts as a background for an improvised performance, and I also made a handbook of choreographic scores detailing exercises on exiting the body, and projecting another kind of body. In both instances, the words were generated by improvised movement. They came from an experience of my body that I captured in real time. Therefore, I have also been developing a mode of production, or a way of making words, thoughts, ideas, self-deprecating admittances, and stories as they surface through movement. The words are the material generated by, and for, the moving body.

One of my goals was to interrupt my familiar modes of perception for a more open, stretched, and inclusive kind of embodiment that I refer to as ‘hyper-empathic’. This stretched mode of perception includes working with the peripheral gaze, and imaginary expansive sensations. I tested these proposals with two collaborators: Alicia Grant and Julia Male. Together we made a trio entitled “Rafters”: an improvised performance set the sound collage from my audio documentation. It externalizes the inner voice as a metaphor for the subconscious pushing through, and what isn’t said, but is still communicated.

In “Rafters” we all play id, ego, and superego at varying points. We propel each other, we appear to produce the words, and the words appear to produce us. Because it’s a trio, someone is always left out, and someone’s attention is always being diverted. It is a perpetual flurry of movement generation, and shifting control. It questions influence, and presents a way of looking (at each other, the viewer looking in) and wondering what’s going on in the mind of another person, how much of that can we actually know, and how much of it we project.

Throughout the project, I have also been documenting on video, and considering the editing aspect of video work as a choreographic action. The video looks at similar constructions of identity, and the shadow as subject. In a way it is another trio, between the camera, my shadow self, and me. My presence is there, but never fully, and I’m using the camera to indicate this presence, and a perhaps splintered identity.

I am curious about how we come to know who we are, and what might interrupt those perceptive signals. In the gap of ‘perceptive discrepancies’, where you lose your body for a brief second (an attempt of many of my movement scores), there is a moment of production. This moment of production pushes some other identity through the skin, and it is what I’m attempting to witness, capture, and perform in the works that have come from this practice. The self as a surprising moment within a continuum: a slip, a fissure, an ungrounding.

02 – How did the research impact upon your project and your working practice?

I initially thought the research and practice would be more separate, with the research differently ‘formal’ and sourced through academic writing. However, I came to understand that my performative way of producing text led to a similar performative style of writing. The studio crept into the research. Concepts like hyper-empathy, perceptive discrepancies, and peripheral aesthetics all had their origin and contextualization in the studio. As I continued the research, I also noticed these concepts had a counterpart, or shared a similar definition. For example, in the way I was thinking about perceptive discrepancies, it was sounding very much like Alain Badious’s concept of ‘Event’, which then led me to Zen Satori, and artists like John Cage. Hyper-Empathy led my to Susan Leigh Foster’s writing on kinesthesia and choreographing empathy.

The process of writing was generative in that it helped me deepen and clarify these concepts popping up in the studio. Furthermore, I then found ways of supporting them through the words of others scholars and artists. This helped me to clarify whose work I am not only drawn to, but share a conceptual synergy with. I discovered the lineage I fall into by using the studio practice as a guide.

In moments, the research also opened up a flood of ideas that made me feel quite overwhelmed in the studio. My productivity splintered, because I kept letting the project grow tangentially, when in fact it was time for me to deepen, and produce a finished work. Improvisation can often lead to a state of perpetual production: a ‘sauce’ of endless movement. It was hard to take these concepts and seal them, call them ‘finished’, so I could move forward in the studio. To me, moving forward meant ending my ‘development phase’ of the practice so that I could actually USE it as a practice. I wanted my movement practice to produce a state with a hyper-aware, sensitive, and imaginative charge, and then build FROM THERE. It is an amazing place to go from. It brings me to an open, re-calibrated position, and provides a way of entering other situations with a differently considered body. This is why I decided to finish the year with a handbook – something concrete that could hold the potential improv space for any participant.

I came across a great resource that helped me link my research and studio ideas. It’s a chapter by John Britton in a book called Encountering Ensemble. It helped me consider the pedagogical aspect of this practice, and how to provide specific parameters for collaborators, but also leave space for agency – agency supported by offering these clear parameters. It sounds conflicting, but it’s possible for improvisation to be too open. When no one knows what to do, how to listen, or how to manage situations, it can become an unsatisfying situation. Britton’s writing helped me consider what to offer collaborators, and how to frame improv without pinning it down.

03 – What directions does your project suggest for further research?

Scores and words operate to control and contain a choreographic situation. Apart from language, what other symbols can make these kinds of suggestions? I’m interested in how the space, the way it’s delineated, and the way audiences and performers interact with it, can affect the movements that unfold within. How does space become choreographic, and how do you make a choreographic space?

Throughout this year I’ve been preoccupied with social space, or how the interrelations built within the studio can serve as a social template. How can a way of interacting extend outside the studio? How are social configurations aesthetically produced and instilled choreographically? The way choreographers collaborate is specific, and contains valuable information for a society I perpetual movement and change. Can these principles transcend the studio through performance? Or is some other format required?

Similarly, in my collaboration with Julia and Alicia, I came to consider the space between people as a dynamic territory. What is it that communicates between bodies, and how thin is the line between performative action and pedestrian action? I’m considering subtle performances, or physical interventions, in public for an unknown, and unknowing audience. I believe this kind of practice contains valuable information about what can be communicated in the space between people, even in the absence of a formal performance frame.