iLand: E.J. McAdams Notes (and Impressions) Day 5
iLAB Collaborative Residency
The participants gathered sitting on the floor in a loose circle in Studio #4 of Trisha Brown Studios. It is an interior studio with no natural light. Of the four walls, one is completely mirrored end to end. The room feels divided by a supporting pillar in the western third of the space. The detritus of the room – a piano, stretching bars, extra chairs – have drifted into that third.
Hope introduced Barbara Dilley, renowned performer, choreographer, and teacher. Barbara has spiky silver hair and bright eyes, and was dressed in a black t-shirt, black pants with thin white piping up the side, silver ring earrings, and a silver watch with a black band.
Barbara thanked Hope and related her desire to support the journey that is taking place in the iLAB. Then she asked everyone to introduce him or her self. Participants included Lise, Laura, Robbie, Neil, Rebecca, Alejandra, Robin, and Yves. Barbara described that she is going to be coaching personal awareness practice, which is individual and self-directed. The practice will work with each participant alone in their “kinesphere”, while getting support from Barbara and the group. Barbara told the group that she has studied the interpenetration of the meditation tradition and the improvisational dance tradition. Barbara went on to say her interest is in body-mind, and that Hope and Michelle’s work is “at the heart of body-mind.” She proposed that the practice would cultivate an “animal brain” of quietude and alertness.
Barbara asked everyone to lie down on the floor. Once everyone was relaxed, she said with her warm sense of humor how lucky everyone was to be able to “go to work and lie down.” She asked everyone to come to stillness and move to a sound that gets one to move. She told a story about how she once went to her meditation teacher and asked him about this sound that caused her to move. He replied that it was either the sound of the nervous system or the sound of the universe.
She encouraged everyone to “include everything, have no judgment,” and to move into a personal movement vocabulary. “Be responsive to impulse and to taking care of what needs to be taken care of.” “Listen to the inner voice of the body.” The touchstone for each dancer should be “kinesthetic delight.”
Barbara coached everyone to keep their attention on three qualities: slow motion, stillness, and repetition. These three would be the way to navigate to personal awareness.
She reminded the group that now all they were to do was focus on inner listening. She asked how do we stay present? Then offered that the eyes can help, that switching from eyes closed to eyes open with a soft peripheral focus and back can keep one present.
(It was hard not to be mesmerized by Barbara’s voice, by its calmness and by the way it fit itself into the reverberations of the room. The repetitions of directions with slight variations also added to the sensation of stillness.)
Barbara explained how this exercise was moving the group back toward their primitive, instinctual brain, how the movements on the floor from back to belly to side are reptilian, infant-like.
She presented the group with an opportunity for transition from lying/crawling to sitting. At that moment, a loud crash broke the silence and Barbara rejoined, “The building is talking to us.”
(The mirror allowed me a chance to see the whole room as a landscape, which I couldn’t see from an unmirrored view. All of these bodies were seeking “kinesthetic delight.” Michelle’s son, Uta, let out his own babble of delight.)
Barbara encouraged each participant to learn how to rest and exert one’s self, that part of this practice was to “cultivate a work and rest ethic.” She said one must occasionally “drop out of the laboratory.” “Refresh yourself” and find something “restorative.” Another moment to begin again would arise. She reminded the group that they were “listening, looking, breathing, and moving…” and then added, “and trusting.”
Barbara transitioned the group to the next level, where each participant was encouraged to feel the space between another person and him or her self, and try and support each other in awareness.
She reminded the group that they did not need to create anything, that the exercise was simply to explore the space between, to send awareness out and have it return to one’s own personal kinesphere. Here was an opportunity to “feel the influence (between movers) and then put the influence down,” to focus on the space between rather than a connection. It was setting up a dynamic vibrating from “relational awareness” to “inner awareness.”
She opened the choices further, allowing for more dynamic moves and less slow motion. She threw out to the group that sometimes it is helpful to get close to someone and sometimes it helps to go far away. “Listen to the sounds we are making in the room.”
(So I did. This was what I heard in that moment: Uta gurgling, a foot on the floor squeaking, exhalations, feedback from the room, and cracking joints.)
Barbara added another variation: pairing or trio-ing off to explore the space between. She riffed on the importance of this “pedestrian vocabulary” of lying, crawling, sitting, and walking to her work. “Let touching be inconsequential,” and instead she coached the group again to focus on the space between.
(Maybe it was because of Barbara’s repeated suggestions but I started to notice the space between, but not between the participants and me. I started to notice the space between arms and torsos, between legs and floor, between the dancers – some exploring closeness and some exploring farness.)
Barbara announced that the group should now start looking for an ending and that ending in this case would be when a person could find their own personal way back to lying and find “a posture of stillness.” Once the group reached stillness, Barbara said, “receive what has been happening…receive it through the systems of the body…now contemplate what happened.” She asked how this exercise was different from other exercises in thenlab. Finally she asked each trio and pair to share their experience among themselves. Everyone was smiling and very close physically. Barbara came and sat with me. We had a nice chat.
The group gathered together again in a circle, sitting on the floor. Barbara asked for comments and questions. It was quiet.
Alejandra said, “More.”
Barbara replied, “More what?”
Alejandra explained how the exercise was a successful journey, how it was grounding, and how she wanted to do the exercise more.
Robbie said that he responded to the progression and that he felt like the group was only halfway through it.
Barbara agreed that more could be done in the duets and trios, but that she thought “the trios in corridors” would be the most helpful exercise for the lab. In an aside she talked about how she was influenced by John Cage and Hildegard Westerkamp.
Hope appreciated that the practice offered a refusal and how that “reopened the field.”
Barbara said, “I want to be slow enough to be genuine,” rather than running around getting people to like her.
Barbara introduced the Corridors and how they rely on using pedestrian movement that could be broken down to five moves: walking, standing, turning, arm swinging, and crawling. With Rebecca and Robbie, she showed everyone the vocabulary. Barbara noted that Corridors was “very much a laboratory on influence.” She encouraged everyone to rely on the “little disciplines” – stillness, slow motion, and repetition, and to play with compositional choices. For each Corridor, Barbara called prelude, beginning, middle and end. Following each ending, she said a variation of: “Breathe in. Breath out. Release.”
The first trio Corridor was Robbie, Rebecca and Alejandra oriented west-east. During this exercise, Barbara spoke about the simplicity of movement that allowed for more influence between the dancers. She added that Corridors challenges each person to find the right “combination of surrendering and being your own person.”
The next trio was Laura, Yves, and Biba, also oriented west-east.
The next trio was Robbie, Rebecca, and Hope, oriented on a diagonal northwest-southeast. This trio was allowed to loosen their vocabulary, too be more personal.
(So much happened in the Corridors that it was impossible for me to keep up. Not being a dancer or a dance critic, I don’t have much to say about the movement, but the room was very still and the sounds each dancer made really resounded in the room and in this audience member. Luckily for the folks who want to actually see the movement, Robin filmed it for the archive.)
The group gathered again on the floor in a circle. Barbara noted how once the vocabulary was loosened it was clear the trio was having trouble integrating their own movement into the others’ movement, but that after a while they found that balance.
Rebecca agreed that it took her awhile to reconnect.
Barbara underscored that a restricted movement vocabulary allows one to listen.
Robbie shared how important it was for him to return to the breath as a way of getting back into connection with himself and the other dancers.
Hope said she had trouble being in listening and movement, that it was often either/or.
Barbara coached Hope to find a gesture that she can do that will allow her to have the integrity of awareness.
Yves shared his experience of how nice it was to listen to the room, even the moving of the air around the dancers.
Robbie added how the peripheral eye exercise also helped him return to awareness.
Barbara said that the group can study many facets in the trio Corridors because “everything is contained.” She then asked the group how each of them makes choreographic choices.
Alejandra jumped in to say that for her listening to impulse and the reaction to impulse was compositional.
Hope talked about how she and Michelle have been discussing the idea of listening in a community as creating its own ecology.
Barbara said she is very interested in sustainability and sustainability as a metaphor for movement life and personal life.
Michelle entered the conversation and talked about how Barbara’s idea of the space between was so compelling, especially with respect to listening. Michelle felt that many of the listening exercises they had been doing in the lab were geared to finding the space between all the individual sounds in unfiltered noise.
The first Corridor was a quartet with Alejandra, Robbie, Laura, and Biba, oriented on a diagonal from southwest – northeast.
The second Corridor was a trio with Hope, Rebecca, and Yves, oriented west – east.
Barbara gave little direction and all of us had the opportunity to watch and listen to the Corridors.
(Even more than the previous Corridors, these two were incredibly compelling aurally. It seemed as if the guiding principles of each dance were listening and sound.)
Barbara was delighted by the real experience of listening but wondered if an audience would appreciate this experience.
Alejandra thought if the audience had learned a “new listening” like the listening participants had been learning in the lab, then they would definitely appreciate it.
Barbara wondered if the architecture of the space could be designed to benefit the listening performance and help the audience.
Alejandra liked that idea and noted that the studio allows the dancers an opportunity to listen to themselves and each other, whereas the outdoors is a much more intense environment. She said, “You would have to be super huge to correspond to the outdoors.”
Yves shared a potential process: to start with the self and expand out, to “localize yourself within certain limits.”
Biba added that there are distinctions to be made between the body as a container and as a responder.
“It is important to recognize our intelligence in how we receive big sounds,” Barbara said.
Michelle asked Barbara what she meant by intelligence.
Barbara said that our response to big sounds helps us survive.
Michelle countered that most people respond to big sounds by using coping mechanisms like tuning out. But she offered the idea of “re-tuning filters” so that people are not overwhelmed by big sounds so they can be open to the soundscape.
Barbara did not disagree but thought that the dancers and the audience might need preparation before entering a big sound landscape.
Alejandra felt the clear structures in the exercises today facilitated an in-depth journey into movement and listening. She wondered aloud what kinds of limitations could the group place on itself and the audience that would facilitate an in-depth journey on the soundwalks outside.
Hope thought the group should bring some of this movement language and these exercises outside.
“Yes,” Barbara agreed, saying that the group should take things from the lab inside the studio to the field and “find out how to make it sustainable.” She talked about how an acoustic community, like any community, will take time.
Following this discussion the group began a discussion of the nuts and bolts of the engagement on Saturday in Bryant Park.