At the Edge of the Field: The Performance Training Residency as Embodied Fieldwork
by ADVA WEINSTEIN
- View Adva Weinstein's Biography
Adva Weinstein is a dancer and PhD Candidate, Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne.
At the Edge of the Field:
The Performance Training Residency as Embodied Fieldwork
PART I – The Context
In January 2015, I met John Britton, artistic director of the DUENDE Ensemble Physical Theatre, when I participated in a 5-day performance-training intensive he facilitated in Melbourne. His methodology and practices in training performers and ensemble resonated deeply with my sensibilities as performer, ensemble theatre-maker and researcher. At the conclusion of the Melbourne intensive, I made plans to attend the Performing at the Edge #4 residency (July 2015) run by John and two of DUENDE's associate directors, Eva Tsourou and Aliki Dourmazi. This document is a reflection on, critical engagement with, and theoretical conceptualisation of my experience during this residency. In it, I position performance training residencies and ensemble retreats as a form of performance fieldwork and as sites of embodied research and encounter. To do so, I briefly introduce a few of the key concerns of psychophysical performance training, followed by a praxical interrogation of one of Britton's methodological principles. Further on, I provide a sensory, embodied and personal reflection on my experience of the residency, exploring how the conditions of such ensemble-building and performance-training residencies facilitate processes of exploration, reflection and creative development. From there I proceed to address how individual growth complements the development of a temporary and intentional ensemble (and vice versa), further positioning training scenarios such as this residency as sites of encounter. And finally, I offer a few closing thoughts on the nature, dissemination and application of the knowledge generated by this form of performance fieldwork.
Performing at the Edge is a performance residency at the Fara Manor on the heart-shaped island of Lesvos, south-east of Thessaloniki. For 14 days, performers train, improvise and devise performances in the summer heat, at the feet of rolling hills, between the olive groves, by the Aegean Sea. The manor begins at an orange cast-iron gate, followed by a stone path to the green door of the main house where we, the performers, sleep. To the left of the house, we find an outdoor kitchen and L-shaped table under an old olive tree. At the back of the kitchen, a large training space covered in synthetic grass is shaded by a few tarps pulled tight between two olive trees. Past another smaller orange gate, a path leads to a long and secluded strip of beach framed by cliffs on either side. Turkey lies along the horizon. The sound of the cicadas' song pulses through the air.
The residency is structured through John Britton's methodology and training practice called 'Self-with-Others'. The practice is 'pre-expressive' (Britton, 2013, 315) or 'pre-performative' training that is "not about how to perform this or that, but about how to perform...encouraging the efficient and appropriate use of the bodymind in relationship to others" (2013, 315-6). Britton locates his practice between two main lineages and sources of inspiration. The first, European laboratory psychophysicality posits "an integrated view of the mind and body" and advocates for a pre-performative training through which the performer learns to embody a way of being on stage, regardless of the nature or aesthetic of the work they are performing. As such, psychophysicality positions training as via negativa, "a process of stripping away, identifying and dissolving blockages" as opposed to an acquiring of skills (Britton, 2013, 315). This stripping away of blockages tunes the performer's bodymind, heightens her sensitivity to sensory and creative stimuli and better equips her to respond to an unfolding present, in the here and now. The second source, movement and dance improvisation, particularly indebted to seminal teacher and improviser Al Wunder, provides "the predominant form through which the training operates" (Britton, 2013 315). Through movement improvisation – alone, with a partner, in a small group or as part of the full ensemble – the performers explore and develop their creative imagination, aesthetic interests and performance technique while attending to the liveness of their performative presence. The improvisations are open-ended in form; performers are prompted by John to 'find this dance.' If further instructions are given, these take the form of simple techniques a performer applies to her work while improvising, such as attending to the senses, to the size and speed of movement, to where the gaze falls or to the distance or proximity to the audience. To summarize, while there are a few staple exercises in Self-with-Others, the training "is not a 'method' or menu of activities, it is an approach" (Britton, 2013, 317).
PART II – The Theory
Three key theoretical images underpin my engagement with performance and ensemble training, and are therefore evocative and significant frameworks through which to read this document: psychophysical performance as 1) a site of embodied research; 2) a site of encounter; and, 3) a 'dance of disorientation'. In what follows, I briefly introduce these three keys to set the theoretical stage for the embodied interrogation of my experience in Performing at the Edge #4 (2015).
Following Phillip Zarilli, I understand psychophysical performance as "the embodiment and shaping of energy" (Psychophysical Acting 80, italics in original) or "that dynamic/enactive psychophysical process by means of which a (theatrical) world is made available at the moment of its appearance/experience for both the actors and the audience" ("The Actor's Work on Attention" 80, italics in original). In the West, Jaques Copeau and Konstantin Stanislavski are commonly considered the forefathers of the psychophysical approach to performance, searching at the turn of the twentieth century for integrated approaches to understanding and training the performer's bodymind (Britton, 2013, 29).1 A psychophysical approach to training:
recognises the holistic interrelationship of processes of the mind and actions of the body... [and] asks a performer to pay attention to her experience of her body's actions and to the processes of thinking that underpin those physical actions. Through learning to manipulate this attention, she learns how to construct her performance. Attunement to the self, central to a psychophysical approach, needs to be complemented by sensitivity to 'the other.' (Britton, 2013, 283)
This exploration of both the performer's body/mind and her relationship to others is primarily conducted through studio-based2 inquiry and training. Such process-oriented approaches to performance practice recognise that performing is not a static skill that one simply attains. On the contrary, performance requires continued, cumulative and rigorous training, a consistent and renewing study of one's body/mind, one's patterns of behaviour, and one's creative impulses. Training as iterative cycles of learning. As such, many theatre practitioners since Copeau and Stanislavski have come to regard and articulate pre-rehearsal or pre-performative work in "the studio as the site of practical research" (Salata 17) or 'embodied research' (Trencsényi 137). Indeed, through this embodied research, "what the... performer gains as knowledge... is the retraceable path to vulnerability...the work always returns to its original demand, requesting from the performer new access to his or her thinning naivete" (Salata 162). Training as a practice of continual becoming. It is a daily, laborious and slow discipline which, as Eugenio Barba elaborates in Beyond the Floating Islands, eventuates in “[an] imperceptible daily transformation of one's way of seeing, approaching and judging the problems of one's own existence and of that of others, this shifting... is reflected in one's work... thus one's north is displaced” (1986, 56).
Expanding these conceptualisations of training even further, Jerzy Grotowski, seminal Polish theatre director and actor trainer of the mid 1900s, conceived of his performance studio as a laboratory, as "the site of a special encounter" (Salata 22). In Grotowski's laboratory, the performance work involves "not only practice, but much more a particular kind of living, a search for people, meeting. In fact it is a question that we ask ourselves: How could we live?" (Grotowski, in Salata 22).
That is, not only does the individual performer explore her/his mind-body relationship, sensory awareness, attention and liveness, but this exploration in fact occurs through the individual's encounter with others. Indeed, in his introduction to Self-with-Others in Encountering Ensemble, Britton maps the lineage of this approach to the relationship between performer and ensemble, referencing influential practitioners such as Stanislavski, Copeau, Grotowski, Thomas Richards, Nicolas Nunez, and Michel Saint-Denis (2013, 274-312). Through this theoretical map, he provides ample support for the understanding that not only are inter-subjective relationships the core to performer-ensemble training, but in fact "one's sense of self is enhanced [by] profound, immersive engagement... with a complex... simultaneous, detailed relationship with… a number of other performers” (Britton, 2013, 279-80). If philosopher Martin Buber teaches us that "all real living is meeting" (26), then certainly so is all real performance.
Grotowski's contemporary and another formative theatre practitioner and thinker, Eugenio Barba describes training and performance-making as "a practice of a voluntary and lucid disorientation in the search for new points of orientation” (Barba, 2000, 56). In addition to heightening the performer's sensitivity and creating opportunities for encounter, training then can also be imagined as a continuous ebb and flow between orientation, disorientation, reorientation and back again. In much the same way, and as Tomie Hahn writes, artistic “fieldwork can be a dance of disorientation” (88). If we conceive of psychophysical studio training as a performance laboratory and a site of embodied research, we can begin to regard the performance training residency as a form of artistic fieldwork, during which performers explore the application of their practice in new settings. Hahn elaborates:
Performance, as well as fieldwork, is a site that heightens our awareness or draws our attention to the 'continuity between routine activities and more extraordinary ones.' [...] Extreme encounters can be disorienting, particularly if they summon physical sensations not previously experienced... Extraordinary events test our perception and sense of reality, demanding that we make sense of, or question, what has transpired. Extreme experiences are relational orientations: each new extreme experience pushes the sensory threshold up a notch, broadening one's palette of sensory experiences relative to previously embodied knowledge. (Hahn 91)
As such, the fieldwork of the performance residency draws attention to the continuity between routine studio practice and the more extraordinary experience of the residency or retreat. The residency expands and intensifies the disorientation and exploration of the laboratory practice, and indeed even challenges the comfortable regularity of studio training.
In this way, the performance training residency, when understood as the descendent of the European ensemble retreat, disorients the performer by "removing her from the familiar texture of her daily life and asking her to reinvent her work and interrelationships somewhere new" (Britton, 2013, 285). Of course, the European notion of the ensemble retreat is not to be conflated with a one-off performance training residency such as Performing at the Edge. In Performing at the Edge, the participants are not a permanent ensemble, but rather a group of individuals who come together, incidentally and yet intentionally to form a temporary community. In Encountering Ensemble, Britton offers a thorough examination of the historical ensemble retreat, citing Stanislavski, Copeau, Peter Brook, Ingemar Lindh and Eugenio Barba as examples of leaders who retreated their companies to rural settings both temporarily and at times permanently (Britton, 2013, 285-290). For these companies, the ensemble retreat was an opportunity for a consistent and permanent ensemble to delve intensively into training and development, bond as a group, establish their ethos, live and function as a self-sustaining community and commune with the rural outdoors. Thus, shared living in the ensemble retreat becomes another important aspect of the practice, and another way in which even a temporary performance residency expands upon regular studio-based training. The rural ensemble "retreat gives the [practitioners] time to 'live with their [practice]' and 'connect with themselves'" (Trencsényi 94) by shining "a spotlight... onto what remains between individuals when everything else is removed – their shared commitment to shared work" (Britton, 2013, 289). Here we find the return to the idea of meeting, of encounter as practice, this retreat from the mainstream allows "the event of the meeting... to be out of the ordinary, devoid of routine, and significant enough to restore the originary vocational calling" (Salata 22). In describing the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab, Katalin Trencsényi describes how "removed from the distractions and noise of their everyday urban lives and inspired by the beauty of the landscape, embracing the history of the milieu and incorporating this respect into their orientation, all the participants lived together during the period of the work" (97). As much as it does so on the training floor, our temporary ensemble of Performing at the Edge #4 emerges in the conversations and interactions that happen as dishes are washed, laundry is hung, leaves are raked and teeth are brushed. Who likes to talk through the day over dinner, who'd rather quietly write in her journal. Thekla does yoga as I read and sip my coffee; Morten, Adam and Veronique prefer to take an early morning hike. For both the individual and the temporary ensemble, the rural residency is an act of disorientation; immersion in both new surroundings and a new community heightens one's awareness of creative habits and interpersonal patterns.
PART III – The Principles
This brief and cursory theoretical introduction to psychophysical performance and ensemble training provides the paradigm and lineage through which to understand Self-with-Others, John Britton and the DUENDE Ensemble's methodology of training. Through a suite of principles, the methodological and pedagogical framework Self-with-Others constructs the field in which the fieldwork is performed. Over a dozen in number, these principles:
interconnect to form a suite of attitudes which are intended to encourage detail, responsiveness, easefulness, presence and mental flexibility...and healthy and sustainable strategies for continuing development, both of each unique individual and of relationships within the ensemble. (Britton, 2013, 322-3)
Every morning, often even at the start of individual work sessions, we are invited by John to arrive to the work as we are, on this day, in this moment. Turning up, being present is “a performer's first job” (Britton, 2010, 1) and one of the first principles we encounter in the work. As you are, with your fatigue or frustration, with your fear or fascination. As we dive into the work, John asks us to consider what is our pleasure today? Pursuing pleasure as a central principle in the work:
does not mean doing what we like, but identifying what we like in what needs to be done... Each time an activity is undertaken, [the performer] needs to decide what, within the task, she wants to focus on...find ways of paying attention to her work that give her pleasure. (Britton, 2013, 323)
First and foremost, these two principles encourage a sustainable practice, one that feels easeful and honest, generous to the bodymind. We train ourselves to accept each new day as it arrives, engage in each task with detail. By pursuing pleasure in this way, my engagement as performer with each and every task becomes a sort of embodied research inquiry. I try new approaches, experiment with technique, play with disorienting my usual habits and dispositions. These are not merely vague approaches to the work; they manifest themselves in specific and practical ways, as “a precise requirement to make the work detailed” (Britton, 2013, 324). One morning session, feeling particularly depleted and uninspired, I choose to approach each dance with a detailed and narrow task. As I dance improvise with Amruta, I play with the size of my movement, sometimes big bold brushes, other times small subtle strokes. Later, in a full ensemble improvisation, I find pleasure in not initiating new material but rather choosing always to join, support or expand on other performers' offerings. After each dance, be it a solo, duet or group improvisation, we sit for a short conversation about what we enjoyed in the both our own and others' work. The reflections can refer to a very specific aspect of the work (I enjoyed reacting to the sound of the goats' bells; I enjoyed the quality of your hand movement in this moment) or engage with broader questions of practice (I was really interested in working on being ugly and awkward and how that feels in my body; By never initiating new movement, I found more creative freedom then if I had to 'come up' with something new). In either case, the more specific and detailed the reflection, the more useful it becomes as an agent of learning and praxis.
As with individual days or exercises, so too with the residency as an extended inquiry. While it may not be articulated or shared publicly with the ensemble, performers arrive with, or quickly discover one or more questions or challenges that become the 'theme' of the residency for them. The heart of their journey. Moreover, the individual research cycle a performer might undergo often consists of multiple iterations within the full residency, as one finds oneself at the edge of another challenge, another wall, another blockage to break through. In Encountering Ensemble, John elaborates on his pedagogical framework and how it encourages this iterative cycle of embodied research. There, he describes learning and the process of embodiment “as a spiral,” through which the repeated “encounter [with] a familiar activity... offers new insights” (Britton, 2013, 319). Mid-way through the residency, John shares aspects of this framework with the ensemble performers, articulating the learning process as a journey through the following actions:
EXPERIENCE –> RECALL –> REFLECT –> ANALYSE –> SYNTHESISE
Through this simple yet concise diagram, we are invited as performers to actively engage in a research enquiry with our own practices. While such research cycles occur in routine studio training as well, the duration and intensity of the residency as well as the lack of everyday distractions brings the embodied enquiry to the forefront of one's attention so that the “continuing immersion in working relationships create a 'pressure-cooker' environment” (Britton, 2013, 287).
During the first week of the residency, as I begin to sit comfortably within the work, John offers me a provocation. One evening, after a long day of intense work, he suggests to me that tomorrow, I choose to begin the improvisational work from sound. To use sound as my stimulus. As a physical performer, improvising with the body has become a comfortable zone of experience for me, usually accompanied with a sense of competence. Not so with the use of my voice, which has always proven to be a source of self-doubt, inhibition and predictability. Combining John's provocation and Aliki's voice-body practice which focuses on relaxing the body and opening up resonant cavities, I begin to explore and unveil my own voice in performance, pursuing pleasure in the exploration despite the anxiety and insecurity. By the end of the residency, I was using voice, speech and text regularly and creatively throughout my improvisations. On the final, public performance of the residency, I stood on the front balcony of the Fara house and sang a song in my native language. As I wrote in my field notes after the last improvisations of the residency:
Watching everyone perform, I realised something. We have each set ourselves a journey. Partly articulated. Partly embodied or pre-conscious. Partly revealed, partly disguised. To me, from where I sit, it seems that Morten is learning to search for material while Thekla investigates minimalism and Dominga confronts her pleasure, not her expectations of self. I challenge my need for control and composure, hoping to discover wealth in the giving into abandon. And tonight, after two weeks of hard work, the distance travelled is evident and significant. I am watching each of us become more congruent, doing what only we can do, just more like ourselves.
PART IV – The Work
How we pass the days:
7:00 - First morning stirrings. I am usually seated at the table with a large mug of Turkish coffee, reading.
7:30 – Breakfast.
8:00 – Natalia and I dash to the beach for a morning dip. Someone is raking last night's deposit of olive leaves from the synthetic grass of the training space.
9:00 – Warm up begins slowly, as performers wander into the training space. Music is playing in the background, maybe the Keith Jarrett Trio.
9:30 – We begin. John pulls out several juggling balls. He opens the morning with a few thoughts, things we might consider after yesterday and before today. We play the ball game for over an hour.
11:00 – We dance. We improvise. Solo's, duets, three's, four's and sometimes the whole ensemble.
13:00 – Break. Sweaty and sticky and flushed, we run to the sea for a wash, a cooling-off, relaxing the muscles and the mind.
14:00 – Lunch.
15:00 – SIESTA! Too hot to work, usually too hot to think, these next two and a half hours are spent reading a book, or resting in bed, or lying on the beach or playing backgammon.
17:30 – The afternoon includes dance and physical technique training with Eva, voice training with Aliki and group dance improvisations with John.
21:00 – A short break. Dusk descends.
21:15 – Evening improvisational performances. Usually 6-9 short improvisations, a combination of solo's, duets and group performances, each running under 10 minutes.
22:30 – Dinner.
23:30 – We are usually and mostly all asleep (perhaps post star gazing on the beach).
Performing at the Edge, as a performance training retreat, is characterised by a density of work, reflection and interpersonal relation. The schedule, as seen above, includes at least 8 hours of work a day, in addition to evening improvisational performances. The work is disciplined, gruelling, physically challenging and all-encompassing. It is no wonder that such training periods are also sometimes called 'intensives'. The work reaches into, and holds a mirror up to, the body, the mind, the ego, the soul, the values and the behaviours of the performer. These qualities of the work are perhaps applicable to performance training outside the ensemble retreat setting as in any studio, performance laboratory, or site of embodied research. Nonetheless, the intensity of the residency as a structure serves as a sort of magnifying glass: enhancing, focusing and detailing the practice. In what follows, I expand upon the qualities of the residency, unpacking how the work works.
The work has depth, not breadth. The work is simple, and therein lies the complexity. The simpler the task, the more specific the instruction, the deeper the scope of investigation becomes. On the structure of training exercises, Britton explains that in order "to operate as precise training structures, they need to be precisely focused” (2013, 342). Barba explains that for the Odin Theatre, "training has always consisted of an encounter between discipline – that is, the exercise's set form – and the surpassing of that set form which the exercise represents" (Barba, 1986, 50). Likewise, Susan Thompson, in writing about Lecoq's methods of ensemble performer training, explains that "constraints, through limiting the possibilities... force a deepening and a search that might otherwise have been skipped altogether" (Thompson 402). The key to this iterative and inductive search lies in repetition. Like many Eastern meditative practices, performer training requires regular repetition. Obstinate, meticulous repetition. It's about boredom and fatigue and routine and what emerges when one works through them. Every morning we begin with an hour and a half of The Ball Game, John's signature training activity and pedagogical practice. The Ball Game is an exceedingly 'simple' exercise – in a circle, we throw and catch soft juggling balls, sometimes just one ball moves between the 16 participants, other times as many as 12 zip across the circle.3 As we do, we observe the workings of our mind/body, the ease with which distractions enter the mind, the locations where tension goes to hide in the body, the impulses that arise when balls are flying at your face, and eventually the capacity to interfere with these patterns by refusing inappropriate impulses and instead favouring appropriate responses. The game teaches me those qualities and states of being that I want to embody in performance: relinquishing control, loving chaos and the unexpected, quietening mental distractions, avoiding judgement or opinion, maintaining an alert, positive presence and calm state of flow. Playing the game every morning and reflecting on my experience of it anew every day, I observe how these qualities, little by little, like gleanings, become embodied.
The simplicity and repetition of the physical tasks lends the retreat or residency an extra-daily (Zarilli 19) or liminal sense of time. The long sessions, the detail within a simple task, the attention to breath and the senses all contribute to a slow and meditative experience of time. Time expands, stands still, becomes irrelevant. Two days into the residency, and I've been here for years, known these people, my collaborators, for years. We improvise for an hour that goes by in a blink of an eyelash. And while the events of the world around us inform our work (there is much to be discussed as the Greek participants contemplate their country's economic future), we find ourselves in a time above time. This moment could be anytime, anywhere in the history of people sharing stories. This encounter likely happened before.
Another characteristic of the work is the physically gruelling, almost cruel regiment of training. For two weeks, we push our bodies to their limits with at least 8 hours a day of physical games, dance and improvisation. Eva Tsourou's sessions see us attack explicitly challenging physical training exercises – we learn to fall, roll, lift, climb, carry, and flip bodies through space. Ankles twist, muscles cramp, bones ache, and occasionally, a juggling ball hits you straight in the eye. This is all intentional. Indeed, in much a similar way, Grotowski's training and philosophy of via negativa openly acknowledged that it is through an almost cruel exhaustion of the performer's body that we remove the mind's impositions on the body and access vulnerability and aliveness. What do we become when our minds no longer interfere with our bodies?
After nearly two weeks of hard physical and emotional work, I am close to a breaking point. My body and my mind are exhausted. I wake one morning, two days before the end of the residency, and I just can't stop crying. It's a cleansing sort of sob, though, and I am not alarmed by it. That night, as I improvise a solo performance, I know it is my most powerful work yet. My body is raw and vulnerable and open. My creative impulses are clear. An almost impossible paradox exists within me in that moment of performance. A deep sense of embodied knowing sits alongside an active process of unknowing. I relinquish cognitive control and allow my expressive and creative Quietening the conscious mind
PART V – The Ensemble
As I wrote at the beginning of this paper, and to co-opt Buber's phrase, all real performance is encounter. While the majority of this paper has focused on my individual performer's experience of the ensemble retreat, and this may seem counter-intuitive to an inquiry into ensemble practices, this approach stems from a paradoxical understanding that “an inward journey is nothing but a deeper way to relate to others” (Salata 19). The search for an embodied encounter as performance constitutes, in many respects, the heart of psychophysical and ensemble performer training. This encounter is a multi-sited one: encounter with the self; encounter between self and other; encounter between performer and performance landscape/environment; encounter between performer and her senses, her liveness, her practice. Kris Salata writes of Grotowski's philosophy of practice which underscores the performer's essential task as that of opening and revealing herself in front others:
'to reveal yourself'... does not simply mean to take off the social mask and show the 'real self' behind it, but rather should be understood as a mode of being-towards-another, or being in the event of I-You... the I is no longer a fixed solitary subject, and opens itself up to the possibility of I in You. (49)
In the body, this being-towards-another, this being I in You, rings strong like a resonating voice. In one voice exercise led by Aliki Dourmazi, we stand in front of our partners each with an open, relaxed mouth. As I release my sound and allow it to weave through tone and pitch, Aliki prompts me to imagine my voice leaving my mouth, mingling in the air with my partner Lucy's voice and resonating in her oral cavity, just as she does the same.4 The effect is profound and uncanny. The sound resonating through my mouth, through my body is not my own.
Know where the heart of the improvisation is in every moment
(as it shifts and morphs and grows)
Know if it needs supporting or shattering
Know when not to do anything but look, listen and be present
It is a voice that is
part mine part Lucy's.
We are sounding together through each other.
My voice is in her her voice is in me.
The final ensemble improvisation of the residency is an exhilarating and powerful display of embodied ensemble work. Running for 45 minutes, 16 performers weave on and off stage constructing momentary images, choreographic stories and physical collages. There is a remarkable sense of growth, development and shared flow as this temporary ensemble emerges through the work. In the evocative words of Thomas Richard:
In moments, a comprehension... can flow... from you towards your partner and also towards yourself: it is like a gentle sigh inside, a kind of release that unties the inter-human knots and makes the moment shine and stand on its own potential... It's as if all levels of your being have now entered into a deep inter-connecting with the other person. That's when the highway is open.” (132)
In Encountering Ensemble, John Britton interrogates what is ensemble, suggesting that “the 'it-ness of ensemble' is not a product the ensemble can demonstrate, but the outcome of a process the ensemble undertakes” (2013, 28). Much like the current discourse on identity, cognition or perception, it seems that ensemble is
not something we are,
not something we have,
ensemble is something we do.
PART VI – The Knowledge (or rather, The Non-Knowledge)
Embedded in this document are inherent questions regarding the challenges of representing and documenting praxical, embodied and interpersonal knowledge. How does one grasp with language the forms of inter-corporeal, embodied and sensory knowledge generated and disseminated by a practice of ensemble performance training fieldwork? Indeed, what is the very nature of the knowledge generated and can it be disseminated? Does it have longevity or application beyond the experience itself? Perhaps an answer is not the answer, but rather offerings, images, threads to be further unravelled. And while there is not the scope in this document to fully elaborate upon and address these questions, I offer here a few initial thoughts on the type of knowledge explored and generated through such performance training residencies and fieldwork.
Eugenio Barba's words come to mind, that “the performer's life is based on an alteration of balance...the aim is a permanently unstable balance” (1995, 18-19). Truly, balance is always ever unstable; the way of opposites, of tension, of in-between. To stand is to sway, imperceptibly even, shifting weight ever so slightly. The encounter, like a balancing act, is situated between the I and the Thou, between my voice and Lucy's voice, in the third voice that they become when they resonate together. A performer’s energetic presence too, that illusive and ineffable quality is a state of in-between. The body alive with presence is situated:
with ease in a state of unease
with knowing in a state of unknowing
with comfort in a state of discomfort
As I wrote previously, throughout the residency we learn to attend to the heart of the improvisation; to discover, as it unfolds, the material core of this particular dance in this particular moment. Therein lies, yet again, an apparent paradox. If one knows too well where the heart of the improvisation is, one risks a certain blindness. The heart of a performance, much like the experience of flow, is constantly changing; the moment you go to reach for it, it slips out of your grasp. Once more, we approach the performer's knowledge as a balancing act, as an in-between space: to know and un-know simultaneously. In interrogating Bataille's concept of non-knowledge, Salata aptly suggests that “the investigation of the meaning behind a fundamental self-investigation moves...towards the discomfort of non-knowledge” (Salata 131). This combination of knowing and unknowing implies a productive and yet irreconcilable tension. The trained performer is equipped with embodied knowledge – physical expressivity in movement, a trained quality of listening, a sensitive creative imagination – while being equally equipped with a "retraceable path to vulnerability" (Salata 162) or a consistent commitment to unknowing. In a similar way, Robin Nelson's concepts of know-how and know-what (know-what-works) are well suited for embodied knowings in practice (Nelson, 37-47) as they position knowledge as specific, instantaneous and emergent. A trained performer and a trained ensemble aspire to both know what works and know how to un-know. And yet even still, I am wary of such claims to knowing-in-performance because:
'To know' often encloses the past and flattens the future. The work starts to shine when the nobility of the moment emerges, when its true, undefined nature unveils...when the temptation to think that you know is released. Then there exists a level of, “I know what's happening...,” but also, “I don't know.” (Richards 150)
Perhaps, the type of 'knowledge' we train and embody in performance, and particularly through the performance residency, is nothing more than the path to a 'permanently unstable balance' between knowing and un-knowing. This “constant confrontation with non-knowledge” (Salata 133) is generated within each performer but also between the performers, in the third space that becomes ensemble performance. As we bid each other farewell on the final morning on the island of Lesvos, an image comes to mind. Sixteen performers travel sixteen different paths across the globe, back home or to new destinations. Sixteen performers hold inside their creative bodies an experiential knowledge of a way of being in the world and with others. Sixteen performers will enter new studios and training spaces, forge new collaborations and ensembles, generate new performance and improvisation. Sixteen performers will conjure, share and disseminate this knowledge in their practice(s) and their presence(s). Like seeds blown across fields and rivers and hills, this knowledge is carried away to be planted elsewhere, the fruits of which we cannot anticipate.
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- It is important to note here that many of these Western training practices borrow heavily and are otherwise inspired by traditional Eastern meditational, martial and creative arts (from yoga to Kathakhali and more) and philosophies of practice. It is not within the scope of this paper to interrogate this history (nor I am expertly equipped to do so).↩
- The 'studio' can refer to conventional performance studios, but also outdoor or any other designated training space.↩
- For a more detailed description and analysis of this methodology, see John Britton's Encountering Ensemble (2013).↩
- This exercise was introduced to us by Aliki Dourmazi, voice-body trainer and performer.↩