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  • Writer's pictureashlee

A Contemplation and an Emergence


Young woman in a colourful top and black leggings frozen in a dance in a dance studio/performance space that has black walls and floor.


At this point, I have used this blog to describe what this residency is about, how I got myself started and into the studio and then how I floundered about for a while. Most recently, I explained how after I came back from a short break, things became more regular and I eventually developed a framework to structure each session in a way that continues to support my solitary practice. While it was in March last year that this framework began to evolve (oh my goodness, where has the time gone?!), it did take some time for it to settle into what I described in that post. So I’d like to take some time to journal some of the other things that were coming up for me during those weeks in the studio as I was finding my flow.


Obviously, with three months of work leading into this stage of the residency, March was not the beginning by any means. But, for clarity’s sake, as I get down into the details of these weeks, I will number the days from this point forward.



 


Day 1, Mar 10, Studio

The first thing I wrote in my notebook in March was that I had to take the battery out of the studio clock – the ticking was so loud in the quiet of the studio that I couldn’t stand it. I was definitely distracted that day, and a little sore in my body, so I was finding it hard to drop-in to the practice.


To shake up my frame of mind, I read over my reflections from the last time I had been in the studio – over a month ago. In my writing I had been ruminating on the virtues of text-based improvisation scores and reflecting on the dance as an unrequited love letter performed for an imagined audience. Back in the present, when I got up to dance again, free now from the ticking clock (though the ‘background’ music from the restaurant next door was giving me the irrits), I did not find that the quality* of my movement had improved. However, this time as I moved I also began to speak aloud. It was as if I was working through my distracted thoughts in a kind of verbalised word association that could not have flowed freely without the accompanying movement, mediocre though it may have been.


This was that day I found myself wishing I had filmed the dance, though I did reflect that the presence of a camera may have affected me, inhibiting the event that unfolded, so maybe it was just as well that I hadn’t. Though I did not rate the movement itself, I found it to be an intensely focused, meditative dance that somehow felt quite performative. I enjoyed the flow of words and ideas; it was as if I was an overwhelmed robot breaking down by spilling out seemingly random information.



Day 2, Mar 16, Studio

I made the decision. The next day I brought my compact camera into the studio and set it up to film. However, it was a cold day and I struggled to get warm or find focus. I was incredibly frustrated. There is no written entry from that day; I felt too empty to bother, though I’ll uncomfortably admit I still have the footage.


I’m happy to say that I haven’t had such a personal low point in my practice since that day. There have definitely been days where I have struggled to engage physically or mentally, but this was the only day so far that I felt my time had been truly wasted. Sometimes I wonder how I’ve managed to avoid falling into this hole again, but my mindset did shift over the following weeks and months of continually returning to practice. More on this later...



Day 3, Mar 23, Theatre

It was raining outside and super muggy, but I was so happy not to be cold that I embraced the stickiness. I was tired and felt scatterbrained as I attempted various scores, but I managed to show up and move – a huge positive after the last session. In my writing, I questioned whether I had the self-discipline to stick to one score for a number of days, weeks or months – something I imagined real, hard-working improv artists do. I wasn’t feeling hugely motivated to work in this way, which led to feelings of inadequacy. But, I then reminded myself that whatever I was doing or focusing on while I was moving, this was practice, being in practice, and that was my foremost goal. However flat or aimless my trajectory over my studio residency might turn out to be, at least it would be a trajectory; something I could identify and work from. This sentiment is perhaps not particularly ambitious or even that positive, but again, hugely more useful than the previous week.



It’s not going to change the world. But it is moving. It is Practice. My body works. The black box is stark and almost oppressive, but the warmth saves it from becoming too foreboding and this is only a moment, if it is a long one for merely a dance. ...If I stop to think about a direction to take I may get too tired and overwhelmed to take any. If I keep moving without direction, will I spin myself into a rut that my spinning carves out for me?


After writing about my attempts to set scores and stick to them (or even let them go and just tune into the dance) I got up for another dance. This time I played an audio recording of a reading of the poem ‘Antidotes to Fear of Death’ by astronomer Rebecca Elson. I love this poem I had recently stumbled upon with its evocative imagery and optimism, but as it turns out I didn’t love responding to this recording of it. I felt it needed to be read out live in the studio, with time for the words and the movement to expand into the space together and feed off each other. I had vaguely contemplated putting together a playlist of recorded poetry like this to use as a way to continue exploring my interest in working with text, but it never came to pass. Though the poetry I had enjoyed from Eliza’s podcast was an audio recording, it had been recorded specifically with the moved response in mind, which must have made all the difference. I still love that poem though.


This was the day I decided to try ‘pre-journaling’ at the beginning of each session, though it was a little bit longer before I actually implemented the idea. At the time I imagined just jotting down five or so words at the beginning of the session to contextualise the day in terms of what was currently on my mind or happening in my life. This has since expanded to dot-point form of the ‘who, why, where, when and what’ is happening that week – partially to get it out of my head on the day, partially to help with the documentation. On that note, another frustration: the apparently high quality compact camera I had used to film the session really struggled with the black box space of the QL2 Theatre. Most of the footage was blurry or swimming in and out of focus. The documentation project was still to get off the ground.



Day 4, Mar 25, Theatre

My warm up began in the ‘young universe, warm as blood’ from yesterday’s poem, but flitted to illustrations of monsters I had seen pasted to a wall a few days ago. I had been dreaming a lot about Pilates teaching (I had been covering extra hours at work), and in recognising this I tried to use my breath as a bridge from one headspace to another. I situated myself within a community, a centre for the arts; for all that I was a single person inside a black box, contemplating words that contemplate the vastness of the universe. I worked to quieten the planning, analytical voice, always undeniably present.


In this session I felt that some days in the studio are not about training to be an elite athlete or a virtuoso, but simply about being present in the system of the body as it moves and works through thoughts, feelings and experiences – a physicalised stream of consciousness. In the same way that dreams are the brain’s way of working through ideas and memories during sleep. I had told myself that discipline, structure and particular scores could be decided on and implemented later, like a PhD student struggling to land on a final research question, but on this day I acknowledged that this embodied processing was a discipline in itself, and allowed it to become the practice.


Every dance is a meditation on myself, no matter what the provocation or score. There is a contemplation and an emergence.

(As I wrote about that word association dance from day one for this post, it seemed so obvious that it shared such a strong likeness to the practice known as stream of consciousness writing. Somehow, I had not articulated it that way to myself until coming to write about it here.)


After these reflections I tried the 4x5+2 structure for the first time.


An awareness of all the dances un-danced, twitches untranslated into movements of their own. The tech still takes up headspace, but this will diminish with time and practice I’m sure. A structure to notice where things still had potential, characters had more stories to live out, which is almost more exciting because they did not continue or eventuate. More detailed movement studies? Oscillating between the internal leading and the character/story leading. And how fast can 30 minutes go by?

Raw footage of dance #2 of the 4x5+2. Shot on the smartphone in the end - still not getting
much love from the compact camera I bought for its high quality video...


Hilariously, in my writing I had also encouraged myself to get a move on with documenting the practice (i.e., writing this blog, though I didn’t know it would take this form yet) and reflecting on my reflections. My notes and footage were beginning to pile up and I was afraid of losing clarity and getting overwhelmed by the volume of it. If only I knew how many months it would be until I would be publishing this and how I would never keep up with my ever expanding mountain of notes and footage! It seemed that while I felt not much had happened or emerged yet, I also felt I had a lot of that ‘not much’ that I wanted to document. It was becoming a bigger, more daunting task than the residency itself.


It’s so much easier to understand my trajectory all these months later and appreciate what I was working through and where it was headed.



 

*A very loaded word that needs unpacking. We’ll get to this, I promise!


A Structure Evolves

Days within a series of days

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