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  • Writer's pictureashlee

Decisions


Dancer is a blue t-shirt and curly hair gazes up towards her left hand
Photo by Olivia Fyfe

Thanks to the Easter break, there were a couple of weeks between where I last left off with day 7 and where I pick up here. These next few weeks saw a shift in focus as I settled into my routine for practice while also becoming more consumed by the admin side of the project and worrying about its future. As autumn got underway, the temperature dropped, and my energy levels fluctuated. I was getting deeper into the meat of the project now, even as I felt I was still trying to work it out…



Day 8, Apr 21 (2021), Theatre

Today was the first day I attempted to complete my 3 hours alone in the studio straight after company practice with Australian Dance Party. ADP were training in the park that day, focusing on developing skills for site-specific dance, working with ideas of interrupting space, assimilating with it, amplifying it, or highlighting its function. I love site-specific dance, and before this residency, my practice consisted almost entirely of this kind of work. I was interested to see how I would find swapping from site to studio practice today, and whether I could allow one to influence the other.


I must say that I did not get out of bed feeling motivated for a park-based class – the morning was chilly, I was low on energy, and my partner was home sick with a cold. Of course, once I managed it, I was glad I got my butt to what was a great class. I now felt physically tired, but that always beats feeling just generally meh! I paused to write: if class was my warmup today, how much of my usual warm up routine did I need to complete once back in the space at QL2?


Well, as it turned out the temperature inside was just as low as out, and there was no sun in there to improve matters. So, another quick warmup before reading back and remembering the fun, the character, and the story I found in my last studio session. I attempted to let these memories sit alongside the echoes of the morning’s site-specific practice in my body as I completed the 4x5+2 structure.


From my written reflections, I can’t say my attempts were particularly successful - I barely mentioned those initial intentions. I wrote instead about my layers of self-consciousness: I was aware that I was filming myself, I was aware that I was wearing black clothes in a black space and the camera was probably struggling, I was aware of people in the foyer just outside the door and how easily my mutterings to myself or the camera might be overheard… My thoughts were scattered between the dancing and every other aspect of the project. I constantly questioned my decisions about how I was structuring my time, the usefulness of the camera and how I should document this residency. The ongoing challenges of being your own director!


In terms of the dancing, I oscillated between pure (abstract) movement, character-driven movement, and movement responding to external stimuli (as in the site-specific class). There was no clarity in my focus. It was only after I finished that I came to the realisation that as a site, the black box theatre space is intentionally designed to be interrupted, occupied, and transformed. I wish I had realised this from the beginning. I was still happy that the 4x5+2 structure does a beautiful job of carrying me through, and that between the struggles to stay present there were plenty of moments of joy in dancing.





This session was almost a year ago as I sit writing this post, though I remember my struggles quite clearly from reading over my notes and reflections. I can’t say I remember the dancing as clearly. Now that I come to watch the footage after all this expounding on my headspace at the time, the dancing was not as terrible as I expected. Where the movement could have been complete waffle, there is a fair amount of definition throughout much of the dance. If it had been a performance, I would say it lacked in light and shade, but I did see some non-habitual shapes, and interesting use of tone and stillness. Perhaps I needed to embrace the idea of letting mind wander and physicalising the stream of consciousness?


I spend a lot of time thinking about gesture. It's gesture that takes abstract movement and implies character or story. It doesn’t have to be recognisable or ‘real’ but it’s something to do with the purposeful movement of a limb or two, perhaps with a strongly focused gaze that seems functional, which in turn seems to trigger a sense of meaning or consciousness and therefore a character. Repetition can achieve this too – almost creating a gesture where before there was simply momentum or a pulse of energy. Or sticking with an impulse for long enough to allow it to play out.





I had originally thought that being alone in the studio is a good time to experiment with dance without any regard for meaning or aesthetics: using abstract, even obscure concepts involving internalised or sensory stimuli, metaphors, images, or imaginary terrains as means for generating movement. Dance that is less ‘audience-friendly’. And it IS the perfect time! BUT there has also been a question in my mind about whether practice shouldn’t also be about always dancing as if for an audience; that process driven work should be accessible at any time, and that practicing ‘performing’ a score is just as important as experimenting with it. Should I be delineating modalities by focusing solely on either my ‘experimentation-brain’ or my ‘choreographic-decision-making/performing-brain’ at any one time? Or is it always a bit of both? I am constantly back and forth on these two approaches. If nothing else, my footage is a great showcase of my concentration face as I experiment… a convincing argument for practicing in performance mode!



Day 9, Apr 22, Theatre

The heater in the theatre had been on for some time today and it was thankfully not as cold. However, I arrived straight from work and was feeling tired again, and the tree surgeons were hard at work in the courtyard, so there was a constant, inescapable buzzing. After a little meditation, I realised I probably didn’t have the energy to come up with new and exciting things to work on today, so I used the tools I already had to put myself to work. I returned to the Motion Poetry podcast to put my warmup in someone else’s hands – or words – with the intention of then launching into the 4x5+2 structure. I hadn’t tried this combination yet.


On today’s warmup:

Perhaps with fatigue there is a certain amount of release and boogie, but I’m not sure the attention span holds up. I gave up early, but the voice was indistinct, and I felt myself repeating disinterestedly. Now that I have stopped, my head aches. Before even beginning to write here I already anticipated my discomfort with writing to document these practicalities of process rather than a creative response to the dance, but as I found out yesterday, my mind is torn between the different aspects of this thing, as well as life in general, and though meditating at the start helped me at first, and I did drop in at first, I definitely withdrew at some point. I even questioned my intention to now go on to the 4x5 dance. But I should.


I also realised that while mindful, internally focussed warmups such as a body scan or the Small Dance do a great job of getting me moving in an embodied way, the external stimulus of the spoken text does a better job of interrupting my habits, introducing variations in rhythm and muscle tone that I may not have found on my own. Arguably, this movement is more ‘interesting’ to watch…?


The camera battery died in the middle of my attempt at the 4x5+2 structure. Once I had noticed this, I tried not to let it distract or frustrate me but allow the temporal nature of this dance to give it an added layer of freedom. Of course, then I chided myself that I should always be doing this regardless of presence of the camera.


I wrote of the four dances:

1. Reminiscent of past dances about strength: a solo in a garden, a performance piece from university, another from my Quantum Leap days. There is some essence that these dances have in common… but can it be defined?


2. My vision is blurry/dark/fuzzy. The landscape is dim, swimming in and out of focus: windswept dunes, the desert at dusk.


3. A longing. Glimpses of Pina Bausch, tense, slow motion, then sad. ‘Contort like a beautiful ugly expressionist rather than like my own ugliness?’


4. A mock seduction, peacocking.






I also wrote that today confirmed yesterday’s thoughts about the different energy requirements of physical and mental work. I might be able to move through the scores, but I struggle to find new ways to be interested or investigate deeper when I’m this tired. Overall, I was still very happy to be here and dancing today and not falling into the Day 2 rut again.


Curiously, stepping back into the present for a moment as I write this, I find those four descriptions for the dances that day quite distinctive, and they do a good job of taking me back to that improvised event. Recently (in 2022) I have often found myself struggling to clearly define the dances each day, and I almost take my ability to articulate labels for each dance as a measure for their success or at least of my level of engagement with each one. So, by my current criteria, I would possibly judge that session less harshly than how I did a year ago? Not that I am disregarding my past experience, but it’s interesting to see how the process can circle around.



 


Looking back, it’s not surprising that I struggled to find focus that week. I was coming to realise that scheduling time to come into the studio was not enough to fulfill my goals for the project. I needed to find time outside the studio for reflecting, planning, and documenting. I remember thinking: if I am bothering to film my studio sessions, I also need to be putting the footage to use – whether reflecting and feeding directly back into the practice or editing and sharing it as documentation. ‘Do something!’ was the underlined instruction to myself. I felt like I needed an accountability system to get my accountability system up and running!


This project was starting to make its presence felt in my life. If I was going to give it the attention it deserved, then something had to give, priorities needed to be assessed. I started having some very serious thoughts about pulling back on my teaching work (gasp!), turning away some of the steady income in favour of time, physical energy, and creative energy. It was a scary prospect.


By the end of this week, I had bit the bullet and decided to build a website. This would be my platform for documentation.


Days within a series of days

Practicalities, Productivity & Procrastination

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