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  • Writer's pictureashlee

Return, Repeat, Reflect

Ashlee holds her phone close to the camera, showing her timer app preset to 4x5 mins w 2min

Hello! It’s been a long time between posts. I stayed under that grant writing rock longer than expected, and by the time I emerged there were extra projects popping up, a wedding to plan and the general end-of-year craziness we all know and love. Anyway, excuses. I’ve returned to my notes realising that I’m now suddenly 18 months behind on this documenting campaign! Ohmygoodness how is it 2023?

As I write in the first few days of the year, I am again in a very different (but good!) place with my practice than I was 6 months ago, let alone 18 months ago, so I’m starting to waver on my commitment and question the value of pursuing the original idea of documenting the entire timeline of my residency. But I already had a dot-point draft for a new post documenting days 12 through 15, so I figure I’ll see this one through and then check in again…


In writing this blog and attempting this mammoth catch-up task, I keep thinking that surely some of the sessions all those months ago were samey enough to skip past? Or even just acknowledge with a quick line or two before moving onto the exciting ‘aha’ moments? But when I look back over my notes, I find myself absorbed in reflection and elaborating profusely on these experiences! Day 12 was a big one in its sense of productivity, positive momentum and wealth of footage, but Day 13 was a big ‘aha!’ moment! Now I find that my reflections on these two days alone have filled another post. Perhaps I need an editor to encourage me to be more brutally concise and pithy...


Day 12, 11 May 21, Theatre

This was a very productive day. I committed to completing a timed warm-up, the 4x5+2 score and then another short something after that. Pre-journalling, I noted that I only had 4 sessions of my regular residency ahead before pausing for two-weeks to work on LESS with ADP.

I used two cameras to film each part of the session: I set my digital camera up as normal and also used a timelapse app on my phone. As I mentioned in my last timeline post, I soon decided that the timelapse footage was almost comedically fast and mostly useless, that I was much better off filming normally and speeding up any footage in the edit if I needed to. The timelapse does literally show how I spent the time (dancing, writing, dancing, writing...) and so considering this is the one time I did successfully record that kind of footage, I’ve set the timelapse videos back-to-back as a complete illustration of those earlier days of my residency. Unfortunately, the video of the 4x5+2 dance is out of focus, but feel free to scrub through and decide for yourself on the usefulness of the footage!

Today’s warm up was segmented thusly: 6 minutes meditation, 6 minutes body warm-up and 8 minutes warm-up dance. During the 6-minute warm-up, a physical memory snuck up on me before I realised mentally what I was doing. My body was remembering the bit of Mobius Kiryuho I had learnt back in Melbourne – a meditative Japanese movement practice based on the figure 8. It felt lovely and nutritious in my body. I found myself wishing I had a better memory for cataloguing all the wonderful things like this I’ve ever learned.

Gif of Ashlee twirling on the spot in a black box theatre
Dancey dance

For the 8-minute warm-up dance I gave myself permission to let it be simply a warm-up without any intention of it looking or feeling like a dance. Yet somehow what that emerged was VERY dancey – I would say one of my more dancey dances! I played with rhythm and percussion (elements I often ignore until I get to the ‘real’ dance score) and spins and turns – some, as I noted in my writing, 'more and less serious'.

It was fun, but the tiredness was creeping in as I wrote, so I moved straight onto the ‘real’ 4x5+2 dance:

It was a bit of a blur. There was more of a through-line today, though each 5-minute dance still had its own character. The rhythmic definition of the dances was sharper than usual, and memories of my younger, music student-self came to the surface. In the final 2-minute stillness I tried to remember each individual dance, but found I could barely remember if I had actually completed all four, let alone their individual identities - another little moment of anxiety over my commitment to document all this!

Here's what I wrote of what I recalled:

1. Foldy and spiney – Pilates hat almost showing through, driven by a fast-paced rhythm.

2. Tried to contrast 1. with a slower pace, but the rhythm may have taken over…

3. Walking and pausing with gestures

4. How to get off my back and get my hands unstuck. The energy just picked up and then it was over.

Instead of picking out clips of footage from each of today’s dances and to continue the video experiment from earlier, here is the full 5-minute dance #1 sped up to 1.8x. I think the rhythm is still noticeable at this speed where it gets lost in the timelapse, and obviously much more of the movement detail is retained. It’s also a much quicker edit for me, rather than cutting out a couple of ‘highlights’ to share at real speed. I’d be interested to hear what people prefer to see - selected highlights, or a quick overview of the whole? For those following along closely, this is the same part of the day as at about the 1'30'' mark on the timelapse video.

It seemed to go by very quickly today and I wondered if I could take that to mean I managed to stay present? I also wondered if my focus on time management helped today or if it was always going to be a good dancing day. Choosing not to take a break after the warm-up definitely benefitted the 4x5+2 score. Of course, after I wrote about it being a good dancing day, I really hoped the footage would back me up – it would be very disappointing to watch it back later and find it a bit meh! Luckily, from my current vantage point in 2023, I’m still happy to call this a good dancing day.

I started contemplating other versions of this score/structure… A shorter version or perhaps one with fewer, longer dances..?

After a rest and snack break, I set a timer for one more 15-minute dance. It was okay, definitely worthwhile, but it felt less connected, which could have been due to the break or not bookending the dance with stillness. I was more aware of my sore and tired body, as well as getting panicky about the amount of footage I was accumulating. I tried to allow for some quiet/slow moments, and to play with allowing the dancer/symmetry/line to show through (something I learned somewhere to avoid in the quest for ‘originality’. Boo). Here’s a peek:

Day 13, May 12, Studio

It was the first day since I had formalised my residency that I went straight from an ADP company class in the studio into my own studio practice. Olivia had taught a great class (as always) including some very fun coordination puzzles and we’d worked up a good sweat. My body was feeling good, but in the time that it took for the studio to empty after class, I was cold again, so I did a quick warm-up structure with 2 minutes of shaking, a 5-minute meditation and then an 8-minute dance.

I would not say I’m a great meditator, but those 5 minutes did help me get back into my own head. As soon as I started moving, however, a gardener started trimming the hedges outside the studio – a noisy distraction, which added to my distracted thoughts about what I might be able to teach at an ADP class when my turn comes around. Plus, I was still preoccupied with this ‘dance vs occupation’ thing.

The dance itself was all about leading with my head, which mixed with resonances from Olivia’s class and a resistance I felt to moving with any great level of tone or energy in my body. It’s hard work switching back to self-directing after following someone else’s instructions and choreography! There was the occasional glimpse of athleticism, however.

I was still feeling called to the 4x5+2 structure, and after reading over my notes, I can clearly remember the rollercoaster ride I went on that day.

From my notes:

1. Started off just fine, but I got really bored and was tempted to stop and check the timer and even give up on this score. It was the first time I had to contend with negative self-talk during the practice since handing power over to the timer weeks ago. Perhaps it was because at first I had decided to remain eyes-closed for the duration of this dance, but after accidentally opening them was disappointed to find how much time was still left before the bell.

2. Was still bored to begin with, but at some point it began to feel better, though I couldn’t remember how or why. I was pleasantly surprised when the bell sounded – this dance had gone much faster than the first! Similar to yesterday, this dance started at a slower pace again – was this becoming a pattern for the second dance of the 4x5+2?

3. As it developed, I remembered Liv’s coordination challenges from class, and I let them emerge and then sort of melt into a weird, continuous, full-bodied dance. I found myself enjoying this so much that I was SAD when I heard the bell!

4. Started by tracing big, distal circles with my limbs, which sustained my attention for a while, but I eventually returned to something echoing that coordination puzzle dance. It then became a joyous, quick-this-could-be-the-last-chance-for-a-dance-today kind of dance!

I wrote A LOT more after this. The most I had written in one go post-dancing since I started the residency (or perhaps even longer)! My attempt at the score started with so little promise and ended on such a high. My earlier dissatisfaction may have grown out of my attempt to move away from my habitual movement patterns, which tend to be internally driven, precarious and squirmy, to something more distal, clearly defined and grounded. I find this often leads to more judgement and less flow. But, once I got into the melted puzzle groove (as we shall now refer to it), even my less ‘present’ thoughts seemed on task – I imagined collecting as many physical puzzles as I could find and making them into improvisation scores. I also pondered a possible link between my yesterday's reconnecting with my musical background and today's fascination with these puzzles – something to do with holding multiple simultaneous rhythms in my body..?

At the time, it was a great reminder that practice is not just about improving the dancing so that each jam is ‘better’ than the last, but that value comes from repetition and learning; noticing what changes, what thoughts arise, what holds my interest, when and why. These are all useful things for me to reflect on later (i.e., now! Ahhh, it's getting meta!). I wasn’t sure if the dancing actually ‘improved’ in any way when my mood and engagement level did, but I was interested to see what would show up in the footage.

Back to 2023 as I write this, I clearly remember that day and how energised I felt after pushing through my tedium to find a real interest in what I was doing. Looking back at the footage however, I am a little disappointed to say that what I see in the dancing doesn’t match my memory or my writing from that day. I think it’s clear that the third dance has a stronger identity than the others, but not necessarily that it ‘improved’ on the first. In the footage of the last dance, I don’t see the joy that I wrote about. Unfortunately, my concentrating-while-dancing face does make me look bored the whole time, which doesn't help. Or maybe that has something to do with being tired from company class.

To put a positive spin on this whole leveling-out of my rollercoaster ride, I guess I could say that while dance #4 doesn’t look as joyous as I remember, perhaps dance #1 doesn’t look as awful as I remember it being either… maybe?

It’s a pity to be having the opposite experience to my earlier post where I was pleasantly surprised by the footage after reading my negative words. In my disappointment, I nearly decided not to post any footage of today’s dance. But, in the interest of sharing openly and honestly, and allowing my dear reader their own opinion, I'm taking a breath and including clips from dances 1, 3 & 4 here:

Still, intellectually it was a landmark day for me in my residency. I was clearly able to articulate to myself how my intentions for the residency had transitioned: I had moved from entering the studio solely to start a performance project to allowing the practice and the evolution of the practice to be my project. Not only was it ok to repeat scores and structures on multiple days, but there was real value in it. I also reflected on my writing: when I started, I wanted to be poetic. I still do I guess. Of course I want soulful, profound words to flow from my pen after each interval of dancing, but again, as my focus narrowed in on noticing things about the practice, it became necessary to write simply about my experience each day, to document the practice.

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