By the end of 2020 I had managed to do two things: finally get started (with a few helpful nudges) and take the time to land in the studio, situating and acquainting myself with solitude. The next steps were to find focus in the practice and continue showing up even when this eluded me. This might sound simple, showing up and finding focus, but honestly, it’s an ongoing process. Some days it’s easier than others, but it’s a constant challenge.
It took some time for a structure to evolve and settle, both in terms of my schedule and what I did with my time in the studio. Early on, afraid of falling into directionless flailing or losing motivation, I experimented with setting myself concrete tasks such as learning improvised movement from footage as I described in my last post. I sometimes returned to Courtney’s improvisation scores or the Motion Poetry podcast, attempting to name what it was that interested me in working with these tools. Sometimes, I simply set a timer and danced until time was up.
I continued writing in that impractical notebook (I don’t know, I couldn’t just switch books once I had started using it!). I allowed life outside the studio to filter into the practice, conscious as I moved and wrote of lingering or persistent thoughts about experiences or media I had recently consumed. I continued working in this way for seven or eight weeks (about 12 studio sessions), trying to stay present with what I did each day and not to get too anxious about where I was headed. Eventually, I realised that improvisation was the thing that interested me the most, and I let go of any ideas of trying to form or choregraph anything for now. I wanted to develop a practice with improvisation at its heart.
Perhaps it was the nature of the scores and material that got me off the ground, perhaps it was my recent history of working in in nature and site-specific contexts, but I found I was not interested in working with music. I loved the rhythm and spontaneity of working with spoken word. For me, the word association aspect of Eliza’s poetry in the podcast created an unpredictable state of hyper-attention and non-judgement that was dynamic and enjoyable. Even when I stopped using the podcast, there were echoes of the poetic rhythm in my body, and a sense of my movement feeling both new and familiar. The thematic content of the poetry also bled into my consciousness, popping up unexpectedly in my writing.
There are plenty of judgemental thoughts that crop up in that notebook too. I wrote about my frustration with how my brain often switches into project planning/admin mode when it should be present in the dance. I wrote about the mental and physical tug-of-war between expressive or theatrical impulses and searching for something more arty or original. I had internalised voices of past teachers, workshop leaders and peers, preaching their beliefs and advice: ‘never reach the end of a movement!’, ‘we’ve seen that before!’, or, one of my favourite nemeses ‘Find an occupation - dance is boring’, which has always stuck with me as it sounded so very much like career advice. I get a little jolt when I see written in all caps in my little notebook ‘YOU ARE A DANCER!’ like I had to remind myself, had to cut through the chatter, had to give myself permission. There are even judgements on the writing itself - how mundane it is, how it lacks in the profound or the poetic.
On some days, the writing and dancing felt like communicating with an imaginary friend. At times these communications felt more like a series of unrequited love letters. I practiced contact improv duets with imaginary partners and I performed for imaginary audiences. I inhabited imaginary characters and worlds with shifting terrains. I continued to be preoccupied by concepts of memory and a kind of physicalised word association.
‘I am filled with my own words, rewritten, repeated and getting closer to
something. Not wanting to go somewhere else on the way, I dived straight in,
and found myself perhaps less sustained, more judgemental, more stuck.
Less buoyed. Where is your ‘this is correct’? My cartesian map? Melted.
Resolved into a dew. My logical thoughts speak of value in every moment,
but they also speak too much.’
I often relate advice to my imaginary friend, who, let’s face it, is quite possibly a past or future self, an abstracted or idealised version of myself.
‘The return is important.’
‘You don’t need to grasp and grip’
‘We walk until we swim.’
‘Sometimes, even when you can see someone at the destination, you still
have to travel your own path to find it for yourself. In doing so, hopefully it
won’t be the same place...’
At the end of this period, I looked back over all my writing so far and created a florilegium – a single page compendium of excerpts that stood out for one reason or another. I took a month’s hiatus from the studio and did a lot of brainstorming. I applied for a grant. I participated in an unrelated project.
When I returned to the studio in March 2021, I settled into a regular routine and developed a framework for my practice. More on that next time…