Moving With Dancers

This past week I spent some time in the studio with some dancers from the undergraduate course at Coventry University. I wanted to explore the same sort of exercises I had done with my fellow actor colleagues to see how the outcome would differ with trained movers used to playing with their body. We did two exercises in the short time we had together the first was the same one I had done previously, ‘everyday hands’ (seen in previous post) finding common gestures they did everyday and distorting. The other was an exercise we had worked on in the intensive that I was excited to try, it is the connect, affect and disconnect, with someone in the centre.

We began with a short warmup in the style of Frantic Assembly’s Beautiful Burn out routine, repeating four different jumping moves for an entire 4 minute song. It gets the dancers ready and warmed up without wasting time teaching them difficult moves that will be hard to remember, particularly when time is so short.  And then we moved straight into the two exercises.

The everyday hands exercise began the same as I had done previously, finding four movements that you do everyday out of habit. They then learnt one move of each others to place in their own phrase, and had to loop it so it was a continuous stream of movements. After that, I gave them three words to apply to their phrase. Connect, heighten, and transform, they could interpret the words in any way that seemed best. Once they all had their phrases I asked them to speed up the pace to as fast as they could while also retaining the movement.

Here is the result of all three.

It is interesting to see that the detail is lost, as opposed to the original three small phrases I had seen. I have found that the words used to direct the manipulation of the movement is so important. Particularly when asking everyone to interpret those terms in their own way, you will always come out with something different from each person. This is great in some respects as it means you can utilise everyone’s imagination, but also it can mean when giving a direction like speeding up the movement certain detail is lost from the original task.

I can understand Frantic Assembly when they discuss the importance of layering, it is not possible to throw multiple directions onto someone and expect them to place every aspect of equal importance. This is the importance of muscle memory, giving the body a simple idea to settle and begin to add little bits at a time. This way you are retaining the important detail needed in movement while also being able to manipulate time, pace, speed, direction and any number of other possibilities of affecting the sequence.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the phrases once I asked them to speed it up. Mainly because they enjoyed what they were doing, and that as an audience it can really shine through the movement. The other, disregarding the loss of detail, the movements coming from all three girls were things that would not have come if we were creating from scratch. Sometimes it is nice to start from a ridiculous point to work your way back, find the extreme so there is an understanding of no limitations. I find creativity becomes free flowing once we release our inhibitions.

The next task we explored was the connect, affect, disconnect. I had each person connect to the central mover, affect them in some way, and disconnect from the body. It is a simple task requiring basic movements, the only important aspect is that all contact is genuine. To be affected in some way the body needs to authentically be moved, not to ‘pretend’ the hand has moved from the shoulder down to the hand.

Here is Connect, affect, disconnect.

This task moved quite quickly once we all had spent some time understanding how the task works. What took the most time, was making sure contact was genuine. It was easy after the first few rounds to move past the affect moments and onto the disconnect as it is an easier direction to follow. So we always had to step back and really investigate how you can affect or be affected by someone else. You can see in the video that the times when the affect movement is authentic they are the most interesting to watch. It allows for momentum and real stops, so they are reacting from one another not making shapes individually with their own body. It is interesting to see that the need to move past creative mind blocks is present with anyone whether they are movers or not. The dancers were just as quick to disregard a connection that is not authentic as with anyone else. It is a hard thing to be in the moment finding a connection and ‘generating’ the affects from nowhere, and so after multiple rounds of the same direction it becomes harder to find something new. Which is why it is so important to have someone on the outside to give direction when needed.

 

 

Everyday Hands

 

Wednesday 15 March

I had a rehearsal with Merel, Jessie, and Fiona today for us all to get into the studio and focus on whatever ideas and thoughts that were niggling at us to explore.Within the rehearsal, I asked to play with a simple devising task that had come from the two week intensive with Frantic. It had stemmed from the task Scott had used giving various sign language movements and playing with them to create quite unique arm phrases. I wanted to explore this concept but play with another form of stimuli.I asked the girls to find four gestures they did everyday, that defined their movement language. As an example one was to twist your hair in your fingers, if this was a gesture that you naturally did on a daily. As they found four moves, I then asked them to play with the task by giving them three words of direction to follow and manipulate their phrase in whatever way those terms meant to them.

The directions were: Connect, transform, and heighten.

From this step it resulted in formed arm phrases that no longer really resembled the original four moves. I then asked for each of them to learn one or two moves from each others phrase. I wanted to see whether the difference in phrases could find a unifying moment by having one simple move pop up in each others sequence. I did not tweak or manipulate the moves as I wanted a completely natural and authentic pattern of movement that came from their bodies first.

Here are the set of three phrases:

 

I asked the girls to do their phrase together, to watch how the movement would work with one another.

 

The phrase together was lovely to see as there was one move with the arm outstretched that I was constantly looking for. It brought these three women together, all telling their own stories but having one shared experience. In an odd sense there was a nice canon of movement to this one gesture that could only have come from finding it through playing and not pre planning set rules.

It was interesting to watch, as this was a simple task that had no real intention behind the beginning direction, I could already clearly see and articulate subtexts within each person’s phrase that was not intended to be there. Simply because of the nature of their moves, the decision of their pace, pauses if added, and their eye line. For a task that came from movement that was already settled in their bodies, the girls finished with phrases that we could not have created from scratch without the initial elements. I was already brainstorming potential stories behind these phrases and how I could play with this movement to amplify those subtexts. I think the idea that if you begin from a movement that is natural to you, it is much easier to manipulate from there. As they all had a specific broken down understanding of their own created phrase, this laid a foundation to work and elaborate on.

This was something I did not understand until I had gone through this task with the girls. To be fair they were very quick and natural at this task as we had already explored this kind of devising in the intensive and so they were very comfortable to play. That said I believe it will be something I explore in the future when generating movement with people who are not necessarily comfortable with making movement from scratch.

Directing, Declan Donnellan

On Wednesday night I attended The Winters Tale at Warwick Arts Centre by Cheek by Jowl. I was initially going to watch for the movement dynamic of the show and became very interested in the directing aspect of the creation process. The day before I just so happened to take the book Directors/Directing out from the library and it has a section on Declan Donnellan who is the Artistic Director of Cheek By Jowl. Not knowing where to start with the book I thought the best place would be from the director of whose show I had just seen. After having read Donnellan’s section of the book I realized he is an interesting artist with some fantastic methods of creating work.

Declan Donnellan has for the last few years been working in a dual role as director for both Cheek By Jowl and a Russian company Chekhov international Theatre Festival. While reading his interview with Maria Shevtsova it was apparent Donnellan had a real interest in space particularly with text, stage and the actor. Keeping space with the actor and their character for Donnellan is most important, “the purpose is to see each other and their characters more clearly…to look outside of themselves towards the targets aimed for by their characters.”(Maria, 2009: 69) This was an interesting point made, my understanding of analyzing a character predominantly comes from method acting, in its nature is quite introspective. This allows you to operate as two beings, and objectively step outside and observe the character.

It was interesting to read Donnellan spoke about the problem with preconceptions when creating theatre. He states that to constantly question is an ongoing process, however it is not an intellectual process. “In many respects, it’s a rather anti-intellectual process because sometimes our intellects are not very useful, especially when they give us preconceptions. We have to meet the world as it really is, not as we intellectually perceive it ought to be.” (Donnellan, 2009: 73) This idea reminds me of Scott Graham’s mentality during the two week intensive. To rid yourself of assumptions and see everything with a new potential. They both present a similar point for the creative process. To have a completely open mind is often when you find something you could not have discussed and consolidated on your own, this also allows the audience to make their own decisions on the subtext of a scene. It is a rather abstract idea as it is not so easy to drop everything you know and look at things with new eyes, however I can see the freedom in not being weighed down by pre conceived expectations. “There is sometimes an honor in ignorance!”(Donnellan, 2009: 74) Donnellan states that there is a power in reflection on the actual experience, however unpredictable. To be open to the process, not decided on the final product. I think this relates to Graham’s ‘Crooked Path’, the most interesting material comes from an incredibly different place to where you wanted to end up. It is about being open to take the time when you find yourself in an unfamiliar place, as eventually you do find your way back with better results.I have certainly connected to this idea, it is a freeing mentality to have. I would like to work on this thought in future developments and allow the process to take me where I need to go.

Declan Donnellan has demonstrated how much you can play with text particularly classical plays. His use of space in everything allows for free interpretation, that coupled with the disuse of preconceptions makes for plays like The Winters Tale to be accessible for an audience unfamiliar with Shakespeare. It is interesting to see a crossover of directing techniques through different genres, and how relevant they are to theatre as a whole.

 

Bibliography:

Shevtsova, M., & Innes, Christopher. (2009). Directors/directing : Conversations on theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 

The Winters Tale

On Wednesday night I attended a show at the Warwick Arts Centre with Jessi. It was a Shakespeare show of The Winters Tale by Cheek By Jowl. My initial intention to see this performance was to continue my research on the ‘potential for movement’ and I ended up coming out with so much more. It was a full show, with laughs, dramatic moments of heartache and a general jovial sense of play.

The beginning image as people are filing into the theatre is of a person seated centre stage with their back to us knitting. Automatically I thought the sense of suspense of revealing an image and allowing you to ponder and analyse what it could mean, what is going to happen, soon it pulls you right into the action. Slowly I began to involve myself into the story, and make my own conclusions as to who this person was and why they were sitting there. ‘The potential for movement’ was already revealing itself in more ways than one.

As the lights go out the performers switch to present two men in stillness.They slowly look at one another, there is nothing else happening in the entire room, as everyone watches the breathe and eye line of these two men. Tension builds again but you’re not sure whether it is positive or simply terrifying. Suddenly the two men break into a fit of laughter and general horse play as they run around the stage.This was a another fantastic example of playing with stillness, particularly at the very beginning of a story, the audience do not know the characters and so are completely dependent on the initial action to reveal the first little nuggets of information.

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The Entire Set (In a little box)

The last strong example of the play with stillness, was a scene where two performers were placed in the centre of the stage seated facing forward completely motionless. They had no expression, no form of personality to perform for the audience. There was action happening around them, great monologues of power and fierce movement. However I could not stop myself from watching the two still creatures in the centre of the action. There was a certain power in their stillness, of being outside the confrontation. They were encapsulating, I wasn’t sure whether I was waiting for them to move or that I just wanted to join them in this peaceful moment of peace away from the complicated emotion of human beings. It reminded me of a time lapse in film where they place a person out in public and have them still as they film around them and then speed it up. So you are left with a lone person motionless around the busy lives of everyone else. It is a strong image that I feel carries out into theatre. It was lovely to see that this idea of ‘The potential for movement’ is relevant in how you place people on stage. The simple act of stillness can allow the audience to become involved, and leaves room for the imagination, rather being spoon fed every little moment of subtext.

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Jessi waiting for the show to begin

 

Provocation 2 and Outline of Self Study Programme

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From the two week intensive with Frantic Assembly and the one on one tutorials with Simon, Scott, and Andrea I have now identified three areas I would like to focus and develop on over the next month. I will create a weekly list of tasks to complete and ultimately post onto this blog, to demonstrate my progress. There are many more things that I would like to continue looking into, however for now these are the important points that resonated with me.

The first is to do with directing, the intensive was highly focused on tasks that can be used to create movement, and interpreting how they come across from an outside directors perspective. I was very intrigued to find out more about the role a director. And am left with many questions. How do you facilitate a rehearsal? How much time is spent with the performers in the early stages of developing a work. Are they there from the beginning, or just for the practical aspect? How to develop a rehearsal schedule, that will be effective when put into practice. I understand everyone has a vastly different way of working, and I feel its important to branch out to find what might work best for me.

The other aspect I thoroughly enjoyed in the two weeks, was the collaborative nature of working with my colleagues. I so enjoyed creating and learning, particularly as most of the people were new to movement. It was fantastic to see that with the correct facilitation and movement tasks that anyone can create a phrase. I would like to focus on this further. By spending time with both dancers and actors, I would like to find out whether it is possible for me to create that same environment that is open and judgement free. Also to see whether I can get actors to find ways of moving they had not experienced, and for dancers to break some of their habitual ways of moving and approach creating from another perspective.

The last goal I have for myself, is actually a principle that Scott had discussed while breaking down a phrase someone had created. It is called ‘The potential for movement’. The idea that the moment before a movement of any sort be it small or large is what holds an audience, the special secret that holds the most potential for any possibility. I am going to look into this aspect of theatre, to see where it lies. Whether it can be found in other elements of theatre not just movement. I would also like to personally spend time finding where it does fit when creating movement.

 

These are the weekly tasks I have set up for myself. At the moment they are a broad example for every week, and will be broken down as specific events are organised.

Find three specific directing techniques for creating work that fit into my own practice.

  • Email artists to ask whether I can observe and discuss their personal ways of directing a show.
  • See some live shows and attend post show talks to find out more about their process.
  • Research and gain a greater understanding of preconceived structured directing roles. Where they come from? Practically how it works? Why it is an effective way of directing?

 

Develop my own experience within movement directing and experiment with a mixture of creatives who are and are not comfortable with movement.

  • Create a conversation with both the dance and drama department at Coventry University and see whether I can connect with some of their undergrad students to come together and create movement.
  • Build a personal warmup and movement devising plan to use within workshops.
  • Document any personal or group practical research, to keep track of development.

 

Research and analyse the idea of ‘potential for movement’.

  • Research shows that play with that moment, and analyse whether these moments are in fact important and if so how are they relevant.
  • Create weekly phrases from my own movement play or with others, document, and anaylse whether they were successful or not.
  • Create conversations with both dance and theatre practitioners, discussing this very aspect of movement creating.

The resources I will need for these activities mainly lay within Coventry Universities studios and technology. The city is close to both Birmingham and London, that have a plethora of shows and rehearsals to observe. I will also be in communication with both the theatre and dance department at Coventry University and also Frantic Assembly as a starting point for contacts.